Monday, 31 August 2009

August in review

A lot of things all came together in August, culminating in shipping my Sportcruiser off to York for painting. At the beginning of the month a lot of time was spent on the instrument panels in order that these too can be shipped off for painting.

During the course of the month, several visits were made to paint shops and the deal was struck in the end with Raidenaire at full Sutton airfield near York. I also took the decision to get a local truck company involved rather than trying to move the aircraft myself - once was enough!

Most of the remainder of the month was spent finishing off odd jobs so as to be ready for painting and to minimise the amount of work that will be needed at Kirkbride, when the aircraft returns from painting.

And so phase 1 draws to a close. I can pause and get on with other things in my life for the next month whilst the painting is done, although I suspect I'll need to visit the paint shop several times as the job progresses. Phase 2 is, of course the painting and then it'll be onto the final part of the construction phase 3, up at Kirkbride.

I'm pleased with progress and starting to get just a little excited at the prospect of finally being able to fly my Sportcruiser before too much longer!

Loading the truck

Today we loaded the truck for transport to the paint shop tomorrow.

First we lifted the fuselage onto the truck using the hoist. High tech has come to trucking - the hoist controller is a wireless hand held unit!

It took us a while to find the right balance point...

Then we manhandled the horizontal stabiliser onto the truck, still in its wooden crate. The elevator was wrapped up separately and placed on top.

Finally the wings were loaded. It took a bit of thinking to work out how best to secure them!

All loaded, the truck heads off for home. Tomorrow morning at stupid o'clock (06:00), we'll be driving down to the paint shop at Full Sutton airfield, near York.

Thanks to my friend Jim for taking the videos and to Chris and Lizzie for helping with the loading.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Packing up for shipping out

I spent a few hours today packing the aircraft ready for transporting to the paint shop on Tuesday. Firstly I removed the flaps and ailerons from both wings and wrapped them in bubble wrap. Rather conveniently, they fit inside the cockpit, together with the various fairings, wheel spats and miscellaneous odds and ends. This considerably reduces the number of separate items that have to be packed, viz:
  • The fuselage
  • Two wings
  • The horizontal stabiliser
  • The elevator
One of the things that will have to be thought through when the truck arrives for packing on Monday is how to transport the wings. The truck bed is 8ft wide by 25ft long, so plenty of room for the fuselage but a bit tight for laying the wings flat, side by side. I'm increasingly of the opinion that we'd be better off shipping them vertically in the wing stands that have served us so well. It's simply a matter of finding the best way to secure them but my inclination is that they can stand alongside the fuselage and be secured to it using straps and plenty of bubble wrap.

Anyway, that's all for another day. For now I've done about as much as I can!

Thursday, 27 August 2009

What colours?

I've been asked by a few people what colour scheme I am going for, so I thought I'd write a few words here about what I am doing and the reasoning behind the design choices.

In essence, the aircraft will be painted brilliant white on top and a midnight blue underneath, with a thin silver stripe between the two main colours. The dividing line will follow the natural curve of the aircraft shape. The picture to the right shows the general design - the dark red colour will be midnight blue on G-JONL.

So why this particular choice of colours?

It turns out that there are many conflicting issues to be addressed when choosing a colour scheme. A major consideration is that the aircraft should be as visible as possible, both against a blue sky background and against cloud. The ideal colour would be black but that is impractical because of heating issues, especially as the aircraft burns Mogas (petrol in other words), which vaporises much more readily than Avgas. It's therefore important to keep the fuel tanks (in the wings) as cool as possible.

These considerations lead inevitably to the decision to have at least the top half of the aircraft in a very light colour. It turns out that brilliant white stands out quite well against blue sky and against dark clouds, which is handy. Unfortunately white merges rather well with thin, bright clouds.

Partly because of the visibility issues in bright cloud and partly for aesthetic reasons, it makes sense to have the underside of the fuselage in a dark colour. Entirely on the basis of personal preference, I have decided to go for a very dark blue. This will look nice and will stand out well against white clouds and, indeed blue sky, so ATC should be happy (I sought advice from the Manager Air Traffic Services at Carlisle and whilst there is no doubt he would have liked me to go for all black, he's content with the colour scheme I've chosen).

