Category Archives: empennage

At the tail end…

I finally got started on the top-most skin on the rear fuselage.  This looked really hard to do solo.  So I talked my son into helping (it only cost a trip to the hockey skate shop and a lunch at the local Chinese restaurant).  I thought about just bucking the rivets with the fuselage on it’s side, but with two people I worried that it would be hard to co-ordinate.  I know one other builder (working with a helper) did it with a back riveter, so we tried that.  I padded the ground, and we lifted the fuselage down.  I padded the inside with moving blankets so I wouldn’t bend or crush anything.


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I was on the inside with the back rivet gun.  My son was on the outside with the back rivet bucking bar.

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It only took a couple hours and we were done!  I’m skipping sections 11 & 12 for now.  I think it will make the eventual move to the hangar (and Chicago!) easier.  So for now, it is the biggest item on the trophy wall.

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Next up!  The main spar and the wings 🙂



Unusual attitudes…

I’m getting very close to the end of the tail cone build… I started it just one month ago, but I’ve put a lot of hours into it!

The last steps are to mount the top sides and top skin.  This gets hard because the fuselage is so big at this point and it’s getting hard to reach everything.

I got a bit of build time in on New Year’s day… a great way to start the year!  The shop was a little cold though!


I had enough time in the afternoon to deburr, dimple, and prime/paint the side skins.

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The piece is very big and some of the reaches are hard to get to with the curve and the j-channel.  I used my reduced diameter dimple die and worked carefully around the channel.  It was awkward, but I was able to do all of it without a helper.  With the pieces dimpled, it was time to prime and paint.

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I came back in on Saturday for a full build day.  I had some fix up work to do before embarking on the skin riveting.  I opted for flush screws for the rear cover plates.  I didn’t read ahead in the instructions carefully at the time and neglected to see that I needed some different nut plates and screws to do this.  I ordered some from Van’s (their nut plates are cheaper than the other suppliers) right before Christmas.  They got here on the Friday after New Year’s.  I also needed some new pop-rivets for the rudder guides (I put the rudder cables in backwards… an easy fix at this point!).  So I went about installing those pieces.  I was able to get all 16 nut plates with my longeron yoke.

I finished the edges on the cover plates and marked them (on the inside and the blue plastic).  They are not symmetrical!  There is a left and a right and a top and a bottom.  Be very careful if you decide to do the flush option as you get one chance to dimple correctly!

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With the catchup work done, it was time to attach the top side skins.  These skins are almost 8 feet long and really very awkward.  However, once I got one cleco in, the rest of the holes just lined right up.  I really like these kits!

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I contemplated how to do the riveting here.  I know that one builder (with a helper) back riveted the whole thing.  I didn’t think I could convince my normal helpers (wife/son/daughter) to come out in the cold, so that was out.  I thought about moving the assembly to the ground and to then reach in, but that didn’t seem workable (and I didn’t think I could safely lower the tail cone to the ground by myself).  I ended up tipping the fuselage on it’s side.  This gave me plenty of access to all the rivets.   This puts the fuselage in a unusual attitude (a knife edge turn perhaps!).

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I was able to reach and buck all the rivets with ease.  I had pre-marked the spots that got 3-4 and 3-4.5 rivets so I would remember to switch sizes.  It went so well  on the left skin, that I spun the fuselage around and started the right skin!

My trusty bag of AN426 3-3.5 rivets that seemed impossibly full when I started finally gave up the ghost and ripped.  I transferred the remaining rivets to a small bin.  The wing uses mostly 3-3 rivets.  It’s like saying goodbye to an old friend!

I almost got all those in, but it was getting late and it was snowing.

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So I just did a quick back rivet job on the top skin and called it a night.  The job was a bit too quick as it turned out.  The j-stiffener didn’t seem right when I riveted it in place.  It didn’t fit well and didn’t turn out flush.

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So I snapped another FAA-selfie and called it a night…

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The j-stiffener still bothered me and I figured I would work it out the next day… …and I did.  I sat bolt upright in bed at about 7am and realized that I had forgotten to dimple the stiffener.  That explained everything.   It also meant that I had 20 some odd rivets to drill out.  All but one came out nicely.  I stayed very centered on most of the heads and they snapped right off.  You can see the neatly centered holes and the rivet stems with a nice clean edge.

