Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The secret life of pipe clamps

If you're going to build your own airplane -- or, really, even if you are going to fly any airplane -- you need to be good at seeing ways to solve problems that might not, at first, be obvious. I'm not particularly good at this, I have to admit, even though my day job consists of seeing things (in news stories) that others might not see.

We can -- and do -- get dependent on the information available to us. You start out with the heavily-narrated Van's instruction manual which eventually weans you off onto depending on the schematic drawings and then, if you're not careful, you'll be late in the project when you realize there's nothing, really, to tell you how the engine should be plumbed and various things put together. So you get dependent on your Internet friends to walk you through it.

I've raised two kids now and I know that there is genetic predisposition for them to want to be "independent," a term which they, of course, think means "do it yourself without any help." I don't know where they would've gotten this characteristic.

After awhile, I get tired of asking for help to see things that I can't see, from others who clearly have seen them.

That's a high-minded way of saying to people within a mile of Fleming Field in South St. Paul, "I'm really sorry for all the bad words you've heard coming from 217 Charlie Lane the last few days."

What couldn't I figure out? How to get these clamps tight enough around the exhaust to allow a bolt to be put through them.

You can't. Pliers don't fit in there right, C-clamps keep popping off etc. So, of course, I asked the folks at Van's Air Force. And there were several replies that made sense.

The one I though the most brilliant, was to use a hose clamp to compress the clamp around the exhaust pipe.

There's one problem with this. You have to try to put it on at an angle but as you tighten it, it wants to get straight. So you have to put your hand in place while tightening to keep it from doing that.

But even that isn't enough to get the hole to line up properly. So then you take a pair of needle nose Vise Grips and squeeze the two prongs together...

But even that's not enough, so you need to put a C-clamp around the clamp to push the prongs down even more, while still having room to slip the bolt in...

But even that wasn't enough (at least on one side). I had to thread a small c-clamp horizontally across the prongs to get them to line up. That's four tools to get one stinking bolt in.

But, eventually, that was enough.

Now, I may have to take all of this apart once I fit the bottom cowling, because it's hard to figure out exactly where the exhaust pipes should go at this stage. So I'll get to do this all over again.

I can't see me liking that.

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