Friday, September 26, 2008


I just wrote a piece at my day job about the Swiss man who flew his jet-powered wing from France to England so I won't repeat it here.

But I'm wondering if this "wing" looks at all familiar to some of you RV airplane builders?

An RV horizontal stabilizer, maybe?

Hmmmmmm..... I wonder if I could reach Wisconsin from here?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Whatever happened to that canopy fairing?

Yes, I know, I haven't put another post up about sanding the canopy fairing I've been working on for at least -- what? -- two days.

I went out to the hangar last night and have done some more sanding on the top edge after -- following the directions -- putting a coat of epoxy on the edge onto the electrical tape that marks the top edge. The directions say to then sand the epoxy off the tape, revealing a nice edge. Later in the instructions, however, it says the top edge consists of "two or three coats of epoxy." So I was confused -- my natural state. Should I put a few coats on and sand or put on one coat and then sand, then put on another?

Joe Blank, who is easily the best technical support dude at Van's Aircraft set me straight:

Hi Bob,

Usually multiple coats of brushed on epoxy filler works in this area to finish off the fairing, and sand between coats. Here is the way I prefer to finish out the fiberglass strip on either the slider or the tip-up style canopy.

Once the multiple layer glass cloth/epoxy layup is completed/molded and set, if you haven't defined the strip width already using tape, do that now. I prefer to use black electrical tape. You can make nicer curves and contours, and the epoxy won't wick under the tape edge. You can vary the width of the fairing a bit around the corners to make it look more esthetically pleasing to the eye. Lightly sand the area to eliminate any high zones. Next, mix up a baseball sized amount of either micro-balloons (glass beads) or a product called "Superfill" (from Spruce).

I prefer the Superfill, as it's light, the right consistency, and is very predicable. Using a 4x6" piece of plastic or cardboard as kind of a squeegee, apply the filler to the taped off area. You can start in the middle and work to the outer edge or start on one side and work to the other, as it really doesn't matter. (I call this arts and crafts at this point ;-) Symmetry is the name of the game here, to simply make both sides look the same. If an area looks too low, then add a bit more material. If an area looks to high, then use a bit more pressure on your squeegee to scrape it down. Use the squeegee action to form a nice smooth surface. Once you have enough material on and are reasonably happy with the results, step away from the work! Let it set up for a day or so.

The next day, come back and inspect the work and determine if there are any high/low spots that need to be addressed. Circle these with a sharpie so that you only try to repair these spots. Once everything else looks acceptable, it's time to sand. Fabricate 3 sanding blocks from wood that approximate the shape of the fairing in the center, halfway to the outboard edge, and at the outboard edge. I simple cut several pieces of cardboard that mimicked the shape and held them up to the the fairing.

Using progressively finer grits of sandpaper and the blocks, lightly sand each zone until you get the exact contour you like. Once that looks acceptable, paint the fairing with a filler/primer (rattle can works fine). Once primed, the painted surface will highlight any other defects or contours so that you couldn't see otherwise. If everything looks acceptable, then peel the tapes off and clean up any areas that need it.

Hope this helps.....

This is one of those times I wish I'd talked to Joe beforehand because this isn't the way I did it. I did one layer of fiberglass at a time (I don't have that much time at the hangar that I can do it all at once) and I tended to shape as I went along. I like Joe's method better, however, but it's too late now.

That next RV I build is going to be really nice!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Airport setting highlights conundrum for Republican pilots

(This is a piece I wrote for my day job today)


It's significant, perhaps, that Sara Palin's visit to Minnesota on Friday is occurring at a general aviation airport -- Anoka Blaine Airport. If there's one area where she and her running mate disagree, it's on the biggest issue facing general aviation : user fees.

Complicating the issue even more is that the "aviation community" leans heavily Republican.

For the last 2 1/2 years, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the largest lobbying arm of general aviation, has been opposing a Bush administration proposal to finance the Federal Aviation Administration with user fees, similar to how Canada finances its aviation services. (Full disclosure: I am a member of AOPA, however I lean toward a user-fee system.)

