Order mailed to Van’s for one RV-9a empennage kit and one RV-9a wing kit.
Wing kit due in late May.


4.5 hours: It’s here! Two weeks early! Unfortunately, the long box was partially ripped apart upon receipt. However, a complete inventory resulted in no parts missing at all. A few small pieces of angle appeared to be mangled as a result of being cut, but otherwise there was nothing damaged.

Being concerned about possible missing items, I was well into the inventory before remembering to snap a photo. Now, everything gets moved elsewhere within the house/garage while I finish the tail kit!


While the last batch of empennage parts are waiting to be primed and assembled, I am starting to gather some notes on starting the wings. Got the plans out for studying, as well as searching through the Matronics archives
for some helpful hints.

08/19/2001: Start the wings.

Started by moving the spars into the garage and doing some clean up and reorganizing. There sure is a lot more bags of hardware for the wings than the empennage!

through 09/03/2001: Jigs and platenuts and tiedown rings. These are a few of my favorite thangs…

The last couple of weeks have been HOT. Almost seems like the monsoon season ended with a bang, then dumped us back into summer most harshly. But, beating back the heat with a couple of box fans and a jug of water,
I finally got working on my wing cradle. I used some foam pipe insulation for the leading edge slots, and I put six 2″ casters on it. I have already found this thing to be incredibly useful for storing the spars on. Being able to effortlessly roll it around the garage is another big plus – the raw wood to make this thing is heavy! The 9′ beam in the center is the 4″x4″ cross brace from my H-jig.

Finally worked up the courage to begin cutting on those beautiful golden
virgin spars. There sure are a LOT of screws holding the tanks onto the spar – I spent hours just countersinking. Spent another few hours installing platenuts. By comparison, fabricating the tie down bars was a no brainer.

Well, hopefully the rate of progress will pick up here shortly as the cooler weather moves in (Ha! Arizona only has two seasons – “Fall”, which lasts for about a week, and “HOT”).

September 11, 2001: Another day of infamy, as terrorists fly two commercial airliners into the World Trade Center towers, a third into the Pentagon, and a fourth crashing in Pennsylvania.

through 09/15/2001: Start on the wing ribs.

Not too much work done this week. Finished up all of the platenut installation on both spars and installed the tiedown bars and bellcrank brackets. Drilled and fitted rear spar components which are ready for priming. Sorting through all the ribs getting ready to flute and debur them. Looks like a couple of major priming sessions coming up. The good news is that it is starting to cool off a bit. Temperatures are starting to go below 100F, which is nice.

through 09/23/2001: Match drill main ribs.

Well, the first day of Fall is always nice – a cool 105 degree wind blows in and cools the garage down to bearable levels…

I decided that the vertical posts of what was once my H-jig were unacceptably unstable with only one bolt into the ceiling, so I decided to make it free standing. It also gave me an excuse to bust up the 16′ long crate and get it out of the way. So, I took the two sides of the crate and cut them down to about 140″ and attached them to the top and bottom of the 8′ tall 4″x4″ posts. Then, I cut some triangular pieces from the top of the larger crate and attached them to the bottom. Worked out great. Now I can move the wing stand around if necessary, and it is much more sturdy than just the posts hanging from an eye bolt.

Managed to get all of the ribs straightened and fluted. Put in a good session this weekend. It was one of those “oh shit, it looks like it will be an airplane someday” type weekends, which was nice. Got to cleco together the wing skeletons for match drilling of the main ribs. First, the left wing then both were together. It was almost painful to have to take them apart afterwards. Got to get ready for a marathon priming session soon. I will probably end up with several smaller batches – but I expect it will be 20 hours of prep time and at least half a day of shooting primer.

through 10/14/2001

Well, very little work done the last two weeks. I finally cut out four peices of plywood to use as the leading edge cradles. I padded them with the same type of 3/4″ foam pipe insulation as I did the wing cradle, which worked out really well.

The nose ribs are fairly tight when being clecoed in. The leading edge skin is pretty heavy stuff, and making it keep the contour of the airfoil takes a little brute force at times.

