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.

A lot of small successes and one major milestone

Despite finally having Spork available to work, it has only been for a few hours here, a couple of hours there. We are still only getting about 8 hours a week at up to this moment so progress is happening, but it is slow. We do have work on the schedule, but it seems we are always starting an hour late, or finishing early for some other commitment.

My haul of clothes from the Airman's Attic at Seymour Johnson AFB
My haul of clothes from the Airman’s Attic at Seymour Johnson AFB

One thing that keeps us hopping is our Civil Air Patrol commitments. For instance, I needed to go to Goldsboro to pick up some product for our farm store, and since I was already there, lets stop by the Airman’s Attic and visit our friend Kelly to see if we can get some uniforms for our cadets.

What you see here is all clothes! We were nearly out of uniforms for cadets. Now we have a supply for us and other squadrons as well!

Spork uncrating the engine
Spork uncrating the engine

A few weeks ago, we posted this photo of us uncrating the engine for the first time.

Spork drilling holes in the firewall
Spork drilling holes in the firewall

Now we have test mounted the engine, removed it, remounted it, then removed it, and finally mounted it for the final time. With that done, it was time to start installing accessories like cooling, oil lines, coolers, throttle cables, etc.

Installing the baggage door
Installing the baggage door

When Spork wasn’t available, I tried to do things that required a lot of single person time. Things like reading the manual, figuring out how something was routed, etc. I really puzzled over this door because it was a major milestone to be installing the door. But I had to locate all the holes we’d predrilled for the rivets and it took a lot of sleuthing to find the holes with a probe, then burn them out with a hot iron so they were ready for rivets. I installed the drip guard, but left the actual door install for when Spork was available. Plus we need to make a door latch for this thing and I want him part of that.

Ugh, the dreaded throttle cable
Ugh, the dreaded throttle cable

I thought installing the throttle cable would be easy enough. The instructions seemed daunting so I spent a good bit of time just reading through them and trying to figure out what they meant. I literally spent a good hour just figuring out which was the throttle and which was the choke. I read all the firewall forward instructions (no help), checked all the pictures (nope), and even pulled out the Rotax manual (all 400 pages) and started reading through it page by page. I finally found a note in the Rotax manual which clued me in. Now it didn’t actually say “This is the choke, or this is the throttle” but it had a reference on a picture which I was able to figure out. It really shouldn’t be this hard.

Once I knew which was the throttle, I set about cutting the cable to length, the shielding to length, etc. Then it was time to drill the hole in the panel where the throttle would go. That required sitting in the airplane and testing the fit for where it should be. I was sitting there when Spork crawled in with me to look. That is when I realized this was the first time we’d both been in the cockpit, and we could make airplane noises. We spent a few very happy minutes doing that, and then I pulled the throttle too far out and all the fiddly bits came spurting out. There were about 4 warnings on the throttle not to unscrew the section that had just come exploding out. I must have missed the part where even screwed in, it could happen. Ugh., part number entry, correct cable length (dig cut off pieces out of trash to measure original length), click, $257.00 plus shipping. Ugh! What a way to end a day.

So I spent 4 hours installing a single throttle cable, didn’t finish, and ruined the cable. A few days later, the new throttle cable shows up.

I opened the package, spread out the parts, cut the cable to length, installed the cable, finished the install, including the parts I didn’t do the first time. Total time = 15 minutes. That story right there tells you what it is like to build an airplane. 4 hours the first time, 15 minutes the second time.

Flying with Wendy from Raleigh squadron
Flying with Wendy from Raleigh squadron

I had to take a break from building to fly for CAP and for the Army. We have a series of training missions (for them, not us) that we fly routinely in CAP. I ended up responding to a call from Wendy for a right seater to fly out of Raleigh. I’ve never flown out of Raleigh before in their CAP plane, so that was a treat. I ended up flying two days that week, farmed the third day, and did office work, work in our real estate business, etc the other days. That was a slow build week.

Spork working on the engine
Spork working on the engine

But we did get some work done. Systems continued to progress on the engine. I also tidied up the avionics, then broke them apart so I could insert the panel in the airplane temporarily.

CAP with the Air Force Thunderbirds
CAP with the Air Force Thunderbirds

We took a break from building for the kids to work the Wings over Wayne airshow. CAP provided security to the masses (over 230,000 people!) who were arriving, making sure they didn’t have contraband and making sure they knew where to go. They also were able to camp there on the base and see the airshow. It was more work than play but they did have fun.

First torque sealed nut on the final install
First torque sealed nut on the final install

But with WoW over, we were back to work. I broke out the torque seal since we were doing final assembly. It was starting to dry up since I hadn’t used it since prior to starting covering. But with a paper clip and some pressure it was flowing again, and it has been getting quite a bit of use ever since. Pictured above was the first nut that was torque sealed during the final assembly, one of the engine mounts four bolts. After installing and removing parts so many times, putting that torque seal on is a really nice step. That is like putting a big check mark on the to do list.