It says the surplus in the Aviation Trust Fund, paid for by taxes on general aviation fuel, airline passenger tickets, and cargo, should be used instead, and argues that the skies will be less safe because pilots won't use air traffic control and other services designed to keep flying a relatively safe exercise.

The nation's airlines want more of the cost of the system transferred to business and general aviation. Business and general aviation interests say it's the airlines that are the biggest users, and should be the biggest funders.

The plan has plenty of supporters. "General aviation should pay more; the FAA says it provides only 3 percent of the financing for the air-traffic control system, yet it accounts for roughly 17 percent of its use," the Rocky Mountain News editorialized at the height of the debate in 2007.

Sen. John McCain has leaned toward the airlines' view, voting against an amendment to eliminate the Bush administration's proposed $25-per-flight user fee on general aviation.

As chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, McCain had a testy exchange when he tried to block the appointment of the AOPA president -- to a council that advises the FAA on aviation issues.

"I wanted to get at, which we should get at, the wealthiest people in America who are flying corporate jets around this country and not paying an extra penny for doing so, while average citizens, average middle income, lower income American citizens are paying, again, an increase in their cost of air tickets, while your fat cat friends pay nothing. "

McCain stressed that user fees would only apply to business aircraft. The general aviation interests insist that a user fee-funding system would only expand.

Who favored eliminating the user fee? Gov. Sarah Palin. She signed a resolution in Alaska in 2007 that opposed "the enactment of the provisions in the Next Generation Air Transportation System Financing Reform Act of 2007 that impose user fees, increase aviation fuel and aviation gas taxes, reduce airport funding, and reduce Congressional oversight of the Federal Aviation Administration."

Obama's position? According to Evan Sparks, who writes about aviation policy, "As far as I can find, he's not on record endorsing user fees, and the FAA reauthorization bill never came up for a final vote in the Senate."

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Listening to voices

In aviation, it's not uncommon to hear voices.

Rare is the time I'm flying when I don't hear the sound of my first flight instructor's voice.

Airplane building is like that, too. I hear voices all the time, and it's a good thing because I think the RV-7A I'm building will be a better airplane because of it. Sometimes I hear the voice of Ken Scott at Van's (although it comes through as an e-mail), urging me to "build on" when I think it's better to build some part again.

Other times the voice says something entirely different. Yesterday was one of those times.

On Thursday, after 7 hours of work, I had convinced myself that the canopy windscreen fairing was shaped about as well as could be. But part of me had doubts and the voices wouldn't stop on Friday. So by Saturday morning, I knew what I had to do.

"You have to be a little more aggressive in sanding," Doug Weiler's voice said to me yesterday, repeating what the president of the Minnesota Wing of Van's Air Force said to me in person a few weeks ago at the hangar.

"When you find yourself saying 'I guess that's good enough even though I'm not that happy with it,' it's time to take a break and think about it some more," RV-10 builder David Maib had said to me a week ago... and again, by proxy (me), yesterday.

When I arrived at the hangar yesterday, I opened up an old issue of Kitplanes while I munched down the Big Mac and Coke. It was the June 2007 issue, one about working with composites and, specifically, one about a canopy windscreen fairing on an RV-10.

The advice was comforting -- you can fix anything that isn't right with fiberglass, for example -- and instructive. The builder had used 14 short pieces of fiberglass instead of one or two long pieces. I had used about 3 on previous layups and I didn't like the result much. I had, over the last week or so, sanded well into those layups and I had already decided to do one final layer of fiberglass, having shaped the radius.

By the time I finished reading the article, and with the voices seeming to scream at me, I knew what I had to do: a better job.

So I put the low-grit sandpaper back on the shaping tool and went back to work. Instead of trying to do the entire length of the radius at once, I concentrated on getting one small area just the way I liked it, and expanding it from there. Eventually, it was done, and I liked it.

It may still not be Oshkosh show plane quality -- or even the RV next door quality -- but I'm finally happy with it.

