Friday, October 17, 2008
The finished fairing
I don't know how you spent your summer but it seems as though I spent mine making this one stupid part of the RV airplane project -- the fiberglass fairing that creates a transition between the top skin and the bink hunk of plexiglass that forms the canopy of the airplane.
I started in July, I believe. Most people do this in one week but when it comes to building, I'm not most people. Everything is a struggle with a complete lack of confidence that what I do is the right way to go.
Tonight, I finished the fairing when I removed the line of electrical tape that I used to mark the top edge of it on the canopy. The result is a very nice edge that thins nicely to the transition, where the fairing is just the thickness of the tape.
In the 1,806 hours of building so far, this part, I think, is the first one to be completed that really is quite visible to the outside world when the plane is done. The rest of the airplane will eventually be covered with paint, but a bad mistake on this part and everyone will know forever.
And so I spent almost three months working on it. Is it perfect? Oh, hell no. There is one spot where two pieces of tape joined that is quite rough on the edge that is slightly chipped. I'll reinstall the tape in that spot, add some more epoxy filler, and sand it out. The sides -- where the compound curve comes around to meet the side skirts -- cam eout better than I thought it would, but it's still a somewhat ugly spot. On the skin itself, near the center, you might spy a flaw, but it's just a spot where a small part of the top layer of primer came off when it stuck to the electrical tape as I removed it. Easily fixed by sanding and repriming.
But the feathered edges of fiberglass on the skin came out wonderfully, thanks to lots of filler, and lots of sanding.
Tonight, I sanded down the filler primer I added the other night, and continued to sand it down to an 800 grit, then added a final layer of primer, and sanded them down to an 800 grit.
There are a couple of small spots where some rivets show that I'll fill and resand. But for the most part, the fairing is finally done.
For the heck of it, I went back to my builder's log to see how much time I've spent on the canopy construction since I started it in February 2007 with the beginning assembly of the canopy release mechanism. 235 hours. The fairing itself? Sixty hours.
I walked away from this part of the project a number of times, but kept coming back to wrestle it to the ground. Here's how it looked when I started on August 2nd. Here I had just finished making a rough mark of where the fairing would go.
Now, here's why I love RV building. During the course of documenting the fairing project, a friend of mine -- Tim Rowell -- looked at the blog and saw what I was up to. Tim is one of the smart 3M people around here and someday he'd like to build an RV. When the project was in the garage, he'd stopped by every now and again to see how I was doing, but I haven't seen him in a year or so.
Last week when I got home from work, there was a shopping bad on the front porch. Tim had gone to the 3M employee store, and filled up the bag with respirators and sandpaper, and some material for working with sanding fiberglass. And last night he brought by some 3M finishing pads.
So now I call this "Tim fairing." Everone who works on the plane, has to autograph a piece of it. The next time he's by the hangar, I'll have him add his signature.
By the way, for those of you building RVs, two tips for you: Once you shape the fairing, consider using the 3M sanding sponges and pads. They work really great and can be bent to the form of the fairing radius and compound curve.
The second tip: Remove the electrical tape very slowly. Go to fast and it's easy for the edge to tear, embedding a small piece in the edge which will give you a rough edge. When removing the tape, pulll it off into the edge. Basically as you remove the tape, you're folding it over into a triangle and pulling down toward the canopy skin.
I've finished this part of the project just in time. Temperatures tonight are heading toward the 30s and it's time to put canopy work away for the winter in this unheated hangar. I didn't come all this way to crack a brittle plexigasscanopy in the cold. So now I'll work on reinstalling the canopy release mechanism, add the heaterbox and doubler plate to the firewall, set the breakout force for the nose gear, and then get started with electrical runs and avionics.