Monday, February 28, 2011

Wow, what a difference [insert appropriate temporal period here] makes!

It's a trite expression. I'm so tired of hearing it that I actually cringe whenever someone says it. Actually, I think I've moved beyond 'cringe' and now grind my teeth. All of that having been said....

Wow, what a difference a day makes!

Yesterday I enjoyed temperatures in the high 50's accompanied by a light breeze and soft blue skies by shooting a round of sporting clays in the morning and working on the RV-12 wing in the afternoon. The shooting didn't go nearly as well as it did my last time out. You may remember that I had a brand new ("to me," as the impecunious like to say) shotgun last time out, and scored a 22 out of 50 with it. This time around I shot 9. The message here is clear: I need to buy a new shotgun every two weeks.

This morning I drove to work in a Mitty-esque drama that was something akin to flying a B-17 through thirty miles of flak to deliver a load of bombs to the oil fields of New Albany, Ohio. Well, minus the abject, visceral terror of getting blown out of the sky, anyway. With the flashes of lightening in the night sky playing the visual role of flak bursts and the violent slaps against the side of the car from the gusty winds, it was easy to slip into the role of Squadron Commander Dave.

Or it would have been if I wasn't drenched; having failed to buy gas the day before when the weather was nice, I was forced to stop before making the long trek to work. As I stepped out of the car, there was just a light drizzle. Just as I started pumping gas, though, the clouds broken open with a deluge and the winds behind it forced it horizontally under the roof over the pumps. Fortunately I was there to block most of it or the pump might have gotten wet. And what a shame that would have been!

Still, as I was battling my way north with the winds pounding against the flanks of the car and the deep puddles on the highway trying to wrest control of the steering wheel from my white-knuckled hands, I was able to think a few positive thoughts about the pouring rain:

- I had picked a great weekend to replace my worn wiper blades with a pair of brand new (really brand new, not "to me" brand new) Rain-X Latitudes. I had AutoZone install them on my car, but also bought a pair to take home for the wife's car. I couldn't figure out how to get the old ones off and the included instructions offer no assistance on that topic, so I offered Egg the opportunity to take the car back up to AutoZone and get some help. Where's the opportunity for her in that? Well, anytime you can mock your daddy for his ineptitude, well.... kids love that!

- It wasn't snowing.

- It was washing the accumulated salt off of my car - another thing I had failed to do over the weekend.

- It's Monday and I would only be inconvenienced while driving to work as opposed to a rainy weekend day when the whole day would be a write-off.

That's as far as I got with happy thoughts before I caught up with a truck and added temporary road blindness to my list of woes. Man, do those things ever throw up a bow wave!

It was a productive weekend by any measure. On the topic of the RV-12 (oh, and let me now say "Welcome" to those of you that are well versed enough with my preliminary ramblings to just scroll down to the first picture), I was able to get to the point where all that is left to do is to seal the wingtip. I would have gone ahead and done that, but I ran into a situation that I wanted to spend some time thinking about first. We'll get to that in a minute.

First, I found a better way to break the irritatingly-dimpled edge of the wing walk doubler. I'm a huge fan of the converted visegrip edge breaking tool, but it simply wouldn't work with those dimples in the way. The original edge breaking tool that I bought (and hated when trying to break the edges on the tail cone) worked much better.

Riveting the doubler, just like everything else about this wing, seemed easier this time around. I still had to do a Mitty-esque farm veterinarian thing to get the ribs lined up correctly, though. Mooo!

So, there's the right wing mostly done.

The hangar is getting mighty crowded. I've all but decided that it's time to start the more-than-likely lengthy process of selling the RV-6. I need the space. It's due for annual inspection in March and I hate to spring the $$$s (and working hours) for that when a pre-buy inspection is likely to be right around the corner. As much sense as it makes to get busy with selling it, it's still a horribly difficult decision. I'll sure miss it when it's gone!

I started on the wing tip. This too went much more easily the second time around.

Until, that is, I was getting ready to close out the wing tip and noticed that I had forgotten to run a length of fishing line through the wire bushings in the ribs. The fishing line would someday be used to pull through electrical wires for navigation, strobe, and landing lights if I were ever to decide to install a lighting kit. I have no plans to do so at this point, but someday I might. I'm trying to decide if it's worth doing now, or if it would be just as difficult to do now as it would be to do at the time I (maybe) install the lights. It all comes down to whether or not the wing tip has to be re-opened to install the nav lights for not. If so, same pain then as now. If not, slightly less pain to do it now.

