Saturday, March 27, 2010

Taxing work

'Tis the season. I spent the morning putting the finishing touches on this year's collection of tax forms. For a number of reasons, that's a job that never seems to leave me feeling better for having gotten it done, but those are topics for a less family-friendly blog. Let's just say that I was looking forward to getting down to the shop to do some work on N284DG. Today will be my only chance to make any progress on the plane as I'm going to be gone for most of next week.

As I mentioned last time, after not working on the plane for a few months, it takes awhile to get back into the rhythm of it all. The fuselage doesn't start you out easy though; the first step is to cut metal away from the Center Section, which is probably the most expensive metal piece in the entire fuselage. I can't say for sure what it costs; it's not listed individually in the Van's price list like most of the other pieces are. Cost aside, now that I know of their scarcity after waiting months to receive it, I sure wouldn't want to damage it through carelessness. For that reason, I approached the countersinking of the eight holes called out in step one the way a minesweeper works his way through a mine field: one little bitty step at a time.

I general, I like countersinking. The end result is a nice machined look that exudes an aura of precision. Unless, of course, you dig too deep. Then it just exudes an aura of expensive scrap metal. The quota of profane words used to convey disappointment and disgust having already been spent during the tax preparation work of the earlier morning, I needed to be very, very careful in my cutting. I'd say it turned out well:

The holes that I countersunk in the picture above are the two little ones. Those four "pressed" dimples came that way - two similar holes will enter today's story a little later. Also note the etched part number and what I assume to be a serial number - the center section is a seriously critical piece and it wouldn't surprise me to learn that Van's tracks each and every one.

With the holes successfully countersunk, it should have been a simple matter to squeeze in the rivets and the nutplates they hold in place:

And it was. Except for one thing: that rivet just didn't look right when I was done. At first glance, it looked like I had used a universal head rivet (those are round on the top) instead of a flush rivet. It only took a second to realize why it looked that way: I hadn't changed the universal head die in the rivet squeezer with the flush die:

That was easily as frustrating and every bit my own fault as having filled out my city tax return, in ink, with the wrong city being paid. The tax return got torn up and redone. The rivet would have to be drilled out. Surprisingly, the depletion of my stock of choice words didn't bother me all that much and I just shrugged it off with no verbal outburst whatsoever.

First, I drilled down through the head using a bit two sizes smaller than the hole so I wouldn't risk enlarging the hole and thus ruin the precious center section:

The rivet hadn't been squeezed very tight since it was the first to be squeezed and I was therefore still trying to get the rivet squeezer set to the right gap, so I was able to punch out the rest of the rivet with a center punch:

For the next step, the center section gets set aside and we do a little work on a part that will eventually get attached to it. This step confused me for two reasons. First, the plastic Retainer Block gets attached to the F-1204CL-R, but there is no symmetric attachment of a Retainer Block to the F-1204CL-L. Asymmetry is, in my experience thus far, usually reason for concern. It means you're missing something. I scanned ahead in the plans but could find no step where the same task was applied to the left piece. The second cause for pause was that I was being instructed to final drill a hole into two countersunk holes in the part, which was odd enough, but then that countersinking was to be trapped and hidden between the retainer block and the part. That seemed a terrible waste of some very nice looking countersinking!

Sometimes you just have to swallow your doubts and press on; confusing things usually become clear eventually. In this case, my second concern was addressed almost immediately. When I put the called for #11 bit in the drill, I could see that using it to final drill the holes would completely "eat" the countersinking. Ah, the countersinking wasn't there to allow for a flush-mounted fastener, it was there to center the drill bit while the hole was being final drilled. It does beg the question as to why they didn't just drill the #11 hole for us, but that kind of question never does get answered. We just learn to live with those.

