Friday, March 27, 2020

Replacing the rear spar doubler on an RV-7A

If you violated the 5/8" edge distance guidelines on the rear spar doubler when mating your wings, all is not lost! With a little patience, you can get a second chance with a new doubler.


This article, originally published in March 2007,  will be of no value to 99 percent of you because, I'm guessing, 99 percent of RV airplane builders don't mess up the edge distance on the rear spar "fork" when mating the wings. To the other 1 percent, however, there's very little guidance on what to do. So perhaps this will help. Later in the article, I'll show you the "gotcha" that got me in trouble. Originally I thought my misdrilled bolt hole was the culprit. While that didn't help things, that wasn't the problem. But more on that later.

I have to thank Ken Scott at Van's, who gave me a lot of sympathy, and some encouragement, for my plight. After I discovered this mistake, I admit my confidence level took a significant hit. But Ken gave me every indication that working carefully, it could be fixed.

OK, so your edge distance is less than the 5/8" required by Van's. What should you do? Should you replace it all? As I indicated in an Editor's Page column, there was never any question for me. But you have to make that decision for yourself. I'm not an engineer and I did get some e-mail that suggested I was likely to cause more damage to the rear spar in dismantling the unit than I had compromised safety by leaving the edge distance slightly outside of tolerance. I didn't agree and Van's didn't agree, but you have to make that call for yourself, mindful that Van's says this callout -- the 5/8" edge distance -- is one of the few "sacred measurements" on the entire project.

If you're still reading -- and I guess you are -- you've decided to replace it. What I'm about to describe is "my" method. My method involves doing whatever it takes to get things right. No shortcuts. I did get a couple of e-mails from folks who drilled out the doubler bar without removing skins. It worked for them. But looking at my project, it wasn't going to work for me. As you approach this, it's more than removing components; you have to easily put them back together again.

As you look at your wing, you'll discover that there's no reasonable way to remove the doubler fork without removing -- or at least getting it out of the way -- the flap brace. It makes the lower rivets inaccessible.

And there's no way to remove the flap brace without removing the flap hinge. So the first step is to remove the rivets holding the bottom skin, the flap brace, and the flap hinge. Let's take a look at proper rivet removal technique.

First, you don't want to make the holes larger or do any damage to parts. Flush head rivets are relatively easy to drill out; it's a two step process -- drill a hole in the rivet head, and snap the rivet head off. How? Simple. And here I call up the expertise of Joe Schumacher of the EAA, who has built something like 19 homebuilt airplanes. You may have seen him on the series "From the Ground Up." He often uttered this piece of advice: "take your time."



Elementary rivet removal. Drill the head in the middle then rock and roll with the end of a drill bit until the rivet snaps off.


There is no better advice for construction of an RV airplane: take your time. And removing rivets requires you to slow down, and be patient. Yes, you have a lot to remove, but in reality you have only one to remove: the next one. So, stay focused on the task at hand and slow down. Some people say you should use a #41 drill to drill off the rivet head, and that's probably wise. But it works easier for me with a #40.

I used an old electric drill because I can turn it slowly more easily than an air drill. Although there is a slight dimple in the head of the rivet, the drill bit is still going to want to run just a bit. So turn the chuck by hand and then slowly begin to drill. Have an old #40 bit standing by. Start the drill, then stop to be sure you're centered on the rivet head. If not, you can apply a little pressure to the drill bit to get it centered. Stop periodically and use the drill end of the spare bit, putting it in the hole. If you can wiggle the rivet head, fine. If not, drill a little bit more until you can.

The temptation here is to rock one way once, the other once and then go for broke and try to snap off the rivet head. That, to me, is where trouble begins. I move the drill bit one way and the other a couple of times and keep doing it until I see the edge of the rivet lift slightly off the dimple in the skin. When I see that, I know that rivet head is a goner pretty soon.

I can't stress enough that impatience here will kill you and you will end up making a bigger problem for yourself. Sure, you can always use an "oops" rivet (you can drill out the hole to 1/8" and use a rivet with a 1/8" shank and a 3/32" head so it blends in), but these are cosmetic more than structural and you don't want to use many of them.

One tip: As you remove rivets over a large area, if you can put a little back pressure on the rivet hole, the head will literally fly off.

Once the head is off, you can use a 3/32" punch and taps on a hammer to push the shank out. However, you must support the other side. A bucking bar or any sort of mass applied against the skin, rib or what have you, will prevent the force of the punch from bending the material. You will need two people for this job because you can't hold a punch, a hammer, and a bucking bar.

But there is a better way for ribs and things like this. Check out this little item (Photo below) I got from Aircraft Spruce. It's a modified pair of pliers with a punch on one side, and a small plate on the other. The plate provides the backing against the force of the punch when applied by squeezing the pliers. Since there's a hole in the plate where the rivet shank (and shop head) is, it goes flying, your material is left intact. Pricey -- $65 -- but way better than a punch and hammer. Strongly recommended for this job.


Be sure not to hurt the hinge eyes here. You can put some small popsicle stick (you have some left from when you built the wing tanks, right?) spacers on the backing plate of the pliers. Again, take your time.

Remove the entire line of rivets on the flap brace, remove the hinge and put it away somewhere safe.