Sigh. Another tough decision.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Another way to skin a wing

The left wing took me almost two weeks to get skinned, mostly because I could only squeeze in one panel every couple of days or so. Each panel took something longer than an hour. The right wing, on the other hand, has gone much quicker as a result of having help. I've mentioned before that having two people working on a riveting job is more than the twice as fast as one working alone. That's counter-intuitive, but you have to factor in the time lost to tool changes. With two people working, each focused in a specific task, there is far less time spent putting down one tool in order to use a different tool.

The math for three people working on the job is a little different. With three working, there's only a little performance bump over two working, although it's still a measurable improvement. Enough of an improvement, it seems, that we were able to get all three of the top skins on in one session. Co-pilot Egg invited her newest Friend-That-Is-A-Boy (as opposed to the highly connotative word 'boyfriend' - I don't want to be the cause of any arguments between them) to help. I've found that it's best when enlisting help of this nature to catch it in the early days when they're still trying to impress her Dad. Within just a few visits they lose some of the awe for some reason, and feel perfectly comfortable in declining such a generous offer to assist in building an airplane.



That having been said, Case (not his real name, but for trivial reasons I think it will make a good blog-name) seemed to have a good time. He picked up the rhythm of the riveting with ease and withing minutes was pushing the rivet placer to speed up her pace.

We had the three panels on in less than an hour and a half. Once I was comfortable that Egg was supervising competently, I went on to the next step: prepping and priming the wing walk doubler.

Here's the team photo:

Saturday, February 19, 2011

In search of...

I love egg rolls. More specifically, I love egg rolls in the same way that I love shrimp cocktail: I use them as a socially acceptable means for transferring a tasty condiment from the plate to my mouth. With shrimp, it's the tangy, horseradish-laced cocktail sauce that I want. I can't get enough of it, but dipping my fingers directly into the sauce dish would surely cause some uncomfortable glances to be cast my way.

With egg roles, it's the hot, HOT Chinese mustard. You know, the stuff that you can feel all the way up into your sinuses. So far up there that you can feel the burn behind your eyes. I just love the stuff. Even when the egg rolls are gone, I hoard the little dish of mustard until after the meal when I can dip pieces of my fortune cookie into it. Unfortunately, ostensible mustard they sell in grocery stores is no good.

It simply doesn't cut the mustard, as it were.

I've tried every brand, and found none that can provide the burn I so crave.

When we vacationed in Chicago last year, I made it a point to set aside a day to visit Chinatown. I thought that I would be able to get some of the real stuff simply by visiting a Chinese grocery store. That proved to not be all that simple. The problem was not in finding an authentic Chinese grocery store; there were dozens of them. And by authentic, I mean two things: the aisles were packed with all kinds things I had never heard of, and even if I had heard of them, I had never considered them to be comestibles. Second, the stores were so authentic that no one working in any of them spoke English. That put me in a bit of a quandary: we had spent a couple hours going from store to store and I couldn't find anything that looked like mustard. My futile attempts to ask the grocer were met with looks of complete and abject confusion. They had no idea what I was asking them.

I finally hit upon what I considered to be a brilliant idea. We would go have lunch in a Chinese restaurant, order some egg rolls, and ask the (presumably) English-speaking waitress to write a note explaining what I was looking for. I'd then hand her note to one of the grocers and we'd be done! And I think that idea would have worked, except for one little detail that had never even entered my mind. When I asked the waitress where I could buy the Chinese mustard that she brought out with the egg rolls, she said,

"It's not Chinese mustard. Chinese don't use mustard; this is an American thing. We buy it at CostCo."


All of this is a long way of saying that I finally found the little wrenches that came with the new air riveter. I remembered putting them away somewhere safe so I wouldn't lose them, which virtually guaranteed that I would. I've made the rounds from toolbox to workbench shelves to other toolbox to storage cabinet at least a half dozen times. Then I noticed the original box that the riveter had come in pushed way to the back corner of the shelf under my tool bench.

Could I have left them in the box? Could it have really been that easy all along??


But soon thereafter I did find them pushed to the very back corner of the tool drawer where I keep the pneumatic rivet driver.

With that problem solved (and the wrenches tossed casually into a pile of unrelated detritus so it will be easier to find them next time I need them), Co-pilot Egg was able to rivet the leading edges. Once that was done, I installed the flaperon hinge braces using the much-easier-then-last-time method of not riveting the bottom flange of the little doubler to the skins until after I got the beefy part of the hinge brace inserted up through the slot in the skins.