The good news is that the weather has taken a sudden turn and it is now consistently in the 80’s during the day. Perfect flying weather, if it wasn’t for the VFR restrictions. Ahh, well. A glimmer of hope, anyway. I was seriously considering abandoning the project for fear that general aviation would be permanently banned before I finish. Of course, it still might, but screw it. The finished airplane will make a hell of a lawn ornament.

through 10/21/2001: Primed Ribs – more than a plateful

15 hours: Well, I decided to do a marathon priming session this weekend. All of the wing ribs, plus the rear spar and related doublers got prepped on Saturday after a grueling nine hours. That was actually about half of what I though it would take. I did the whole job in two big batches, assembly line style. I strung a rope up between two trees and made some small hooks to hang each part up for drying in between treatments. Fortunately, there were no birds resting in the trees ready to take a sh!t on my poor unsuspecting parts!

Sunday, I sprayed batches of six main ribs, or eight nose ribs at a time. After a toxic waste fest lasting over four hours, I had everything done. I strung some twine up on the wing stand to use as a drying rack, but ran out of room to hang parts up. So, I put the last few parts in the halves of the empennage boxes so I could move them around more easily. There were racks of ribs, ribs on the table, ribs on the floor, ribs everywhere.

But perhaps the MOST pleasing thing about this weekend was the sound of the Cessnas, Pipers, and other single engine planes buzzing overhead between Glendale airport and Deer Valley airport. Truly inspiring. Perhaps there IS hope!

through 10/28/2001: Wing Skeletons – a Halloween Treat.

11 hours: Another good productive weekend. Got both rear spars and wing skeletons riveted together. They look pretty much the same as a previous picture, so no new ones today. Not wanting to make any mistakes, I spent about an hour studying the plans and carefully marking each rivet hole that should *NOT* get a rivet during this operation. You really have to think about it a little bit, especially at the root end of the rear spar. There are hinge brackets, flap and aileron fairing rivet holes that share some holes with doublers and ribs, so some caution is required.

The riveting was generally stress free; there aren’t many tricky spots. I would recommend removing the inboard-most four ribs from the clecoed assembly before starting, then work from the outboard side in. The reason being that the inboard most ribs are fairly tightly spaced, and it is easier to work with some room for the rivet gun. Another thing, this was really the first time I wish I had one of those air hose swivels, as I seemed to be struggling a bit with the air hose getting in between the ribs.

through 11/11/2001: Left wing drilled.

11 hours: Let me start off by saying you can’t have too many 3/32″ clecos when working the wings. I ordered 300 clecos this week from Avery (325 came with the tool set, so I have a total of 625), and I am thinking 500 might have been better. One wing will consume 625 clecos easily by the time you get it pinned together.

So, it really started looking like a wing when I got the leading edge
assembly on the spar. I then clecoed together the left fuel tank and got the attach brackets drilled.

It was really a bitch getting that tank clecoed together. The tank skin is thick, and does not bend easily. Getting the ribs in required quite a bit of muscle, and a little grease. The trick is to put a bit of grease on the forward part of the flanges so that the nose of the rib can slide around a little. Cleco in the ribs to the bottom of the skin only without using the cradles. Then, drop the assembly into the cradle and start clecoing with the middle rib from the aft portion of the flange forward. Use Mr. Persuasion (that’s a hammer to you) to nudge the ribs into place as necessary. I used a plastic deadblow Persuader to avoid marking up the ribs.

What was really cool though, was when I measured the wing for twist. When I first got the top skins clecoed on, I loosened up the C-clamps holding the rear spar to the jig and let them “snap” into whatever position they wanted to be in, then tightened everything down. To measure the twist, you drop a plumb bob from a cleco on the main spar, and from one on the rear spar and measure the distance between the two at the tip and then again at the root. The two measurements must be within 1/32″. Well, mine were so dead on that there was no measureable error. Huh huh, huh huh huh, pre-punched kits are cool.

through 11/25/2001: Left wing prep

14 hours: For all the work I did over this long weekend, it seems like there isn’t much to show. The left tank is ready to be permanently sealed and assembled. The left leading edge skin is ready for priming and assembly. The top skins, top of ribs and top of rear spar were dimpled and the top of the main spar countersunk.