In order to move the flap brace out of the way, you'll next have to remove the rivets that hold the flap brace on the rear spar. Another task. Another tool. This rivet removal tool (I think I got it from Avery), is perfect for the task. It comes with threaded drill bits and different heads to fit over universal head rivets.



Above Removing the line of rivets that hold the flap brace (and flap hinge) is the first step in making the repair.
This rivet removal tool, used with a drill, is used on universal head rivets. But be careful to get it centered properly.
Now you might think you can just put it on top of a rivet, hit the drill and move on. But you can't. You have to be sure it's centered on the rivet and you have to, again, take your time and be sure the drill bit is centered. With this tool, you can adjust the depth of the drill hole. Same deal here; get it deep enough to allow the other end of an old #30 drill bit to fit in and twist the head off, but not so deep that you're drilling into the spar. Again, be patient in rocking the head before you give it the final effort to pry the head off.


I decided to do this right, and to give me good bucking bar access later, I'd remove the skins, at least all the rivets to the most outboard access hole. You may not want to do this but, again, to me it's a matter of reconstructing things right. Yes, I could try more contortions through the lightening holes in the ribs, but it was my assessment that I couldn't do a perfect job this way and I'd obviously screwed up once and I just wasn't in the mood to try to cut corners here.

So I removed all the rivets along the spar on the skin...and all the rivets on the top spar, and then the rivets on the ribs. Working from inboard out allows you to place very slight pressure when snapping the rivet heads by peeling back the skin as you go.

Why did I take all those rivets out? When it comes time to rivet the new doubler on , I want as much access as I can get. If tried to get away with removing fewer rivets, there was a greater chance I'd put a crimp in the skin, so I decided a little more work would be worth the reward.

With the skin off -- or peeled back -- you'll be able to get access to the underside of the spar, to brace it as you remove the rivet shanks. The neat pliers won't help you here, so to remove the heads, you'll have to use a punch and hammer (there's also, from what someone posted on one of the builder groups), a "punch-like" bit you can put in a rivet gun. But either way, you'll once again have to brace the other side of the work. With a punch and hammer, you'll need two people. With the punch set for a rivet gun, you'll need one. Take your time.

How many of the rivets to remove? Well, certainly all the way to the end of the fork. But in order to move it out of the way enough, I'd keep going. Now, I removed too many. I went to the second rivet after the center rib. But you'll have to remove enough to get some serious "flex" in the brace to get it out of your way.

Once that's done, you're ready to work on the doublers. This is actually pretty easy since you're going to throw these parts away anyway. Try to remove the rivets as described above. But if that doesn't work, use a grinding stone in a Dremel and grind the heads (or the shop head if you originally put them in that way) down just below the doubler (obviously you don't need to go more than a hair into the doubler). Then take a punch and tap the rivet until you see it depress slightly (enough that the outline of the shank is visible).

Whether you try to remove the rivet now or come back later and do them all at the same time is up to you. I compartmentalize my tasks so I snapped all the heads off (or ground them down), before removing them.

After removing the heads, and punching out the shanks, you just have to take up the old fork and doubler and inspect the spar for any damage. If you take your time and work slowly -- take several days if you have to -- it should be fine. Vacuum up the mess and remove all the old shanks from the bottom of the skeleton (another great reason to remove the skin).

The old doubler heads for he scrap heap



As luck would have it, the day I finished this task, was the same day the new parts arrived. Turning my attention to them, I just used a drill press to enlarge all the holes to #30, and deburred and polished all the edges.

Just for the heck of it, I placed the old doubler on the new one and traced the old hole to see how the edge distance of the new one would work if I didn't do the trimming. Then, I got out Drawing 38 (for an RV-7A), and -- since it's full size -- placed by doubler on the drawing and marked where the trims were to be made as instructed and it is here where I discovered my mistake that got me here in the first place.

Instead of just placing the part on the drawing and marking the locations of the trims. I used the dimensions specified in the drawing to mark the original parts. I got the dimensions right, but my reference was wrong. As you can see in the photograph, instead of marking the inboard trim by drawing a line up the inboard edge and then measuring outboard the required distance, I measured from the top inboard edge. Bad mistake, because if I'd made this part right in the first place, even my misdrilled hole at wing-mating would've been acceptable.

If you look closely at the schematic, you can see why my stub ended up too short.

I intend to replace the fuselage fork also, but just in case I change my mind and want to use the existing fuselage fork hole as a drill guide into the new part (something I presently think is a bad idea), I marked the dimensions for the trim on the new parts and then made absolutely sure I left an additional 1/32" of material after the cut. I made the cuts, deburred, and polished the edges, and then Alumiprepped, Alodined, and primed the parts.







The next day I clecoed the fork and doubler in place. There's nothing new here; you've done this before. Just take your time. Rivet the lower line of rivets first. The directions call for the same sized rivet (AN470-4-6 as I recall) from the outboard end all the way down to (but not including) the doubler plate...even where the ribs are. If you accidentally enlarged a hole a bit in the rear spar (and, let's face it, you probably will one or two), going one size larger here will work fine. Then do the doubler plate (I used a slightly longer rivet on these too than what the directions called for). Be sure not to rivet the three 470 rivets that connect the flap brace to the doublers. After all the bottom row rivets are completed, cleco to the flap brace back on and do the three inboard rivets.