Cutting out the access hole in the tail for the tail feathers
Cutting out the access hole in the tail for the tail feathers

Spork spent a lot of time reinstalling the tail feathers on the plane. They were labeled and prerigged so all we needed to do was remember exactly how everything had been done a year ago and repeat it, exactly. Yeah, that took a bit of time as our memories were pretty fuzzy. But we installed and rigged the tail feathers and cut open the first access panel, the one where the elevators pass through and bolt to the push rod for the control stick. This access panel will be covered after final assembly by a custom panel painted to match.

Wings installed for the final time
Wings installed for the final time

With all the small stuff progressing, Spork and I solicited help from Myla and installed the wings for the final time. This is a MAJOR milestone. They will still fold but the rear bolt and lift strut bolt won’t be removed again unless there is some major maintenance. It took a bit of fussing to get it all back in place but it was way easier than the test fitting last year because with the engine installed, the airplane didn’t want to tip over with one wing extended.

The wing install crew making airplane noises
The wing install crew making airplane noises
The wings folded and the plane pushed back into the shop
The wings folded and the plane pushed back into the shop

It was night time by the time we finished installing the wings. We folded the wings and pushed the plane into the shop, now in its new configuration. No more wings on stands in the floor, no more airplane and wings, and other bits all stacked everywhere. Now the main assembly is the airplane, and just small parts are here and there to be installed. The shop looks much cleaner and the airplane is starting to look like an airplane. We still have plenty to do, but we are closer than we’ve ever been.


Progress is being made

I haven’t posted much about the airplane progress but some small steps are being made. One limitation is that I can only do so much when Spork isn’t available to work because this is an “us” project and not a “me” project, as it should be. Since he’s about to turn 15, we had to stop for this.

Spork ready for his first day of drivers ed
Spork ready for his first day of drivers ed

He passed, and didn’t crash or kill anyone, so that is progress. But that took most of a week.

This week he is doing government studies with a group called Teen Pact. I’m not sure exactly what they do, but he was elected as a Senator based on his oratory skills and he seems to be having fun, so I think it is all good. While he’s been having adventures, I’ve snuck in a few work sessions on the plane.

All the orange parts of the plane painted
Everything that is orange

Mostly that has meant painting. I finally convinced his mother, the arbiter of The Schedule, that painting was something that I needed to do myself and not with him, since painting gives you cancer and makes you grow extra appendages. Once I explained all the health concerns, she was fine to let me go do it and keep him at home. I was at once relieved and offended. I guess I’ve lived long enough at this point.

But with that freedom, I’ve pulled everything into the paint booth that needed to be orange, which is nearly all of the airplane, and have it panted. Wings, flaps, ailerons, tail feathers, etc. You’ll note the cowling is grey at the bottom of the picture. It, and several other pieces, are to be black. That color was finally opened up this week and the lift struts (thingies that hold the wings in place) were painted black.

With everything orange, and the lift struts black, it is officially time for final assembly. The key word there isn’t “final”, it is “assembly.” Now we do the part that actually looks and feels like building an airplane. Install the wings, hang the flaps, install the windshield, install the avionics, install the engine. All these items are things that we have sorta done before, but now they go on for good. And that means taking our time, torquing nuts on, installing torque seal, grease, or safety wire, whatever that particular joint needs. Then there is the installation of control cables, throttle cables, fuel lines, all that stuff. I’m sure we’ll get lost in the details and spend way too much time.

And then this showed up. 90 days to go till Oshkosh

Ahh!! 90 days to go?! I need about 6 more months!

According to SWMBO, I will start having the boy to work consistently starting next week. The push will officially be on.

It is finally a rolling project

airplane partially on the landing gear
Partially on the gear

Spork and I have officially finished painting the fuselage. Not all the airplane, mind you. But at least the fuselage. That is a big deal because everything at this point attaches to the fuselage so by getting it out of the paint booth, we are able to paint a piece, then bring it out and install it. Or if we are waiting on something to finish drying, we can work on other things like avionics, windshield, engine install, whatever.

Step one was to get the airplane sitting on the gear. With it on the gear, we could more easily move it around the shop and more importantly, we could crawl inside and sit and make airplane noises!

Spork standing beside the airplane as it sits on the gear. He is 6'1" tall
Spork standing beside the airplane as it sits on the gear. He is 6’1″ tall

Once we have all the gear installed, I stood there and tried to remember why I thought an airplane that was so blasted tall was a good idea. Was it really this far up in the air when I first looked at these things? You sit basically at the elbow of his left arm. You have to climb into the airplane using the gear as a ladder, back yourself in butt first, and swing your legs over. Grandma isn’t going to be flying a SuperSTOL anytime soon.

Spork uncrating the engine
Spork uncrating the engine

With the gear on, it was time to temporarily install the Rotax 912 ULS we are using for this airplane. I bought it shiny new and it has been sitting in its shipping box the last several months. But now it was time to break everything out, figure out how to lift it, and install it on the motor mount.

Engine installed, almost time for airplane noises!
Engine installed, almost time for airplane noises!

