Before jumping in on my first kit, I wanted to practice on something a little cheaper that I wasn’t going to actually fly in! The EAA has a series of workshops that teach building skills. As I googled around trying to work my courage up to actually get started on this project, almost everyone said the workshops were invaluable in building confidence in getting started. Since I had pulled maybe 6 pop-rivets in my entire life up to this point and had never used a rivet gun, it seemed prudent to take the class.
I drove down to Frederick Maryland (home of AOPA) over the MLK weekend. The class started bright and early Saturday morning in the EAA chapter hanger. Jack Dueck was the instructor. I had watched many of his home builder videos from the EAA archives. It was fun to meet him in person. He’s a real straight shooter and a wonderful instructor. Four or five of the chapter members also hung around the workshop and handed out some invaluable advice.
We were paired up at a table and each build a practice part (A piece of angle with a couple of sheets attached with universal, flush, and pull rivets). I was paired up with Chris, an RV-7 builder from Pennsylvania. We then worked together to build one practice kit.
The practice kit was a lot of fun. People took them quite seriously, carefully smoothing edges to avoid stress cracks on a part that would never fly. Some parts of the job were easy to bang out — like dimpling the ribs. Other parts took a bit of creative thinking to get a countersink in the right place. This is where having the chapter members around really helped.
Here I am setting up a row of rivets for a stiffener on one of the skins. The rivet tape holds them in place so you can flip the skin over and rivet in from the back side. This makes for very smooth rivet installs. It is fun and easy.
The spar took a lot more work. We had to do a bit of countersinking on it and it was a tight squeeze to get the bucking bar in between the skins to shoot some of the rivets. We got a couple of dings when the rivet gun went off course, but everything came out in spec.
When we got done, Jack “graded” each kit. He was mostly looking for bad or structurally unsound rivets. We had a couple bad ones that we drilled out and reshot before going in for our grade. We got 100% good rivets! The best part was Jack saying that he would fly in a plane that we built. A nice vote of confidence!
A perfectly fine practice kit!
The empennage kit was delayed by the horrible weather of the “polar vortex.” It had been scheduled for Friday (which would have given me the weekend to inventory it!), but I had to settle for a Monday afternoon drop off.
The driver was great helping me load the crate up on a couple of furniture dollies and roll it up to the garage. I had just a little time, so I popped the top just to see if there was any damage. Everything looks fine.
Alas, I’m going to a SportAir workshop this weekend and then heading off to finish off my IFR rating, so I won’t be able to do anything for two long weeks.
The workshop is pretty much ready. I have three EAA Chapter 1000 tables. Two at 5′ long, one at 4′ long. This is enough to hold the main spars. When the time comes, the garage is big enough to build some wing stands and so I should be in good shape.
Here’s my trio of tables 🙂
The first kit is the empennage (tail section) kit. It actually contains a lot more than most Van’s kits. In addition to the vertical and horizontal stabilizers, rudder, elevators, and trim, it contains a big chunk of the fuselage (up to the baggage compartment). As I pull parts out to work on them, I’ll update the color of the component. And as I finish each part, I’ll update it again!
So many parts to put together! I have to do something to recognize the progress.
Well, the kit is on it’s way (delivery in one week!), so getting the shop together has become a priority! I had some piles of lumber for EAA tables and a hardwood workbench to assemble. The weather has mostly been cold, but I decided to spend New Year’s Day out in the shop getting things ready.
My daughter desperately wants to help me rivet this plane together. She’s been fascinated ever since we saw a rivet simulator at the Smithsonian about 7 years ago. Her great grandmother was a riveter in WW2 (climbing into fuel tanks to buck them!), so I guess this is natural inclination (for both of us!). No riveting to do yet, but lots of wood screws need to be sunk to get the tables together.
The finished product isn’t too bad. I assembled a second one on my own today. Well, I almost finished it before blowing the power in the garage. I had a heater going and a skill saw. The blade bound in the wood, the load went up, and trip! Alas, the breaker panel is in the basement of the rental unit, so I’m dependent on the landlord to flip the power back on.