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One rivet didn’t come out so well.  And I cut my finger tip trying to swipe away some aluminum shavings (I forgot to make our family’s daily invocation – “We don’t have any time for a trip to the emergency room!”)

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Not a big deal.  I clecoed it all back together (after dimpling this time!) and reamed the hole out to 1/8″.  Then I put in an “oops” rivet.  The head is gold instead of silver, but that will be hidden by paint.  Almost indistinguishable, even on the inside.

With the top (re-) done, I clecoed it in place.   I also built a big (8′ x 3′) shelf to hold the tail cone when it’s done.  It fits nicely above the crate holding the wing parts.  I’m very close to getting a new trophy on the wall!

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The first revision of the instructions left out a step to rivet the top skin stiffener to the forward bulkhead.  It is in the revisions (and in the gotcha’s list).  Even if forgotten, it is easy to fix later. I was able to reach inside and squeeze 3 4-4 rivets in the holes to finish it off.

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While I was in there, I reattached the static line to the static port.  It had previously pulled out of the hole and I reapplied the recommended gasket compound.  However, it pulled out again.  Sigh.  I’ll try JB-Weld and see if that holds better.

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I think I need a helper to rivet the top-most skin on.  The reaches are very long otherwise.  I might be able to make it, but it will be so much easier with some help.  So I went home and cooked a nice dinner for the family (teriyaki pork medallions, pickled vegetables, quinoa, and red wine poached pears.  Very tasty!).

Hey! There’s a tail on there!



We spent Boxing Day and the following day over at my sister’s house, so I only got a little time after Mass to work on the plane. With the side skins riveted and the wiring and static lines routed, it was time to get started on the aft deck and prepare for the top skins.  Most of the miscellaneous small parts are now primed and ready.  In addition to these aft deck parts, I also primed the top skin and it’s stiffeners.

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The aft deck clecoed in pretty easily.  I’m still amazed at how well everything lines up.  At this stage, you just have to do some final drilling for the attach brackets.  A couple C-clamps made that pretty easy.

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Now there are a lot of rivets to hold the aft-deck together.  Not surprising considering the load the tail will put on it.  A couple of the rivet call outs are wrong where the length doesn’t take into account the F-01411E.  I was able to squeeze most of the rivets with my standard yoke and my 4″ flat-nose.  I had to shoot a couple of hard to reach ones though.  There is good access through the lightening holes for that.

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It looks very pretty!

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In the next step, I had to pull the vertical stabilizer down from the wall to temporarily mount it to drill a couple holes.  The plans warn, “It is critical to drill the holes perpendicular to the Vertical Stabilizer Spar.”  I used a wood block with a #12 hole I drilled using a drill press.  It kept things very square.  The plans say to use a cleco on top and bolts (with temporary nuts) to hold it below.  I found that a cleco through the bracket hole worked just fine.  Do note that you have to thread the wiring harness through the systems hole to complete the mount.  Some extra hands would have been nice, but I was able to do it myself with only a little awkwardness.


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Next step:  The three top skins get assembled and mounted.  I’ll need a hand to get the topmost one on since it will be a long reach.  Some builders lined the inside with blankets and did it that way.  We’ll see.



Rivets, rudder cables, and wires…




After getting the frame clecoed together, I needed some help to do some of the riveting.  It is probably possible to get the rivets with an awkward reach, but I didn’t want to risk it.  I was going to go flying in the morning, but all the planes were booked, so I headed back to catch lunch and pick up my daughter to help with the riveting…. This was outside the cafe:

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600+ horsepower McLaren.  A top speed that matches my plane (and a list price about 4X my plane).  Of course I’ll be able to fly anywhere at 200 mph…. Not sure where I could drive 200 mph 🙂

My daughter likes riveting.  My grandmother (her great-grandmother) was a WWII riveter, crawling inside the wings with a bucking bar to set rivets.  She tried a rivet simulation at a “Rosie the Riveter” exhibit at the Smithsonian a while back.  Here she is doing real riveting.