The firewall needs to come back off, and the engine along with it. But now the airplane is stable enough we can work on it without worry of it tipping over. I did a few pull ups on the motor mount testing its strength and the airplane doesn’t even budge.

Now that we’ve made it this far, the next step is to install the windshield so we can fit the boot cowl to it. Once the boot cowl is fitted, we fit the firewall to the boot cowl and reinstall the engine, for the last time. Then it is time for avionics, throttle, battery hookups, fuel lines. All that stuff. Actual assembly.

On days when Spork is still busy with school, I’ll work on painting the remaining bits. If we knew what we were doing, we could be done in a few weeks. As it is, we are hoping to make Oshkosh in July.

Aviation Nirvana

I was introduced to flying by my father, who was a ball/tail gunner on B-17s during World War II.

Dad in Italy during WWII
Dad in Italy during WWII

I grew up building models and listening to the few stories that he told of his time in the 15th Air Force of the USAAF. Like any kid, the fighters of WWII held my fascination, especially the P-51 and P-38, which flew escort for my father on many of his 52 missions.

And the F4U Corsair, because it was the most fun to build as a model and was the star of my favorite show growing up, Black Sheep Squadron.

But the B-17 was my absolute favorite because it was my dad’s plane. We lost my father to cancer in 2003, just before my son was born. He has grown up with stories of Granddad but never had the chance to meet him or hear his stories for himself.

My son and I attended Sun N Fun for the first time in 2017 via car as we were without a plane. While we enjoyed ourselves, I learned that to truly enjoy the airshow, we needed to return by airplane and camp under the wing. The following year, with our new (to us) airplane under our bottoms, we headed Southbound to KLAL for opening day of Sun N Fun 2018. This was my first major airshow fly in, and I had a co-pilot with pretty limited experience flying, having only flown with me a few times before and at 13 years old certainly no formal pilot training.

Headed Southbound, we began descending into KLAL, talking to approach on the way in who informed us that the airport opening was delayed, and that we could expect a longer than anticipated hold. This wasn’t great news, as I didn’t purchase an airplane with a relief tube. But luckily I was nervous enough about flying into an airshow that I didn’t have time to worry about needing to use the facility.

About 20 minutes later, approach called to let us know that the airport had opened a bit earlier than expected, and departures were starting to leave.

“N12345, traffic at 1 o’clock, heading Eastbound, climbing”

“N12345, traffic 11 o’clock, heading Northeast bound, level, same altitude”

“N12345, traffic, uhhmmm. 345, there is traffic pouring off of KLAL, I can’t advise you. Keep your head on a swivel. Good luck and squawk VFR.”


I’ve never heard anything like that before from ATC. He sounded like he was wishing me luck on my climb up the stairs to the gallows.

Lake Parker hold and arrival procedure
Lake Parker hold and arrival procedure

I had the boy’s head swiveling, while I flew the airplane, looked at ADS-B, looked at traffic coming off KLAL, and followed the NOTAM to hold over lake Parker. I flew past the lake at well above holding altitude and circled back to enter just as you would on a 45 degree entry to downwind. There was a bit of jockeying between aircraft but we quickly established ourselves in the visual hold, on speed and on altitude. As we passed over the power plant and over ATC for the first lap, I heard the call I’d been hoping for.

“T tail over the plant, turn left and keep holding. Follow the edge of the lake.”

Phew! We were in the hold and established. Now to settle down for our 45 minute hold till the airport opens. We had the NOTAM on our laps, and we basically had to just keep an eye out for someone dropping in on us. Then once the airport opened, we could just follow someone in like one of the lemmings we were, land without crashing (and being on YouTube) and then decompress. We weren’t there, but we were close.

As I made the circle around, I kept talking to my son, calling traffic to each other, and wondering how long it would actually be. We had enough fuel for an hour of circling, with reserves. Maybe a bit more at this reduced speed. There is the power plant, here comes the call to keep circling. it is only lap #2 and I’m starting to get the hang of this.

T tail at the power plant. Rock your wings!”

Huh? What did I do? I gave the wings a good rock.

“T tail, you are number 1 for the arrival. The airport just opened. Proceed Westbound and follow the procedure.” Then the controller started machine gunning instructions off to aircraft following us, making us the leader of a gaggle of inbound aircraft.

What?! I’m not prepared for this. And I don’t want to be number 1. I want to follow someone. Preferably someone who will bounce the landing and keep all the eyes on them and off of me.

We continued straight ahead following the procedure in the NOTAM, made our turn to head to the tower, and switched over frequency to be able to talk to them. Tower frequency was dead silent. No calls, no traffic. And nobody to follow.

Lakeland Sun N Fun procedure chart
The orange and green dots on the taxiway at Lakeland are our aiming points, not the runway.

Finally as I was about 1/2 mile from the field, I got the call.

“T tail, turn downwind!”

What? I didn’t get the winds. When I checked ATIS earlier, all it said was that the airport was closed. There was no weather info. The airport opened so quickly, I didn’t have time to check it once we entered the hold. Oh no!