Everything was taken apart again, so just the bare skeleton hangs in the jig. Except for the dimpled skins, it looks exactly like it did a month
ago… where does the time go?

through 12/20/2001: Left wing leading edge and elevator trim tab revisited.

20 hours: Finally took a break from the wing and went back to finish up the elevator trim tab. I decided this was a timely thing to do in order to get an idea of what it is like to work with Pro-Seal. For those that don’t already know, the elevator trim tab has two small foam ribs which are set into place with Pro-Seal fuel tank sealant. I have to admit that this was not nearly as bad a process as some have made it out to be. This doesn’t mean you don’t have to be careful, but you don’t have to be terrified either. Pro-Seal is interesting stuff – smells like shit (actually, it smells like sulphur or rotten eggs), looks like tar, and acts like hot caramel when you scoop some up and try to apply it.

I also managed to get the left leading edge assembly completed. Riveting ribs to skin was completely straightforward with no surprises. Installing the Duckworks landing light was… interesting. My only thought through this process was – “what idiot dreamed up this stupid design?” Basically there is a bracket that sits in between two ribs. This bracket has oversize holes in the flanges that rest against the rib webs. The idea is that there are two #8 screws with large washers on either side that hold the bracket in place. To aim the light, you loosen these screws and move the whole bracket. Interesting thoery, however I hope that I get the adjustment right the first time, because getting my fat hands into that small hole to get to those screws is really a problem. It almost seems like a “design by brute force”. I can imagine a few easier ways to mount a light and be able to adjust it fairly easily. I think I will “roll my own” mounting bracketry for the right wing, and just use the plexi lens cover and light from the second light kit.

Perhaps the left light can be set for use on the ground as a taxi light, and the right light made adjustable more easily, perhaps even in flight, as a landing light. In fact, I have this idea about scrapping the driving light that comes in the Duckworks kit and getting one of those really bright HID lights. Mounted on a movable bracket and controlled with two small servos (like for a model plane or boat), I could make an in-flight aimable light that could be varied depending on approach angle. Huh huh, huh huh, cool.

through 01/06/2002: Left tank started

8 hours: After slapping together a rudimentary 10:1 balance beam, I finally dug into the ProSeal. I got the first two sessions done so far, the stiffeners, fuel cap flange, an interior ribs. I think I got a little over zealous with the ProSeal though; I probably used twice as much as necessary but it sure looks like it won’t leak.

What a mess that ProSeal is. Although it smells quite foul (lots of sulfur – rotting egg smell), it is certainly tolerable when working with it outdoors. But this stuff is really sticky, thick, and hard to apply. It is like warm caramel, you scoop some out and it drags a long tail. It is that tail of material that tends to get on everything. Very, very messy stuff. Wear old clothes, cover the work benches, protect your tools as much as you can. Fortunately, clean up is not so bad with some good lacquer thinner. By the way, popsicle sticks are a bit too narrow for effectively applying this stuff. I found some things called “Garden markers” at the local supermarket garden center. These are wooden stakes, about 2.5 times as wide as a popsicle stick but not quite as strong. They narrow down to a rounded point at one end, and work really nicely as a little spatula.

Cleaning clecos is pretty tough though. I decided to sacrifice about 8 or 10 to the cause and just reused the same dirty ones for each rib that I was working on. I managed to clean up a few of them, but by the time I was done, a few seemed to be beyond cleaning.

through 02/17/2002: Left leading edge done.

22 hours: From the haze of Pro Seal fumes and foul language emerges the left fuel tank! I have the tank assembled and sealed except for the access cover which I decided to leave off for a while. I have to admit that working with Pro Seal kind of grows on you. Yes, it is kind of nasty smelling, gets all over everything including your tools and clothes and requires lacquer thinner/MEK/strong whiskey to get off, but I still think spraying primer is worse.