That took us up to lunchtime. We went to Skyline for some coneys and decided to call it a day.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Co-pilot Egg has been helping me now and then with the seemingly interminable task of riveting wing skins onto the skeleton. I was curious at first as to why she was demonstrating this new-found but eminently-welcome interest in the finer points of aircraft building. Well, as it turns out, she seems to feel that she has something to prove.

Having recently (and suddenly) discovered a latent interest in the theater arts, she has volunteered to work as a member of the stage crew for the spring play at her high school. She has been working on a team that is designing and constructing the backgrounds and props for the stage. Apparently there was an incident involving one of the freshmen on the team. You may remember the vast differential in status between a high school junior and a freshman, but if you don't, let's just say that Egg would sooner receive criticism from a village idiot, or her father should no such idiot be available.

The incident involved the drilling of a hole using a power drill. One would think that the act of drilling a hole with a power drill would as uncontroversial as can be, but something in the way young Egg was doing it drew a caustic response from the aforementioned freshman. Cowering in the ensuing angry stare from an enraged Egg, the offending freshman decided that it was in the best interest of his personal safety (survival?) to offer a conciliatory statement:

"Don't worry, you'll learn how to drill someday."

So, yeah, she's suddenly interested in helping build an airplane. As a type of resume material, I suppose, in the event of another pithy observation from a lesser being. "Hey, I'm building an airplane, you know," she'll likely answer.

I'm happy to have the help, though, and no more so than tonight when we would need to flip the wing over after finishing the last of the bottom skins. I had already postponed the job for a night because she wasn't up to it last night after a painful workout in her weight lifting class (I'm not making that up - they disguised it under the benign sounding "Lifetime Fitness" in the course schedule), so I really wanted to get it done tonight. She wasn't in the mood, though, or so it appeared by the mopey way she dragged herself out of the house and into the car. I've seen her go into the dentist's office with more enthusiasm.

I make concessions for this kind of moodiness. She's of the age where much of her day-to-day attitude is driven by the vast flowing river of hormones running through her body. I've often said that I could stick a tap in her forehead like they do with maple trees in Vermont and make Moody Syrup with the sap. In any event, we arrived at the hangar in a bleak and funereal mood.

An hour later the wing was skinned. And, as I have often found out myself, the therapeutic nature of the work had completely shifted her outlook. There's just something about pulling rivets with the pneumatic rivet puller that can improve anyone's mood. Above and beyong that, though, was the satisfaction she found in the act of preventing me from making a horrible mistake.

As she was placing rivets in the row of holes where the edge of the middle skin overlaps the inner edge of the outer skin, she came to a hole that didn't seem to be a hole. She could see the two holes from the skins, but there was nothing but solid aluminum where the rib should be. With her recent focus on drills, her first inclination was to grab a drill and create a hole where none existed, but she thought that it was unlikely that at this stage in building the plane that we had found a hole that Van's had forgotten to drill for us.

I crawled underneath the wing to see what was wrong.

Oh my!! How in the world had I missed that when I was clecoing the skin on! It's not even in the same zip code! Fortunately no rivets had been pulled and no new holes had been drilled so it was an easy fix. We were soon done.


In her recently (and suddenly) discovered latent interest in quality control, she found a rivet that didn't seem to meet her equally new high riveting standards.

I took a look at it. It seemed fine to me.

She disagreed, but reluctantly deferred to my judgement.

As I busied myself with getting the leading edge of the skins clecoed onto the top of the wing to keep them from flopping around, I learned a lesson on the topic of not leaving the Sharpie marker lying around.

(Cabot is a young Boxer/Black Lab mix who, due to a miscommunication with the vet, was being egregiously overfed to the detriment of his boyish figure)

By the time we got home, she was in a great mood, albeit quite hungry. And I was again impressed with the amazing mood enhancement that can result from a good night of airplane building.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Upgrading my as-yet-unpurchased avionics

In a shockingly unconventional weather development, I think we actually got up to 50 degrees yesterday. While I've often said that the best things ever to come out of the south are NASCAR and salted peanuts, I feel that I've been remiss in slighting the warm winter weather we sometimes receive from our friends down south. Now you would think that weather like that would send me to the hangar in a frenzy of airplane building excitement, but something strange has happened over the last few months: as I've become ever more comfortable with the bone-chilling winter cold, I've found that I can use the nicer weather for things that are even more outdoorsy than working in the semi-protected hangar.