I’m not supposed to talk to the controllers, the radio is for one way conversation only in this instance, but what else can you do in this situation?

“T tail doesn’t have the winds. Right or left?”

“Right turn T tail. Right turn. Enter the downwind.”

I snapped the plane over to a 30 degree descending right turn, which elicited a positive response from ATC. Since you are not talking back to them to acknowledge their instructions, the only way they can tell if you are going to do what they want is to see the reaction from your plane. A positive and clear move seemed like the appropriate response and after feeling like an idiot for not knowing the winds, it was nice to hear ATC’s response.

“Good turn T tail, keep it coming.”

I continued the downwind, which was closer in, and lower than I’d ever done before, when ATC said,

“T tail, left turn back to the runway. Overfly the green dot, land on the orange dot. Overfly the green dot, put it on the orange.”

I snapped the plane around to the left in a curving approach, kind of like Corsairs did in WWII landing on carriers, sailed over the green dot and miracle of miracles, plopped it down just past the orange dot.

“Good job T tail. Welcome to Sun N Fun.”

ATC was instantly busy handling the flood of aircraft behind me as we taxied down the runway/taxiway and followed marshaling to our parking spot.

I felt greatly relieved and very excited. We’d been the first ones into the airport (that time), we’d flown into our first major airshow, we’d gotten to fly like a fighter for just a bit, and we hadn’t crashed or really done anything wrong. We were now safely on the ground, successful and ready to enjoy the airshow with thousands of our new closest friends for the week.

I owe my aviation career to my father, who’d not only kindled the interest with his stories of missions during WWII, but had supported me through all of my training and experience. Now here I was with his grandson he never met, giving the gift of aviation to another generation. A gift that he gave to me so many years before. As I was having these thoughts, I was busy setting up our tent, air mattress, cook stove, freezer, generator, after dinner libations, and all the other requirements of a proper glamping site.

Sunset from under the wing at Sun N Fun 2018
Sunset from under the wing at Sun N Fun 2018

I missed him, as I always do, as I looked at my boy helping right along set things up. Lost in my thoughts, I suddenly heard an unmistakable sound coming from behind me. Radial engines.

I looked up, really for the first time since arriving, and realized our parking spot was almost on the centerline of the runway. I spun around to see what warbird was approaching and saw a majestic sight.

A single B-17, my father’s airplane, was on short final. The sun was setting and at that point was a red ball in the sky, taking the sky itself to that perfect red and pink hue with it. The left wing, just outboard of the #1 engine, was splitting the sunset in half. I stood there, slack jawed, for several seconds before I thought to grab my phone and take a picture. But realizing by the time I’d get my phone, unlock it, and frame the shot, the image would be gone. Instead I simply stood and watched as the B-17 sailed majestically overhead and touched down just past us on the centerline.

RW Moore standing at the tail of his B-17 in Italy during World War II
RW Moore standing at the tail of his B-17 in Foggia, Italy during World War II

I’ve had lots of beautiful aviation experiences, but at that moment, with my son on the ground, and my dad sailing overhead, I think I hit aviation nirvana.



When I last posted our progress, I said that painting had started. Moving from building, to covering, and then to painting was a series of major milestones. As usual, I was nervous to start a new process but the primer proved to be a very forgiving process. In fact I discovered on just about the last day of primer that I was using the wrong ratio to catalize the primer, using 3:1:1 instead of 4:1:1. Despite the fact that primer shows EVERY mistake that you made, and even the ones that you didn’t, I found it to be pretty easy.

Because Spork is eternally working on school and has barely been available to help, the schedule has been to wake, kiss the wife good bye, trudge to the shop, turn on the kerosene heater, build a fire in the wood stove, nurse the fire in the wood stove, turn off the kerosene heater, turn on the fans that move the warm air into the airplane shop, and then finally go to work. Sanding, cleaning, washing, wiping, cleaning, then finally move the pieces back into the paint booth and spray some primer. Once that is complete, walk away and have the rest of my day. All in, I was probably spending about 2 hours on each day that I worked, with only 2-3 days per week spent on the airplane. It has been a slow process.

But on March 6th, a magical thing happened.

Champ orange paint in the can
The first look at our color

The paint starts to go bad after it is opened, so I didn’t open any of the paint cans till it was time to start painting. That means they’ve been sitting on my shelf for six months, unopened and unseen. I didn’t realize how white everything in the shop was with all the primer everywhere. It is like I’d gotten used to living in Minnesota in winter. Then suddenly this orange appeared and was blinding.

But before we could do much painting, I had to get the fuselage prepped for paint. That meant taping and papering everything that wasn’t going to be orange.

Bottom of the fuselage taped off so it stays white
Bottom of the fuselage taped off so it stays white
Close up of the orange paint
Close up of the orange paint

The orange paint was, um, blinding. I couldn’t decide if it was because everything else was stark white, or because it was really that bright. Fortunately I’d done a test panel prior so Spork and I took it outside on a sunny day. The color definitely toned down in the sun. We are good to go!

