Rudder and Elevator

Tail Kit


Order mailed to Van’s for one RV-9a empennage kit and one RV-9a wing kit.


Empennage kit arrives! Two big boxes arrive by UPS.

The books I ordered from Builders Bookstore also arrived. Time to learn some skills!

3.0 hours: Full inventory. All items accounted for.


0.75 hours: Organized all my new Avery tools. Rearranged the worktables.

Cleco two front elevator spars and spar doubler together.


3.9 hours: Match drill front spars and doubler. Fabricate attachangles and match drill to spar. This task, by the way, was extremely painful without a metal cutting band saw. It took 2 hours just to get the basic shape cut out, filed down and deburred using a hack saw, files and grinder. It probably would have taken less than 30 minutes with a band saw.
Cleco and match drill rear spars and doubler. Cleco and match drill outboard hinge brackets to rear spars.


2.6 hours: Match drill nose and main ribs to front and rear spars. Wow, it actually looks like it might turn into a piece of an aircraft someday! Finally installed one of the shop lights above my work area. What a difference! The photos are much better now since I don’t need the flash anymore.


1.9 hours: Debur EVERYTHING. Finally peeled off the blue vinyl and remarked all the parts with numbers and orientation.

through 04/30/2001

10.8 hours: Cleco everything together to match drill the skin. Wow, looks like half a stab. Really got to perfect my two fisted cleco and drill motion. With cleco plier in one hand and drill in the other, going through all the holes went relatively quickly. Even swapped tools on occasion when one or the other hand got tired of doing one thing.

through 05/05/2001

10.3 hours: Do it all over again to the right side horizontal stab. It went a lot faster on this one.

Since this is basically the last step before assembly, I really need to get a paint booth going so that I can prime everything. I am going the alumiprep/alodine/2 part epoxy mil spec primer route, so I want to be sure to get all the right safety gear before starting. That also means a few days delay while I get ready, so the parts decided to pose for a photo opportunity.

Also figured I would get started on the vertical stab and prime more parts in the first batch. Started by clecoing and match drilling the rear spar. Next, cleco and drill the skin to spar holes, and dimple as required.

through 05/10/2001

No actual construction work, but I finally got all the material together to build the H-jig and put together a simple paint booth. I never thought it would be such a painful task trying to do this in a three car garage. It took a few days, but everything is sufficiently rearranged so that I still have four work tables and the H-jig, plus, my truck still fits (barely).

Oh yeah, it is really getting hot as hell in the garage. Next equipment to buy: swamp cooler or portable a/c!

through 05/13/2001

6.5 hours: Shot some paint with a spray gun today for the first time in my life. Holy Sh!t, what an uncomfortably toxic mess. It all sounded so easy… well, at least relatively speaking.

Lesson 1: Wearing full body armor (Tyvek coveralls, paint hood, chemical splash goggles, face shield, organic respirator and chemical resistant gloves) in 105 degree Arizona heat sucks.

Lesson 2: There is no such thing as “too much ventilation”. It took 4 hours before the garage was approachable without full respirator gear, and this was with the paint booth right in the overhead doorway.

Lesson 3: Don’t start painting at 7pm and expect to be done and in bed by 9:30pm on a work night.

Lesson 4: Organic filter respirators are insufficient (Hmmm, whats that smell? Oh, sh!t). The vapors will invariably find their way in. Time to look at a Hobbyair system…

Lesson 5: Swamp coolers are box fans which increase humidity by blowing hot, moist air at you. When it is 105 degrees, cooling the air even by 5 degrees means you are still getting hot air blown at you! Unfortunately, an a/c big enough to be effective in a 3-car garage (15k BTU) is a LOT more expensive than a swamp cooler.

Lesson 6: M.E.K. works, and is as toxic as it is effective. Great stuff – use an organic respirator. (“MEK” is Methyl-Ethyl-Ketone. It is a solvent sold in the paint section of your local hardware store, near the other deadly chemicals like Naptha, paint thinner, lacquer thinner, mineral spirits, kerosene, etc.)

I guess I really hate this aspect of building. Even though I knew about the dangers of handling chemicals and paint before starting, it just seems like more of a risk than I had imagined.

through 05/20/2001

10 hours: Well, this priming session went more smoothly. We had a cold snap this weekend and it got down to 90 degrees, which made everything more tolerable. Hard to tell how the alodining process went on the HS skins. The alodine tended to dry up very quickly when swabbed on (that happens in the desert) so it was hard to keep the whole thing wet all at once.

I got a copy of “Painting 101” from Builder’s Bookstore this week. I don’t think it is going to win any awards for best motion picture… I have taken better home movies myself. Also will not win any awards for Mr. James Aircraft in Florida who goes about spraying Variprime and handling noxious chemicals with no mask at all. At one point he actually mumbles “…it’s stupid to be spraying without a mask”. The 3 or 4 vaguely interesting tips he gives are not worth the price of the video.
Everything else he says I already gathered from reading the Matronics RV-list. If I didn’t know he was doing this for real, I would have busted a gut laughing at this poor old fool, who is sure to die of liver cancer or kidney failure or some lung disease. A good deal of the 2 hours of video is of him just spray painting. Just… spraying. After 15 minutes of this, it got very old.

