Thursday, 31 December 2009

December in review

A disappointing lack of progress during December. The weather is to blame - it has been dire. We've had snow on the ground since the 20th and the temperature has hardly been above freezing since the middle of the month. Travel is difficult as I live on top of a steep hill and the road is never treated, so it's like an ice rink. But, truth be said, it has been much too cold since mid December to spend significant time in the hanger-cum-workshop.

Some progress was made. I more or less finished the instrumentation and that's just waiting to be finally installed. I also fitted the BRS and the instrument coaming, ready for the instrument panels. A fair amount of work has also been done on the documentation.

I'm working on other things while this cold weather persists. I have a large software project relating to my amateur radio hobby that I'm getting my teeth into and that means hours sat in front of computer screens trying to out-logic the machine. At least it is warm in the house!

Let's hope the weather improves soon and I can resume working on G-JONL.

A happy new year to my Blog followers.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Season's greetings

A very merry Christmas and happy new year to all my Blog readers out there in cyberspace!

I know you're there, because although most of you post very little here on the Blog, I do get the occasional e-mail and comments on the Sportcruiser reflector. Please don't be shy - I welcome comments here and will always try to reply to them where appropriate.

2010 should be the year that G-JONL flies. I look forward to sharing the experience with you all!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Document library updated

I've updated the document library with all the latest documents. There are no new documents as yet, only updates to existing files.

There are many changes to the electric circuits and associated schedules and I think I should be getting fairly close to the final documentation set here, as the instrument panel is all but finished.

I've substantially updated the POH but this is still very much a work in progress and will be until the aircraft build is completed, weight & balance schedules have been prepared and so on.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Wing mounting pins

This evening, just as it was getting dark, Postie arrived bearing, inter alia, a pair of wing mounting pins, previously believed to be lost in a snow drift. I have to say I was quite surprised that Royal Mail delivered today - the roads are quite treacherous, as I discovered myself when I ventured out in search of milk and, importantly, supplies of wine for the festive period.

Anyway, another part of the project slots into place and I can now get on with mounting the wings on G-JONL when the weather improves a little. Many thanks to Graham Smith, the former agent for Sportcruiser in the UK, for lending me his wing pins. Graham's support has been excellent throughout the project.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

It's too cold...

... to be messing around in an unheated hangar on a windswept airfield in Cumbria! Last night the temperature at home dropped to -7°C and it's not got above freezing today, with only a couple of hours of daylight left. It's alleged that we shall have snow tomorrow, which will make the place look pretty but do little for any prospects of heading to the airport!

So I am stuck at home, tidying up odd bits of documentation and generally pottering around. I'm also waiting for a set of wing hanging pins to arrive, courtesy of Royal Mail, so that's a half way decent excuse for staying at home. I suspect that this cold snap is going to continue until after Christmas, so it looks like it'll be the new year before the wings are finally attached.

Brrrrrr!!!!

Update: 21-Dec-09 at 14:30

Sure enough the snow arrived and very pretty it is too. So far we've got about 12cm of the stuff chez tWF but there's more to come, looking at the weather radar. I cannot recall having substantial snow this early in the winter season. Certainly not in the nine years since I moved to Cumbria. So much for global warming!

It looks like this cold weather is set to hang around for a few days yet, so it'll be after Christmas before I can make any further progress with the build. The wing hanging pins haven't arrived either... I suppose they are stuck in a snow drift somewhere.

Update 24-Dec-09 at 14:30

Well we still have the better part of a foot of snow here at tWF Towers so I'm not going anywhere. The next few days are occupied with seasonal festivities, so it's probably going to be 2010 before I can get up to the airfield again. Not to worry... this never was a project that had to be completed in a specific time scale and I reckon I should still be game on for flying by Easter.

Meanwhile, we've got snow on Christmas day to look forward to. I think that may be a first for me. I shall enjoy looking at it from the warmth of my living room with a glass of hot mulled wine in hand.


Update: 02-Jan-2010

Yay! A new decade but it just ain't going away, this snow. We had another couple of inches of the stuff last night, just as I was starting to think the local, untreated roads might become passable again soon. I have now, officially, had enough of snow, thank you.

Today I spent an interesting hour digging my neighbour's car out of the side of the road where he'd slithered diagonally across the road and into the hedge. Even with a lot of shovelling and pushing, we couldn't get his car up the hill past my place. Eventually one of the local farmers came by in his tractor and that got us moving all right!

So I guess I'm still going nowhere for the time being. The weather forecast is dire for at least the next week. At this rate I'm going to lose a whole month to the weather. And that after all the problems with flooding in November.

Frustrating!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Fitting the coaming

Although I've temporarily fitted the instrument coaming (the glare shield, for our American cousins) on many occasions already, yesterday I finally screwed it into place with some 25 screws. It certainly isn't going anywhere now! On the other hand, if I need to remove it, for example to access the ballistic recovery system parachute or to provide easier access to the firewall area, then it is just a matter of unscrewing all those screws again!

Before I could fit the coaming, I needed to install the magnetic compass and GPS antenna, both of which sit on top of the coaming. This involved wiring - power for the compass illumination and the coaxial lead for the GPS antenna - together with some careful hole drilling. Another place where measure twice drill once was the order for the day.

It turned out to be a bit of a challenge fitting the coaming. Firstly, the leather covering does not drill well. The leather tends to close up once the drill is removed, making it difficult to get the mounting screws through. In the end I cut away the leather around each hole using a sharp Stanley knife and that fixed that problem. It also turned out that some of the pre-drilled holes didn't line up with their partners in the canopy surround, so some judicious filing was needed to "move" the hole slightly in the coaming.

With those problems solved, it was a comparatively simple exercise to finally fit the coaming. I wonder how long it will be before I have to take it out again?

Today, back at home, I completed the alarm LEDs wiring. This little bit of electronics comprises a pair of LEDs (Unsafe and EMS alarm), a couple of resistors and a bunch of diodes. I built the whole ensemble on a small piece of Veroboard, which is held in place behind the instrument panel by the LEDs themselves, together with a small plastic screw to stiffen the mounting.

A few tests show that it's all working (there isn't much that can go wrong really) and so that is another part of the instrumentation complete. Indeed, I now only have two or three minor bits of wiring to do and all the instrumentation will be completed. I hope to get up to the airport on Saturday to finish the job and then I'll be onto the flying surfaces. Deep joy!

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Yet more instrumentation

There's no doubting it, the instrument panels are a big part of the project. I have been continually surprised at a) how complex it all is (probably largely my fault!) and b) how long it takes to do seemingly straightforward bits of wiring.