Fuselage after the orange paint has been applied
Fuselage after the orange paint has been applied

With the paint on we pulled off the bottom paper and tape. This was our first opportunity to see the two color fuselage. It was, um, stark. In fact, it was more like this than I’d care to admit.

But we only had 1/2 of the paint on the plane. The bottom isn’t actually white like the primer because we picked our colors from here.

By “from here, we mean Hobbes himself.

So with more color to add, we taped up the orange part of the fuselage and exposed the white underbelly. Then it was time for paint.

Painting the bottom
Painting the bottom

When I first started painting, I scared myself because I just misted the paint onto the piece. A thousand little dots of paint appeared, all independent and all definitely not smooth. I thought maybe my gun was not going to work. Wrong tip? Wrong pressure? Then I sprayed some more and found that the paint, once there is enough, blends together into one smooth surface. Ahh, relief.

So with the orange behind me, and white the only thing between me and beginning some assembly, I decided that I had this painting thing down pat. Just put plenty on so it blends and runs aren’t really that big of a deal, and lets hurry up and get this done. That is when I decided that I didn’t want to move my lights and I’d paint by using the Force, in the dark. I shot the bottom color as a final coat, nice and thick so it would all blend well. When I looked the next morning, I had runs. Not just a couple. I had runs EVERYWHERE!

I’m now on version 5.0 of painting the final coat of white paint. Each version consists of sanding out runs till they are gone. Then cleaning up all the sanding dust. Then wiping down the fuselage multiple times to get every last spec. Then inspecting again to make sure I didn’t miss anything. The finally applying that last coat of paint. Then looking in the wet paint and realizing the runs are still there. Then cursing. Wait one day. Wash rinse repeat.

Oh, and I also tried painting in flip flops on one warm winter day. I now have orange feet. Not a good look.

Since I’m at the final coat, again. I figured I’d get to work on assembling the main gear so once the fuselage rolls out of the paint booth, I can install the gear and get this airplane on the ground for the first time in its life.

There was some question as to how to orient the brakes on the wheel hub. You have to drill out the backing plate to align it with the axle flange. The instructions say to “mount the brake caliper at the front of the wheel.” That’s great, but I have two calipers on my setup. And they aren’t 180 degrees apart so I can’t just align one front and one back. So do they cheat towards the top of the axle, or the bottom. After much reading and looking at pictures, I gave up and called Robby. After two hours of not hearing back from him, I lost my patience and decided that I wanted them on the top of the axle. 15 minutes after I drilled the plate, Robby called and verified that I was installing them correctly. Phew!

Today we’ll do another round of sanding and painting. Hopefully this time those darn runs will disappear. If that is the case, there is one more main gear to assemble with Spork, then we’ll install the gear and the tail wheel and the fuselage will come of the stands for the last time!

Painting has begun

Tail feathers in the paint booth
Tail feathers in the paint booth

“Make sure that you glue this down or it will not look right when you paint.”

“Cut that straight, or it won’t look right when you paint.”

“Don’t spill glue or you’ll see it when you paint.”

Yeah, yeah. I could hear Robby’s voice in my head these past months. I tried to make sure that I followed his example and his instructions. And I got pretty good at it. The tapes were all attached properly. I ironed down the edges to make sure they were flat. Well, lots of times I did. And overall the covering job looked pretty good. I’d even had some much more experienced builders look over my work and they said that it did indeed look pretty good.

Then I grabbed the paint gun that is apparently a mystical device of unspeakable power. It can reveal, with merely the faintest wisp of paint, every…single…mistake…you ever made.

The first pass, on the first tail feather, in the first two seconds, revealed mistakes from stem to stern. I know that tape was attached. Why is it sticking up. Didn’t I seal that edge? When did that thread stick up? I know I trimmed it clean.

After applying primer to two pieces, I went back and prepped all the other pieces with a newly calibrated eye. It took at least a full day to go over everything again, with lots of regluing, ironing, and fussy micro work. But the results were much better when the next application of primer was laid down.

As of today, we are several days into painting. We’ve been heating the barn as much as we can, bringing it up to about 70 degrees, which allows us to cure the paint properly and use the reducer that we have on hand. Most pieces have about 4 coats of primer, and all but the flaps have been sanded.

At this point, the idea is to give a light sanding to all the finished pieces and then set them aside. The flaps and the few remaining pieces that need another coat will get some sanding and another two coats of primer. Once those are done, the fuselage and the wings will be moved into the paint booth, one at a time. Those will take a good bit of time because they are so much bigger, and require taping off of protected areas. But once they are done, we’ll start spraying color onto the plane and finally reveal what this plane is going to look like.

So far, I’ve enjoyed painting the plane. The work had been enjoyable and the paint booth and paint gun are working as advertised. I hope the rest of the painting process is as enjoyable.

Here is the piece we’ve been searching for

When I was growing up, we used to get tractor trailer loads on square bale hay in each summer. Unloading hay out of a pig trailer (they hauled the hay down in pig trailers, and carried pigs back) and then into a barn loft, during the heat of the summer, was a decidedly unpleasant task. But one of the things that kept us going through the process was the eternal search for that one bale of hay.