One final area that needs careful consideration is the main landing gear legs. Somewhat strangely, the LAA, who set the construction standards for home built aircraft, insist that the legs should be a light colour or, if not, that maximum temperature indicator strips are fitted and that these are inspected before flight. The rationale is that the composite material used in the construction of the main landing gear can become brittle over time, due to excess heating/cooling, leading to the risk of failure. That sounds fine until you realise that the landing gear is wholly underneath the large wing root and unless one is in the habit of parking one's 'plane upside down (in which case how do you get out of the cockpit?) then there is no way that the sun can get to these components.

Oh well, the rules are the rules but with a dark underside it makes no sense at all to paint the main landing gear white, so I'll be fitting the temperature indicator strips instead.

Internally, many of the surfaces are leather or carpet covered but those that are not will be painted whilst the exterior is being done. Metal surfaces forward of the two seats, including the instrument panels, will be painted a mid grey colour as that is easy on the eye in all sorts of lighting conditions. Aft of the seats, the fuselage top and sides of the baggage area will be finished in a cream colour to match the leather finish. That will help to keep the interior light and should go well with the remainder of the external colour scheme and internal trim colours.

Completing the hydraulics

I was keen to tidy up the foot well area of the cockpit before the aircraft goes off for painting next week. One of the jobs I've been putting off for a while, mainly because it involved grovelling around on the floor in very cramped spaces, is the braking system hydraulics and associated controls, etc.

The hydraulics, together with parking brake control, fuel supply and vapour return pipes all have to be routed between the two sets of rudder pedals and there really is not a lot of room! Eventually I had all the pipes installed and it was then just a case of tie-wrapping the bundle of pipes together to stop them flopping around in flight. There's also a few places where pipes cross over and have to be protected from one another using larger diameter piping slipped over the fluid carrying pipe.

I also fitted the parking brake control cable and cabin heat control cable whilst I was at it, as both these cables run in the same general space and will be awkward to get at once the instrument panels are in place.

With all this work completed, the cockpit certainly looks a lot more tidy!

Instrument panels (3)

At last I've finished the mechanical work on the instrument panels. The P1 panel (the one in front of the pilot, carrying the flight instruments) was inevitably a bit of a challenge, with seven large (79mm) holes to be drilled in close proximity to one another and with little room for error.

After carefully marking out the panel, I first cut the minor holes along the bottom for the equipment switches, parking brake and carburettor heat controls and starter switch. I then made up some templates for the round flight instruments using Visio and used them to mark out the panel. Cutting the holes was something that had been exercising my mind for some time. In the end I decided to use a high quality hole saw but even with that the thick panel was difficult and time consuming to cut, each hole taking five minutes or so to cut and requiring regular and liberal application of cutting fluid to stop the hole saw getting hot and/or juddering.

Eventually all seven holes were cut and although the job is not perfect, it is certainly very satisfactory and will look great once the panels have been painted and silk screened. Some of the holes needed additional cut outs for controls and these proved to be awkward and time consuming but in the end, after lots of drilling and filing, a good fit was obtained.

I then lightly polished the panel with some fine grade emery cloth to remove the odd small scratch and yield a good clean surface for eventual painting. That done, I was at last in a position to mount all the instruments and trial fit the three main instrument panels to the coaming. I also printed the various legends and placards that will eventually be silk screened and stuck them onto the panel to get an idea how they will look. At this stage I can't fit the ensemble into the aircraft as that will hinder painting work but at least I was able to get an impression of what the panels will look like.

I must say I'm very pleased with the layout! Getting this amount of instrumentation into the relatively small panel space available in the Sportcruiser was never going to be easy, especially fitting the VOR/ILS CDI (the bottom left instrument on the left (P1) panel). Mine may even be the first SC to be equipped with such extravagant instrumentation in fact!

With the instrument panel mechanical work completed I've completed another major step towards being ready for painting, which starts next week.