Well things are rapidly heading to a conclusion now. Over the last few days I've been systematically working away at the remaining jobs and there is now very little that has not been completed, tested and deemed (by me at least) to be satisfactory. I've also completed end-to-end testing of most systems, including the avionics, flying and engine instruments. Although most of these subsystems had been tested before, in isolation, this is the first time I've been able to fit everything together and check out the whole lot.

There have been a few issues to resolve. I've decided that I hate modern BNC plugs (used for the antenna connections) with a quite unreasonable vengeance. They are notoriously difficult to make a good reliable connection with. It is increasingly difficult to procure the altogether better (but more costly) plugs that have a nice ferrule for the coax outer. I must try harder, for I have had to remake two connections so far due to the inner conductor not making contact with its mate on the radio socket and, instead, trying to short out against the outer. I've also had to fix a short circuit that was popping one of the contact breakers. That turned out to be a power wire that had worked loose and was making contact with the radio chassis.

Anyway, with the BRS installed and the instrument wiring all but finished, I am very close indeed to finishing off the cockpit, so my attentions will soon be turning to the wings and tailplane. In preparation for which, we yesterday rearranged the hangar somewhat to give me a bit more room. Wings on by Christmas? Perhaps not, but it's getting close now.

BRS installed

In hopeful anticipation of approvals in the near future, I decided to complete the installation of my Ballistic Recovery System. Actually, as this is a factory fitted option, it was only really necessary to reinstall it.

I was particularly keen to ensure that the BRS installation does not interfere with the avionics stack. Things are a bit tight in there but it turns out that there is enough space - just. The BRS rocket must have unimpeded egress, straight up through a frangible cover on the fuselage, immediately aft of the firewall. The rocket then pulls out a small drove 'chute, which in turn pulls out the much larger main canopy. The main canopy is attached to a 10ft bridle, which in turn pulls out the four support bridles, one in each corner of the cockpit, in effect.

All this paraphernalia has to be able to exit through the hole created by the rocket knocking out the frangible cover! In practice, once the drove parachute is out, nothing much is going to stop remainder of the system deploying, as it is now being pulled with the weight of the aircraft plus any deceleration forces. The critical considerations therefore are to get the rocket and drove 'chute out unimpeded and then make sure that nothing structural can get in the way of the remainder of the system deployment.

It turns out that this is all relatively easy to assure. The rocket pulls directly on a short steel lanyard, which in turn starts pulling the parachutes out of the pack, which is alongside. Once the parachutes are out, all the bridles just pull through (they are fixed, zig-zag folded, alongside the parachute pack. I don't doubt that in the process of pulling through a few electrical wires would be damaged but that is as nothing compared to what happens next!

As the main bridles deploy, the two rear support cables have to pull through the canopy surround from the front of the canopy right to the back so that the rear cables and bridles can rise vertically to the parachute. If this were not to happen then the parachute would be holding up the front of the aircraft only, so it would descend tail down.

So the upshot of all this is that substantial damage, probably sufficient to write the aircraft off, is done even before it reaches terra firma. The BRS then is a facility of absolute last resort, for use if the aircraft has been fatally damaged and is fundamentally incapable of flying. It's not for use just because the engine has stopped!

That said, I was presented with an interesting conundrum on this very point by one of the guys at the airport yesterday. What about if the engine fails over water and there is clearly no way to make it to land. Pull the parachute? My initial response (which probably still remains after reflection) is that one would not. But conversely, a ditching is virtually certain to result in a write off and with the fixed undercarriage there is a considerable risk of flipping the aircraft on its back during a normal landing, making escape from the aircraft difficult if not impossible. At least the parachute ought to bring the aircraft down the right way up. Hmmmm....!

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

BRS

One of the things that has concerned me for some time is the ballistic recovery system (BRS) that came with my kit. It was the first and may still be the only kit in the UK with this option, with the result that approvals have not been granted. In LAA-speak, the option is not included in the Type Acceptance Data Sheet (TADS).

This has been giving me something of a headache as without the approvals the BRS cannot be fitted but by its nature its components cannot be entirely removed from the fuselage either. Some months ago I started applying pressure to have the matter addressed, both to the LAA and to the new importers. It seems that at last progress is being made. As a result, I decided, for the time being, to proceed with the expectation that this factory fitted option will be accepted and written into the TADS in time for my flight trials programme.

Over the past couple of days I've been working towards that goal. Firstly, I completed the mounting system for the coaming, using rivnuts and demonstrated that the coaming can be easily installed and removed. This is a major advantage, in particular because it makes access to the BRS components so much easier.

I took lots of photographs of the mounting system for the BRS, as I am sure these will be required by the LAA. The BRS has long parachute bridles that have to be folded, zig-zag fashion and secured to the fuselage, just aft of the firewall. It's a little fiddly getting these arranged in such a way that they will correctly deploy in the event that the BRS is activated.

One problem is the proximity of the avionics stack, which protrudes sufficiently far forward that it gets rather close to the parachute mounting tray. An official solution is at hand fortunately, which permits a small section of the tray to be cut away. This I have done and there is now good clearance all round.

I'm now almost ready to install the BRS rocket and parachute assembly. I may just wait a day or so to see whether the promised progress actually materialises!

Friday, 4 December 2009

More instrument panel work

I've had a couple of very productive days at the airport interconnecting all the various instrument panel electrical services. Slowly but surely the rats nest of wiring that has been adorning the central console and panels area on the fuselage is getting married up to similar spaghetti on the panels themselves. This sounds like a recipe for even more of a mess but in fact the contrary is true - as each service is integrated, straggling wires are becoming tidier and fewer in number.

Yesterday I did a lot of the preparation work, completing the wiring of the P1 and P2 panels and looming everything together to make it tidy. Today I integrated the two panels firstly with each other and secondly, with the fuselage wiring. One by one the various services have been connected up and by the time I left the airfield this evening, almost all the electrical systems were operational.

I also started integrating the already completed avionics panel into the instrument cluster. Most of this has been tested before and the principal additional work was to organise power to the avionics via the panel switches and contact breakers. That work is not yet completed but an hour or two tomorrow should do the trick.

There are still a few ancillary services to integrate, including power to the stall warner, the landing light wiring and the alternator control circuitry. And I need to implement the emergency power supply system that I discussed a few days ago. None of these are big jobs, so I think there's a good chance that I'll finish the instrumentation tomorrow. Then it'll time to get the engine ready for starting!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Instrument panels & coaming

At last I was able to spend some time at the airport today.

I completed the other instrument panel trestle so now I can put the P1 and P2 panels in place without having to install the coaming (the glare shield to any Americans that may be reading). This will make it much easier to complete the wiring, of which there is lots.

