Wednesday, September 12, 2012


I called Van's the other day to request my documentation packet. This is the collection of paperwork that I need to fill out and submit back to them to prompt them to send me a Bill of Sale. It also causes them to send an FAA Form 8130-15, or at least I hope it does, because that is one daunting form! It's much like a tax form in that the only thing more opaque to the casual reader than the form itself is the instructions for how to use it. And, as we will see a little later in this post, my reading comprehension of even the simplest instructions can be, now and then, quite lacking.

Van's customer service is always a pleasure to work with, and this interaction was true to form:

"Hi, I'm builder number such-and-such, and I need my documentation packet."

Cynthia: "Oh, congratulations!"

They clearly know that this means that the plane is almost done!

On the other hand, my dealings with the FAA have just begun. The FAA, not surprisingly, become very interested in my goings on when it appears likely that I will be taking to the skies and overflying innocent ground-bound citizens in a home made airplane. Can't argue that, right? They should take at least a cursory look at the quality of the assembly job before putting the citizenry at risk. I'm all for it too! After all, I might not hurt anyone on the ground, but I definitely will have my own skin in the game. The more experienced eyes that I can find to look over my work, the better!

But, as mentioned above, there is a mound of inscrutable forms to be filled out, and it all has to progress in a rigid, immutable order. An airplane is nothing but an expensive and sophisticated piece of abstract sculpture without the requisite paper trail pushing it along through the air. This is why it is important to contact the local FAA guys early in the process.

The easiest way to accomplish that initial contact, at least for someone like me that spends most of the day in front of a computer, is to submit a request via the web site. I did so and received a call from an FAA representative within just a few days. He had me sit down at the computer and winnow out the appropriate forms on the FAA web site and bookmark them for later retrieval. It was all going swimmingly until I made one fatal error: I mentioned that I had attended the required 16 hour training course to receive an inspection authorization and it would be nice to get that paperwork submitted as part of the overall documentation exercise.

"Wait, what?" he asked. "Are you building an LSA?"

"Uh, yeah," I timidly responded, having picked up on the negative vibe.

"Oh, well.... we don't do those. You have to get a DAR for that."

A DAR is a Designated Airworthiness Representative. It is, in less lofty terms, an individual designated to perform tasks too common or onerous for the Feds to deal with. It is very, very common, but mostly in the case of performing private pilot checkrides. It is exceedingly rare to take such a lowly check ride with an actual FAA examiner. Note that I am NOT criticizing this way of doing business with the taxpayer; the designated examiner gets paid by the aspirant, not the taxpayer. I think my most recent flight check cost about $100.

Fair, that.

The thing is, there are only two DARs close enough to come to Grove City, and both would have to drive a goodly distance. For this, they charge in the $600 range.

Not so fair, that.

Que sera, sera, and you can't take it with you. It's only money.

Cold comfort, that, but sufficient to the need, despite the penurious nature of my budget this late into the build.

I had no sooner settled into the idea that I would have to arrange my inspection with a DAR when a different FAA guy called me. It seems that they have decided that it is high time that they learn how to deal with an LSA and that they would use my inspection as a learning event. This isn't as risky as it sounds. They have inspected hundreds of home built planes; it is just the somewhat different paperwork that gives them pause. The conversation went quite well. These guys don't wear the Cloak of Unctuosity one might expect from a Federal employee. In fact, at one point the guy felt that he needed to warn me that he would be inspecting my work with a critical eye and that it was very likely that he would find something that I would need to fix. He encouraged me not to take it personally. I'm not sure why I would take offense at a guy trying to save my life, but I inferred that he had encountered responses like that before.

If I didn't have enough on my mind with all of that going on, I also had to solve a little dilemma of my own making. It's time again for the annual Arts in the Alley, which is a local art/crafts show put on by Grove City. Part of it is a photography competition, and I like to enter. The best I've ever done is an Honorable Mention (which I like to call '4th Place' or 'One Level Better Than A Stick In The Eye'), and that was years ago, back before the competition got so tough. I am allowed three entries but they also have an additional 'In Memory Of' award for photos featuring flowers. I had misunderstood that to be a completely separate category and therefore allowing of a fourth entry. Reading comprehension: lacking. But wait, it gets worse.

So, laboring under my incorrect understanding of the rules, I printed and framed four entries:

When I re-read the rules and realized that I was only allowed three entries, I had a problem: I couldn't decide on which three to enter.

Eh, it could wait. Off to the hangar to do some work.

What??! I have to countersink some rivet holes in my freshly powder-coated panel?? Oh no! What if it chips off the powder-coat?

No worries - it went fine.

Those rivets support a piece of metal that will help support the big 10" Dynon screen. There were others that would hold nutplates in place. Squeezing nutplate rivets is something I have done literally millions of times (with a nod to Joe Biden, who literally loves that word to death!) and I could pretty much autopilot my way through it.

Or..... not. Hey, look! A rivet to nowhere!!

If I was nervous about countersinking a hole in the panel, I was beside myself with worry about drilling out a rivet! It all turned out okay, though.

Back when I was still in the TSA phase of the Skyview conversion, I had to cut the four wires that ran to the autopilot disconnect button in the lower panel. Anxious to never make me take so crass an action ever again, Van's has me install a four-pin Molex connector on the wires to the switch so it can be more easily removed should I ever again need to do so.

I have never crimped a Molex pin, so I was kind of worried about how to do it. Here's what I figured out:

Looks good! What a relief! On to the next task, which is to put the pins into the Molex receptacle.

The other side of the wires, the ones in the airplane, will get Molex connectors crimped on too, but I didn't want to mess around with figuring out how to get them separated.

Instead, I decided to make the 1/2" hole in the lower panel for the switch to fit through. If I was worried about drilling out a rivet... well, how worried was I about using a Uni-Bit, not the suavest tool in the toolbox, to rip open a 1/2" hole?

A lot!

The hole turned out fine, so I went to install the switch.


There's no way that connector is going through that hole. Chagrined, I went back to the instructions to see where I went wrong. And there it was, as plain as day: I was supposed to have put that connector on the wires in the plane, not on the switch. That, as you've surely surmised, comes later.

So, now I need to figure out how to get those pins back out of a Molex receptacle. I figured that perhaps I should save that for a later day when my mind might not be so distracted with other problems.

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