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I got a two pound “back rivet” bucking bar a while back.  It is very handy here.  It has two polished heads.  You hold one against the rivet and use a back rivet set on the inside.  Very effective.

A job well done on the front bay!

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We still have a lot of rivets to go.  One of the other builders bucked his whole rear fuselage in five and a half hours!  We’re not nearly that fast, but we’re getting the job done.

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So the next day, I started working on some of the rear rivets by the aft rear skin.  These aren’t really accessible to the back riveter, so I had to buck these the old fashioned way.  I was very concerned that I had not eased the skin enough when the skins were off.  While the forward side of the skins lay pretty tight against the bottom, the aft portion wasn’t very pretty at all. On the right, you can see a very noticeable gap.  I ended up using my wingnut clecos.  This really pulled the skin in tight and eased it around the final tight radius.  The skins ended up very tight with only one little wiggle.

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When the daughter arrived after lunch, we got to work on the rest of the rivets.  We banged out the first row pretty quickly.  It came out great!  Thanks Bx!

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Soon enough, all the easy rivets were done.  I managed to buck the rest while my daughter shivered in the comfy chair (outside temps in the low 30’s, about 40 in the shop).  Note the board on the lower right side.  I clamped a piece of plywood to my old WorkMake.  It made it much more stable and gave a lot more room for the back riveting step.  My wife (who bought me that WorkMate over my objections 20+ years ago), get’s another last laugh at my expense!

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We rolled the fuselage back upright and called it a night.


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I came back the next day to a really cold shop.  I ran the heater for a while to bring it up to a workable temperature.

The first task was to mount the rudder stops.  Four 1/8″ rivets.  Two squeezed.  Two bucked.  The first thing I noticed as I was about to squeeze the first rivets was that the bottom rivet of the F-01473A angle was nearly covered by the stop.  The instructions have you do the stops first and then do the angle!  That’s not right, so I riveted just the bottom rivet of the angle before putting the stops in place.  I was able to squeeze 3 of the 8 rivets, but the holes are really tight against the top of the stops, so I had to figure out a way to buck them.  In the end, I used my back rivet set.  The narrow top fit nicely in against the rivet head and they came out fine.

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The next steps are riveting some nut plates and then installing systems.  I decided to take the optional step for flush rivets on the mounting plates.  I riveted in three K1000-06 nut plates before discovering that I needed to use K1100-06 nut plates!  At least my rivet removal skills were good today (I really needed them to be since I was using the tiny headed “oops” rivets to hold the nut plates on).  These nut plates are all squeezable from the inspection opening, so I’m skipping that step for now.

The next step is snapping in a bunch of bushings (nearly all of which get snapped out later for cable runs… sigh).  Then the rudder cables get run through to the outside.  There are a couple of acrylic blocks that ease the run to keep it from cutting into the aluminum opening.  The cables do a cross over in the middle of one of the bulkheads and then pop out the back.  These blocks are held in place with some pop rivets.  They worked well on the big thick block, but the mandril pulled through too much on a couple of the rivets in the small blocks. Not as smooth as I would like.  I may order some extra rivets and try again.  Or maybe I can tap the flush head smooth against a bucking bar.

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I decided to use the Cleaveland Tools static port kit.  Vans says that its simple pop-rivet without a mandril system works well, but it just seemed a little hokey.  Also, pictures I saw of this online looked like it depended on messy blobs of RTV to hold the tubing in place.  The Cleaveland system looked clean and professional.  It has these nice snap fittings that grasp the tube.  As a bonus, you can release the tube later.  There’s a nice video of it here.  You just use a step drill to open up a 1/2″ hole where the pop-rivet was supposed to go.  The port sits just a little proud of the surface with a nice domed shape. I couldn’t find my tube of RTV so they are not glued in yet.