I decided to have a go at fixing the coaming and instrument panels, in order to check out whether there are any problems. Normally the coaming is attached to the fuselage with about 35 rivets but the problem with that is that once fitted it is very difficult to remove, should the need arise in the future. So I decided to experiment with rivnuts instead. These are, effectively, threaded blind rivets. They are installed like a pop rivet but instead of a mandrel a screw thread is used to pull the rivnut. Once the rivnut is pulled, the tool is unscrewed and from then on an ordinary screw can be used.

It turns out to be a bit fiddly to get the coaming all aligned so that the screws can be inserted but otherwise the rivnuts work just fine. Even with only half a dozen installed the coaming is very secure. This has got me thinking that I could leave one or two holes on each side without a rivnut and it would then be quite easy to use some cleckos to position the coaming ready to screw in place. I'll need to experiment with that idea some more.

With the coaming in place, I was then able to install the three instrument panels - P1, Avionics and P2. This is the first time all panels and all instruments have been installed and I have to say I think it looks rather good! Particularly pleasing is that there are no show stoppers. Everything fits together nicely and there should be plenty of room for all the cabling and so on. It will still be much easier to do the cabling without the coaming in place though, so the trestles will definitely see some use over the next few days.

Finally, with not much time left before I had to leave the airport, I decided it was about time to start constructing the propeller. The three-bladed prop comes with each blade as a separate unit and a big cast aluminium boss into which the blades fit. Eventually I will have to align the blades to precisely the same pitch (approximately 13°) but that is a job for later, when I've worked out how to do it! For the time being it was sufficient to mount the blades and then attach the prop to the engine.

Hopefully I should be able to spend the next few days working on the build project and start making some serious progress at last.

Monday, 30 November 2009

November in review

Not a very productive month really.

A combination of truly awful weather and other commitments has meant that I've made far less progress than I had hoped for in November. There is no doubt that the 74 mile round trip to the airfield is a limiting factor, especially when the weather is bad but there really is no alternative - it's the nearest airfield with a long enough runway for meaningful flight trials and with suitable hangar space. Although the hangar has power and lighting, it's also true that the short days are limiting progress, as much as anything else because of the desire to avoid lots of travelling in the dark.

Not all is gloom and doom however. The hydraulics were completed and quite a bit of progress was made on the instrument panels. The seats were installed, various avionics problems were resolved and I was finally able to sort out the sticking rudder pedals problem.

Looking forward, I think the challenge is to complete the instrumentation during December. Then in the new year we'll be able to fit the wings and get the engine running. Could still be flying by Easter!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Emergency power

A Blog reader recently observed that the power circuitry to the flight instruments represented a single point of failure that would result in the loss of both roll indicators. When I came to think about it, the same argument applied to the radio communications system, which is arguably also an essential service.

Today, with the weather being, yet again, diabolical, I decided to stay at home and think about how best to provide some resilience. The problem is that there are several links along the way from battery to instrument/radio. Failure of any one of these links would result in the failure of that subsystem. Ouch!

In the end, I've decided to install a simple two pole emergency power switch, which takes power directly from the battery, via a fuse of course - I must still provide some protection. The switch applies this power to the flight instruments via one pole and to COM 1 via the other, bypassing the master solenoid, panel switches, relays, contact breakers and associated wiring. In this emergency circuit, there are virtually no points of failure.

Of course, by implementing this new circuitry, I am providing another route from the battery to some of the aircraft's systems and the master switch no longer acts as a total isolator. If the emergency power switch were to be left on with the engine stopped then the battery would eventually go flat. There's no easy way to fix this problem, other than to arrange the power take-off from the load side of the solenoid and accept the risk of the master solenoid failing.

I think I've decided to go straight to the battery in order to provide the most secure supply possible. I'll just have to overcome the flat battery risk by including a step in the shut down procedure to ensure that the emergency power switch hasn't been left on. I might also make it so the emergency switch powers the strobes or the landing light - that would make it more difficult to inadvertently walk away from the aircraft without noticing that something is amiss.

I need to decide where to physically locate this emergency power switch. Obviously not on the instrument panels - they are already cut and silk screened and there really isn't space, nor is it a good idea, in my opinion. Most likely I'll put it on the P1 side panel of the centre console. That way it is easily accessible in flight but is out of the way and unlikely to be inadvertently toggled. Next time I can get to Kirkbride it's something else to check out.

Instrument panel trestles

I had a go at making a trestle to support the P1 panel in the correct position without having to attach the coaming. The trestle sits on the fuselage floor and can be moved forward and aft slightly, to allow for easier access to the rear of the instrument panels.

I'm more of a metal basher than a woodworker, so the end result, whilst functional isn't especially well engineered. I can live with that, as the trestles will only be needed while I complete the panel wiring. Having proved the methodology on the P1 side, I now need another trip to B&Q - due to a miscalculation of the amount of wood required - then I'll be able to make the P2 trestle. There is no need for a trestle to support the avionics panel, as the centre console provides all the support that is needed.

I'm a little surprised that none of the other Sportcruiser builders seem to have come up with this solution. Maybe there is some dastardly defect in the idea that I will discover in a day or two? Or perhaps it's just that my panels are more complex than most and so the need for the trestles is self inflicted!

It's rotten weather again up here in Cumbria so I'm rather disinclined to make the pilgrimage to Kirkbride today. I'm away for a few days later this week, so I suspect it'll be next week before I can make further progress.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Wiring up the instrument panels

With the awful weather and floods everywhere, I've not really been enthused to attempt the 74 mile round trip to Kirkbride, so I've spent a couple of days at home, wiring up the instrument panels.

The majority of the wiring is just power cables. With switches on the P1 panel and circuit breakers for each subsystem on the P2 panel there is quite a lot of to-ing and fro-ing of wires. As I am keen to be able to separately remove each panel, this has given rise to rather more connectors than I am entirely happy with. Hopefully there won't be any reliability problems!

I've also installed the static pressure air pipes. Static pressure is used by four instruments:
  • Altimeter
  • Vertical speed Indicator
  • Mode-C altitude encoder
  • Air speed indicator (this instrument also uses pitot pressure)
We're only dealing with what is, effectively, normal air pressure, although it is usual for the cabin to be slightly higher in pressure than the outside air (due to ram air effects), so a separate static pressure source is taken from outside.

Soon I'll be at the stage where I need to marry up the panel wiring and the multitude of wires that converge on the instrument panels from all corners of the fuselage and from the engine compartment.