So I got a few pictures that are actually interesting. Before sealing the baffle plate onto the back of the tank, I dry fitted the tank access cover and all of the plumbing pieces parts. Here is a picture of the outside and inside of the inboard rib. The only word of caution I suppose is make sure you don’t forget to put the compression fitting hardware on the aluminum tubing BEFORE making the flares. Yes, that was the voice of experience. Fortunately, I had enough extra length in the vent line to cut a small piece off the end, slip the hardware on and re-flare it.

Once the tank was done, big pieces started coming together. The leading edge assembly got riveted on in just a few hours. Yes, it IS possible to rivet the thing on with only one person, but two would have been better. My fat hands did not fit into the smaller lightening holes in the main spar, so I had to hold the bucking bar with three or four fingers. Amazingly, I still managed to get good shop heads. A small inspection mirror and a small flashlight that can fit up through the holes is absolutely required so that you can see the rivet guage when you check your shop heads. Even after contorting to strange new positions, I only made one smiley rivet, who got drilled out and replaced with a good one. Once the nose ribs were permanently attached to the spar, it was a no brainer to squeeze the rest of the rivets to attach the skin to the spar.

After that, I fitted the tank back onto the spar. I got a bit worried at first because very few of the bolt holes lined up with the Z brackets close enough to allow getting the bolt into the platenuts. I believe there was some error introduced in the drill jig. In any event, I solved this easily by drilling through the spar holes and the Z bracket (but NOT through the platenut!). The misalignment in all cases was small enough that just a few shavings of aluminum were removed to allow the bolt to go through to the platenut.

Since I took the skeleton off the jig to prime the countersunk holes in the rear spar, I hung all the top skins with clecos and rechecked the twist. Fortunately, the measured difference was well below the limit. Now, with everything tightened down, the skins are ready for riveting. Van’s claims that one person can rivet the inboard skins, but I just don’t see that happening.

through 03/03/2002: Left wing off the jig, right one on it!

23 hours: After starting to rivet the inboard top skins, I definitely hit the limits of my reach. Fortunately, my friend Tom came over and after a five minute introduction to riveting, we did a 6 hour marathon at the end of which emerged The Left Wing. It is truly amazing how much it actually resembles a real aircraft wing. It makes a big difference when there are no clecos holding it together.

Speaking of clecos, once the left wing was removed from the H-jig, the right wing skeleton went up on it. After a 12 hour marathon work session yesterday, I used most of my 600 silver clecos to hold the right wing together. It is amazing how quickly the right wing is going. It makes me realize how much time is spent reading and re-reading the instructions and the plans trying to figure out what to do next. Now that I am familiar with what to do, I can just concentrate on assembling everything.

through 03/28/2002: Right wing ready for skinnin’

30 hours: Wow, what a productive month. I haven’t bothered updating anything here because all of the work was simply a duplication for the right wing. At this point, the right leading edge is riveted to the skeleton and the finished tank is bolted onto the main spar. All skins are dimpled and ready to be riveted on.

It truly is amazing how much more quickly things progress when you know exactly what is around the corner. Sealing the second tank went a tad more smoothly.

through 05/25/2002: Rear spar details finished.

30 hours: Well, lots of stuff has been happening, though not all of it related to airplane building. I spent a week at Sun ‘N Fun in Lakeland, Florida, which was a lot of fun. Got to sit in the new RV-9 tail dragger, which was the first time I had ever sat in an RV. It was also the first time I sat in a taildragger, and frankly, I didn’t like it as much as a nose dragger.

There was also a two week trip to the Netherlands in early May to visit the family. Unfortunately, walking around in the cold, windy, rainy weather brought on an illness that I am still recovering from. But otherwise, the trip was great. A rainy day in Europe beats a sunny day at the office any time.