 When you do the top row, Place some duct tape on the edge of the top skin. In fact, you should do this before drilling the old rivets out, too.


What's left now -- mostly -- is the top row. You'll need a partner here because, unlike when you first rivet this part -- there's a top skin here now. And you can't get a rivet set on the rivet head without interfering with the skin. The question isn't whether you'll hurt the skin (although that's a possibility), it's that you'll put some smilies in the rivets.

I admit, I got a few smilies in mine, until I called upstairs and asked my wife to contribute her time to pull on the top skin edge enough to allow me to get the rivet set on straight.



The task is done. That Sharpie writing on the flap brace says "don't forget to put the hinge on."


With that task completed, you're now ready to rivet the rest of the flap-brace-to-rear spar rivets. This task, if you took as many rivets as I did out, is impossible without removing the wing skin. But since I did, I was able to easily -- and quickly -- reinstall the flap brace with mostly perfect rivets.

So ahead. Give that beautiful new doubler a tug. Strong? You bet. And admit it. You feel good about making right one of the worst mistakes in building an RV airplane. I sure did.

Now, it's just a matter of re-riveting on the bottom skin. Work outboard to inboard -- just the opposite of when you installed them. Work forward to aft to forward and you should be able to keep enough of the skin peeled back to allow you to get your arm up through a lightening hole to buck the most aft rivets. The hardest rivets to buck are the same ones that were hard the first time around -- the second and third bays at the bottom along the main spar. I got one bay done OK, and then decided to use pop rivets on ones that I decided I had a good chance of doing damage with if I were to try to buck them.

The last task is the first one in this article -- putting the line of rivets back in that solidifies the bottom skin, the flap brace and the flap hinge. Caution: It's really easy here to forget to put the hinge back on (or have you never riveted a line of stiffeners without the stiffener or a nutplate without the nutplate?).

I also used the occasion to dimple the holes for the wing fairing attach nutplates (and, of course, ordered new nutplates.)

And you're done.

The next step -- for me -- is to evaluate getting at the fuselage fork to replace it. Fortunately, I put screws in on the baggage compartment floor (except along the bulkhead) to get at things underneath there rather than drilling out pop rivets. Just thinking it through, though I can see some real contortions trying to get at that doubler fork. We'll see. I'll update this article later.

Update: I've decided not to replace the fuselage clevis. Here's why. In order to start "completely over" with a new hole, I'd have to replace both the front and back of the fuselage fork. The trouble with that is the most aft part of that fork carries all the way over to the other side and forms the aft end of the left wing fuselage clevis. So that would necessitate removing the rear spar doubler on the other wing too because there would be no way at that time to drill a hole in that clevis and have it perfectly center in a hole that is already drilled in the rear spar doubler on the left wing. To me, it would be stupid to ruin a perfectly fine mating job.

I could also replace just the forward part of the fuselage fork clevis -- that's just a bar with about 6 or 7 rivets (and several bolt holes) in it. That allowed me to drill using the existing hole as a guide.

The third possibility was to do nothing with the fuselage clevis and using the existing hole as a drill guide and figure out a way that the hole in the aft fuselage clevis (already drilled) through the new spar doubler (not yet drilled) mates up perfectly with the hole in the front of the fuselage clevis (already drilled).

Ken Scott's advice: I think the third proposition is the best. My...cousin...didn't have to solve this one, because only the wing portion was a problem. However, if you stick a long rod through the clevis, slip a block with a drilled hole over the rod and clamp it solidly to the fuselage and remove the rod, you will have a drill guide.

The heroes among us

I'm fishing out old articles I've written that are no longer available on the Internet. This one, from March 2007, is as pertinent to me today as it was then. I haven't had stick time in an RV since I ferried N614EF off to its new owner in late 2016. There are heroes who walk -- and fly -- among us. Here's the story of one of them.

(Mar. 31, 2007) -- After I graduated from college, not being able to get a job in radio news (it was a lot tougher back then thanks to Woodward and Bernstein), I went to work for my Dad in the insurance industry. I'm sure it was one of the happiest days of his life because a few weeks ago, my son got a fulltime job where I work, and it was sure one of mine!

I would have enjoyed the insurance business a lot more except for one thing: I really don't like asking people for something -- especially money. It's just not something I have ever been able to do. My career in the sales business was a short one and in the subsequent age of venture capitalists and movers and shakers, no doubt I also missed any chance to become a wealthy man -- well, that and the fact I had no marketable idea. During my radio career, I've also never asked for a raise. That's 32 years and might explain why I've moved so often.

I got to thinking about all of this a little over a week ago in an e-mail exchange with Dan Checkoway. I told him, it had been over a year since I've flown. He wrote and said I need to ask someone for a ride.

He was right, of course, but people are dying uninsured, brilliant products have gone to market, and two feet have stayed on the ground in the last year for the reasons previously cited.

And it's here where the events continue to suggest that there's a bigger force playing with us, moving us about some chessboard somewhere, because sometimes things work out just too darned perfectly.

On Saturday, I was at the quarterly meeting of the Minnesota Wing of Van's Air Force. I had wandered around the gorgeous airpark hangar, wishing I'd been better at the insurance business, and daydreaming about the good life. I enjoyed Pete Howell's demonstration on landing lighting, and I had thoroughly enjoyed watching One-Six Right.

