Fuselage on legs

Fuselage Kit

04/06/2002: Fuselage kit ordered.

Well, I believe I am into the point of no return now. Forging ahead with the project, I have officially sent Van another large chunk of very hard earned money for a box of aluminum which, when assembled, should at least vaguely resemble an RV-9a fuselage.

06/25/2002: Fuselage kit arrives!

A thorough inventory shows only a few parts that are on the “dreaded backorder”. Fortunately, the huge boxes of parts condensed down pretty good once they were unwrapped. Unfortunately, the fuse parts are a little different than those of the other kits. You can’t really tell what many of the pieces are for at first glance. This makes it kinda hard to know how to organize stuff and store it until you are ready.

through 08/04/2002: Aft fuse assembly

Seems like I have less and less time to update these pages. Here it is, August already! I am taking a short break from the wings until I can order a handful of finishing items. In the meantime, the fuselage is starting to come together.

The first few steps in the fuselage assembly are the same basic things that we go through for any assembly. First, the firewall and other bulkheads are built. No surprises here.

Next, the longeron angles are bent and J-channels cut to length. Bending the longerons was very easy and quite enjoyable as it involves whacking things with a hammer (one of my favorite things to do).

Soon, we can start clecoing together the first major assembly – the aft fuselage.

One thing that I have very quickly discovered is that parts that come as part of a “subkit” should not be separated. When I did my inventory, I unwrapped everything and tossed it into a pile. BAD mistake. Now, I am having a terrible time finding parts. Yes, they are all in one place… but sifting through everything is a hassle. At least if you keep the subkits isolated, you will have a much smaller pile to sift through.

Here is a budget tip. I went to the Home Depot to pick up some sawhorses. I put them back down immediately upon finding the price tag. The only pre-fab saw horses they had were $25 a piece. But, in the tool corral, they sell sawhorse brackets for about $4 a piece. Three sets of brackets, plus five 2’x4’x96″ studs at $2.50 a piece means I got three saw horseys for the price of one pre fab. Each 2×4 was cut into three equal lengths for use as legs and the cross beams. I mitred the bottoms of the legs to about 13 degrees so that they are flat on the floor when the horse is standing. Yee haw!

through 08/25/2002: Center fuse assembly

35 hours: Things are coming together reasonably well. Got the aft fuse riveted together with no problems. Started next on the center fuse assembly. This thing is kinda unwieldy, as it is big and the F-904 bulkhead makes it heavy. After the usual fitting, drilling, deburring and dimpling, you get rewarded (?) with a little riveting.

I riveted the center fuse assembly in three stages. First, I clamped the whole thing down onto the workbench by letting the F-976 skin hang over the edge and the F-904 on the table surface. This allowed me to easily work on riveting the six outboard seat ribs. The clamp was mostly just to prevent the assembly from falling off the edge in case I bumped it, but it also helped to provide support for riveting. Next, I put a couple of 2x4s on the floor and put the assembly on it, again with F-904 facing the floor. This allowed me to easily reach all of the baggage ribs. Finally, to reach the center two seat ribs, I put the assembly with F-976 skin down on the table, slipped my backrivet plate underneath and back-riveted them to finish up.

To finish off this session, I clecoed in the floor skins. These will stay in place to keep the assembly rigid while joining it to the rear fuse assembly.

Oh yeah, I finally got those backordered parts after a little prodding. Good thing too, because all of those parts are now in assembly…

Here is a random tip: If you are putting in nav lights/strobes, landing lights, etc., you can easily delay buying anything even remotely electrical until well into the fuselage kit. If you leave the fiberglass until the end, and don’t close up the wing bottoms, there is no reason to worry about wires or electrical accessory mounting until late in the game. I now regret having bought a a complete Whelen light system and a bunch of electrical supplies over a year ago as I still don’t need to install them yet. If you want to close things up, you can always run conduit in the wings and fuse and snake through a cable bundle later.

through 09/29/2002: Tear it down!

40 hours: Has it been a month since my last update?? Well, October is here again, and it is still pushing 100 degrees or more on a regular basis in our semi-friendly southwestern desert. It is hard to believe that after having so much of the fuselage clecoed together that it all has to come apart for the usual deburring and dimpling.

