Moving to the airport

At some point, it is time for the baby bird to leave the nest. For the past year(ish) we’ve been working on our airplane in our barn. We’ve done good work in this space and it has been awesome to just walk next door and be able to go to work. It has also been easy for someone to walk in and ask questions, stop by to visit, need me “for just a minute” or any other way of saying stop the forward progress on the plane.

But, it was very easy to run upstairs and run payroll, or eat dinner with the family, or weld/machine/sand pieces with all the machining equipment I have in my shop. So I put a lot of thought into when do I move from my comfy shop to the airport? I boiled down to when the jobs are easier to do there with an A&P (airplane mechanic) next door than to do at home where I have to figure everything out myself. We figured that we needed to get the windshield on, the doors welded, and a few other small jobs and then it would be time to move.

One of the first jobs was to add the glass to the airplane. We needed to install the windshield, the cheek pieces, and the turtle deck (rear window). The cheek pieces were first because they were the easiest and I wasn’t that familiar with working with Lexan.

The Lexan cheek pieces are not part of the normal factory build. Normally this portion of the airplane is covered with fabric, but Robby recommended to me that glass made visibility much better on landing so I decided early on that we’d do these out of glass. They went on very easy with just a bit of trim.

Adding the glass to the cheeks of the airplane
Adding the glass to the cheeks of the airplane

Then we started on the windshield. The kit comes with two sheets of Lexan. One for the windshield and one for the doors. The turtle deck is supposed to be metal, but I was doing mine of out Lexan. Plus I was adding the cheek pieces. That meant we’d need a new sheet of Lexan beyond our two. Oh well, let’s get done what we have first.

Spork working on the windshield
Spork working on the windshield

The instructions were not really clear on how to bend the windshield to fit. We cut out the template I’d made in the Lexan and then tried to bend it to fit the fuselage. We couldn’t make the thing fit so I decided to use some heat to make the bends.

So apparently, you can’t use heat to bend Lexan. That is acrylic. Oops. We had it fitting nicely, but the glass was distorted and bubbled. So we pulled the second sheet of Lexan and started making the windshield again. At least this time we had a fit windshield to work off of.

This one went MUCH easier. It was a piece of cake. “I wonder why we had so much trouble the first time?”

Spork working on clecoing the windshield in place
Windshield #2 in place with cowlings temporarily fit
Windshield #2 in place with cowlings temporarily fit

The cowlings fit, the windshield is in place. Easy!

Then I started cleaning up. I grabbed one piece of scrap Lexan, then another. That was when I noticed that they were different thicknesses. Oh no. Of course they are different, I knew that! The thicker piece is for the windshield, the thinner piece is for the doors. Oh crap. Now we’ve blown through both pieces of Lexan and still don’t have a windshield!

After some phone calls, I found a place in Raleigh that sells all kinds of materials and they sold me two sheets of Lexan for half what I could order them online, making this whole thing a non-event.

We took our now perfect template from windshield #2, and used it to make windshield #3. We found that the problems of bending the windshield were indeed still there with the thicker glass so despite warnings from the factory, we pulled out the heat gun again and I did some small bends just to make the edges fold over a bit more. That coupled with clamps and cursing allowed us to rivet the piece in place and call the windshield finally done! It only took four days. Sigh.

With the windshield in place, it was time to start on the doors. I’ve known since the beginning that I would weld a custom door for this build. I wanted a window and a door, not just a door. They make a factory version but I wanted to weld something on this build and the doors were it.

Pilots door taped in place
Pilots door taped in place

Spork and I cut and bodged the doors together in relatively short order. It was a pleasure to just make something for the airplane without having to read the manual and decipher what they meant, or what they simply left out of the instructions. With the doors put together, it was time to weld. I took the first door upstairs to the TIG welding bench and set about laying the first welds down. About two welds in, the welder quit working. I’ve had this welder for years, although I’ve rarely used it. Now I had a real TIG welding project and the thing has broken? Argh!! Plus it was the weekend, plus the move to the airport is waiting on my to finish welding and fitting the doors. Insert panic attack.

My friend Josh came through for me though. First he said he’d weld the doors for me, but when I arrived, he simply handed me his TIG welder and said go forth and weld. What a life saver!

Borrowed welder in place
Borrowed welder in place

With the doors done enough, and the windshield in place, all we had left to do was tidy up, and load the airplane. That is when I spied the propeller we’d ordered forever ago. I’d never even taken it out of the box.

Spork "installing" the propeller
Spork “installing” the propeller

The whole thing is carbon fiber and super light. Spork obviously liked the nose cone and wore it the entire time, until I took it from him and put it on the airplane. It was just as easy to hang the propeller as it was to cart it down in the box so we hung it temporarily and prepped to load the airplane on the trailer.

Getting the plane ready to load
Getting the plane ready to load

We wheeled the airplane out of the barn and Miguel brought the tractor over to use as a brake (we hadn’t installed the brakes yet in the plane). We parked the trailer down the hill to take some of the uphill push off of loading onto the trailer.

Loading the airplane
Loading the airplane

You can see the trailer down the hill sticking up in the air. We don’t have any pics of the actual loading as it was all hands on deck, but we rolled the plane up the trailer and flattened out the deck so it was easy to put into its final position. Then we used literally every strap on the farm to tie things down.

Spork rode on the trailer till we got off the farm, making sure no low branches hit the plane, then it was the moment of truth. I’d moved exactly one airplane on a trailer in my life, counting this one. A year of work and now we are hauling this thing down the road. What if we get in an accident? What if there is a low power line? What if a strap comes loose and a wing pops out and tears itself off? I was a bit nervous to say the least.

Airplane on a trailer at HRJ
Arrival at HRJ

After a stop at the sign shop to get some measurements for graphics we are ordering, we arrived at HRJ, our planes new temporary home. The plane was none the worse for wear. Both Scott Tanner and Wayne Millbauer came out to help, as did the airport employees who offered their assistance as well. It took longer to get all the straps off than it did to actually unload the plane with everyone’s help.

The SuperSTOL in it's new home, with friends
The SuperSTOL in it’s new home, with friends

That is my friend Josh’s airplane on the left with someone’s RV between us. We have our own little corner of a very nice hanger to work in. We moved our gear in like the Beverly Hillbillies, setting up shop to finish the plane.

Since arrival we’d began cutting a new panel, installed the brake lines, installed one slat, installed the flaps and ailerons and rigged them, and I’m sure a number of other things. With Spork out of school, we are at the airport nearly every day. The first week was days in the upper 90s but this last week has been in the lower 80s which has been awesome.

Beautiful sunrise, bad picture
The picture doesn’t do the sunrise justice

Now our days consist of driving 30 minutes to HRJ, then working all day, sometimes till after dinner. Then driving 30 minutes home tired, sweaty, and ready for bed. Only to do it again the next day. We are slowly making progress and we are trying very hard to make Oshkosh in July. Only time will tell.

Leave a Reply