During the film, listening to all the folks recount the moment they fell in love with flying, and listening to it almost always go back to their first consciousness as a youngster, I realized that I can't remember when I first came to realize I wanted to be a pilot. I didn't have an airport near my home that I could bike to, a barnstormer never dropped into the field near the house, I didn't build a go-cart that looked like a plane. Nothing.




The closest I came in my recollection was wanting to be an astronaut more than anything else. But flying a plane isn't being an astronaut, so I began to wonder if I really am a real pilot, complete with the DNA composition that apparently makes you think about nothing else from the time you exit the womb.



I was thinking about that while walking over to the other side of the hangar for a cup of coffee.

"Hi, Bob," RV-6A builder and pilot Alex Peterson said, waking me out of my travels back to the 1950s. Alex is not just an RV pilot, Alex is one of those RV folks who other RV folks hold up as a hero. You know who they are. What marks them all is that they don't. But they are. Heroes, that is, in the sense they inspire us when we're building, not only with the knowledge they willingly -- and enthusiastically -- pass along, but with the flight tales that provide the motivation for us to want to do the same thing. Correct me if I'm wrong, but that's a definition of hero in my book.

"You keep cranking out those great newsletters," Alex said. "And I owe you an RV ride. Is that something you'd be interested in?"

I don't really know how to describe the sound of someone making your day, but it goes something like this: "I owe you an RV ride."

"I'd love to," I stammered.

"How about today?" he said. "A couple of us are flying to Olivia for lunch. I'm not coming back right away so you'll fly down in an RV, and can fly back with Bernie Weiss in his Bonanza."

Now, as I can recall, the only better words I've ever heard in my lifetime was when my then-girlfriend and I were in a nice little burger joint in Harvard Square back in 1981 and she said, "So are you going to marry me or what?"

A half hour or so later, we opened Bernie's hangar to reveal Alex's RV-6A, Bernie's Bonanza, and Pete Howell's brand new RV-9A... making me second guess my instructions in my will that when I die, my ashes are to be scattered at Home Depot.

It had everything an RV builder could want. In fact it had two of them.

After a proper checkout, we jumped in and fired up the RV-6A, only the second time I've even been in one. Alex called the tower, got a clearance, and an instruction to make a right turn, and firewalled the throttle. I was now an astronaut after all, because we were climbing as fast as the space shuttle, I was sure, even though it didn't feel like it.

It only took seconds, as I looked all around that gorgeous canopy to realize that I really I do have the right DNA.

We proceeded downwind and the tower told Alex his transponder wasn't working. Alex figured, correctly, that he was looking in the wrong spot, for this was an RV. No doubt the controller was looking upwind on his screen, and we were already miles out of the pattern. "OK, it's working now," the tower said. "OK it's working now" is controller talk for "Whoops."

It was a gorgeous and enjoyable ride to Olivia, about 80 miles away. We found an open burger joint, had a great lunch with terrific company, then headed back to our respective steeds and headed back home.

Me? I headed back to the garage, and started working on the plane (well, at least until I realized I needed a 6" or 12" #12 drill bit to properly drill the holes in the 705 bulkhead for the canopy latch mechanism. And I didn't want to ask anyone if they had one so I ordered it from Avery).

I don't know how to describe (a) a better day or (b) how things just happen to fit together perfectly from time to time.

The EAA, appropriately so, has championed aviation through the Young Eagles program. I've often thought someone should sponsor an Old Eagles Program, to give motivating rides to people who are building, or just want to remember what it was like to fly. The RV community, specifically I think, seems to understand this better than many pilots. There are, in fact, lots of heroes out there and I want to be sure they all know -- you all know -- what it means to us.

After we returned to Anoka, Bernie filled up his Bonanza and we were taxiing back to the hangar when we noticed Pete was in the runup area and he had a passenger. As I understand, Pete will give rides 'til the cows come home. We didn't know who it was, but they were about to have a great day.

Just as I had.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

On a wing and a dream

This a reprint of an article that appeared in the RV Builder's Hotline on December 16, 2006.

Saturday night is writing night at my house these days. The weekly Hotline has already gone out and somewhere in the back of my mind is a voice that's saying, "what are you going to put in there next week, Bob?" Such is the life of a one-week publishing cycle. But it's writing night and I can get a little of that done and, oh hey, have a head start on what's going to be in the next issue. This is going to be in the next issue. Simple, eh?

Other than during New England Patriot games and an occasional Cleveland Indians tilt, I'm not the type to get nervous about things. There are exceptions. When I started the fuel tanks on my RV-7A, I felt like I was doing open heart surgery. Same deal when I drilled the rear spar bolt hole when mating the wings. It always felt like disaster was just around the corner. It sort of was with the right-wing hole; I didn't drill it straight even though I meant to. But I've made a couple of shims and things will be OK.

Tonight I found myself in one of those positions in which I was alternately excited and nervous. I watched most of the last hour of the countdown to the launch of the shuttle Discovery. It is inspiring, actually, to watch NASA TV right up until the moment of launch, and realize the teamwork and intelligence that conspires to defy gravity. And yet, as I watch that moment when the sparks start going at the base of the shuttle and, I guess, the engine is starting (I really don't know how that whole shuttle engine thing works), I want to turn away because, well, disaster is just around the corner.