Summary – NOT recommended. Search the Matronics list archives for the same information, and send Matt a donation!

Anyway, I got all the HS (and a few VS) parts cleaned, etched, alodined and primered . Next, I learn how to rivet.


through 05/27/2001: Memorial Day Weekend

11 hours: Riveting aint so hard once you get used to it. I already made a short list of general rules that I have been following. First, it is better to squeeze then shoot 3/32″ rivets (squeezing 1/8″ rivets requires additional brute strength – I’d rather buck ’em). I was able to squeeze a perfect rivet every time. Unfortunately, squeezing with the hand squeezer is rare because you simply can’t get access to the rivet unless it is near an edge.

Second, when you shoot a rivet, it is better to under-shoot the shop head because if you over-shoot, there is no recourse but to drill the rivet out. I finally mastered getting the rivet gun to just do a “double-tap” on the rivet, which helps a lot. I can get it very close to spec 70% of the time with a continuous burst, and the remaining 30%, another double-tap of the rivet gun gets a usable shop head. (By “double-tap”, I mean firing the rivet gun so that the hammer drops only twice with full force. For some reason, it is almost impossible to fire it once.)

Third, don’t shoot bad rivets in tight or odd places, like when attaching the inboard HS-904 main rib to the front spar. I ended up having to use the offset universal set to hit the rivet because of the angle of the rib. After shooting a perfect rivet in the center hole, I destroyed the manufactured head in the top hole when the rivet gun slipped off. To make matters worse, the flange of the rib lifted slightly, and the rivet started to compress between the layers. It took me 45 minutes, some creative tool work, and yelling “F**k” 107 times before I got the dead rivet out, and my nice priming job now looks like crap in this one area. The moral here is when you have a hard to reach rivet, make absolutely sure you have done everything you can to insure it is set properly, then set it properly!!

Fourth, if you are able to actually watch as the shop head is formed, that is the best way to go. Once you know what a good shop head looks like, just stop firing when it appears!

There is nothing quite like that fraction of a millisecond when your brain realizes that you have just started firing the rivet gun with too much force not normal to the skin surface, and before the brain can command the trigger finger to “STOP!”, the gun chatters across the skin – WAM! WAM! WAM! As panic sets in, the arm sends a message back to the brain saying he got the message first and managed to relax the pressure a bit, so the gun did not damage the surface of the skin. Phew! Another close call. Trigger finger finally reports back, something about being itchy.

By the way, when they say riveting is loud business and can damage your hearing, believe it. Using the rivet gun is just as loud as firing a 9mm Cobray on full auto with no silencer. I forgot to engage my hearing protection once when riveting. *Only* once. Ouch.

Another footnote about the rivet gun. The 3X gun I got from Avery has the air outlet on the side of the gun, just behind the trigger. Kind of a dumb place for it. Why? If you lubricate your gun with tool oil, the oil gets blown out all over your hands and around the trigger. What a mess!

through 06/03/2001

18+ hours:

“Congratulations! You’ve just finished the first major sub-assembly on your new airplane.”

Well, it was a riveting week! Literally. And the end result, well – there are no clecos holding my horizontal stab together! Now that it is finished, this ten foot long structure is kind of in the way out here in the shop. Had to move it indoors so that I can work on the vertical stab, which is progressing nicely. First, the skeleton was assembled. Then, I mounted it to the H-jig pretty much exactly the way it was described in the manual. Finally, the skin is fitted in preparation
to be drilled. Once I have drilled the skeleton to the prepunched holes in the skin, then everything comes apart again to be primed.

through 06/10/2001

14 hours: It sure felt like a productive week. I finished match drilling the vertical stab and disassembled it. Then I started working on the rudder. First, the stiffeners were cut and drilled to the skins. Then, the skeleton was clecoed together and everything match drilled. A few small parts had to be fabricated or trimmed to fit, but otherwise everything went together very smoothly.

I postponed riveting anything together, even though the manual says to rivet at certain points along the way. I am saving up a bunch of parts to be primed before I rivet the vertical stab and rudder parts. I would rather do this than have to do prep and paint many small batches of parts.

Despite being in the triple digit temperature range consistently now, working out in the garage has been mostly tolerable. A box fan and a roll around swamp cooler help. So does a tall cool glass of water and an ice cream sandwich.

through 06/17/2001

4.5 hours: Not much progress this week. I have been pulling my hair out over the plumbing in my house, which you can read about elsewhere. I had planned on doing prep and paint this weekend, but with the water shut off, and the temperatures well over 100F, it was not at all pleasant. Hmm, is it summer yet? Can’t wait for monsoon season.