Then I layed down the final layer of fiberglass, having realized that I really hadn't been cutting the fiberglass strips on a 45 degree angle and finding that, yes, it's a lot easier when you do (the fiberglass doesn't come unweaved). I layed down short strips, taking care to tuck it right up to the tape that marks the top edge of the fairing (the fiberglass there will be sanded down level with the tape, and then the tape will be removed, hopefully revealing a nice tapered edge).

When I put peel ply on it, I felt for the first time that I understood fiberglassing technique better, and vowed -- as I have for 7 years -- that the next RV airplane I build will be even better.

When I finished, I heard a voice say, "nice job, Bob."

That one was mine.

Friday, September 12, 2008

RV Builder's Hotline posted for 9/13/08

The RV Builder's Hotline for September 13, 2008 has been posted. It's being e-mailed out tonight using the e-mail client that's been a little finnicky, and then on Saturday it will be e-mailed again using the "old program."

I'd appreciate it if subscribers would add a comment here if they receive one tonight and one Saturday/just the one tonight/ just the one on Saturday/ or none at all.

Thanks for your time.

Update -- I've checked and doublechecked and the issues are going out. If you're not getting them, there's a limited amount I can do as the problem is with your ISP. Charter Communications customers, for instance, are getting the Hotline blocked. I've contacted the company and we'll see if they do anything about it. I have provided some guidance on what to do about this in this week's issue.

You may also wish to set up a separate e-mail account on gmail or yahoo or windows live and import that account into your e-mail client in order to circumvent the restrictions that your ISP has put up.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

When building progress is hard to see

When you're building an airplane, you go through many phases. There is a phase where motivation comes easy. When you're building a wing, or a flap, or a fuselage, you see fairly steady progress. At the end of your workday you close the garage or hangar door and look at your work and say, "gee, that's looking like an airplane, it won't be long before it's flying."

This is the same situation as a line at Disney World. Just when you think you're getting somewhere, you turn a corner and realize the line is way longer than you thought.

I am in one of those lines now. I am about to pass 1,800 hours of work on the RV-7A since I started in 2001. Even though the project is now at a hangar and not in the garage, I still work at least one hour a day on it, usually on the way home from work. I feel that I've put hours into the plane this year than any year so far.

But progress? Where's the progress?

I assume it's there... somewhere... but one cannot depend on it for motivation at this stage. Today, for example, I took the day off from work, and spent 7 hours at the hangar, mostly working on the canopy fairing. I've been working on this for several months now, and while I'm making some progress, I still have a long way to go, and I'm pretty sure it's not going to be as nice as I would have liked.

The windscreen fairing is simply the transition between the metal of the airplane skin and the curvature of the plexiglass canopy. Ideally, you want a nice, sleek radius (curve).

It involves laying up fiberglass and then sanding in the the radius and then slowly sanding away fiberglass. A line of tape marks the top edge of the fiberglass so there, too, it needs to be carefully sanded to a razor-thin edge.

Today, I sanded some more, down to 150 grit, and started filling in the pinholes and rough spots by spreading more epoxy.

There are two small aluminum clips that I used to hold the canopy in place. They come through when I sand the fiberglass down (you can see them in the photo below). I'll get them covered, but this presents a bit of a "ski jump" look to the radius. Looking back, I think I should have cut the canopy back farther when I was cutting it -- cutting it back right to the point at which the vertical portion begins.

There's another transition on the side of the canopy that I haven't been paying that much attention to. Here, there isn't a radius, it's a smooth curve around to the side, and then a feathered bit of fiberglass to the side aluminum skirts. You can probably see here that right now there's just a bunch of fiberglass layed up here. More sanding is required, but I've got time.

While I let the epoxy cure (at least 24 hours), there was plenty of other work to do. I'm putting the fresh air ventilation system into the cabin. It needed a dumb, little bracket made out of .032 aluminum angle. Nothing hard, it just took a few hours more than I'd planned. And because I lowered the instrument panel by 1/8", some of the predrilled holes in the instrument panel didn't help me much here.

And that's one of the interesting things about building an RV airplane, everything has an effect downstream. A small change made here, affects a part you work on later, and another, and another, and another.