But I don't turn away, I watch and wonder what the astronauts are thinking and how exciting it must be for them. And I -- just for a second -- think, "I'm going to do this when I grow up."

My love of flying actually started as a love of the space program. When I was a young teen, I had my whole life planned. I'd go to the Air Force Academy, I'd become a pilot, I'd join the space program, and I go into space or, if not, I'd fly a commercial jetliner for a living.

That lasted as long as an eye-exam after getting the requirements for entry to the Air Force Academy (I chose the Air Force because I don't swim all that well and I figured in the Navy you'd have to, you know, swim). After that, I chose a lower altitude and thought maybe someday I'd fly a plane.

But even that gave way to other realities and writing and me seemed to get along OK and I liked sports and so I thought I'd end up working as a sportscaster in Boston. Years later I was working in Boston, but as an editor, not a sportscaster. Close enough. I love Boston. As I commuted to work aboard the Red Line train going over the Longfellow Bridge, I'd see the gorgeous city before me and think, "I'm 27, and I've already accomplished my dream of working in radio in Boston." By then, I'd forgotten about space, and about flying.

The years went by and somehow I ended up in Minnesota and my twin brother visited me one weekend and we started talking about old dreams. From somewhere, flying got mentioned. He had recently gotten his private and I recalled to him my dream of flight. I dropped him off at the airport at the end of our too-short visit, and a few days later he called me and said, "Happy birthday, you start flight lessons tomorrow." He'd dropped a wad of cash at the local flight school, enough to pay for my entire flight instruction if I didn't flunk too many checkrides.

Dreams are funny like that. Even after you forget they're there, they come back, and sometimes even come true.

Last week I had the pleasure of listening to RV builder Paul Dye, the lead flight director on the last shuttle mission, and astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, another Minnesotan, give a talk in Minneapolis about their careers, and about that mission. The video was astounding and as I watched it, I once again thought, "I'm going to do that when I grow up."

"Shuttle, go at throttle up," the voice said tonight, snapping me back from my dreams. For a moment, I turned away. Disaster is always around the corner, you know. But it flew straight and true and a few minutes later, I realized, a bunch of dreams came true for someone else. They were in space.

We sit at the end of the runway the way those astronauts sit on that bomb, or the way some of us approach drilling a spar hole in a wing doubler -- excited about what's to come, maybe a little nervous. Disaster might be around the corner, but we push the throttle forward, and we roll on toward a dream.

This week we'll, no doubt, read again of one more first flight, one more ordered kit, one more first rivet. Dreams, one and all.

Never give them up.

When is good enough good enough?

This article, which I wrote, first appeared in the now defunct RV Builder's Hotline. Fortunately, I still have the entire site archived on my computer.


(Dec. 24, 2006) -- One of the things I enjoy about building my RV is how the project has made me particular about approaching various tasks in search of perfection. One of the things about building my RV that has frustrated me no end is how rarely I find it.


A few weeks ago I was wandering along the flight line at the Minnesota Wing of Van's Air Force meeting, looking at some truly fine examples of workmanship. My friend Warren Starkebaum was with me.

I was telling Warren about my experience building the "new" rudder on my 7 last winter (the one with the AEX wedge trailing edge rather than the single-piece bent skin trailing edge). "I worked very carefully to get it perfectly straight and it came out OK. "It didn't come out perfect, but it came out OK," I said. But I wasn't finished telling the story.

"And then I went to Oshkosh last summer and looked at all of these beautiful RVs," I continued. "And I looked at all of the trailing edges on the rudders and they were dead-on straight. Man, did I feel like the world's worst builder after that."

As we looked over Paul Hove's beautiful (and almost ready to fly) RV-7A, I was waiting for Warren to lecture me on stuff I already knew or should've known. But Warren's not the type of guy to rub it in.

"You gotta stop looking at other people's planes so closely," he said.

We only see each other a couple of times a year, even though we live fairly close in the Twin Cities and have a lot in common, RV-wise, but that's why I consider him my best RV-building bud.

Unfortunately, even if I stopped looking at other people's RVs so closely, I'd still have to answer to the one person who insists on perfect execution. Me. For all of the questions we see regularly on the bulletin boards from "newbies," this, it seems to me, is the thing every builder needs to learn: when is "good enough" good enough? And who do we rely on to decide?

Sure, we have rivet gauges, AC43.13, an occasional tech counselor visit, and the admonishment of Van's in the instructions and on the plans to guide us, but sometimes we have to answer to a higher authority and sometimes we don't like ourselves much because of it. Sometimes we're like the 4th grade piano instructor who says "again" after you just played a flawless version of "Jingle Bells."

The favorite expression on bulletin boards is "build on!" when someone posts a question about a task that he or she has questions about. And, yes, this is a person learning when good enough is good enough. But most of us on those boards aren't engineers and when you get right down to it, the place to go for these answers is actually the designer of the plane -- Van's Aircraft. Aside from the convenience of the boards, I contend that one of the reasons we don't rely on Van's expertise more often, is we're not sure we want to hear the answer to some questions.

It's true that we'd rather hear "build on!" than "again." But I've found over the course of this project that "build on" doesn't make the little voice in my head that says "again" go away.