This produces something of a problem, as there is nothing to physically support the panels until the instrument coaming is installed but I can't really install the coaming until I have finished the bulk of the interconnection work. So I'm planning to build a pair of trestles out of wood, which will sit in the foot-well on each side of the centre console and provide a solid table to lay the panels on. This should also make it a lot easier to complete the installation, when the time comes to screw the panels to the coaming.

I feel a trip to B&Q coming on tomorrow!

Monday, 16 November 2009

Instrumentation again

With the hydraulics out of the way, it is time at last to focus on the instrumentation.

First I mounted the fuel selector valve to the centre console panel and then fixed the panel roughly in place. I could then add the flap control switch and position indicator. It was good to connect that up to some power and see that the flap server and indicator system still works OK. I even managed to get the wiring the right way round first time, so that flaps up was with the switch up and showed up on the indicator. The wonders of a comprehensive documentation system!

Next I installed the home-brew audio panel above the flap controls. The audio panel lets the pilot select which radio(s) he is listening to and which one is used for transmission. There are commercial units available but they all have far too many functions for my little Sportcruiser and, more to the point, are too big to fit in the available space. It is not usual to need to fit an audio panel in such a small aircraft!

Finally I mounted the intercom at the top of the centre panel and connected it up to the headsets, power and PTT lines from the control sticks. It all worked! I am particularly pleased with the way the centre console panel has worked out. It was a bit of a challenge to work out the best layout but I think the result looks very neat and professional.

Next I turned my attention to the P1 instrument panel. I mounted all the instruments and switches and was delighted with the appearance of the completed panel. In particular, I am pleased that I went for small rocker switches, which I think are far more in keeping with the modern look of the aircraft than the old fashioned toggle switches that are more usually fitted. I also fitted the avionics into the centre panel and did a little work on the P2 panel (not pictured) as well. No time today to wire everything up - that's a job to do at home over the next week or two.

Finishing the hydraulics

Yesterday I was able to spend a full day at the airfield working on JONL. Firstly Mike and I filled the port brake system - a job that took less than 15 minutes, which just goes to show how much more quickly you can do a job when you know how!

I fixed the problem with the leaking bleed nipple by temporarily wrapping some plumber's thread seal tape around the thread and tightening the nipple up to the seal tape. This provided a fluid tight seal, whilst leaving the bleed nipple wide open to force fluid up into the system. As a result the job was both quicker and much less messy. And there was almost no wasted fluid, which at 14 quid a litre is no bad thing! Mike's impressive brass syringe, pictured, made short work of the job once we worked out how to do it.

With the brakes now completed, I clambered into the cockpit and checked that each wheel does indeed brake and that under hard braking there were no visible leaks. I also checked the correct operation of the parking brake valve. All seems fine, though, of course, I'll have to wait until the taxiing trails before I can really test the brakes out properly.

As we were filling the system, Tom, my LAA inspector came along to check out my work on the rudder control system and to provide some helpful hints and tips. The result is that with the brakes now finished and the rudder system "signed off" the foot well area is more or less finished and I can get on with the instrumentation, which is the last big job before we put the wings on.

All in all a successful first part to the day. Some more stuff happened as well!

Friday, 13 November 2009

Instrument panels

Hurrah! The instrument panels have returned from painting and silk screening and are, at last, good enough to install in G-JONL.

I've already made a start on the P1 panel, fitting the six-pack of flight instruments and the various power switches. Quite a lot of the materials I need are up at the airport and I won't get there until Sunday, so there's a limit to what I can achieve right now.

There is no doubt that the silk screening makes a really good professional job and I'm really looking forward to seeing the instrument panels in place very soon now! Quite a lot of work to do to get to that stage and the small matter of the Ballistic Recovery System, which needs to be fitted before the instrument panels can be finished but which isn't yet approved in the UK. I'm working on that...!

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Other things

In between doing heroic battle with brakes and hydraulic fluid, I fixed a couple of other things during the past couple of visits.

Firstly, I've completed the fixing of the seat backs. In the end, the simplest solution was the best, using a pair of hooks per seat back fashioned out of 1.5mm aluminium sheet, which hook onto sections of aluminium angle mounted to the airframe. These hold the seats in the correct position, preventing them from slipping down and locating them laterally. With no-one sitting in the seat, the back can be pulled forward and then removed entirely, making for very easy access to the area behind the seats. Once someone is sitting and strapped into the seat no movement of the seat back is possible.

As far as I can see this is an entirely satisfactory system but I will discuss it with the LAA inspector when he visits on Sunday just to be sure.

I also fixed the problem with the Com 2 antenna. Once the SWR meter was in the circuit it soon became apparent that the antenna wasn't working at all and investigation soon revealed that the BNC plug at the radio end of the antenna lead wasn't properly attached, with the result that the inner conductor pin was too far back to make reliable contact. I remade the connection and obtained an SWR reading of 1.4:1, which is certainly very satisfactory.

As far as I can see, the avionics are now fully functional and awaiting the arrival of the instrument panels so I can complete the job. This evening I got the good news that the panels are finished and in the post to me, so with a bit of luck I will have them some time tomorrow. Other jobs mean that the next time I will be able to get to the airport will be this coming Sunday but I can make a start on the instrument panels at home.

Hydraulics (2)

After a couple of rather frustrating and very messy days at the airfield, I'm glad to be able to report that I've filled the starboard braking system with hydraulic fluid and confirmed that the brakes work well. But earlier today I wasn't so sure that things were going to end up so successfully!

Yesterday I rigged up piping to let me inject hydraulic fluid into the brake pipes. Try as I might, I couldn't get any fluid at all into the brake calliper using the squirty oil can I'd procured for the task. Hydraulic fluid everywhere, except where I wanted it! Mike, our local LAA strut guy offered to bring in a large, powerful syringe this morning and I decided to get on with other things in the meantime.

Today, heavy duty brass syringe in hand, I was disappointed to find that I could still get hydraulic fluid everywhere apart from into the braking system. Eventually I removed the disc brake callipers and discovered that the pistons on both sides were fully retracted and, apparently, seized, as shown in the picture. In that position, no hydraulic fluid could get into the calliper via the bleed nipple to ease the piston out. Much head scratching later, I discovered that a sharp tap on the piston unseized it enough to force fluid into the slave cylinder via the normal hydraulic pipe. Just as well - there is no way to prise the piston out and for a while I was convinced that I was going to have to replace the units at considerable cost.

Once the pistons moved out from their fully retracted position, it was possible to get hydraulic fluid to pass through the calliper and on up into the rest of the system. Unfortunately, another problem quickly made itself apparent, as the parking brake valve, pictured right, started leaking fluid, even before any significant pressure was applied.