There were a few tricky steps in mating the aft fuse with the center section and adding the skins. First, I blindly followed the manual which says to put the aft fuse upside down on sawhorses and then mate the center section to it. Easier said than done, as usual, and kinda dumb with only one person to do it. The center section is heavy as hell, and requires a precarious balancing act to get things lined up. Why not just place the fuse and center section right side up on sawhorses and flip it over when you are done?

The next fun thing was making the dreaded “conical bend” in the side skins. This bend occurs where the center section and aft section meet on the bottom of the fuse. The side skin is not pre-bent with any curvature, so a 90 degree conical bend must be made to match the curve of the fuse. This took me several hours of persuading the metal to bend without creasing or cracking it, and getting a good fit was really problematic. In the end however, I managed to get a decent bend with only a mild crease on one skin, which shouldn’t be too noticeable. Patience pays off here. This is not a step that you can rush without causing major damage.

Most of the rest of the work is just fitting a lot of the structural pieces and match drilling. The big disappointment is always having to tear everything down after working so hard to build it up, but you just can’t avoid deburring and dimpling. The good news of course, is that dimpling the skins provides the ever so satisfying activity of Whacking Things With a Hammer (aka using the C-frame dimpling tool – did I mention it is one of my favorite things to do?).

One of the details taken care of during this time is assembly of the brake pedals of left side pedals). It is almost amusing. The manual simply states “Assemble the brake pedals.” This is typical about the fuse kit – you are on your own to figure a lot of stuff out. When you get to the fuse, there is NO hand holding from the manual – you use experience and judgement with only guidance from the manual. It seems like in the previous two kits, the manual provides more information than anything else (which makes sense). Now, I spend more time studying the blueprints trying to figure out how things play together and the manual is just a rough guideline. The other side to this of course, is that if you manage to get to the fuselage kit and are still trying to figure out things like which rivet size to use, or are worried about dings, scratches, and a misdrilled hole here and there, then you obviously have not been paying attention! It will get to the point where the little voice in your head (or was that Van’s tech support…?) says “just make it look like an airplane”.

through 10/20: Roll over the ‘canoe’

35 hours: Wow. Riveting the whole thing together sure was a lot of work. More than I thought it would be, actually. But now, the fuse is sitting right side up and the only things still clecoed together are the firewall and the longerons to the side skins.

Based on a comment from Gary Newsted’s site, I decided to not permanently attach the firewall just yet. I think it might be useful to have access to the front end for a while.

Here is a random hint: Do not bolt in the F-705H spacer until after you are done riveting the side skins on, as the bolt will prevent you from being able to buck a couple of rivets.

through 11/30: Slooow progress

15 hours: It has been a slow month. Between the holidays, vacation time and being distracted by other things, I have not put in much shop time.

The short list of things that I have done include riveting on the rear deck, fitting and drilling the aft top skins and J-stringers, and fitting some of the floor and baggage panels. I also decided to take the fuse off the sawhorses for the time being to make working on the interior a bit easier. With the fuse on the floor, I don’t have to stand on a chair to reach inside.

through 12/30: Still finishing inside of cabin.

35 hours: OK, finally some forward progress!

First of all, I made a decision to have ALL of the baggage compartment skins removable. Normally, only the baggage bulkhead and the flap link covers are held on with screws and nutplates. Since I do not want to rivet on the steps just yet, and I am thinking of mounting the Whelen strobe power supply in a bay under the baggage compartment floor, I decided it would be handy to have the floors and the other two side skins all held in with screws. I simply fitted a nutplate in wherever a rivet was called for, and that seems to have worked out OK. The only mistake I made was using #6 countersunk screws. Ouch! The heads on these tiny things strip out very easily. Next time, I would definitely use #8 round head screws.

Progress resumed forward with the aft seat floors. The seat backs are attached to the floor with a piano hinge. There are three pieces of hinge riveted to the floor for adjusting the seat back/forth. Just a bit of careful measuring and riveting and the floors were ready to be blind riveted in. The forward seat floors required minimum preparation; just a few nutplates for the stick boot cover and tunnel cover, then screw them in temporarily.

