Monday, 30 March 2009

Inventory checking

It was too nice over the weekend to be kit building! Sunday was gin clear, so a flying companion and I took G-JLIN on a land-away tour to Sleap (near Shrewsbury) and on to Shobdon (near Ludlow), before heading west to the Welsh coast and returning to Carlisle the long way round, via Caernarfon and up the west coast. Lovely flying and I couldn't help thinking that it would have been a perfect sortie for the Sportcruiser. Better get on with building it then...

Aeroplanes tend to have rather a lot of parts and the Sportcruiser is no exception. So I spent a bit of time today (30 March) carefully cataloguing all the various installation kits and checking for missing bits. Inevitably there are a few and so I've started a little list. Some of the issues will, of course, resolve themselves as I explore the kit in finer detail.

The snags list has now been made into an Excel file that I am adding to as I come across things that I either don't understand or think are wrong. I spent another 90 minutes or so updating the list on 31 March.

Time at the workshop on 30/31 March, 3h 00m
Total time so far: 14h 15m

Friday, 27 March 2009

Lots to learn!

I spent most of today familiarising myself with the aircraft's design and layout. It's really a cleverly thought out kit. Each time one thinks "How do I do that then?" it seems that the designers got there first and have provided a solution. That's probably a good thing!

For example, there is necessarily a fair amount of to-ing and fro-ing along the length of the fuselage and/or into the wings. Electrical wiring, tubes, control systems, etc. all have to find their way from one end of the aircraft to the other. The designers' solution is to fit a number of plastic pipes, about 1cm internal diameter, running through the aircraft and into which you can thread cables and so on. There seems to be plenty of these highways to accommodate all the systems anyone could ever want to install.

We took the canopy off today and this makes it much easier to see what goes on in the cockpit area. The canopy is huge! It's easy to see why everyone says that the view from the Sportcruiser is so good.

I'm waiting for the LAA inspector to pay me my first visit, so I can properly get under way with the project. I think everything is in order so I'm ready for inspection, SIR!

Time today: 5h 00m
Total time: 11h 15m

Thursday, 26 March 2009

So what have I got here?

09:30 On site at the workshop. My host has provided some much needed additional space (thanks David!) and we spent a while reorganising the workshop to make good use of the additional room.

I started decanting the myriad of small components into large stacked bins in an attempt to catalogue the inventory and identify all the various different parts. This is a precursor to a full inventory check, which I plan to undertake over the next day or two. Many of the larger parts were also identified, checked and stashed away. Some items I have brought home, namely the instruments and upholstery.

In the afternoon my friend Chris arrived and we set about unpacking the wings and other flying surfaces. Definitely a two man job for although nothing is especially heavy, many items are large and awkward to handle.

Progress today: All parts unpacked, major items identified and checked, minor items sorted into bins.

Off site at 16:30.

Time today: 6h 15m
Total time: 6h 15m

It's here!

At last I have my Sportcruiser kit. At 08:00 on Tuesday morning, 24-Mar a friend and I started the long journey down to Cornwall in a rented 7.5 ton box truck. 390 miles of mind numbing, speed limited life in the slow lane later, we finally arrived at our destination at 15:30. It took us about three hours to load the aircraft into the truck and then we were whisked off to a lovely local Inn, The Weary Friar, for dinner and a few beers. Exhausted, I was in bed by 23:00!

The following day, Wednesday, dawned cool and windy. 7.5 ton box trucks have aerodynamics that would make a house brick appear positively streamlined, so it was an uncomfortable journey back up to Cumbria, continually fighting a cross wind that would have been rather more fun in an aircraft. We got under way at 09:00 and trundled along at 56MPH through sun and rain, arriving back in sunny Cumbria at 16:45. A couple of local mates had been recruited to help with the unloading and that took less than an hour. By 18:30 the truck had been returned to its owner and by 19:00 I was enjoying a pint and an evening meal in my local, The Strickland Arms.

