Saturday, August 21, 2010

Cowardice and cowling

It always seemed to me that when RV airplane builders started working on their cowling, they were near the end of their project. This week, a little more than nine years after I started building my RV-7A, I started working on the cowling in earnest.

Don't get me wrong, I've still got plenty to do on the airplane -- there's the little matter of plumbing the engine, for example -- but other than the wing tips, this will be the last of the "outside" parts of N614EF that people will see when they walk around my airplane. And therein lies the problem, of course.

I don't want to screw it up, and yet, this is the part of Van's airplanes that everyone says has directions that are not very good. Indeed, I've spent two weeks starting at the plans, and reading the instructions and it was only today that I noticed that the instructions basically say, "make it fit." Swell.

Last week, my building pal, Warren Starkebaum, flew over to South St. Paul to give me the once-over on how this is done, so I started on the top of the cowling and after three or four days of being fairly finnicky, I got it to fit as good as I think it will.

So today, I started on the bottom of the cowling, after reading several Web sites with some tips. The problem with almost all of them is they are taildragger models, whereas mine is a nose-gear model. That means you have to cut a slot for the nosegear leg to fit through.

The problem is there's really no knowledge that I've come across that tells me -- exactly -- what I need to do next... and after that... and after that. It seems to me there's money to be made here somewhere for someone in a particular region of the country to be a "cowling coach," working with a builder for an afternoon until they get past the point of no return. These things are expensive, and there's no desire to have a cowling coffee table.

Anway, I found a new use for the wing stand (which I don't need anymore because the wings are attached to the plane now).

The instructions say the bottom cowling should match the radius of each bottom corner of the firewall -- and mine does. And now I need to trim the back end to make the front end match, I guess. But this is kind of crazy.

Still, I can see how it will end up looking like an airplane.

All this fitting seems to be a two-person job. So I think I'm going to wait to do anything more until I can find someone in Minnesota who's done this before, who's willing to spend a few hours helping me get it to a final fit. After that, the sanding and then the filling and sanding of the finish, can be done solo.

Any volunteers?

Update 8/22/10

I've been sanding and grinding away at getting the two halves to fit. So far, this seems to be the best I can do. I don't want to sand too much off and make the two parts that overlap brittle. But, geez, ugly or what?

Here's the front left

Front right:

From what I've found on other people's sites, the plans call for you to drill the two halves together in the front. But I'll be darned if I can find that mentioned anywhere in the plans or on the drawing. Time to get a break, methinks.


  1. Congratulations on getting to the cowl. You are brave man with a ton of persistence. But you are correct, this is no time to make an expensive mistake so if you don't know exactly how you are going to finish this task, take a break, go to the fair, and let your mind catch up with your problem.

    You look like you are about to have an airplane fit for the front rows at Oshkosh. Good work!

  2. As a matter of fact, I'm taking next week off from work (we have to cut our banked vacation horus from 8 to 6) to work at the Minnesota Public Radio booth at the State Fair. I'm a cashier. I had a ton of fun with that last year so I signed up to spend my vacation there and I'm even working double shifts.

    Everyone stop by. Buy a T-shirt. Just follow the pork-chop-on-a-stick smoke and it'll lead you right to the MPR booth.

  3. OMG!! I can't wait!
    Sounds like a break will be good, but I think that getting a 2nd person (with some cowl experience) to assist is the best idea. Good luck Bob....hang in there buddy!

  4. Bob,
    I feel your pain. Have you looked at Matt Dralles site. He has built and flown an RV-8. The procedures are the same. It is a well documented site. You can get there from Van's home page by going to the links and look under RV-8. It should give you some ideas.
    Good luck,
    Paul LeDoux