Some things are just too important to ignore that voice. And quite often, you could just kick that voice's rear.

The scene of the crime

It happened to me this morning, as a matter of fact. You may recall from my wing-mating experience last summer, that I stupidly didn't drill the rear spar bolt hole straight on the right wing, despite my attempt to use a drill bushing to get it just right in that hard-to-reach spot for drill bushings. Here's a note: eyeball it! Van's said "be careful" here. I was careful. I still screwed it up.

After I installed the bolt and saw that it didn't go in straight, I, of course, kicked myself for again messing up. But there's no easy"again" with this part. And Van's makes it pretty clear that a 5/8" edge distance is required here. I immediately checked the edge distance on the fuselage "forks". Seven-eighths inches. "Whew," I said to myself.

I might not be perfect, but I am careful. And now that winter is here -- sort of -- and I have an unheated garage with an airplane in it, I usually spend much of the winter checking all of the instructions again, poring over the plane parts, and taking another look at every part I've built, reassessing whether it's "good enough." I also take care of some of the little dinky things that I figured last summer I could take care of later -- nutplates in the wing skins for the wing fairing, and the shims for the not-straight bolt etc.

As I was making one of the shims yesterday, I caught myself several times thinking it was "good enough." The bolt head was just about sitting flat against the shim and probably would be fine with a washer underneath the head. But each time I caught myself. "Good enough is not perfect," I said. I figured that someone would tell me to 'build on!", and they'd probably be right. But someone would know that it wasn't up to the best I could do. Me. So I continued until I got the shim perfect.

As I reviewed the plans, I knew I'd have to get a larger bolt than that which the plans called for, and I noticed the plans called for three washers. And so I was on the RV Builders Yahoogroup (Van's was closed) asking about their distribution when it hit me: "You measured the edge distance on the fuselage 'forks,' but did you measure the edge distance on the rear spar doubler?" I thought to myself.

I had -- once again -- the sinking feeling of a mistake. The admonishments -- many admonishments -- for the 5/8" edge distance zipped through my mind and I couldn't remember measuring the rear spar (the edge is blocked from view when you're actually drilling). I grabbed the Stanley 6" ruler out of the garage, and headed to the basement to check.

I held my breath as I measured from the center of the hole: 19/32" on the rear side, 18/32" on the forward side. Oh no!

Unless, of couse, I slid the ruler slighly outboard a bit. "Why not," I said, "maybe I'm not quite centered on the hole? Or maybe I'm not quite seeing the edge lining up with the 19. Maybe it really is the 20?"

But the voice in my head said "no." The voice in my head said "close enough" is not "good enough."

Stuff like that can really ruin a good day; especially since Van's is closed and there's nobody to tell me what to do. And so, like a kid who's been bad wondering what will happen when Dad gets home, I'm spending the weekend -- Christmas weekend of all things -- with a hundred different scenarios going through my mind. If Van's says rebuild the wing to get a clean doubler in there, I will. If they say "build on," I will. If there's something in between those two they want me to do, I'll do it.

What I won't do is listen to any voice in my head that says it's "good enough," if in my heart I know better.

(Post script: I ended up deciding to remove the doublers and fork from the wing as well as the stubs from the fuselage and replacing them all)

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

What if I can't fly again?

mI haven't flown in more than three years now and what I've realized is the longer you're on the ground, the more you're OK with staying there.

It was December 2016 when I ferried my RV-7A to Grand Rapids, Mich., where its new owner has taken great care of her and even is about to get married, partly because of her (first date).

I plunged into the RV-12 project not long thereafter and, like the 7A before it, found it to be good therapy.

But the Meniere's Disease has continued to progress, taking out the last of the good ear's hearing. With hearing aids, I can get along OK, but not great. The inability to hear conversations is one of the reasons I retired last May. But, no matter; I still had an airplane project to work on.

I've gotten about as far as I can go with that project now, however. I need to buy an engine and a new Rotax fuel injected engine goes for about $36,000. And Van's is now collecting sales tax. That's another $2,000. Funny thing about retirement: they stop giving you a paycheck. And I haven't quite developed the psychology to remove money from the retirement account and pay taxes. Maybe in a month or two; maybe not.

The plane will eventually get finished. But there are new questions whether I'll ever be able to fly it.

A month or so ago, I went for a ride with my friend, Warren Starkebaum. We flew up to Brainerd for breakfast and a photo shoot with the proud new owner of an RV.

I brought along my spendy Lightspeed II ANR headsets; the same ones I used on that last flight in 2016. But something different this time: I couldn't hear very well. The radio? Forget it.

Maybe it was Warren's radio or intercom, but I doubt it. I think it was my ears.

It's possible to fly and be deaf. But it's not safe, at least not in the environment beneath a Class B airport in Minneapolis - St. Paul.

An online acquaintance on Van's Air Force was in a similar situation, and suggested an in-the-ear headset. He did some research at Oshkosh a few years ago and settled on the Halo headset after a talk with the company owner.