Having decided to press on, I clamped the part to the workbench, drilled the holes, and bolted on the retainer block:

With the mystery of the asymmetrical retainer block hanging over me and darkening the mood in the room, it was with some degree of trepidation that I approached the next step, which was to exacerbate the mystery by asymmetrically installing a single retainer block in the center section. The holes for that block were also countersunk (although it might be more accurate to say "dimpled") to help hold the drill:

But, oddly enough, the same holes on the other side are filled with rivets:

While this doesn't explain why the left and the right sides are receiving unequal treatment in the realm of retainer blocks, it does send a strong indication that this imbalance is intentional. That's good enough for me! I went ahead with the drilling and the installing of the block:

There was only one more step on the page so I decided to go ahead and get it done. Unfortunately, it required retrieving a part from the shelves. That's a lot easier said than done early on when the vast majority of parts are still piled on the shelves rather than attached to the airplane, but I was able to locate the needed part fairly easily since it's relatively large. Basically this step was to dig out a couple of AN4 bolts to use as "locators" to get the part more or less in the right position on the center section and clamp it into place:

Looking at the long rows of undrilled holes, my guess was that I would soon see a step that required match drilling all of those holes to the center section.

And I was right! On the very next page, I'm offered the opportunity to drill 72 virgin holes, much like a [redacted - family blog]. To assist me in the performance of that step, the plans refer to a helpful tip on page 14-02. Great. That page comes with the wing kit which I don't expect to have until some time in August. I hope it wasn't a very important hint!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Regaining perspective

It's a lot like flying: it's obvious that there are skills that will get rusty after an extended layoff: radio work, takeoffs (in taildraggers, anyway), landings (in anything but a parachute), and other tasks that benefit from recent practice. As it turns out, there are skills in airplane building that also suffer from lack of recent experience. As a case in point, it took an embarrassingly long time to figure out the perspective of this drawing:

It's obvious to me now, just as it may have been to you right away, but for the longest time I thought that the center section in the picture was stood up vertically. Eventually it dawned on me that it is laid down horizontally on the table, like so:

That's as far as I'm going today. I still need to read through the plans. My number one goal is to determine how far I can go before having to transfer the work from my comfortable, convenient basement out to the somewhat less so (on both accounts) hangar. From a quick read-through, it looks like there is a tremendous amount of work that gets done before the rollover structure gets built. The rollover is the first piece high enough that it will preclude removal from the basement. It gets attached as the last step before attaching the fuse to the tail cone, so it's very close to when I would have had to move to the hangar anyway.

The open question is whether I can skip over the rollover structure and tailcone attachment steps and install the rudder pedals, brakes, and the fuel lines before moving to the hangar. Those would ever so much easier to do in the basement where the lighting and tools are better.

Fuselage inventory complete

All of the parts are inventoried and shelved:

Well, all of the parts in the sense of all of them that I received. There were a couple of discrepancies.

In lieu of an F-1273-R BAGGAGE CORNER SKIN, I received two F-1273-L BAGGAGE CORNER SKINs. I'd press on with the two left pieces but it would make the plane fly crooked. I called Van's and they are sending a replacement F-1273-L. Easy as can be.

The inventory also called for one F-1207C BAGGAGE BULKHEAD (what is it about the baggage pieces??) but I received two. One is the mirror image of the other and is unmarked, so I suspect there are supposed to be an F-1207C-R and an F-1207C-L included. I'm going to be reading through the plans for the next couple days and I'm sure I'll find out one way or the other.

Later: Confirmed. Page 24-04 has the F-1207C-R and F-1207C-L being riveted into place. In fact, they get riveted to the F-1284-R and F-1284-L "mystery pieces" in the tail cone. Now I know what those two little Shear Clips are for.

Hell hath no fury...

... like the month of March scorned. Or at least taken for granted. This year's March failed to live up to its "In like a lion" reputation and, well, we got complacent. The last thing I expected to see this morning was a coating of snow and the ever-infuriating frozen rain. But there it was! And on delivery day! That's worse than a forehead pimple on the day of the prom!