An hour or two later, having removed the parking brake valve I could see that the problem was a badly seated olive on the pipe out to the starboard brake pedals. With that fixed I was able to fill the entire starboard brake system, in the process spilling rather a lot of fluid. The problem is that the bleeder nipple isn't really designed to have fluid forced into it and when you try to do that quite a lot of fluid seeps around the screw thread that is necessarily loose. I can't really see a solution to that problem other than to have a tray underneath that catches the escaping fluid!

Eventually the job was done and after tidying up I carefully checked for leaks (none found) and then experimented with both the P1 and P2 brakes. Both were firm, with no sponginess and I was able to demonstrate that the wheel was indeed being braked. I also confirmed that the parking brake functions as expected.

So, a very messy but, in the end successful day. On my next visit I will fill the port side brake system and hope that the experience gained today makes for a somewhat swifter and less messy conclusion!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Hydraulics (1)

As it turned out I didn't get to Kirkbride today. Instead I spent half a day at Carlisle Airport, where I contract as the Senior Air Traffic Engineer, sorting out a few problems and attending to a pile of administrative stuff. Mustn't complain - it helps to pay for expensive hobbies like flying!

Just as I got home the doorbell rang and there was a courier with a delivery from Airworld. Amongst other things the delivery included a litre of Aeroshell 41 hydraulic fluid (far far more than I shall ever need I hope). So I now have all the materials I need to complete the braking system and there is no further excuse for not completing the job. The plan is to go to Kirkbride tomorrow mid morning and make a start.

I also received a tube of Copaslip, which is recommended for the exhaust system joints to prevent them seizing up and then causing fatigue cracks in the muffler. I think I'll leave that until I'm ready to start on the engine again in a few weeks' time.

I've arranged for my LAA inspector to visit the airfield this coming Sunday to check through the work to date. In particular I want him to check out the rudder and braking system, with a view to signing those items off before I start building up the instrument panels, making the rudder pedal area rather less accessible.

Speaking of which, I must remember to chase up the instrument panels again tomorrow...

Monday, 9 November 2009

Of radios and things

I'm still waiting for my instrument panels to come back from painting and silk screening - it's a long and frustrating story that I won't bore you with, suffice to say that I should have them back later this week.

On a more positive note, the Aircraft Radio Licence for G-JONL arrived today so I am now able to test the transmitters properly, on air and into the antennas. Unable to progress the general instrumentation, I therefore decided to check out the radio systems.

G-JONL has two communications radios (Com 1 and Com 2) plus a navigation radio (Nav 1) used for tracking en-route nav aids and for instrument landing approaches. One way and another there's quite a lot of cabling and many interconnections. Most of these had been tested in isolation but today was the first time that I connected everything together and performed an end-to-end test. The picture shows the avionics stack propped up on a box for the tests.

The result was a qualified success. Com 1 works just fine on both transmit and receive, from both the P1 and P2 seats and Nav 1 picks up the Dean Cross VOR and provides a sensible bearing, even with the aircraft in the hangar. Unfortunately, Com 2 is seriously deaf and as yet I can't really determine why. The antenna appears to be OK when I check it with an antenna analyser but both transmit and receive are significantly worse than the Com 1 performance.

I'll take an SWR meter up to the airport tomorrow and see if that sheds any light on the matter. Certainly the symptoms seem to indicate an antenna problem, even though the analyser gives it a clean bill of health. Lobbing a few watts at it and checking the SWR seems to be the next logical check to do.

I did a few other things today. Firstly, I aligned the rudder by adjusting the turnbuckles so that the rudder pedals are in line when the rudder is in its neutral position. I also made a start on fixing the seat backs - I've decided to try using Velcro and that has necessitated attaching aluminium strips to the back of the seats for the Velcro stick on to. I did the P2 seat today and it seems to be fine, so I'll have a go at the P1 seat tomorrow.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Braking system

The Sportcruiser has hydraulic brakes and, in common with most aeroplanes, has differential braking (separate right and left wheel brake pedals) to permit directional control, turning, etc. Furthermore, both seating positions have brake pedals, so it is possible to control the aircraft from either position.

All this means that the braking system is somewhat complex! There are hydraulic pipes running back and forth between the pedals, a brake lock mechanism for parking and, of course, pipes to the brake disc callipers on each wheel.

Yesterday, I spent a few hours checking all this lot out, prior to filling the system with hydraulic fluid, hopefully some time next week. I had to replace a length of pipe, from the brake lock to the right (starboard) wheel, as it was inadvertently damaged during transport to the paint shop. I also connected the hydraulic pipes up to the brake callipers and secured the pipe to the landing gear legs using ty-wraps.

In the picture you can also see the temperature monitoring labels, which are required by the LAA because the main landing gear is painted a dark colour. Apparently they are concerned that the gear may get too hot in bright sunlight but as I am not in the habit of landing upside down, I would have thought that the wings would provide the requisite shade!

As far as I can see, the brake system is now ready for filling. I have to get some special brake fluid, AeroShell 41, which complies with the necessary MIL-PRF-5606H specification. That's on order today.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Sticky rudder pedals

Yesterday Mike and I had a go at a problem that's been bugging me for a while. The rudder pedals are mounted in nylon bushes that are meant to hold the pedal system firmly in place yet permit free movement. Well they didn't. Although the pedals moved OK, they were quite stiff, so the springs that are supposed to centralise the pedals in the absence of any input were ineffective.

Well we fixed that yesterday. Taking the nylon bushes out it became apparent that they are in fact not round but are, instead, slightly oval. This means that it's not possible to fully tighten the bushes and that was my first mistake. The bushes were also rather dry and looked like they needed some lubrication - my second mistake.

So Mike and I put some silicone grease into each bush and very gently tightened up the bush halves until we could just detect the pedals stiffening up. About a half a turn back from that position for each of the nine bolts seems to be the sweet spot and the pedals are now much more free-moving. We attached the turn-buckles to the rudder control cables and checked the whole system out. Altogether much better!

There is obviously a natural tendency to over tighten these bolts that must be resisted.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

October in review

In many respects, October has been a frustrating month. The paint job took far longer than expected, seven weeks in total, meaning that all of September and most of October was taken up with that. The first attempt at silk screening the instrument panels was a failure and then on the second attempt the project management failed and the panels are still at the painters. No-one seems to know why. And I lost my proposed test pilot, who quite unreasonably has taken a job in the middle east and now won't be in Blighty at the appropriate time (good luck, Brian!).

Well these things are sent to try us and I've done enough big project work to know that you just have to regroup, re-plan and get on with it. So that's what I'm doing.