"He explained that he uses high-end hearing aids parts to put the sound directly in your ear," Michael Burns wrote. "The foam ear tips go directly in your ear are similar to those you use to block out sound in an industrial environment. The foam tips used with this headset are the same that my audiologist uses when I get a hearing test. Inexpensive and easily replaced. Many ask are they uncomfortable having the tips in your ear for so long? We have no issues at all, short flights or long cross countries. They are soft. "

They're about $500. Cheaper than a Rotax engine. So I'll check them out soon and try to go flying with Warren again.

Whether and how they work will determine who I'm building this airplane for.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

An interview with Tom Berge



I was at breakfast in Brainerd, Minn., yesterday -- the first time I'd been in an RV airplane since I ferried N614EFto its new home in Michigan last December, when I was reminded by Tom Berge that I once tried to get him into an RV tip-up vs. slider canopy debate when I interviewed him for RV Builder's Hotline in 2009.

The Hotline is gone now and so are the files online. But I still have them and it seems to me that the interview remains something that RV builders and people who are buying RVs need to hear.

Tom is one of the most knowledgeable RV builders in the world, I think, and he not only provides technical counselor services for builders, but also transition training as well as pre-buy inspection services for those taking the shortcut, and ferry services too.



But back to that flight up to Brainerd yesterday.

Thanks to Warren Starkebaum -- the very person I met when thinking about building an RV many years ago -- I was able to realize a pure moment of joy yesterday:  For the first time in a year, I felt I belonged somewhere.  I was home.


Thursday, February 23, 2017

The perfectionist



I've started working on building an RV-12 and one of these days I'll get around to a longer post about what I've learned and what the difference is between building it and building the RV-7A. One of these days.

But here's a story for now.

I finally remembered to pick up a 1/4" drill bit from the hardware store last night so I could drill the tie-down bracket via the template.The hole is used as the inside radius of the bottom of the bracket. So whipped that up with some bandsaw and file action and it came out sweet. I'm so much more focused on quality building than I was with the 7A.

Let me explain that: I was focused on quality building on the 7A project, obviously, it was an extremely well-built machine. But this time I'm more of a perfectionist.

I mean, geez, it's just a tie-down bracket and as sweet as it looks, nobody will ever see it because it's hidden in the most aft part of the fuselage, out of site.

So why make it look like a piece of Swiss engineering?

Because I'll know, that's why.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The repeat offender

The RV-7A is now safely at its new home in Grand Rapids, Mich., and the hangar seemed empty. I'd grown accustomed to saying, "see you later, baby!" when turning off the lights and locking the door.

So I got a new "baby" the other day.



The first of the RV-12 kits arrived and I tried to recreate the 2001 picture from when the first 7A kit arrived in, but my youngest son was in Cabo.



As luck would have it, the FAA has finalized the new rules regarding medical certificates and they take effect on May 1, the day my third class medical with the special issuance expires. It seems to me that it would be possible to have continued flying the old plane, but I couldn't take the chance that the new rules would have created a gap, plus I think my health situation is more compatible with LSA -- light sport aircraft-- rules. So I'm not looking back.

Besides, I've got a plane to build. The parts fit into the back of the Subaru and it was off to the hangar.



I didn't get a chance to inventory everything until yesterday, and found the rudder skin trailing edge had been damaged.



But it's clear the plane will go together quickly -- quicker than the 11 years of N614EF, anyway. I am mindful that it's possible to be a little too confident, having already built an airplane. But my goal is to build this one without ordering any replacement parts.

Except for the rudder skin, apparently.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The last flight



More than a month after agreeing to selling ye olde RV-7A -- N614EF -- I finally saw an opening to ferry it over to its new owner, Chris Moseley of Grand Rapids, MI.

It wasn't particularly emotional because I've had a month to get over it, and I was happy to be done with the frustration of trying to find a period where the lake-effect snow of Michigan, and the regular old sucky winter of Minnesota would ease enough ferry it.

It was -12 in Minnesota when I left yesterday morning; I'd never flown the RV in that sort of weather, so it was fun "expanding the envelope" a bit. I was a walking sleeping bag when I finally strapped myself in and launched.

I circled the field a few times, prepared to return if I heard anything resembling a stumble (Reiff preheater had the oil temp at 109 when I started her. Great product!).

As usual, I picked up flight following from Mpls but noticed something. I'm pretty much deaf now but the controllers still seemed garbled; the engine seemed louder.

It was awhile before I realized, the batteries in my Zulu 2 were dying. I could get the ANR to work by turning it back on, but it wouldn't last long. So after being handed off to Mpls Center, then Chicago, then Rockford, I'd turn it on when I heard my N number called.

Seeing a "heavy" take off from Rockford beneath me was awesome.

The cold was not . -18 at altitude. I broke out the handwarmers when the fingers started tingling after Rockford cut me loose, not even offering the frequency to try to negotiate with Chicago approach.

No matter, I wouldn't have been able to understand them anyway.

I headed for my usual turn at Joliet, a steady stream of Southwest 737s in front of me. I descended to 3500.

The single muff heater in the RV was doing its part, which surprised me, but I needed to get some batteries, so I landed in Valpairaiso, borrowed the crew car, and headed to WalMart, while they topped off the tanks. Can't deliver empty fuel tanks to a new owner.

That also gave me time to come up with a strategy for getting through the snow lines I could see to the north.

I launched out of KVPZ and headed southeast of South Bend, which was reporting IFR, because Goshen was reporting VFR and, indeed, they were in the sunshine.