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One of the nice things about the RV-14 is that it uses standard wiring harnesses.  These get run now instead of when the fuselage is all closed up.  This makes the wire runs much neater (and much easier to install).  My father-in-law will give me grief that these planes are too easy to build now.  I’m much happier doing it now though with the top skins off rather than crawling into the back of a closed up fuselage.  I’m not sure if the optional SunTail light is covered by the harness or not.  I’ll have to check the instructions.  It all came out pretty neat and clean.  The red tube is for the left and right static ports.  The silver cables are for the rudder.  The golden cable is for the comm antenna (for which a mount point is provided and drilled in a previous step).  The main wiring harness runs along the right side of the photo (left side of the aircraft).  It provides power for the ELT and trim tab motor.  These all get run into the aft mounting deck.

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For now, the wires get taped to the bulkheads waiting for the aft deck to get riveted on in the next step.

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At this point, the workshop is getting a bit too cold to work in!  Time to head home.


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My progress is going to slow down for a while… I’m staring a new “real” job on Monday.  It’s just a contract position to give me something to do (and score a few bucks) while I’m waiting for my non-compete to finish and my real job to start in June.

The next steps will close out the aft deck and close out the top skins.



Turn the page…

Apologies to Bob Seger, but sometimes I feel that I get stuck on a single page for days at a time.  I can hardly wait to turn the page, as it were.

This time, the page is 10-14.



It took some work to get to the page, but then it seemed like I was just stuck there.

As of the last writing, I was working on the bulkheads and looking ahead to this page.  It seemed so easy!  It turned out to be a lot of work!

The parts are getting very large.  This means it takes proportionately longer to deburr, dimple, and prime things.

First up was the bottom skin.

I pulled the blue plastic off (very hard with the cold temps).  I had to wipe off some adhesive like crud from where I pulled riveting strips off the bottom with acetone.

I deburred the edges (the inner edge is a kind of built in j-channel) with file and sandpaper and scotchbrite. Then I started dimpling… and dimpling… and dimpling!

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I got a “selfie” while I was at it so the FAA will know that it was me freezing my ass off building this thing.

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I primed and then painted the inside skin pan Rustoleum Granite grey.  My thinking is that the interior is “public” space.  It will be viewable, stuff will knock around in it.  The primer isn’t super durable (and not really a final finish), so I topped it with a nice neutral grey.  It looks nice!

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Van’s recommends using two sawhorses, but I found it easier to work with one sawhorse and one table end.  I could clamp the bellcrank rib box to the sawhorse and make it very stable.

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I decided to back rivet the bottom skin.  I had a two pound back rivet bucking bar that I was planning on using for the wing skins.  It worked really great here.

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You can get nearly every rivet this way except for a few that are right up against the bulkheads.  I only had to buck four rivets.

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The riveting went really fast when my son stopped by the shop to give me a hand  He would pull a cleco, drop in a rivet, and place the bucking bar.  Then I would give the rivet a tap.  Super-easy.

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I came back the next morning, bucked the four missing rivets and started on page 10-14….

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There are SO many rivet holes everywhere!  Four stiffenners, two longerons, and matching holes in the left and right skins!

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The side skins have a lot of detail bits to get to.  Here, I’m going at the rudder cable pass through opening with a small file.

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Finally, the right skin get’s a coat of granite grey to finish it.

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After this skin dried, I hung it on the bottom skin. Then I had to start all over again with the left skin!  I was much faster the second time around though.

Over the weekend, I was going through the plans errata at VansAirForce and noticed that the instructions forget to mention to rivet the bellcrank ribs to the F-01407 bulkhead.  Sure enough, I hadn’t done it.  I flipped the rear fuselage over and was able to squeeze four of the six rivets, but had to use my offset set to drive the last two.  The shop towel helped protect the finish from the bucking bar and the blue painters tape did the same for the rivet set.

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The stiffeners and longerons go on in this step.  The spar is too heavy a gauge to dimple, so it has to be countersunk.  There are 176 holes or so.  I had a lot of magic pixie dust!

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The stiffeners and longerons are supposed to “slide” in… ha ha ha. I ended up having to put them on before clecoing the skin in place.

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I eventually managed to get everything in place and flipped it right side up on my tables!

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It looks practically ready to rivet!  It’s not… still a couple of pages to go before that happens, but at least I can finally turn the page on 10-14!