Pouring sweat, “Have you seen it yet?”


Sticking your face out the small hole in the trailer for a quick breath of clean air, “Is this the bale we’re looking for that I’m standing on?”

“Nah, it is still under here somewhere.”

The bale, the one we always looked for, was the LAST bale. I don’t know why it was funny, but it kept us going during the process. And we always celebrated whoever was the person who grabbed the last bale and unloaded it off the trailer. We’d be drenched in sweat, coughing and hacking from breathing all the hay in a confined space, and covered in hay, but it would be all smiles when that bale came out.

Well, I found the piece of the airplane we’ve been looking for.

The last part of the airplane to get covered, the wing flap
The last part of the airplane to get covered, the wing flap

We finally started working on the last wing flap. By this point, I should know what I’m doing. Covering an entire airplane gives you an opportunity to learn all the skills needed, except rib stitching, which I’m happy to forgo with this project. Unfortunately we had a few issues holding us back.

First, we ran out of material. Now I don’t mean we came up slightly short. I mean we didn’t have close to enough material to cover these flaps. Did we do something wrong in the build? Did we get shorted on the original material? I don’t know. Probably the former. So I reached out to Billy Payne to order more material, which he promptly sent over to me.

When the material arrived, Spork and I got right to work on it, only to discover we weren’t smart enough to figure out how to use it. The material was 15′ long, and 6′ wide. Our flaps are 8′ 3″ long and they require about 3′ 3″ of width. I have to be missing something.

The material isn't quite long enough to wrap the flap
A test strip to make sure that the material isn’t quite long enough to wrap the flap

After talking to Billy (it will fit, you are just looking at it wrong) and then talking to Robby (you aren’t crazy, he probably thinks you have a Highlander which has a smaller flap) and then talking to Billy, (you aren’t crazy, I thought you had a Highlander), we figured out what to do. Billy said to just lay a 2″ strip of finish tape down on the top leading edge. Then pull the fabric to butt up to the tape, filling the gap. Once everything is taped, finished, and painted, it won’t be visible. And with a large leading edge finish tape providing the needed overlap for safety, it will never come off or fail so a good result.

It took some extra time to lay down the tapes and then match up the material so it butted up, but didn’t overlap. But with that done, the flaps could be covered and looked good.

Flap almost wrapped
Flap almost wrapped

I’m at the point of covering where it is fun to cover. I’m comfortable with the process, and more importantly comfortable covering up my mistakes.

Installing fabric rivets in the flap
Installing fabric rivets in the flap

As I said, no rib stitching on this project. The fabric rivets were a bit intimidating at first. Now I’m thankful for how easy they are to put in vs. stitching. Score one for the SuperSTOL.

Pulling fabric rivets
Pulling fabric rivets

Here I am pulling the last rivets. I’m sure we’ll have to put another rivet somewhere on the plane, but I don’t know where it is at this point. All the interior pieces have been test fitted and everything else is paint, assembly, fiberglass, or rigging at this point. Thank you Spork for getting a pic for the last official rivet pulls on this airplane.

With progress on the last flap, I took a day that Spork was in school and took a ride to Grantsboro. When I talked to Robby, he told me that he was selling his place in Grantsboro because he and Jenny were building a house at the Outer Banks. I knew this because when I took my demo ride (way back in the beginning of this) with Robby in his SuperSTOL, we flew over a piece of land that was to be his new home some day. Seems some day had arrived.

But with Grantsboro on the chopping block, I had a problem. In my never ending quest to stupidly always leave something at Robby’s place, I’d left all the seat cushions behind in his hanger. So with a relatively free day, I took the ride to Robby’s, 2 hours away, to pick up my cushions.

Robby's hanger in Grantsboro
Where it all started

This is where this whole project started. Robby’s hanger in Grantsboro is where I took the airplane after I picked it up from the factory. It is where Spork and I spent two weeks getting the first items checked off on the build under Robby’s supervision.  It is also where Spork and I lived in an Alaska style cabin, with no insulation, while it snowed in Greenville. 

There are fond memories of this place.

With my (hopefully) last parts retrieved from Robby’s we finally have everything we need to complete the build.

Myla helping with the final flap
Myla helping with the final flap

I was really happy that Myla decided to stop in the shop and help with the build at this moment. She’d helped a little bit in the past, but with this final part being worked on, I was thankful for her company and assistance as I wrapped this last piece.

The flap, as it sits right now, needs the leading and trailing edge tapes applied. That shouldn’t take long. An hour or so.

Then I have to finish two custom inspection rings and attach them to the fuselage. They are already cut out. They just need some TLC to dress up the rough edges. Then a quick scuff and some glue and tape and they are good to go.

