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.


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.