To that end, I took the new trap out to the farm to see how well it could throw clay pigeons. As it turns out, it throws them quite well. Unfortunately, my ability to hit them was not nearly as stellar. Out of the 100 shells I fired, I don't think I hit two dozen of the clays. My niece's dog Alex, who is currently residing with my brother while she's off to college, had a lot more fun than I did. He absolutely loved chasing after the clays that I missed and bringing them back. And once we broke him of the habit of chewing them to pieces before we could re-use them, he actually made a financial contribution to the whole endeavor. The clays cost about seven cents each, so it wasn't a huge contribution, but for a family member that has been challenged throughout his entire life by his lack of opposable digits, it was more than we've come to expect.

So what's this got to do with the airplane? Well, nothing. But I did get to thinking about how things are going from a timing and finance point of view, and that got me thinking about the Dynon SkyView again. Van's has not yet completed their efforts to bring the SkyView to market so pricing is not yet available, nor are their plans regarding the fate of the current D-180 offer available to me as a decision making point, but I got to thinking about it again anyway. As I've possibly said before, unless there are compelling reasons to spend the extra dollars, whatever the eventual price may be, I don't know that I would go ahead with the upgrade. I had initially been concerned about Dynon sunsetting support of the D-180, but one of their employees has laid those fears to rest on this very blog.

I decided, then, to see if the feature set of the SkyView has progressed further than what I knew to be included in the first version. It has.


It will still come down to price differential, but I have to say that I am now strongly leaning towards the upgrade.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Right Wing Bias

I just can't help it. The right wing simply appeals to me more than the left wing. Why? Simply because the right wing doesn't have that irritating stall warning tab sticking out through the leading edge. That tab drove me nuts with its propensity to grab me as I walked by, and it was no mean feat getting it through the little slot in the leading edge of the wing skin when I tried to get that skin into place unassisted. So, no tab on the right wing makes it my preferred wing to work on.

You may be wondering why it has taken me so long to get started on the second wing. There's no mystery about it; between bad weather, a stressful week at the paying job, and some difficulty in finding someone to help me move the finished wing off of the benches and the skeleton of the right wing onto them, it took a full week for me to get back to work. It's done now, so progress should begin again.

First, though, I had to double check some of the work I've already done. I read on another builder's blog about a mistake he had made when installing some of the nutplates in the fuselage. After installing dozens of the same size nutplate, he missed a direction in the plans to install a different size. They're down in the tunnel between the seats and it took him a week to get a right angle drill attachment to drill them out and replace them with the correct size. Because I pride myself on my ability to screw up in every way imaginable, I thought it somewhat (if not very) likely that I too had made this mistake. It was with a measurable degree of trepidation that I approached the holes (or, at least, what I think are the holes in question) with a pair of AN-3 bolts.

To my immense relief, they fit just fine.

I had Co-pilot Egg along with me this morning. The weather had us up to 38 degrees today and to me that seems quite pleasant; I thought it would be warm enough for her to spend a couple of hours in the shop with me.

She had had enough after forty-five minutes. For the last twenty minutes of riveting, she sat in the car getting warm. Even so, the time that she was able to help me was well spent; riveting goes more than twice as fast with two people doing it. We got the first of the six skin panels on. Five more to go!

Saturday, February 5, 2011


I received the help I needed to flip the wing over from an unusual source. Months ago when she was choosing her classes at school, Co-pilot Egg opted for something called "Lifetime Fitness," or some similarly benign sounding thing. Much to her chagrin, it turned out to be a gym class that features weight training. That might explain why she's the only girl in the class. In any event, she fairly ripples with muscles now and is certainly capable of handling half of a 60 pound wing. We stopped by the hangar on our way to run some errands and got the wing turned over in just a couple of minutes. Then it was off to the Hallmark store to fulfill our shopping needs for Valentines Day.

Egg doesn't like shopping with me very much at the best of times, but she abhors it when I'm in a bantering mood. The Hallmark trip went something like this:

Hallmark Lady: "How are you doing today?"
Me: "Great! I'm way ahead of schedule on this."
HL: "Valentines Day?"
Me: "Yeah, I usually do this on the 17th."
HL: "Are you looking for 'wife'?"
Me: "Uh, no thanks, I already have a wife, but I appreciate the offer."
HL: "No, I meant the section with cards for your wife."
Me: "Oh. I thought that was kind of forward of you."

With the shopping complete, I dropped Egg off at home and returned to the hangar to finish up the closing of the wing tip. Although I don't think it's anywhere near realistic, or even necessary, to bend the flanges to the level of precision called out in the plans, I do think it's probably a good idea to at least get them in the neighborhood. I dug out my little angle finder gizmo and set it for 30 degrees.