G-JONL finally arrived at Kirkbride on 23-October and now, a week later, I feel that I've got to know the 37 mile, 45 minute cross country ramble to the airfield quite well. There's a great bunch of people at the airfield and ready assistance any time that I need a few more pairs of hands, which is really great. There's even a completed Sportcruiser there with which I can compare notes.

On the documentation front, I've finished transferring all the electrical circuits to Visio and have completed the various schedules, so that is a job more or less completed. I've also made a good start on the Pilot Operating Handbook and created an on-line documentation library.

It seems likely that I've already found myself another test pilot. One of the syndicate members of the Sportcruiser group at Kirkbride has lots more hours of flying than I can muster and quite a few hours on type. He's keen to do it and I feel sure that the LAA will be happy with that. This is good, for whilst I think I could probably have done my own test piloting, I would far rather have a second opinion!

So October has been a bit like a modern day curate's egg. Fortunately the overall result has not been entirely bad!

Pottering around

I got to Kirkbride at about 12:00 this morning after a rather slow start to the day. I wanted to check out the avionics stack prior to (hopefully) getting the instrument panels back early next week. In particular, I wondered whether, in the hangar, I'd be able to pick up the Dean Cross VOR (DCS) which is nearby.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that I got a good enough signal from DCS for the CDI display to provide a reliable bearing of 210° from DCS to the aircraft. The reciprocal bearing to DCS was 30°, which is encouraging. It was particularly satisfying to see the CDI display working for the first time (I can't pick up any VORs or ILSs at home). I also checked out the two COM radios, both of which worked fine into the aircraft antennas.

After yesterdays' work on the rudder I was keen to connect up the control cables to the rudder pedals and test the system end-to-end. Unfortunately, as I had rather expected, the rudder pedals are far too stiff and the mounting brackets need to be eased off. This is a two man job and Mike, the local LAA strut man has offered to help me with this tomorrow.

Finally, I made good a minor, non structural bit of damage that was inflicted during painting. A strengthening bar across the rear baggage area had split under excessive weight and a rather poor fix had been applied by the paint shop's engineer. The result was a very floppy baggage area floor that wouldn't have taken much weight at all. I riveted in two lengths of aluminium angle, one on each side of the split. The result is altogether much stronger and probably as good as new.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Fitting the rudder

Today, I fitted the rudder. Or more precisely, Lizzie did. The rudder is secured by two bolts, one towards the top and the other a captive bolt protruding from the bottom of the rudder. This latter bolt fits into a bearing on the root of the tail fin and needs a nylock nut to hold it in place.

Well I certainly can't get my hand in there, let alone achieve sufficient dexterity to actually do up the nut! Clearly what was needed was someone with petite hands and a somewhat shorter forearm. Chris's daughter Lizzie was that person. It took a bit of fiddling around - the bolt is awkwardly raked forward, i.e. away from the access hole - but eventually the thread was engaged and the nut hand tightened up to the nylon lock. There then followed a somewhat frustrating few minutes getting a ratchet spanner to engage with the nut and then tighten it up, one click at a time.

The upper bolt was only slightly easier. Eventually I convinced the nut and washer to stay in place with a blob of BluTac and, again, tightened it one ratchet click at a time. I suppose there must be a technique to doing up nuts and bolts in such a restricted space but it seems to elude me at the moment.

Anyway, the rudder is attached and the control cables are properly installed, complete with washers and split pins (another story of frustration that I shall not bore you with, dear Blog reader). Many thanks to Lizzie for her invaluable assistance!

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Instrument panels... Grrr!

I was expecting the instrument panels and associated metalwork back from powder painting and silk screening today. It's not to be though - a telephone conversation this morning revealed that the panels are still at the paint shop and have yet to be silk screened. So it looks like I'll not have them until next week now, which is a real pain :-(

Progress in general has been a bit slow. It's taking me a while to get started again after the forced lay-off for painting. I have finished setting up the workshop though and I've spent a few hours getting paint out of places it has no purpose being in. I also checked out the electrics and fixed a rather silly wiring error that I discovered when I was documenting the circuitry.

I'm going to have to rethink my test pilot strategy. My old flying instructor was going to do it but he's now landed a job out in Oman for the next year or so and will not be around. As it happens there is now another Sportcruiser at Kirkbride, so I may well either find someone else amongst the syndicate there, or perhaps even get sufficient hours on type to be able to do the test flying myself. Not a problem right now - I very much doubt that I'll be ready for test flights until early 2010.

Today, whilst waiting for the instrument panels to (not) arrive, I made a start on the Pilot's Operating Handbook (POH). Every aircraft has one of these and it details the characteristics, procedures and limitations of the aeroplane. Usually they are mostly generic documents, with a few pages of measurements, such as weight and balance, that are specific to the particular aircraft. As I'm building just one aeroplane, I can afford the luxury of customising my POH rather more. 58 pages of A4 so far... and counting.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Cleaning up after painting

I spent a few hours at Kirkbride today, sorting out my workshop there and generally getting ready to start on the build programme again.

One thing JONL definitely needed was a good clean! Painting seems to produce large amounts of dust that gets everywhere, so I spent quite some time wiping down the engine compartment, which was particularly messy. It's astonishing that so much dust could get in there for it was all well masked off - at least it was whenever I saw it. The picture shows, by way of example, how dusty the firewall area electrics had become. Fortunately it's not hard to clean, just a bit fiddly and time consuming.

I've also started reviewing what needs to be done to complete the build and trying to get some idea of which jobs to tackle first. In particular, I want to complete any jobs in the rudder pedals area before I fit the instrument panel as it will be much harder to work in there with the instruments installed. Once that's done, I think the next job will be to fill the brake system with hydraulic fluid.

Finally, I've started creating a list of snags for the paint shop to fix when the aircraft is completed. Mostly these are trivial and I've little doubt that a few more problems will emerge as the build continues. The plan is to fly down to the paint shop once the aircraft is fully permitted and let them have a few days to sort it all out.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Welcome to Kirkbride

This morning my Sportcruiser at last arrived at Kirkbride airfield and it's now safely tucked away in a corner of the hangar waiting for me to get started again. The journey back to Cumbria was uneventful and although it did rain at one stage, there appears to have been no water ingress.

Alan and his truck, together with my pal Chris and I, foregathered at 09:00 outside the Solway Light Aviation hangar and by 09:30 the truck was unloaded. We then had to rearrange the hangar somewhat to accommodate its new arrival. Lots of gyrocopters to move! Unfortunately, I had a meeting at Carlisle Airport, some 20 miles away, at 11:00, so we were unable to do anything more than tuck JONL away safely and then depart for Carlisle.

