Success! And failure

Dad, Spork, and Cody with the wrapped fuselage
Last hour of the last day of the full team

We went till the very last minute with the full team before we got this picture. Cody spent the summer with us, partially working on the farm, and partially working on the airplane. Most days that meant the three of us working together, usually the two boys on one project, with me trying to figure something out or complete some random task. Our goal was to get the fuselage wrapped before Cody left and as you can see in the pic, we did so, with minutes to spare. We still need to apply the tapes and finish up the wrap but the hard part is done.

With Cody leaving, and Spork now starting school, we enter the more sedate phase of our build. Maybe working 1-2 days per week on the plane instead of 4-6. I will be working on it some during the off days, doing things like building out the avionics, figuring out the engine plumbing, things like that. Basically the head scratching or tedious parts. Then when Spork is available we’ll tackle things like finishing these needed tapes, painting the airplane, etc.

The paint booth, under construction
The paint booth, under construction

Speaking of painting, it is time to work on that. We started building the paint booth where the wings were previously being worked on. They were moved temporarily next door and covered with a tarp while the paint booth is under construction, which should be finished today. It is a basic PVC structure with plastic sheeting attached. It is tied to the wood structure of the barn to make it rigid but otherwise is just uncut PVC friction fit together. The idea is we will return all the undamaged PVC when we finish and we’ll end up with a very low cost paint booth.

We are building and installing a ventilation system which consists of some fans and house filters and a couple of wooden frames. But other than that it’ll be paint masks and Tyvek suits for painting. Simple.

But before we could do all this paint booth business, we had to get the wings out of there.

We were all feeling really good about our accomplishments. The fuselage was covered. The wings were done. It was time to build a paint booth. I got up the next morning after the group picture above and headed over to the shop by myself. I wanted to get prepped for building the paint booth.

When I looked at the completed wings, I noted that we had a couple of tapes that hadn’t been finished. Just little tag ends of the finish tapes as they terminate at the wingtip and root. Should take about 10 minutes to trim them and glue them down. It isn’t even critical because both will be hidden when the plane is assembled and the could have just been trimmed but I wanted it done right.

So rather than work on other stuff, I plopped down and started working on these last details. This involved moving the wing around a bit, something we normally have plenty of hands for. But this morning I was by myself. Without going into details of the actual stupidity, I managed to knock the wing off of the sawhorse one end was sitting on and barely catch it from the other end before it fell, trailing edge first, onto the concrete floor. Now I was in the shop, alone, with a wing that has several hundred hours of work in it and is 5 minutes from being complete, barely held up by an unstable sawhorse and my struggling mightily from the other end.

Eventually, after several intense minutes, I got the wing back stable and went ahead and had the heart attack that had been waiting to start.

Once my heart attack was over, I leaned over to inspect the bottom side of the wing. There was a huge gash in the fabric where the saw horse has punched through. It was inline with the direction of flight, in the last wing panel, and 12″ long.

At that point I just sat down in a chair and stared at the wing for about 10 minutes. No point doing anything rash and making things worse. I then did the following steps.

  1. Berate myself for being stupid
  2. Wonder how I was going to explain to Spork I’d messed up the wing that basically he and Cody had covered
  3. Get out the Superflite manual and review the steps for repairing fabric
  4. Watch about 3 videos from EAA on repairing fabric
  5. Look up and read the FAA Advisory Circular on fabric repairs
  6. Go visit my A&P to discuss the repair
  7. Berate myself for being so stupid.
  8. Suck it up and repair the darned thing

I did consider recovering the entire wing. Strongly. We’d probably have enough fabric, and if not I can order some more. The cost wasn’t really my concern. But the reason they used fabric on planes in WWII is because of how easily and effectively it can be repaired. That’s what I kept hearing in my head as I stared at the wing.

Plus the purpose of building this plane was to learn and have fun with my son. I’m not trying to win an award at Oshkosh. That doesn’t mean we aren’t building an awesome and correct in every way airplane but at the end of the day, this was cosmetic damage, not structural or even important. There wasn’t any actual aircraft damage, just a rip in some fabric that isn’t even painted yet. So with knowledge in hand, I set about repairing the fabric.

The completed repair in the left wing
The completed repair in the left wing

I got out the glue, a 6″ tape from what we’d used to cover the leading edge, glued the fabric around the tear very well, applied the tape, then once the glue had cured fully, I shrunk the tape. The loose fabric immediately taughtened and once again looked perfect. I then applied 2″ tapes on both sides of the 6″ tape.

The FAA rules say if the rip is 16″ or longer, I need to do some further repairs. This one was 12″ so this type of repair is correct.

The rules say if my Vne is above 150mph I need to do some further repairs. My Vne is nowhere close. I’m not sure a SuperSTOL could do 150 in a dive.

The rules say I’m supposed to have a 2″ overlap of the tear. I have 3″, along with 2″ of extra tape.

The repair is inline with the existing tapes and unless you compare it with the other wing, you don’t even see it. Once it is painted, you’ll never know it was there. And like most repairs, it is actually stronger now than the original fabric.

Despite all that, I’m still sick about the whole thing. But in the end, I learned that repairs in fabric really are easy. That gives me some confidence going forward that I know how to do more than just apply fabric. I can fix it too.

That doesn’t mean I’m looking to do any more repairs though.

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