We always knew it would be an exhausting couple of days. No matter, the job's done now and at last I have my kit 'plane to keep me out of mischief for a while. Game on!

Monday, 23 March 2009

Excitement mounts!

08:00 tomorrow morning the adventure begins. The truck is ready. The workshop is ready. I am ready! The LAA paperwork is sorted and my local inspector is raring to go.

It's a fair old drive from Cumbria to Cornwall, the more so when the steed is a 7.5 ton box truck. So it'll be a long day for us both. Hopefully we'll be there by mid to late afternoon and can get the aircraft loaded into the truck that evening, before retiring to the local B&B for a well earned and much needed pint or two. The following day we can take it easy coming home. Well that's the plan anyway.

So the next posting here should be to announce that aircraft and builder are together and work has commenced.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Tools of the trade

The average toolbox does not equip one to build a Sportcruiser. Although the list of tools required is comparatively short, it does contain some strange and unusual items.

For example, I had never heard of a Clecko until I embarked on this project. What is a Clecko? It's a sort of temporary rivet that can be inserted and removed using a special pair of pliers. A bunch of them allows you to position an aircraft skin and get all the rivet holes properly lined up before you start the actual riveting job. Handy piece of kit but not really the sort of thing that most of us will have kicking around the garage!

Another thing I had to get was an air riveting gun. With over 2,000 rivets to set, the conventional hand riveter that most of us might have in our toolbox is really not up to the job. Fortunately I already have access to a compressor courtesy of my workshop host David.

Sportcruisers have rather a lot of bolts that must be correctly torqued. I've never needed a torque wrench before and now I've got two of them - one for little bolts that need just a couple of ft-lbs torque and another one that is altogether much bigger.

Of course there's the usual tools as well: screwdrivers, Allen keys, ratchet spanners and socket sets. Although I had most of these already, I've taken the opportunity to re-equip for the Sportcruiser project, so my toolbox will be considerably rejuvenated as a result of this little project!

Friday, 20 March 2009

So I can actually build my own aircraft?!

In many ways, it's quite remarkable that someone with no formal training, let alone qualifications, is allowed to build his or her own aeroplane. When you look at the ludicrously overbearing regulations associated with Certificate of Airworthiness (C of A) aircraft, the contrast with the Permit world in general and kit building in particular could not be more stark.

Of course, it's not as simple as that. I can't just build any old aircraft to whatever specification I wish. Instead, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) delegates oversight of kit builds and most Permit aircraft to the Light Aircraft Association (LAA). The LAA maintains a list of aircraft that it has approved and each aircraft type has a specification to which builders are permitted to build. Any variation has to be approved by the LAA.

The build process is closely monitored too. I have to appoint an inspector and he will oversee the construction, test flights and, ultimately the awarding of a Permit to Fly. All LAA aircraft have a unique Aircraft Record File which is specific to type. One of the many documents in the file is the Inspection Schedule and Record. For the Sportcruiser there are 27 inspection stages, though the Inspector may require more if he has grounds for concern. All the inspection stages must be signed off before the aircraft can commence flight testing.

So no, it's not a complete free for all. There is a quite stringent process that must be followed and which is logical and sensible in my opinion. Nevertheless, it's still something of a revelation for me, coming as I do from the C of A world where, as a pilot, I can't even change a light bulb!

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Where to build it?

It's not something that you do every day. Building a kit 'plane, that is. So there have been quite a few new challenges already and I haven't even got the kit yet!