I hope to get up to Kirkbride tomorrow to make a start on cleaning. There is a lot of dust and general mess around - an inevitable result of the painting processes. I'll also take time to reacquaint myself with where I left off on the build programme back in early September. Next week the instrument panels should return from powder painting/silk screening and then the real work can begin.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

On our way home!

This is just a quick entry to record the return of G-JONL to sunny (not) Cumbria. I went down to York yesterday afternoon to supervise final work and stayed overnight in a local hotel. Alan arrived with his truck at around lunch time today. By the time we'd loaded everything onto the lorry it was obvious that we'd not get back to Kirkbride before dark, so Alan is taking the aircraft to his garage tonight and we'll continue the journey to Kirkbride tomorrow morning.

It's nice to see the bird in her lovely new plumage at last!

Monday, 12 October 2009

Kirkbride here we come!

I've finally sorted out all the logistics for moving JONL to Kirkbride. The hangarage is sorted, transport is booked and the paint shop has a deadline to work to.

Thursday 22nd October is the date. I'll go down to York the day before to supervise packing and check that everything is done and ensure that we don't leave anything behind. Then I'll chase the truck back up to Kirkbride and help with the unloading.

The plan is to wait for a few weeks before fitting the wings and flying surfaces, to give the paint plenty of time to fully harden. Apparently that can take anything up to six weeks. In the meantime I have plenty of other things to be getting on with. I now need to sort out the instrument panels, which I hope to be able to get in for powder coating by the end of this week.

I reckon I've lost about a month on the overall project plan but it's not really an issue. I suspect we'll now be looking at being ready for flight tests early in 2010.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Document library

I've decided to create an on-line document library. Very much a work in progress at the moment, the intention is that this should become a repository for all my build documents and many of the operational/maintenance documents too.

The web site is a bit tatty at the moment - I really want to put a nice picture of G-JONL at the top, for example. But it'll do as a start and hopefully it will evolve to something rather better over time.

There is a link to the document library along the right hand side of every page in this Blog.

I welcome any comments about whether this facility is of interest/use to other builders.

Documentation

Whilst my aircraft has been at the paint shop I've not really been able to do much in the way of engineering work, so instead I've been putting some effort into the documentation.

All aircraft must have log books and G-JONL is no exception. Fortunately the LAA produces perfectly acceptable logbooks and a nice folder to keep them in, so that was a problem easily solved by the application of a small amount of cash! There are two logbooks for a simple aircraft like mine: Airframe and Engine. Aircraft with variable pitch propellers also need to maintain a propeller logbook but as mine is fixed pitch I don't need to do that. Every flight has to be logged in each logbook, together with any problems, maintenance work carried out, etc.

The Civil Aviation Authority, which regulates aviation in the UK considers me to be the manufacturer of G-JONL, because in order for it to qualify as a kit build aircraft, I have to do at least 51% of the work. As such, I am also responsible for documenting the build. Fortunately the kit maker (CZAW) provides much of the basic material and it is only necessary for me to document aspects of the build that are specific to my aircraft.

One obvious example of this is the electrical, avionics and instrumentation fit. In essence, these are not defined by the kit maker, except at a superficial level, so I have had to design them from first principles and must therefore fully document them as well. So far I've created the following documents:
  • Wiring diagrams. Some 20 sheets of A4 covering all electrical circuits
  • Cable schedule - uniquely identifying every cable, where it goes from and to, what it does and what sort of cable is used
  • Connector schedule - identifying every connector, its location and purpose
  • Switches, fuses & CBs schedule - identifying every switch, fuse and contact breaker
  • Technical Manual - A repository for aircraft specific technical information. Very much a work in progress at the moment
I'd quite like to publish these on line in the fullness of time but it seems that this Blog doesn't accept data files, so I think I'll have to create a little web site for them and provide a link from here. Fortunately, I have plenty of web space available!

There's a raft of other documents that I will need to produce before much longer, including
  • Pilot's Operations Handbook (POH)
  • Pilot's reference guide
  • Technical log
  • Maintenance schedules
The POH will take quite a lot of effort, although much of the outline work has already been done and it will in many cases be just a matter of obtaining the relevant aircraft specific data and transferring them to the POH template. The other quite large task will be production of the maintenance schedules but again, outline templates are available to get me started.

They do say that the job's not done until the paperwork is completed!

At the paint shop (5)

I was at Full Sutton again yesterday to check up on progress. Really there wasn't a lot to see, hence not much in the way of pictures. You'll be pleased to hear that I don't intend to make up for that with 1000 words!

One major component that is at last completed is the wings. The red and silver highlights have been applied and the aircraft registration has been sprayed onto the underside of the port wing. Both wings are now ready for a final polishing and the job will be a good'un. All the flying control surfaces are finished and the fuselage is done apart from a few minor bits of tidying up. Jobs remaining to be done include lots of polishing, applying the various decals and putting wing walks on both wings.

With the painting phase of the project coming to a close I'm starting to plan the repatriation of JONL to sunny Cumbria. I'm hoping to be able to get all the arrangements in place for some time during this coming week but that's a bit tight and it may have to be the week after.

Meanwhile, I've been progressing a solution to the instrument panels problems I mentioned in the previous Blog entry. I've found an organisation that can do powder coating and I've more or less decided to go for it. It's a nuisance that I've had to go through one abortive attempt before finding the proper solution but the whole project is a massive learning exercise, so it's hardly surprising that the odd mistake gets made along the way.

Phase 3 looms!

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Not a lot to report

It's been a while since my last Blog entry and there's a reason for that - not a lot to report. My Sportcruiser is still at the paint shop and looks like being there for another week yet. It's taken a fair bit longer than originally expected but in the grand scale of things that's hardly a problem and I'd rather the job was done well than go rushing things.

Unfortunately I've made some "backwards progress" on the instrument panels, which have now come back from being silk screened. There are several marks and abrasions on the paintwork, believed to be due to the panels moving in transit, so I'm seriously considering starting over and this time getting the panels powder painted rather than spray painted, as that gives a much more durable finish (at a cost!). Fortunately, with the delay in the main painting job the panels aren't critical path yet.

I have at least made progress on documenting the aircraft electrics. All the circuits have now been transferred to Visio documents, no less than 20 pages in total! I need to cross check all the references to the schedules to finally complete the job.

Hopefully I'll have more news next week.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

September in review

September was paint shop month and it looks like October will start off that way too. G-JONL was delivered to Raidenaire at Full Sutton airfield, east of York city on the 1st and it's still there on the 30th but it looks a whole load better at the end of the month than it did at the beginning!