Total project time is now 251h 10m.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Side windows fitted

One of several tasks that I needed to complete before painting was fitting the side windows. This is not a completely trivial task as it is necessary to protect against water ingress and the window is held in place by multiple rivets that pass through the perspex window and fetch up against a metal surrounding strip. Getting all that lot aligned, whilst covered in silicone sealant, without getting said sealant all over the place was a bit of a challenge and definitely a two man job!

So Chris and I foregathered a few days ago to give it a go. Firstly we temporarily mounted the windows using a few cleckos. This made it possible to see how the final assembly would go together, without the added complication of silicone sealant oozing everywhere. We also masked off the windows themselves, using masking take and a very sharp knife, so that as the sealant spread out, during riveting, the excess would be kept off the windows.

Finally, we removed the windows and carefully laid a bead of sealant all the way around each one. I clambered into the cockpit and gently offered up the window to the fuselage, whilst Chris placed a few cleckos to hold the perspex. Next we offered up the metal surround and cleckoed that into place. Once both window and surround were in place, it was comparatively easy to fix further cleckos and then, finally rivet the windows in.

The masking idea worked well, keeping nearly all of the excess sealant off the perspex windows. The remainder was easy to remove once the sealant had set.

So that's another task completed and another step towards being ready for painting, starting next week.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Painting (5)

The transport is arranged and the aircraft is nearly ready for painting! On Sunday 30th August, we'll load the truck for delivery to the paint shop near York on Monday morning.

I have a few things to sort out before we go. Firstly, I need to finish the other instrument panels. I'm just waiting for a 79mm hole saw, which I hope will arrive today or tomorrow to complete that job. I also need to mount the side windows - very much a two man job - which I plan to complete over the weekend or early next week. Otherwise it's just a case of tidying up and getting everything ready to ship.

I think we will be ready!

P2 panel cut

I've finished cutting the right hand instrument panel (known as the P2 panel), ready for painting. A rather eclectic mix of tools has been brought to bear on the problem, ranging from a jigsaw (for the large rectangular holes) to hole saws, accompanied by lots of drilling and filing. The end result looks pretty good and will be even better when it has been painted and silk screened.

It takes a surprising amount of time to cut these panels. They are not cheap, so there is a natural desire to get it right first time. That together with the fact that I'll be looking at it a lot in the years to come means that I really want as good a job as I can manage.

Accurately marking out the panel is time consuming but essential. It's a bit tricky too, for there is only one properly straight edge from which to measure. The base, whilst straight has a folded lip for rigidity, which makes accurate measurements difficult. In the end, I set a separate parallel datum and worked from that.

I found that my elderly jigsaw, fitted with a metal cutting blade was far and away the easiest way to cut the many rectangular holes. First, of course, it was necessary to drill a pilot slot for the jigsaw blade and that was achieved by drilling three holes along one edge and then filing out the spaces between them. With care it is possible for the jigsaw to cut almost right to the intended line, leaving little necessary in the way of finishing with a file.

I debated long and hard about how best to cut the round holes. Small ones are easy, either with an ordinary drill bit or using a stepped cone drill. In the end, I bought appropriately sized hole saws and they seem to do a good job, albeit with much noise and lots of metal shavings.

So now I've learned the tricks of the trade on the P2 panel, I can make a start on the altogether more complicated P1 panel. That's the one in front of the pilot, of course.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Instrument panels (2)

As I alluded to earlier, I've been spending quite a lot of time finalising the four instrument panels for G-JONL. By far the most complex is, understandably, the main pilot's flight instrument panel, otherwise known as the P1 panel. This is complex because I really wanted to install a Course Deviation Indicator (CDI), used for en-route instrument navigation and for instrument landing system (ILS) approaches. There is barely enough room to squeeze in the additional dial!

Other things to consider were the various switches and controls needed on this panel. I decided to move away from traditional toggle switches, opting instead for small rocker switches. These are more compact and can be easily stacked side by side to make a neat looking panel. The latest version of the P1 panel is to the right.