ABF Trucking called early to notify me that I could expect the truck around 9:45. They've been pleasant to deal with on both of my deliveries and they go out of their way to keep you in the loop, which is why I wasn't surprised when I got another call just a few minutes after the predicted delivery time to tell me that the driver was running a little behind schedule. I really appreciate good service like that! They had also warned me that the truck they were using this time was a little bigger than the last one. They weren't kidding!

There was no way I wanted that behemoth backing its way up my driveway, but fortunately I had taken their warning to heart and asked Good Neighbor Bob to bring his van down to the house. The driveway was too icy for us to try to carry a 227 lb. box up to the garage, so we'd need to transfer the box to the van and drive it up. Getting the box from the trailer to the van was easy since we were able to make copious use of our good friend Mr. Gravity.

Mr. Gravity: he's always there when you need him, and just as often when you don't.

The ever-watchful but seldom courageous Brave Sir Hogarth monitored the situation from the security of his ambush position:

The box was shaped differently than I had expected. For some reason, possibly because of the shape of a fuselage, I thought that the box would be taller and shorter than this:

The "lid" of the box was attached with coarse-thread screws rather than the staples that had been used on the tail kit box, so it was much easier to remove. An electric drill with a bit is always going to be faster and neater than a crowbar. The first step in unpacking one of these things is to remove the brown packing paper. Van's knows that the vast majority of these kits are going to be shipped well over a thousand miles by potentially uncaring trucking companies, so they use the pulped and processed product of a small forest to protect the pieces.

It would be a false economy to do otherwise, but it does present the recipient with a bit of a problem: what to do with all of that paper? Me, I just wadded it up and stuck it in trashbags to go out with the normal trash. Had I thought of it sooner, I might have soaked it down with a hose and tossed it into the back yard to return to the soil from which it sprang. Well, if I had thought of it sooner and if it hadn't been 35 effing (and I don't mean 'F' as in Mr. Gravity's close personal friend, Dr. Fahrenheit) degrees outside.

So, here it is without the top layer of paper:

From there it's simply a matter of unwrapping each of the parts bundles and hauling it all down to the shop. The white, flat piece leaning against the workbench is the plexiglass (or Lexan, or equivalent) for the back window:

The closest flat aluminum piece is the instrument panel part of the firewall:

The big aluminum piece is the center section that I waited so long for:

It was worth the wait. It's a complex, critical piece, and I sure wouldn't have wanted to squeeze or drive those big, fat rivets:

Inventory is next. I'm not sure when I will get to it as I'm not going to be around much next week.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

In celebration of...

In celebration of the incipient arrival of my long-awaited fuselage kit, I reserved my N-number today:


It helps to know that the serial number of my kit is 284. You know my initials.

Monday, March 15, 2010

"I hate to be a nag, but..."

I caught Van's five minutes after they opened the doors this morning. The last couple of nights have found me wide awake at 3:00 am, wondering what could possibly be wrong with my fuselage kit order. It's been six weeks since the original estimate date, and they are currently showing only an eleven week lead-time on the fuse kit on the Van's web site. That got me to wondering if somehow my order had been completely forgotten.

"No," she said, "it's still waiting on a center section."

Once I got off the phone, I started wondering just how critical this "center section" is, and why I couldn't get started on the kit while they gather up a center section to ship to me later. Via looking at some builder's blogs I determined that there was no hope of that: "Step one: Prepare F-1204 Center Section."

Well then.

They expect a shipment of center sections later this week. Where they're coming from, I have no idea. I'm think (hope!!) I'm near the front of the line, though.

It would have faster to have needed a kidney.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Still waiting...

No word on the fuselage kit, but that leaves me plenty of time to look at things like this:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Train Busting

These always seem to end the same way:

It was a nice evening formation flight while it lasted, though.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Summit

Watching this video I could almost imagine what it must be like to have reached Base Camp one of six during an assault on Everest:

Still a long way to go for me, but an amazing inspiration to keep climbing.

I actually teared up a little bit the first time I watched this - what a well-made first flight video!