The first thing I had to think about was where to build it. Most of the construction is done with the wings and other flying surfaces separate from the fuselage so one can manage without a hangar until quite late in the build. After a bit of research I've ended up with a four stage project:

  1. Local build in a workshop, up to the point that the wings need to go on
  2. Send kit for painting (this is one job I'm not going to do myself!)
  3. Complete build and flight testing at a local airfield with a nice long runway
  4. Relocate the finished article to my local grass strip and the fun begins.
1. Workshop build
The Sportcruiser fuselage is 21.55ft (6.55m) long when completed but minus the propeller and rudder/elevator, it's a little under 20ft. Just as well really, otherwise it wouldn't fit in a 7.5 ton box truck. In principle my large double garage would be big enough to get the fuselage in diagonally and still close the doors. Like most garages, mine is full of other stuff and it is also home to the Merc. After a lot of measuring and cogitating, I concluded that evicting all the stuff that normally lives in the garage would merely mean building another garage to put it all in. Wrong answer! Fortunately there are other options in the locality and I've been lucky to get the use of a nice dry workshop that is just over a mile away and is just the right size. The owner has kindly cleared it out and I am slowly building up the facilities there.

2. Painting
This is a specialist job and one that I shall defer to the professionals. One of the disadvantages of living in the lovely Eden Valley is that there isn't much call for aircraft painting in the locality, so the Sportcruiser will have to be transported far afield again. It's not cheap renting 7.5 ton box trucks, so I wanted to minimise the number of journeys, hence the decision to leave the painting until the aircraft is otherwise ready to go to the airfield.

3. To Kirkbride airfield
Once the painting is completed it is finally time to attach the wings and other flying surfaces. At this point the project becomes an aeroplane rather than a kit of parts that can be carted around in a truck, so an airfield is needed. Initial flight testing really requires plenty of space, with a good long runway. Carlisle airport, where I keep my PA28 Warrior would be OK but isn't really set up for accommodating build projects. Kirkbride airfield is really the place for that sort of thing; it has a long runway, plenty of hangar space and lots of people that like building and flying kit aircraft. Unfortunately it's 30+ miles from my home but then so is Carlisle. That's another minor disadvantage of living in the boonies - airfields are few and far between.

4. Grass stripping
A couple of miles from my home is a little grass strip called Bedlands Gate, aka Lowther International. Once the Sportcruiser's permit to fly has been issued I hope to keep her there, at least during the summer months. Lowther International has a couple of grass runways, the longer of which is around 400m. The overshoots are somewhat unforgiving though, in the form of dry stone walls, so it's not an ideal place for flight testing. Once the permit is issued the POH says that I'll only need 110m to take off or land, so there ought to be plenty of room.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

In the beginning...

The Sportcruiser is a two seater Light Sport aircraft, designed and built in the Czech Republic, that first shipped into the UK in 2007. It is in the new (USA) Light Sport category, maximum all up weight 600kg. Here in the UK it is currently considered to be a group-A aircraft and because it is a kit aircraft, it operates under the Light Aircraft Association's Permit to Fly system.

I have always preferred low wing, all metal construction aircraft and the Sportcruiser specification seemed to be just what I wanted. Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that delivery times were anything from 18 months to two years (back in 2007), so I rather lost interest in the whole idea.

And then... In the February 2009 Flyer Magazine I happened across a most unusual advertisement. For the first time, there was a Sportcruiser kit, brand new, no work done on it at all and available for immediate sale. Now, I live near Penrith in the far north of England and it turned out that the aircraft was in Cornwall, which is just about as far as you can get from my home without getting your feet wet. A week later I was down in Cornwall and I bought the kit there and then!

Since then I've been pondering the immensity of the project that I have taken on. I've had to arrange a workshop, a range of not so everyday tools, access to hangar space at a local airfield and transport to collect the kit and bring it up here to Cumbria. I've joined the LAA and found a local inspector who will work with me as the kit build progresses. I have registered the project with the LAA and I have a pile of manuals and other documentation. Finally, I've insured the beast against ground risks (it is, after all, the better part of £50k's worth of aircraft!).

So the project begins. Next week a pal and I will drive a 7.5 ton box truck down to Cornwall to collect my kit. I'm really looking forward to getting my teeth into the project and I hope to keep this Blog up to date as it progresses.