Painting an aircraft is a combination of technical issues and artistic flair. Because of the complex shapes, especially on the wings and the tailplane area, finding the right line for the colour highlights is difficult and just has to be tried a few times before the answer presents itself. Lots of messing around with masking tape and gentle sweeping curves.

No less difficult is deciding on the best colours, with visibility, heating effects and aesthetics all playing an important part in the decision making process. At the beginning of the month I was certain in my mind that I'd selected white for the top and dark blue underneath but by the end on the same month I'd changed my mind and gone for a deep red instead of the blue. Who says it's only a woman's prerogative to change her mind?

I've visited the paint shop on a weekly basis and every time there have been questions to answer and decisions to make. It's been a fascinating process and an entirely new experience for me. Another time it will be easier!

During September I also made significant progress with documenting the electrical and electronic systems in my Sportcruiser. The instrument panels were painted and then sent off for silk screening.

After the mad rush to get JONL ready for taking to the pant shop, September was always going to be a bit of a slow month but progress is still being made and soon enough I'll be back to work finishing things off at Kirkbride airfield.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Planning for phase 3

As phase 2 (the paint job) draws to a close, I've been getting organised for the next phase - moving the aircraft up to Kirkbride airfield for final construction. As soon as the wings go on, I need an airfield and preferably one with a decent length runway to make the flight tests easier to undertake. One of the problems with being in Cumbria is that it's a rather hilly place, so lumps of flat ground sufficient for a decent sized airfield are few and far between. Kirkbride is some 30 miles away on the flat ground to the west of Carlisle and is ideal for the job at hand. I'll be doing rather a lot of driving over the next few months!

I've negotiated space in one corner of a nice new hangar, which will be perfect for the construction phase. When I'm ready for engine testing and other outdoor activities, JONL will migrate from its far corner towards the front of the hangar for easy access.

I must say I'm very happy with the facilities and the people at Kirkbride. They are keen aviation folk who are genuinely interested in the Sportcruiser project, so much so that it seems possible that another Sportcruiser may be in the offing there before much longer.

Documenting the electrics

Rather than twiddle my thumbs while JONL is away being painted, I've been spending some time on the final documentation of the aircraft electrics. As an electronics engineer, I am all too aware of the need for good circuit diagrams and schedules - what seemed obvious when the job was done will be positively inscrutable a couple of years down line!

Unless you're willing to invest a lot of money in CAD/CAM software, drawing circuits is a time consuming business. I've chosen to use Visio, partly because I already have the software and partly because there are suitable electronics templates available at low cost. The end result looks professional and it is comparatively easy to maintain.

I've been concentrating on the instrument panel and avionics areas as these have, by far, the most complex electronics. Particularly tricky has been finding a way to represent the Engine Management System and associated components. The circuit diagram to the right shows what I've achieved so far - it's not perfect but it is accurate and I, at least, can understand it, which I suppose is what really matters.

JONL's avionics are probably rather more complex than your average Sportcruiser, probably at least in part because I have the technical knowledge to make it so. Unusually, I've fitted a full Nav/Com system, including Course Deviation Indicator (CDI) so the aircraft will be capable of doing ILS approaches (though sadly not legally - yet). Here is the circuit diagram for the Nav/Com system.

Each drawing takes most of an evening to lay out in Visio but I see it as a sort of labour of love. It would be a shame to make a nice job of the aircraft itself and then rely on scrappy hand drawn circuits for documentation!

Saturday, 26 September 2009

At the paint shop (4)

I was down at the paint shop again today and things are progressing well. Most of the deep red paint has been applied and some of the silver lining is also done. Particularly pleasing was to see that the call sign has been applied to the fuselage sides, so my Sportcruiser is finally properly christened! The fuselage is still mostly bagged up as there are a few minor bits of paintwork still to be done but we removed one side so I could see for myself the effect of the red underside and silver stripe and how the call sign appears. I think it looks rather splendid!

We also spent a bit of time sorting out the best line for the red and silver highlight on the wing tips. This is non-trivial, as the complex shapes around the end of the wings makes getting a line that looks good from all angles difficult to find. In the end we ended up with the line in the picture to the right. This gives quite a large area of red, thereby helping with visibility, in keeping with the curvy lines of the aircraft.

I took a picture of the rudder, hanging upside down in the paint booth. Apart from a few minor bits of touch up around a couple of rivets, the rudder is completed and gives some idea of how the colours look together. I'm glad now that I didn't go for blue - I think the deep metallic red looks superb and it's a much warmer colour as well. It won't be long before I can see the entire fuselage and wings completed and then we'll be able to tell for sure whether we've got it right!

While I was there, Alyson was masking up the wheel spats for the red paint. White and silver have already been done. The short video shows a bit of the work in progress. In the background you can see their next job, a PA32, being stripped down.



It's looking like the second week in October before all the work will be finished, which is a little longer than originally expected. I'm not concerned though - I'd far rather get it right than rush and have regrets later.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Instrument panel legends

Today I sent the instrument panels off for silk screening. Few aspects of the build can be more critical in terms of the overall appearance of the final product. After all, the instrument panels are right in front of me every time I fly!

So I've put a considerable amount of effort into neatly laying out the instruments, cutting the panels accurately and then having them sprayed in a suitable colour and to a high level of finish. I've also agonised over the legends, where they should go, what they should look like and so on.

Well, the die is cast! The panels are in the care(?) of Royal Mail Special Delivery and I have finalised and sent off the artwork file. All I can do now is to sit back and wait for a few days to see what the final result looks like!

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

At the paint shop (3)

I was down at the paint shop again last Saturday and there is good progress to report. Virtually the entire aircraft has been painted in its base colour, a very bright white. What a difference that makes! All the fairings and odds and ends are also brilliant white. It's starting to become possible to imagine what it will look like when it's finished.

One of the most difficult aspects to get right is the exact position of the waistline - the line between the white upper surfaces and the dark red lower part of the fuselage. The natural curve of the aircraft in profile provides a useful clue but in the end it's a matter of artistic taste and judgement.

So Yan and I spent several hours determining the best line using masking tape as the guide. The line naturally follows the wing shape but towards the rear of the fuselage there are conflicting issues such as whether to avoid the tailplane and how far to take the dark red up the tail fin and rudder. The video captures the frustration of trying to get that right!



On my earlier visit I'd selected a very dark grey, almost anthracite colour for the instrument panels and centre console areas. I chose dark grey because it should be easy on the eye and will closely match the instruments. The paint had arrived, so the crew were able to prepare and paint the panels whilst I was there and I brought them home that evening. The panels will go off to be silk screened in the next few days, once the paint has fully hardened.