Then it is time to paint! I’m terrified and excited all at the same time. I hope it is something I can do a good job on. Paint is what everyone sees, and it covers up, but also reveals, your mistakes. I won’t know which one will be more prevalent until I start laying it down. Hopefully it hides more than it reveals. I think we did a good job on the covering work we did, but you never know what it will look like till you see the final product. I’m looking forward to getting started.

Almost done covering

Fuselage with rudder hung temporarily, all covered

I keep walking into the shop and looking at the fuselage thinking, “What do I need to do to this today?”

The answer keeps surprising me.


We’ve spent the last few work days working on control surfaces and tail feathers. Spork has started, and finished, the left horizontal stabilizer. He tells me it is either good enough to last forever, or it will work for less than 40 hours, he’s not sure. So either it will fail on my during Phase 1 testing (when I’m the only one flying) or it will never fail (when he’s flying.)


One of the first things that I worked on, after finishing the fuselage, was redoing the rudder. We’d originally covered the rudder at Robby’s but once I hung it this time, I noted that the anti-chafe tapes on the plane were 1″, and the rudder was 2″. Of course, we’d covered it on its own back in March, and we’d then followed someone else’s instruction working on the fuselage meaning we’d used different tapes on different places.

It looked weird.

Spork had the idea to just strip off the tapes and redo them. That took about 2 minutes. I’d already spent 15 minutes puzzling over what to do so it was a very good solution.

Rudder being retaped and edge taped
Rudder being retaped and edge taped

With the tapes stripped off, I was able to retape them with 1″ in short order and then do the 2″ edge tapes and finish the rudder. It was put aside in the growing pile of completed parts.

Firehose material for rudder cable controls
Firehose material for rudder cable controls

Another off plan fix we needed to do was to cover the holes for the rudder cables on the back of the fuselage. I’d stupidly opened up holes for the cables in the wrong places when I was covering the fuselage so patches needed to be added. Then I decided that I’d dress up the patches a bit with a Cub style opening and cover. I could have used leather, but I had another material in mind.

I had a role of firehose from the fire department in the shop. A bit of hacking and arts and crafts, and I had a nice little piece made for each side.  I used a torch to sear the edges and lock the threads together just like when you cut a rope.

Rudder cable pass through cover
Rudder cable pass through cover

Unlike the leather pieces usually used, I used a piece of fabric to cover the firehose. The firehose gives wear abrasion and rigidity, the fabric gives better adhesion to the base fabric and will take paint much better. I think these will look good and wear very well. They maybe added an ounce to the airplane so maybe Robby won’t give me too hard of a time.

Rudder cable pass through with firehose
Another view
Working on the rudder pass throughs
Proof I’m actually there for the FAA. Working on the rudder cable pass throughs

This was a fun little project. It isn’t in the build spec or probably even a great idea, but it was a nice little customization that I added because I wanted to.

Spork with his horizontal stabilizer
Spork with his horizontal stabilizer

Spork covered 100% of this stabilizer with zero assistance. It looks perfect!

We’ve moved onto covering the elevator with the trim tab (the most complicated control surface) and the other horizontal stabilizer. When those are done, we have some ailerons to finish tape, and two flaps that are being covered from scratch. Once those are done, the paint booth is the next stop!

I’ve been nervous to start the painting as everything you do there is visible and I’m not really a painter, but now as we get closer I’m getting excited to start. Because once pieces are painted, they are assembled and rigged. Basically, we are getting close to attaching pieces (wings, firewall, landing gear) for the last time. That will be a big deal. I’m ready to have the fuselage on its own wheels and off the stand and sawhorse.

What is a relief tube?

When people ask me what I think of the King Air that I used to fly, what was my favorite thing about the airplane, I have an immediate and firm answer.
It has a pilot’s relief tube.
I was taking customers to KMLI in a Cessna 340.

Cessna 340
Cessna 340

This was back in the 1990s so we are talking steam gauges and Jeppesen binders. Cell phones were still a novelty. I had a co-pilot with me who’s day job was first officer for a major airline. Great guy. As I’m getting the plane ready, making sure snacks are on board, herding the cats which our customers generally were, I made a quick mental run through of all the items that I’d need to do before I left. This is something they don’t teach you in pilot training.