So somewhere between here and there, with a little help from me friends, the top skins were riveted on to the right wing. No surprises here; this was another deja-vu task that went smoothly. As soon as the right wing was off the H-jig, the jig was torn down and tossed onto the scrap heap. It felt like victory – and I regained use of all that space in the garage!

During the last week or so I have been working on aileron and flap hinge brackets, and finally, the gap fairings. It is really amazing to see how few parts are left to assemble now. The countdown to wing completion is definitely on.

through 07/07/2002: Ailerons and flaps completed.

50 hours: Can’t believe how fast time has been flying by, so to speak. The ailerons and flaps certainly did not seem like the task they turned out to be. The ailerons consumed about 25 hours of shop time, and the flaps another 25. I can see now how easy it would be to put 2000 hours total into a project like this.

As for the tasks themselves, the only tricky part on both the ailerons and flaps was riveting the skins to the spars. There isn’t much room to get a bucking bar and a hand into the narrow assembly. I also slipped many many times with the rivet gun and put a nasty looking circular dent into the skins. Cosmetically, this is probably the worst I have done so far. But I honestly don’t think I could do much better if I started over. My hands are just too fat to fit into the places they needed to be. SO, I guess that is what filler is for.

I tell you one thing – using a pneumatic squeezer is addictive. It is a pain in the ass to set up, but once you get it right, it can’t be beat. I may just buy a more complete flat set of dies just so I don’t have to mess with shims as much. If you have the opportunity to try a pneumatic squeezer, DON’T unless you can afford to buy one… the hand squeezer still has its place, but the pneumatic is a handy (albeit pricey) tool. Squeezed everything in the flap skeletons with

I decided not to build the “saddle” when riveting the aileron. In hindsight, that was a mistake. Just blocking them in a large vise did not provide the support really needed to do the riveting. As such, I did make the saddle for the flaps, and they worked out great.

After completing the flaps, I installed the pitot line and electrical conduit runs. I suddenly find that I need to start thinking about electrical wiring and little details now, like connectors and clamps and stuff that is not generally described in the manuals. Pretty exciting!

02/09/2003: Bottom skins on – wings closed!

Lots of details have been worked on the last two months or so. I finally sealed up both tanks by making the Eggenfellner recommended modifications to add a return fuel line and Pro-sealed the access covers shut. I did the ‘balloon test’ to check for leaks. This is done by taking a few short pieces of fuel and vent line and the appropriate fittings, and sealing up the two fittings on the end of the tank. The fuel cap is liberally coated with fuel lube around the O-ring to make a good seal and put in place. Finally, a balloon (or a latex glove used for painting or minor household surgical procedures) is inflated with a bike pump or other low pressure device (lungs work too) and fitted over the return line fitting. I actually cut the tip off one of the fingers of the glove and stuck a small hand pump into it for inflation. I then used a hemostat to seal the finger. If the balloon is still inflated the next day, you are good to go. If not, you break out the soapy water and start searching for leaks. Fortunately, the only leaks I found were around the balloon (it was REALLY hard to seal up well). After that bit of drama, I mounted the tanks onto the spars, hopefully for the last time.

Next, I scraped all the dust out from inside the wings and finished up the bellcrank assembly and pushrods. I discovered a problem here with the conduit run. Van’s recommends opening up the tooling holes in the ribs near the spar to run conduit and wires. This is fine with the exception of the ribs defining the bay in which the bellcrank lives. The holes are directly adjacent to the bellcrank and are too stiff to route around properly. I ended up taking a drill and making a couple of new holes. In addition, I fabricated a small bracket out of a piece of angle, riveted a platenut to it, and match drilled some holes to the bellcrank brackets. This is used for securing the conduit with an Adel clamp. The result was quite nice, and eliminates any interference problems between conduit and bellcrank.

The big step was riveting on the bottom skins. This turned out to be quite a massive job. Let me just say that it IS possible to do it alone. It is just really, really painful. Some of the rivets near the rear spar were extremely difficult to reach, and a couple of the ribs would have been much easier to rivet if the flanges were on the opposite side. But, after about three solid weekends of riveting, it is done.