On the P2 panel, it is traditional to put all the engine instrumentation and I've kept with that convention. Of course, as I discussed a while ago, I've opted for the glass screen engine management system and that makes the design of the P2 panel a lot simpler. Conversely, because of the fairly extensive avionics fit, I have rather a lot of contact breakers and they too are housed on the P2 panel, along the bottom. There are a few left over analogue displays that are not needed particularly often and these have been scattered around the right hand side of the panel. Finally, the "regs" require me to display a load of placards, mostly stating to bleedin' obvious. They're at the top of the P2 panel, which you can see to the right.

Below the avionics panel, on the central console between the two seats I've housed the intercom, home made audio panel and flap controls. All of these will need to have suitable legends as well, so that's another panel to be silk screened. The Intercom panel is shown on the right.

The only panel that doesn't require any further though is the main avionics panel. The components for this panel are already attached to a frame, so all that's required in the panel itself is a big hole. That'll take a bit of cutting but otherwise there's not a lot more to say about it.

I'm hoping that I'm now pretty close to the final version of all these panels. Certainly the physical layout has to be fixed pretty soon so I can drill all the holes prior to sending the panels off with the aircraft for painting. All the legends can wait a little longer but it won't be long before they too are on the critical path.

Painting (4)

The decision is made! Last week I let the contract to paint my Sportcruiser and they'll be starting on or around 1st September.

That means I've got quite a lot of work to do between now and then, not least because it also means that I shall be vacating the workshop that has been home to G-JONL for the past few months and setting up shop at Kirkbride once the painting is completed. So I've spent the past few days sorting out what needs to be done plus the logistics of the move.

The paint shop will paint the interior of the aircraft, including the instrument panels, so I have to have them completely drilled before the end of the month. This is probably the biggest single job that I now need to do. The layout has proved to be quite difficult to finalise but I am now more or less there and as a result was able to make the first holes in the panels late last week. Not without a certain amount of trepidation, it must be said - any mistake and I'll have to spring for another new panel... and they ain't cheap!

I've also been looking into the best way to do all the panel markings. This is usually an area where people go for cheapness and, unfortunately, the end result is often unsatisfactory as a result. I have more or less decided that I'll have the panels silk screened as that produces a thoroughly professional result. That means that I've been spending some time sorting out the many legends and placards that have to somehow fit around the various instruments and controls. Not easy, but again progress is being made and I'm confident that I'll have a final version ready to go by the time it is needed.

Back at the workshop, I've been finishing off various other tasks that need to be completed ahead of the painting. In particular, mounting various fairings and tidying up the cockpit so it can be easily masked off for spraying.

So, apparently not a lot of material progress but much work tidying up loose ends. Total project time is now 229h 05m.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Planning for phase 2

Slowly but surely, phase 1 - construction to the point where the aircraft is ready to be painted - is drawing to a close. Not without regret, it will soon be time to leave my friend David's excellent workshop facilities that have been a comfortable home for G-JONL for the past four months or so and transport my pride and joy off to be painted. Once the painting is completed we will relocate to Kirkbride airfield for final assembly and flight trials.

So I had a bit of organising to do today. Firstly I have arranged the move with a local transport company. In theory I could do it myself by once again renting a large box van but the fact is that we were right on the edge of the envelope doing that when I collected the kit way back in March. Since then the engine and many other parts have been added to the fuselage and the aircraft is significantly heavier and a little larger. Manhandling it was hard enough before, so I really wanted the professionals in on the job this time.

I also need to think about booking a suitable amount of space at Kirkbride. Fortunately a couple of telephone calls seems to have sorted that out, though I think I shall need to make another visit to the airfield to finalise the details. This phase is critical - it's the stage at which the kit of parts becomes an aircraft, with wings and an engine that runs. I need an airport for that, preferably one with a nice big runway. Kirkbride is perfect.

Finally I need to start thinking about where I will keep my new toy when it is finally fully permitted and all the tests are completed. Kirkbride, for all it is an excellent airfield with a great builder community, is 30+ miles from home and I really want somewhere closer. Very local to me is Bedlands Gate, aka Lowther International and I have made some initial approaches to the requisite people to secure hangar space there.