Track a VOR, yep.
Power off stalls? Right there on the syllabus.
Did you arrange the rental car at the destination? Uh yeah.
What about the customer who only drinks that one brand of bourbon. Did you get some mini bottles of that? Of course.
AND remember to bring them with you to the airport? Um..
And two carafes of coffee, right? Because that one guy last time wouldn’t drink caffeinated coffee.
Everything was ready to go, except I really should go pee before we hop in the airplane….
Nah, I’ll just go when we get to our fuel stop in KY. Loaded as heavy as we were, and with the head winds we were expecting, we had to stop for fuel and Bowling Green, KY looked about right and wasn’t so far away that I couldn’t make it.
So I closed the air stair door, sidled up front, and off we went.
Despite this being back in the stone age, we did have a GPS in the plane, state of the art with its green 2″ monochrome screen. It was really neat to be able to twist knobs and push buttons and calculate the actual winds aloft and our expected arrival time. Unfortunately I must not be very adept at using it, because instead of the 20 knot quartering headwind that was forecast, this stupid thing keeps saying I’ve got 45 knots on the nose. That can’t…be..right…
Ugh. This is going to be a long trip.
As we toodled along at our greatly diminished ground speed, my lack of hitting the facility before we left is becoming a problem. I try to think happy thoughts, talk to my co-pilot to keep my mind off of things, and generally be a professional and pretend there isn’t a problem. Instead I’m watching everyone guzzle coffee and I’m getting unwelcome mental images of Niagara Falls.
I’m furiously calculating and recalculating the winds aloft, trying to figure out a way to make our ground speed better. Maybe a bit higher? A bit lower? But hemmed in between the fuel range with NBAA reserves, the steady headwinds, and our planned fuel stop, I don’t have a lot of choices.
As we get closer to our fuel stop, I progress from uncomfortable annoyance to horrible pressure to I’m going to need a doctor if this goes on much longer. Finally we begin our descent into KBWG. I’d mentioned to my co-pilot, during our cruise portion, that I really needed to go to the bathroom.  He acknowledged and dismissed this bit of information with an easy indifference. Not my bladder, not my problem. But as we started down, I told him I may need his help on landing.
“Because the pain is so bad, I’m not sure I can use the rudder pedals.”
Now he looked invested in the conversation.
At this point, I know what you are saying to yourself. “Self, what kind of idiot gets himself into a situation like this? Why didn’t he just stop short and go to the bathroom?”
First, all options were considered and discarded. If we stopped short, with these headwinds, that would turn this flight into a two fuel stop trip instead of one. Something I’d have to explain to the boss, and to the customers. It would add time that we didn’t have, and cost that wasn’t needed for my personal comfort.
Tom Cruise as Maverick from Top Gun
My personal self image

Second, as the guy who supposedly knows what he is doing, being the one who didn’t go to the bathroom before we left is not something I wanted to admit. I’m not saying pilots are prideful, but…

Third, we’ll be there shortly. I can make it. (repeat quietly to yourself over and over)
I flex out a few tentative rudder pushes and I can make do. We’ll be on the ground soon so we’re good.
“N12345, turn left 20 degrees, this will be vectors for the localizer approach. Glide slope is out of service. “
What? No ILS? The minimum descent altitude (MDA) for the localizer will get us in, but just barely. Great.
We cruise along on vectors, and then after intercepting the localizer, we wait for clearance to actually start the approach and descend.
“Uh approach, N12345, can we start our descent?”
“Negative 345, traffic below, will be a few miles.”
We are getting closer and closer to the airport. With turbocharged piston engines, I can’t just yank the throttles and push the nose over. I have to worry about shock cooling. Finally when we are about to request we turn around and try again we blessedly get the approach clearance. I pull power as much as I can and nose over to get to MDA, tracking the localizer inbound.
Just as we get to MDA, we pop out of the clouds and there is KBWG bright and clear and beautiful.
And almost directly below us.
My copilot looks at me with pity in his eyes and says, “Sorry, no way you can make it from here. We’ll have to go around.”
My calm and professional response?
“Screw that.”
Using my recently tested skills of rudder mashing, I put in a heap of right rudder and drop the left wing. The 340 slips beautifully. If you haven’t tried it, have a go. I’m looking at the runway out of the side window, holding my slip to get down to a landing position. I glance over, now up in our slip, to my co-pilot. He’s as white as a sheet and not saying anything. The customers are still chatting away amiably in the back, oblivious.
A slip entry and exit are gentle and everything is shaping up nicely, even though this is the longest and steepest slip I’ve ever done. But all is well, why is he so upset? I query him quickly and he just shakes his head. No time to figure it out now.
I pop out of the slip, drop full flaps, and touch down without a problem, making  the last turn off with little braking. Before we are off the taxi way I’m already out of my seat belt, pushing through the customers, and at the air stair door ready to drop it the moment the co-pilot stops at the ramp.
Several minutes later, my co-pilot takes up station at a urinal beside me in the bathroom. I look over and ask him, “Hey, why’d you look so scared on the way in?
“You can’t slip a 340.”
“Yes you can, I just did. You can slip a Boeing, why wouldn’t you be able to slip a 340?”
“It is a prohibited maneuver. It is in the POH.”
“What?! I’ve never seen that. Why is it prohibited. It slips just fine.”
“It unports the fuel pickups. The engines will quit.”
After several seconds of bladder relieving thought, I replied. “We were already too high, I didn’t need engines anyway.” What else can you say at that point, we were down and safe.
After completing our trip and seeing our customers safely delivered to their destination, we pulled out the POH and did a thorough review of any and all limitations. My intrepid co-pilot, unfortunately, spent his time bouncing between airplanes and had mistaken the 400 series Cessna no slips limitation for an all encompassing twin Cessna limitation. 340s are indeed able to slip freely.
Today my daughter, whenever I mention the possibility of buying a new airplane, only asks one question.
“Does it have a potty?”
That’s my girl!