But I muddle on, even though I'm not at the stage where I can turn around and say, "wow, I'm moving right along, this thing will be flying soon."

It won't be flying soon, but we airplane builders plug along anyway.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Toys for lots (of dollars)

Although it lacks a certain organization, I like my idea of buying pieces of my panel over a long period of time. Yesterday another key piece arrived. The Grand Rapids Technology Engine Information System came last night. I bought it at Oshkosh in July. They lost the order but found it last week. No matter, I'm nowhere near the point of installing it.

The EIS will monitor what's going on with my engine faster and better than any of the human senses. If it reports a problem, I land -- immediately -- well before the problem threatens my safety. That's the plan, anyway. It's a compact, relatively inexpensive ($1,400) unit that also will monitor my fuel usage, cylinder head temps, oil pressure and temperature, exhaust gas temperature, RPM, and perform a ton of other tasks of keeping an eye on the engine while I'm busy looking out the window to keep from bending metal with another plane.

So far -- let's see if I can remember this -- I have my lights/strobes, emergency locator transmitter, a 296 Garmin GPS in an AirGizmo panel dock (I'm going to upgrade to a 496 at some point, probably), an audio intercom, a TruTrak single-axis autopilot (I'm probably going to switch to a Trio Avionics two-axis autopilot). I still have to decide on an EFIS (electronic flight information system) and am currently leaning toward the GRT Horizon HX.

David Maib, RV-10 builder on Fleming Field, stopped by the hangar last night. He was down at SteinAir looking at his new panel being built, the one with three Vertical Power units. Stein Bruch says he's convinced the solid state electronics are the future of aviation, so now I'm once again thinking of spending the dough ($6,500 last time I checked) for a VP-200 unit.

Of course, none of this is going to happen until I get the canopy windscreen done. I did more sanding last night.

The Halogen light makes everything look yellow. David looked at the radius and said, "I think you're about there." I think I am, too. I'm going to sand the very top down even with the two plys of electrical tape, and then switch to a higher-grit sandpaper, then start filling and sanding.

Here's another view:

This one makes it look like there's a bump on the left. There's not. I don't know what makes it look like there is.

Good luck, David -- Speaking of Mr. Maib, he made his last "official" flight as the chief pilot for Target Corp., yesterday, he told me. When he landed, the airport fire trucks saluted him with sprays of water. I've always thought that would be a sad occasion for a pilot, but David says, "I'm ready." As of this week, he told me, he's received a paycheck for flying every week for 40 years, starting with the Army (helicopter) in 1968. And now he's looking forward to finishing his RV-10 (first engine start next week?), flying off the hours, and then flying off with his wife, Mary, to their new home in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.

Monday, September 8, 2008


Just for the record, I hate sanding. I've finished the layers on the canopy, now I have to figure out when a radius is a the one I'm looking for, and when do I start applying filler? And how.
Here's the radius I've got now. I'm using a 4" PVC pipe as the tool to get the radius.

All suggestions welcome!


Now that the conventions are over, I got back to work on the RV over the weekend. It sounded great to hear small planes in the air now that the week-long TFR has expired.

I put the last two layers (for now) of fiberglass on the canopy windshield. I ended up putting seven layers on, but I've been sanding as I go. The aluminum clips are coming through as I sand, so I'll just sand 'em down and probably put one final layers on after I get the radius right, or I'll cover them with filler. We'll see which. I wonder if any of you have had this "problem"?

Sanding sucks. I can't believe I was -- at one time -- going to build a GlasStar, a mostly composite airplane. My sandpaper loads up with dust almost right away. I looked for the "Norton champagne" variety online, but the minimum order is 100 sheets at about $40 for 80 grit, and it goes up from there as the grit goes up.

If I'd have been smart, I'd have gotten some others to go in on an order and then split it up. As it is, I ordered some sandpaper from a surfboard building site. I'll see if it works a little better.

The temperatures have cooled off considerably here in flyover country. I left the hangar door closed yesterday for the first time since the spring.

I reckon winter is coming.

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