Sunday, September 25, 2011

Not much to cheer about

It's been one of those weekends. Driving home from the paying gig an Friday afternoon, I felt the usual small uplift in mood that precedes a couple days of not having to deal with the traffic and other associated hassles that come from having to interact with the rest of humanity. Nope, weekends usually offer up the promise of minimal computer help desk issues (supporting a handful of family/friends with their computer problems is so much easier than supporting three dozen), quiet relaxation around the house with the family, and a chance for some gratifying work on the airplane. It's the latter, I think, that clears my mind the most.

The paying job is probably better than most for providing some level of "job well done" satisfaction, but it's all so... intangible.  I'll spend hours developing an eloquent solution for someone else's work need, and every now and then spend even more hours re-doing it because they didn't like the result. I also spend hours adding in little convenience factors (remembering window sizes and positions, configuration settings, etc.) that they won't even notice as these little gems smooth out their work day.  That's all well and good, but at the end of the day I have nothing to show for it. There's nothing that I can touch and feel, nothing that I can step back and take a critical look at and think, "Nicely done," and to be perhaps overly honest, nothing that I can say that I did for myself. It is for these reasons that I look forward to the weekends.

All of that was torn asunder Friday evening when the Co-owner and I received a phone call from Co-pilot Egg as we were driving home from picking up dinner at a new restaurant near by. The dinner stop in itself was an exercise in patience-taxing frustration as they lost our order and we spent twenty minutes waiting for them to get their act together. Now that wasn't time wasted, mind you. It gave me plenty of time for one of my favorite things to do at a new restaurant, which is to find misspellings in the menu. In this case, I chuckled over 'Hot Gralic Chichen,' but I laughed out loud when I got to 'Garlic Fog Legs.' You know what they say about fog legs: they taste just like chichen!

Anyway, I pretty much knew what the problem with Egg was as soon as I heard her voice. Pretty much any time she's crying her eyes out, it means something has taken a turn for the worse in a relationship. Unfortunately, that was the case this time as well. Her boyfriend, Mr. Case, had called it quits. Some of the Dads of daughters reading this will understand me when I say that this was not one of the "Oh, good!" break-ups for me; no, this is one of the break-ups where I feel like I've been dumped too. I really liked this one. And I have to say, the kid had class. None of this texting or phone call stuff for him - he told her in person, and he stayed with her until we could get home. That could not have been easy.

So, it's a weekend of emotional turmoil in the house, a situation that I responded to in my tried and true manner: I got out of here! I escaped to the hangar with the hope of making some good progress on the canopy. I've been muddling through one of those little jobs that I always underestimate. It seemed easy enough (I say that so often that I ought to create an acronym for it): there are two little plastic blocks that get mounted on the front of the roll bar, their raison d'etre being as mundane as their appearance: they do nothing but ensure that the canopy isn't brought down so out of alignment by a careless pilot or passenger that the canopy skirts get caught up on the fuselage sides.

The little bit of fabrication required should have been trivial; all I had to do was drill two holes through each of the two plastic blocks.  The problem came from one of those little mistakes Van's makes in the plans and steadfastly refuses to fix. Consider this image:

Note that the width of the block is 1/2". Note that the holes are drawn as being positioned right on the centerline. Note that 3/8" from an edge is not going to put that hole on the centerline. Normally I'd just assume that either the drawing or the measurement was in error, and I was leaning heavily to the measurement being in the wrong. Just to be sure, though, I went home and checked on the Van's Air Force forum to see if any of my building peers had run into the same issue. I searched the archives for 'canopy blocks' and found one mention of them, but it had to do with how much material would need to be removed to ensure clearance from an inconveniently positioned nut on the side of the canopy.

I went ahead and posted a query and got a reply from one person that said he had faced the same issue and decided to position the holes on the centerline. All had worked out well for him. Safe in the knowledge that I could proceed without undue risk, I completed the drilling of the blocks. He also mentioned that he had needed to cut away quite a bit of material to get the needed clearance from the inconvenient nuts and he was right: I had to cut away quite a bit of the corner of the block. I tried removing a little at a time, but finally just bowed to the inevitable and sliced off the whole corner.

And, at long last, it was time to start the fiberglass fairing around the canopy. This starts out by shaping a couple of pieces of styrofoam into a shape that will provide a nicely rounded surface for the fiberglass to bond to and cover up the "coves" where the canopy frame forward arms reside when the canopy is closed.

The blocks get trimmed to fit into the cove. The bandsaw made short work of that:

There's going to be epoxy flying around and some of it will drip. So, masking is called for.

This block didn't fit like it was supposed to. The plans implied that this back edge would be flush with the fuselage skin. Not so much:

Pete and I had a meeting and determined that it was pretty safe to just cut away the offending material.

The bolts that the canopy pivots around must remain accessible, so a hole needs to be cut in the foam to allow access to them. The position of the hole is marked by pressing the foam against the bolt head.

The hole gets drilled out with a 7/8" Unibit. My Unibit only goes as large as 6/8" (3/4" for you mathematicians), but that was no problem. The foam is so soft that I was able to spin the bit by hand, then add the additional 1/8" with a small file. We're then supposed to use a Sharpie marker to trace the outline of the upper fuselage against the inboard side of the foam. We had two problems with that: a Sharpie wouldn't fit between the canopy frame, and we couldn't decide what precisely was meant by "upper fuselage." Looking ahead a few pages, it appears that the foam doesn't go any higher that the edge of the canopy frame. I just used a small screwdriver to trace the edge of the canopy frame.

The bandsaw did the rest.

One squirt each of the resin and hardener, plus a couple of tablespoons of flox made a nice paste that was used to glue the blocks in place.

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