It was just a matter of hop-scotching from one airport to another based on their ATIS broadcasts, swinging east of Battle Creek (the farther I could get from the lake, the better).

There were only a few moments when visibility was quite poor but I realized the construction of these bands of light snow and there was blue sky above.

I contacted Grand Rapids approach 20 miles out; I was almost there.

"The field just went IFR", they said. So I circled. And circled, and finally just landed at 9D9, which was hard to find since it was covered with white.




I found the nice little terminal after wading through four foot high drifts. "I can sleep here tonight and just start the plane every hour," I thought.



But Chris called and said the conditions looked good at the field. So I launched again.

"The field just went IFR again," approach said. So I circled some more but a few minutes later approach said, "proceed direct to Grand Rapids, contact tower."

I saw an opening to punch through the squall and found the field (it's hard to find airports when there's snow all over the place) and landed...and felt the plane pulling to the right. More rudder...rudder...rudder! And the plane pulled to the right so more. I could feel it skidding but by the time I thought, I'm going to end up in the snowbank, I was slow enough to coax her back.

The closing was uneventful, I grabbed a Southwest flight (A2 in the Southwest queue at Grand Rapids, A1 at Midway. With drink tickets!!!), and was hope by 11 p.m.

It was the perfect last flight.

Here's the final remembrance of N614EF I wrote for my day job.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

When the time comes to part with what we hold dear



I can't remember a time when I didn't refer to N614EF as her.

From the moment the preview plans arrived in 2001, she was always her.

"Touch it once per day," Van's builder support expert advised me early on. Except I didn't touch it. I touched her.

And when she finally flew, I'd greet her every time I walked in the hangar with, "How you doing, baby?"  And before I turned off the lights and locked the door, she always got a goodbye kiss.

She treated me well and now that I'm in the process of selling her, I feel I have failed her somehow.

We had a thing, she and I. She took care of me. I took care of her.

She kept her end of the bargain. Other than those first flights in the test area when she choked on something stuck in her #3 nozzle, she never missed a beat. I'd talk to her on those long trips to New England to see my mom. She'd talk right back.

I don't  know -- yet -- who's going to buy her. Someone is coming to look this weekend.  We'll go over the usual things people go over when they sell airplanes, I suppose. And if things work out, maybe I'll ask the only question I really want to ask:  Will you love her? Cherish her? Take care of her from this day forward?

It's an important question, because right now it feels like the last guy who said he would is forsaking her.

An aside:  My colleagues at work left a card on my desk on Monday. I guess they knew that the coming moment is a painful one, a sympathetic one. Because they signed it.



In the innards of my plane, there are signatures of the people who worked on her. Some have messages. All have autographs. They meant an awful lot to me.

And now these autographs do to.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

RV-7A For Sale

It appears that my Meniere's Disease, which I've been fighting for several years and which has led me to several skirmishes with the FAA, has now jumped to the good ear, meaning there's no way I can safely be expected to pilot an airplane.

I know what you're thinking: Hold out until the medical certification process is dropped next year. The AOPA and EAA fought a good fight to convince Congress that we can be trusted to self certify ourselves. Now is not the time to cheat the system and ruin it for everybody. That's not what being a professional pilot is about.

And so, it's time to say goodbye to the greatest little plane a person could ever hope to have.





You can patrol the blog here and see all the various stories about the birth and subsequent flying life of N614EF, but suffice it to say if you've thought about buying a dependable airplane that will return your love many times over, she's the one for you.


Here's a rough outline of her:

* VFR platform
* IO-360 M1B engine (via Mattituck)with Sensenich FP prop (the plumbing is installed for a conversion to constant speed).
* One Lightspeed EI, one mag (rebuilt in '16)
* 325 hours TT
* Tip-up canopy
* Tri gear
* Beautifully polished and maintained with paint via Midwest Aircraft Refinishing (Hibbing, MN)
* The panel:  Dynon D-100 EFIS with Angle of Attack indicator, GRT EIS 4000 engine monitor, backup Altimeter and Airspeed indicator, Garmin 296 GPS which feeds data to the Dynon and also a TruTrak single axis autopilot, Garmin 327 transponder,  Icom A210 nav radio, VP-50 solid state power management with auxiliary fuse block, backup Electronic Instrument fuel indicator (I get fuel info usually from the EIS),  PS Engineering 1000II intercom with recording playback, Artex 406 ELT., APRS tracking system (You would need a ham radio technician's license to operate legally), Whelen comet flash lights and strobe, wig-wag taxi/landing lights (upgraded to Whelen from Duckworks two years ago)





Performance:

* Stall speed with flaps: 48 knots. No flaps: 51 knots
* Flying low (2500' feet or so), I cruise around 140 knots (161 mph) at about 7.3 gph (leaned out)
* Cross country at about 5500' (it's taken a few flights to New England), I cruise around 143 knots (true) at < 7 gph, 2450 rpm fully lean of peak. * Currently using a 5:1 mixture of mogas:avgas. Engine burns cleaner and, certainly cheaper. * Empty weight, 1121 pounds.

More pictures:











Asking price:  $84,900

Contact:  Bob Collins, 651-470-6371
               Email preferred for first contact:  bcollinsmn@gmail.com