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.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

At the paint shop (2)

With my Sportcruiser away at the paint shop there hasn't been much I can do on the project, so I've been busy catching up on other things that have been jostling for my time.

The painting is going well, albeit a little behind schedule. Partly that's because it turns out that the various plastics (fairings and so on) needed quite a lot more work to get them ready for painting than we expected. That's always going to be a potential problem with new kit - obviously an aircraft that has already been painted would have had these issues sorted out already.

Anyway, I was down at the paint shop on 15th September and was pleased to see that everything has been painted with etch resist, which is used partly to provide a good key for the finishing coats but also as a corrosion inhibitor. It's a sort of mucky brown colour, so the aircraft doesn't exactly look very pretty at the moment! The etch resist has to be flatted down, as do all the other coats and this is definitely a labour intensive activity - lots of elbow grease required, with very fine sanders and buffing cloths.

Another major task is filling and preparing the plastics prior to painting. This is quite time consuming and has to be done with a remarkable degree of perfection so that the final result looks the part. Even tiny imperfections that, to my eye at least, were immaterial have had to be filled, sanded and smoothed.

Finally, when they are happy that the plastics are as good as they can get them, they apply a high build paint covering, which is quite thick and is used to seal the surface and smooth out any last remaining imperfections.

At last G-JONL is ready to be taken into the clean room for painting...

Yan makes a start on something easy - the tailplane.

The more I see of the effort going into this job the more I am impressed and glad that I didn't try to either do it myself, or get a vehicle spray shop to do it!

Friday, 4 September 2009

At the paint shop (1)

I went down to the paint shop today, mostly just to answer a few questions that I just knew they'd want answers to and also to see what progress has been made so far. Indeed there were plenty of questions and even a little progress to report.

The fuselage has been comprehensively degreased and looks very shiny as a result. Work has also started on degreasing the wings so they are certainly cracking on. They've also started working on the composites, filling and smoothing the numerous small imperfections on the wheel spats and engine cowlings. I must say the end result is very neat indeed, even before the paint is applied!

We also discussed paint colours for the exterior and the instrument panels, etc. inside. It's not easy to judge how a colour will look in practice when all you've got to look at is a little 1" square sample! We have some ideas though and the paint shop manager is going to get a few samples in so we can try them out on a test panel.

I'm pleased that progress is already being made and I plan to go down to the paint shop about once a week to check up on progress and help with any questions that they might have. I'm glad that it's a relatively easy journey down the A1 - it takes around two hours to get there.

Back at the old workshop I am gradually removing all the various tools and other paraphernalia that has accumulated over the past six months or so. Soon David will have his workshop back for his own use, though he remains curiously convinced that I'll soon be building another aircraft there!

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Beep beep! Beep beep!

Uh... what? Good Lord, what time is it? 05:30? Why is my alarm clock waking me up at such an unearthly hour? Normally I only know about times like 05:30 by dint of not having gone to bed the previous night. Oh yes, I remember... we're taking JONL to be painted today.

06:00 and we're on our way. A remarkably clear run, even along the York bypass at around 08:00, ensured that we arrived at the paint shop at 08:40. Unloading is always quicker than loading and we bade farewell to JONL and an eager crew wielding paint brushes at 09:30 for the journey back to Cumbria. I was back home by just after 1pm.

So phase two has officially started. I shall be back down to the paint shop again either on Friday or next Monday, to see how it is progressing.