So page 10-15 just has you cut some tabs off of the aft bottom skin.  It is actually a lot of work because you have to rebuild a smooth edge from the rough saw cut.  I ended up clamping it loosely to my bench and filing the edge down to a smooth finish (and then doing a final pass on the scotchbrite wheel).  I gave it a quick coat of primer and granite grey and re-clamped it to the bench to rivet the rearmost bulkhead.

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The most exciting news was that I took the last few items out of the empennage case.  I needed the space to walk around the table and wanted to tip it out of the way.  So I took out the top skins  and a couple miscellaneous parts and tipped the box on it’s side.  I must really be getting to the end of this kit!

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I had a hard time getting the aft rear skin and bulkheads in clecoed in place.  I ended up pulling the skins off and rejiggering the hole mess.  Eventually though everything was square and then the clecos slid right in the way they’re supposed to.  My son stopped by to help rivet, but we spend about an hour just getting the clecos ready.

We were able to squeeze the top row.  It went really fast because we could squeeze most of the rivets away from the bulkheads.  My son would pull the clecos and set up a rivet for the easy ones. I got the reset with my tungsten bucking bar and mushroom set.

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It was getting late, so I didn’t have much time (my son had gone home to sit down and warm up since it was back to a one person riveting operation).  I got the top half of bulkhead rivets done down to the A stiffener.  I’ll get the bottom half tomorrow… I’ll probably need some help to get the curved bottom parts though.  The skins there do not lay very flat.  I broken them as Van’s suggests, but they really need a lot more bend than I gave them (particularly  in the aft section).  I’ll probably try to soft tap them with my rivet gun to set a curve.


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Got a few hundred rivets in today.  Should get about three hundred more tomorrow!  Then the top skins go on with a dozen nut plates and the wiring harnesses get routed (the harnesses are already in place to get them to run through the stiffener channels but have to be finalized in a couple of pages).

Closing in on a new trophy if I can just get off page 10-19 🙂

It’s beginning to look like an airplane!

A big Nor’easter hit and dumped a lot of rain amidst some heavy winds. The Garage has a small leak right over the work tables.


I worked on the bellcrank ribs and final bulkhead. These parts are exciting because they form the floor of the baggage department and go up to the seats.


The bulkhead has eleven nut plates on it. These are mostly 08D’s so you need to dimple the web.



This means I can start assembling the frame…


Next up… Back rivet the bottom skin in place!

Bulkheads everywhere….

Even with mass this morning and fixing the Christmas lights, I got to the shop by 1:30 for about 5 hours of work on the bulkheads.

There are five bulkheads.  I riveted the aft-most one yesterday and deburred and primed the next two  Those came together pretty quickly.  With lots of cold 1/8″ rivets, it was easier to hand squeeze than to use the pneumatic squeezer (better control and more oomph by hand!).



I clamped my hand squeezer to the table which made the riveting much easier than holding an unweildy bulkhead and a rivet and a squeezer all at once.  It also made it a lot easier to get a good push on the arm and make best use of its mechanical advantage.


The rear three bulkheads take up only 20″ of the fuselage!  They have bulky straps to hold the vertical and horizontal stabilizers in place.


The next steps seemed so simple…  The 2 forward bulkheads only have a few rivets and no thick aluminum straps to mount.  However, they are very large (compared to the other bulkheads), are made in two pieces, and have many, many nooks and crannies to deburr.  I filed the worst parts of the outside with a fine file, hit the many lightening and system holes with sandpaper and scotchbrite, and sanded around each of the approximately 10,000 flange tabs.  Then I finished the accessible edges on the scotchbrite wheel.  I used almost (but not quite) all my remaining primer priming the bulkhead parts.  Not too many rivets to do and the squeezer was still set up, so I thought I would bang together the last two bulkheads.  The first one went together very quickly (only 5 rivets as you leave the top 3 open for later riveting).  The second one has ten rivets (an extra two hold the rudder cable bracket to the bulkhead).   On my very last rivet, the squeezer apparently shifted so I got a smile rivet to drill out next time.

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So, the bulkheads are done for now.

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The next steps are to deburr and prime the bellcrank ribs and one more, thankfully small, bulkhead.  Then the bottom skin goes on and it starts to look like a real airplane body.