With the firewall and floor mated, it was time to get to the first big join. The fuselage forward and the mid-fuselage need to get joined together so that the sides and longerons can be installed. Both pieces are pretty big on their own, but joining them creates the first really huge piece of the build. Right now, I can move any piece of the build solo, but after the join, that will not really be happening.
Before I slid the two pieces together, I had to finish attaching the cover plates (I had run out of time and had to stop even though I was so close). This wasn’t very hard. I could reach most of the rivets with my squeezer. The ones really close to the tunnel had to be driven, but again they were easy reaches. I almost mis-installed the cover plate by putting it on top of the cover ribs instead of beneath, but a careful look at the drawings convinced me to put it in the right place. This stiffened the front fuselage section considerably.
I slid the two sections together so that I could outline the overlap section for priming (as called out for in the instructions). It was a bummer to put it together and then immediately slide them apart. I got the area masked off for a quick primer shoot. Both sides were primed when the parts went back together. The piece nearly fills both of my tables! I slid the tables apart so that I could get at the joint and cleco the parts together.
It took a lot of clecos to get the pieces to mate. Then there are some other pieces (drag fittings) that get bolted in to hold the spars apart or to secure the landing gear. I had to dress up the gear braces because they had developed some rust spots. After cleaning, I added a thin layer of grease to protect the steel. I also finally got to open my pack of big 5/32″ clecos.
At that point, I was finished for the day. I measured the spar distance because I needed some temporary 3/8″ bolts to secure the joined pieces on their side for riveting. The next morning, I had to fabricate a piece of wood that was 1 11/16″ wide to act as a temporary spar. A standard 2×4 is too thin. I ended up using my table saw to cut two separate pieces that I mated to match the distance.
The drag fittings use some long, solid bolts. These pass through both spars, the lower drag fittings, and the gear brace. It was having a very hard time getting everything to line up so that the Boe-lubed bolts would slide through. I finally gave up trying to do it by feel and took a quick trip to Home Depot to buy some dowels. I made 3/8″ and 1/4″ wooden tapered pins that helped immensely. The narrow end would slide through the slightly misaligned parts and as I proceeded, the wider part of the dowel pin would naturally align the parts. Then, I could either just tap the bolt through or use the bolt to back out the pin with everything in alignment.
My son arrived to help me get the assembly all tipped up on its side. We picked the coldest day to do this! The temps hovered at freezing all day. We worked with the hangar door shut to keep the North wind at bay.
I don’t have any of pictures of the riveting, but it was generally straightforward. Most of the inner ones require two people to reach. I was on the bucking bar (mostly my tungsten bar, but a couple required the long anvil bar). The ones for the stiffeners between the spars required me sliding my arm between to get a bar on the rivet. Some people used their long special bar from the elevators, but I was uncertain where that one was. My hand only got stuck once 🙂 We had to quit a bit before we were done with all of the rivets because the wife had come down with a friend and we were all going to dinner. I picked up and finished solo the next day. We had taken the fuselage off the support and laid it out horizontal, so I had to tip the piece on its side again solo. It worked out because I could gently slide it to the ground to work on the remaining few dozen rivets. I had a bit of a problem finding the big 5-5 cherry rivets, but Vans support got me straightened out as to the proper bag (I was incorrectly looking for 5-4 rivets — read the instructions!). Others reported that these were hard to pull, but they went in with only reasonable effort for me.
With the rivets in place, it was time to final bolt and torque up the drag fittings and landing gear braces. Again, the tapered pins made this a lot easier.
And voila! We have finished the first big join! You can see the tail cone sitting in the background. In the not too distant future, I’ll be mating these two pieces together and creating the full fuselage!