The tabs bend easily with the custom tool given to me by The Jackson Two when they (mistakenly) thought they had no more use for it. The flanges have a tendency to spring back quite a bit, though, so it takes a few tries to get it just right.

I must have been pretty good at the measuring since the part when in just right the first time.

Here's the back corner.

Clecoed, then riveted.

It's just about done. There's an inspection panel to be installed, but it required ten dimpled nutplates and I decided to defer that until tomorrow morning. There's no hurry; I'm going to need some help swapping the left wing with the right wing skeleton that's currently sitting over on the sailboat and I'm not sure that's a suitable job for my little weight lifter.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Ha ha ha, just kidding!

Hey, I've got nothing against a good joke. I don't even mind being the subject of the joke now and then, as long as the word 'scrawny' doesn't enter into. Practical jokes? Love 'em. In fact, I just yesterday had a little fun with a Green Bay Packers fan at work. A few minutes with Google, a color printer, and a little tape and before he knew what had hit him people were questioning his treasonous leap to the other side!

It was all in good fun; no hard feelings, etc., etc.

But sometimes these things can just go too far. Take last night, for example. There I was, out in the 25 degree hangar trying to get a part to fit on the wing tip. It was one of those cases where the drawing in the plans doesn't do much more than show you which end of the airplane the part goes on. Vincent Van Gogh had a better handle on realism than whoever penned this particular drawing. That's usually not a huge problem; each part is labeled with a part number, and as we've seen over and over again, if the part won't fit and you're sure you're using the correct part, you're just doing it wrong.

Or, so I kept telling myself, over and over and over. But no matter how I tried to position the part, it simply would not fit into place. I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong. There was a clear and obvious curvature to the part that simply had to match the aerodynamic, Bernoulli-driven curvature of the wing, but when I tried to position it that way, it seemed completely backwards. I double-, triple-, quadruple-checked the part number. It definitely had a '-L' on it, and I was definitely working on the left wing.

After an embarrassingly long and futile effort, an inspiration struck me! Would the part marked with a '-R' wing fit any better?

Yes. Yes it did. It fit perfectly, in fact.

I have to confess: I was not amused. Sure, I appreciate the humor and I could have laughed along, but it had been another of those days that seem to be coming more and more frequently... I wasn't in the proper mood for it.

It all looked better in the morning after a good rest. All was forgiven and I had a good chuckle over how gullible I had been to fall for such an obvious joke. And as they say, forewarned is forearmed. I'd now know to be on the lookout for more shenanigans like this.

This afternoon I went back to the hangar to install the forward part of the two-part tip rib that I had failed to complete after my fit of pique. This one was going to be a little trickier because it needed to be fluted to fit both the Bernoulli curvature and the rounding of the wingtip.

Vigilant for another left vs. right prank, I clecoed the rib into place. At first I thought they were having me on again, but then I realized that it was the correct part after all, it just needed a lot more fluting that I had thought it would.

I wasn't quite sure about the proper layering at first, but this way seemed to fit the best. Remember, we're working with a pretty uninformative drawing on these steps. As I look at it now, though, it looks wrong. It fits nicely into a gap between the tab on the front of the back rib and the wing, but it might have ended up looking more correct if I had forced that tab to fit underneath the back part of the front rib. Oh well, I'm not drilling it all back out again for that! I'll see how it looks when I get to this step on the right wing.

I figured the best way to approach the fluting was to just work my way down the length of the rib. I marked a line at the first spot where it looked like fluting would make a difference.

Then it was just a matter of adding some flutes, putting the part back in place, making another mark, and adding more flutes. Rinse, repeat as needed.

As they say in the orchestra, ViolĂ !

Things were moving right along until it came to the next step, wherein I will close out the wing tip at the bottom. The part that closes the wing tip is shaped like something that they would show as an example in a catalog for expensive french curves, and it requires a bit of bending on the flanges in the same way the tail cone flanges needed to be bent when joining the cone to the rest of the fuselage. If I hadn't already had that experience, I might have fallen for this joke too:

Fortunately I now know they're pulling our legs with the 1 degree increments in the drawings. Getting within 10 degrees on any of those bends will be close enough to allow for any small adjustments needed when installing the part. I had a good laugh at the attempted joke, then quit for the day. I wasn't put out over the attempt to play me for a fool again, mind you. It's just that I want to flip the wing over before trying to get that part in there and I can't do that alone.