But, I did manage to start in on the elevators. I spent a few hours cutting stiffeners and smoothing down the edges on the ScotchBrite grinder. At this point, I will probably finish working the elevator parts and priming the whole batch
of vertical stab, rudder, and elevator parts all at once (or in a few sessions).

through 07/08/2001

about 20 hours: Finally, a chance to update the web site. It has been a hectic few weeks, but the house now has brand new plumbing, and a new dishwasher (don’t even ask). So now, it is back to the airplane.

I elected to try to get as far as I could with the elevators before priming anything. I got all of the right, and most of the left elevator drilled, deburred, dimpled, etc. and fitted stuff together.

With the temperatures reaching scorching new highs, I have not been real motivated to work out in the garage. As such, I have been making slow progress. However, somebody messed up this weekend and the temperature was below 100
deg. Sounds like a good time to paint!

The humidity was very high, but I decided to go ahead anyway. I spent Friday night and all day Saturday just doing surface prep. Degrease, acid etch… etc… about 10 hours total for about 1 hour worth of painting.

Not too exciting, but hopefully this week it will be tolerable enough in the garage to do some riveting. I am really anxious to finish up the empennage and get on with the wing.

through 07/15/2001

15 hours: Vertical stab and rudder finished, except for fiberglass!

Well, it was a very productive weekend. The VS went together fairly quickly.

The rudder, though not difficult, was a bit tricky and had a LOT of rivets. Fortunately, back riveting is really easy, so the stiffeners went onto the skins quickly.

through 07/22/2001

7 hours: Elevator parts ready for primer.

Spent a few hours this weekend finishing up some drilling and getting things ready for priming. As soon as I can get a few hours break I can shoot some primer and be ready for assembly. The end of the empennage is in sight! Time to start thinking about some WINGS.

through 07/29/2001

8 hours: Elevators taking shape.

Well, another primer session come and gone, and no organ damage yet, as far as I can tell… I think I am finally getting used to spraying. No more hellacious orange peel effects. Finally starting to figure out how to adjust the gun just right so I get a nice smooth coat of primer.

Back riveting the stiffeners to the skins is fun and easy! Near perfect shop heads every time. I decided to use my own variety of “Special Riveting Tape”, otherwise known as generic masking tape. Frankly, I just don’t know what old Van was thinking – “Van’s Riveting Tape”? Give me a damn break.

After a scorching six hours in the garage today, I could take no more. It was really cool to see this big pile of parts turn into a smaller and smaller pile. Now, there are only a few things left to rivet together. This week I plan to finish out the rest of the elevator assembly, with the possible exception of the trim tab, and start on wings. The trim tab requires the foam ribs to be bonded using Pro-Seal. I will wait until I seal the fuel tanks (not too far away) before I work on it so I can put off buying the Pro-Seal until the last possible minute.

through 08/19/2001

about 12 hours: Finish elevator assembly, minus trim tab.

Where does the time go to? We are well into the monsoon season here in Arizona. Yes, we have a monsoon season here. Nasty one too. We have had some days that were 90%+ humidity and 100+ deg… can’t work out in the garage in these conditions. Along with these conditions, we get very violent wind and dust storms. In fact, a large branch on one of my eucalyptus trees broke off a few days ago. Fortunately, nothing was damaged other than the tree.

So, enough excuses. We got a few good days, and I finished up as much as I could on the elevators. So, with the exception of the trim tab and all fiberglass, I am calling it done.

The elevators I think were the trickiest part so far. A bunch of rivets are in really tight places. Getting a bucking bar into the trailing edges of the root and tip were a real problem. I ended up using the steel bar I use for back riveting. It is about 1/8 inch thick, and 2 inches wide and was able to squeeze into the tight areas.

The design of the spar was just plain STUPID. The flanges of the spar face forward, which means you have to open up the skin and slide a bucking bar blindly around to buck the top rivets. I used a small mirror to look inside and make sure that the rivets were being set properly. You can only tell so much by feel.

The instructions seem to be getting a little sparse also. There was very little help on the trim tab servo access. The book says something like “refer to drawing 4 for your trim system”. Well, drawing 4 has some small drawings on it of the servo mounting, but nothing like any clear instruction.

Feeling up to the challenge, I proceeded to assemble the trim cover and servo bracketry… only to find that it would never fit back in the hole as it was. It turns out that you really have to cut down the brackets severely to get them close, and then you have to file a notch in the reinforcement plate in the elevator to allow the cover plate to drop in with the servo. By the way, thanks to Gary Newsted for the helpful hints and pictures. He (used to have) a great site,and I refer to it quite a it.

So, even though there is still a few hours worth of work to do, I am going to call this chapter complete and start on the wings. This will be the last entry in this section.

Total time for completion of empennage minus trim tab and fiberglass is about 168 hours.