Wednesday, July 27, 2011
The elephant man
There was a time in airplane homebuilding when the finished product had its share of warts and flaws that stood out like a sore thumb. The goal was the challenge of building an airplane that flew. I wish I'd built an airplane in those days because I'm not sure this one fits me. As N614EF nears completion, I'm embarrassed for other builders to see it.
This era is about building flawless airplanes worthy of Oshkosh; functionality is important, but the lovely finished product is a statement about the builder. Sure, there are dings here and there, but nothing serious and certainly nothing embarrassing.
N614EF's nickname is Auntie Marge, named after a wonderful relative of my wife's who was all about enjoying life. After this evening, I'm thinking of changing it to Elephant Man.
Years ago, when I was originally fitting the frame upon which the canopy would sit, I misdrilled a hole -- one stinking hole -- that allows one side of the canopy to sit slightly higher than the other.
Note, for example, the spot at which the canopy meets the front skin. The skin is sticking up about 1/4" and will, no doubt, act like an air scoop (click any of these pictures for the full monty).
Which creates this gap you can throw a cat through on the side...
Oh, it gets worse. This is a tip-up canopy and when it lifts up, the skin at the base of the canopy moves slightly forward and if a shim isn't put under the canopy frame to raise the skin slightly, it catches on the the skin in front of the canopy. Guess who forgot to put the shim in when riveting the canopy skin to the canopy frame?
So when the canopy lifted up, it caught on the front skin and cracked the fiberglass fairing. The only way to solve the problem is to file away the skin so that it doesn't catch. Doing that creates one heck of a gap. Keep in mind the company says the gap should be 3/32" inch here. This is about a half inch. Functional? Sure. Embarrassing? Yeah.
Normally, it should look something like this:
Another RV builder stopped by the hangar tonight. "I'd redo it," he said.
Allow me to translate that from the polite Midwestern lingo. "You suck at this."
Which, of course, I already knew, but it made clear that for as long as I hang around other people who build airplanes, I'll be apologizing for this one.
And, by the way, starting over would require a $1,200 canopy, and a few hundred dollars for a new canopy frame. I can't do it; I work for a living.
"Are you still thinking of selling this?" he said.
I am, but his message was clear; nobody will pay much to buy it.
All of this, of course, is -- in the lingo of Van's Aircraft, "gumption robbing."
Those thoughts I've had this week about flying N614EF to Oshkosh next year? Yeah, let's stop those.
Perhaps I should have built a time machine.