It's nearly the end of the main construction phase and although I've enjoyed that phase immensely, it is time to move on to phase two!

A job I've been putting off

I've been rather reluctant to buckle down to one job on G-JONL - and for good reason. Fitting the nose wheel spat is a tedious job that requires a lot of faffing around measuring, drilling, fitting, measuring again, drilling a bit more and so on.

The problem is that the mounting brackets for the spats are, of course, on the inside of the spat and completely inaccessible once the spat is in place. So it's nigh on impossible to work out where to drill the holes. And, because it's a highly visible part of the exterior, especially the nose wheel spat, a small error is likely to result in an ugly job.

So whilst I was perhaps understandably putting the job off, in the end a few things have forced my hand. It looks liken the paint job will be in early September and the wheel spats need to be finished by then, ready for painting. I'm also running out of other things to do prior to the painting stage.

Well today was officially wheel spat day. After a lot of measuring and trial fitting I found what I think is the correct position for the nose wheel spat and very tentatively drilled a mounting hole on each side. I was greatly relieved when they lined up with the appropriate nut plates on the mounting bracket. Slowly but surely I measured and carefully drilled further holes until I was able to mount the wheel spat fully.

I also had to drill a pair of bigger holes for the tow bar, which engages with two large holes at then end of the nose wheel hub. For this there really was no clue and I had to measure carefully from the already drilled holes to find the correct location. Before I made the new holes too big I had yet another trial fitting and was pleased to find that the holes were within 1mm of where they needed to be. Satisfied, I drilled the holes out to the correct size and fitted the spat yet again.

I'm glad that job's done!

Friday, 7 August 2009

Painting (3)

Yesterday I drove down to York to investigate another paint shop. They seem professional enough and were certainly helpful and engaged with my needs well.

They have a different take on what parts should be fitted prior to painting - in essence, if it ain't likely to come off again then fix it in place and we'll mask off as necessary. Intuitively that seems like a more sensible approach and it also means that I can get on with more of the aircraft before it goes in for spraying.

It looks like I should be able to get the aircraft into this paint shop in early September, which is ideal timing. So I just need to get a formal quotation from them and negotiate as necessary. Assuming no nasty surprises there, I think I shall be going with these folks.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Port wing completed

Yesterday my pal Chris spent a therapeutic couple of hours riveting up the port wing and in the process completed another major phase of the project. The video shows him riveting one of the stringers into place.

Meanwhile, I was busy marking up the avionics panel ready for cutting. It's going to be an interesting task cutting the rather large hole for the avionics stack. I think I need to have a word with a friend who has lots of metalworking tools!

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Painting (2)

Yesterday I was at last able to fly down to Sturgate to look over the facilities at Eastern Air and discuss the painting project with the company's paint shop manager. Highly fortuitously there is a Sportcruiser based at Sturgate that was painted by Eastern Air, so I was able to have a good look at the workmanship in the context of the specific aeroplane. Thanks to Kevin for letting me ogle at his lovely Sportcruiser!

All looks good but unfortunately they cannot get my project into the workshop until the second week in October. Furthermore the outcome of our discussions is that I can do relatively little further work on the aircraft before it goes in for painting, as fitting more parts will make the painting job more difficult. That means I lose nearly two months in the programme.

So I'm reluctantly having to look at alternatives. There is another paint shop at Full Sutton near York and I've had initial discussions with them. It turns out that they could start in late August or early September, which is altogether better timing for me. So it looks like another visit is called for to check them out. Hopefully I'll be able to do that this week although this time I will probably have to drive there. It's only about 100 miles away so there is little benefit in going by air anyway.

Inevitably, in the process of evaluating paint shops, I've received all sorts of advice from the paint shops themselves and from others, usually along the lines of Don't touch xxx with a bargepole. Unfortunately, if you listen to everyone then you'd never go anywhere as they all seem to have their detractors. So the bottom line is, as ever, caveat emptor and DYOR (do your own research)! That's what I shall do.