Next were the seat backs. The construction is straightforward; the seat is just a frame of angles with a skin on it. At the bottom is a length of piano hinge to mate to the hinge in the floor. On the back of the seat is the seat brace which is also attached with a piano hinge. The edge of the brace slides into the slots on top of F-705 bulkhead.

through 02/09/2003: It stands!

60 hours: A lot of the time in the last month was spent finishing up wing details.

Some progress was also made on the fuse. When I get done with this project, I don’t want to see another platenut for a long time. Fitting the front covers was just more of the same drilling and fitting type stuff we have some to expect up to this point. I did finally rivet on the forward floor and stiffeners so that I could finish up some of the forward details.

I also completed the flap motor housing and actually ran the motor up and down a couple of times. Man, that sucker draws some current. My 12V bench power supply was barely enough to drive it. You need at least 2 amps continuous at 12V to make the thing turn with no load.

After completing all of the covers and the flap motor, I diverted to the wing for a while because the next step in the manual is fitting the wings. After doing all that, I finished drilling and fitting the gear leg mounts and put a few bolts in to hold them down. And, having done that, I reach another personal milestone. The bird stands under (most) of its own power.

through 02/16/2003: Make room!

The finishing kit has arrived, which necessarily interrupted all building activities!

This weekend I spent a couple of hours putting the main wheels together so that I could roll the fuse around. This was necessary to get it into a position in the garage where I could get the wings on. Still not sure if this will work, but it will be fun trying. It is a three car garage, and after carefully measuring, it looks like the wings will plug into the fuse with just barely enough room on the tips to walk around. Barely.

through 04/07/2003: Wings on, wings off. Tail on…

Progress has been a tad slow lately. All of the other projects that have been neglected for the last 6-12 months finally got to be higher priority than building. But, what little I have done has been some exciting system integration work.

With both wings on, there was about 1/2′ between each end rib and the garage wall. It made for some difficult moving around; it was often easier to crawl underneath the wing than to go around. While the wings were on, a bunch of little tasks were performed, including setting the wing incidence angle, fitting and adjusting the flap pushrods and linkages, fitting and adjusting the aileron pushrods and bellcranks, and fabricating and fitting the tank attach angles.

The heavy duty tank attach angles need to be bent a bit to fit flush. I think Vans’ comment about 2.7 degrees was a joke. The real trick to fitting these parts is to clamp that puppy in a vise, and use an adjustable wrench (I mean a good size one, like about 18″) to get some leverage on bending it. Just bend a little at a time until you get a nice fit.

Once those items were completed, the wings came off – and hopefully will not have to go back on again until we get to a hangar.

Next, of course, is fitting the tail. No major surprises here, just drilling
holes for mounting bolts.

through 05/18/2003: Tail off…

Again, a very slow month. Only 15 hours of shop time, so not much progress.

Ran into a small problem with fitting the rudder. While fabricating the rudder stops and checking for rudder travel, it became apparent that the rudder would swing and contact the elevators long before coming close to the stops. After measuring everything 5 or 6 times, I sent off emails to Van’s and to the lists for advice. Most opinions were to fabricate stops that extended more to limit rudder travel. Well, instead I decided to discard Van’s measurements of rudder/vertical stab seperation and screwed the rod end bearings almost all the way in. Turns out this was the problem; in fact, I had to file down the stops a bit.

Other than that, fitting the tail together went very smoothly. It was nice to see all the major subassemblies finally coming together for some integration work. The elevator pushrods and bellcrank were adjusted at this time as well.

Once that was done, then the fiberglass fairing was fitted. The piece was a fairly good fit, and only required a little bit of trimming. Here is a random hint – now, this will probably never be recommended by good and sane people, but the fiberglass fairing can be trimmed rather easily with a nice sharp pair of Weiss snips. Just be sure to cut well outside the lines and sand the rest of the way because the resin tends to get a bit crazed around the cut line.

After finally running out of tail oriented tasks, I moved back to the forward fuse to start assembling the forward bulkheads and instrument panel. At this point, I won’t describe the usual tasks of fitting and drilling. It is all stuff we have seen before. I went ahead and riveted the subpanel and bulkhead ribs, but have not permanently installed anything yet. I am trying to be patient about waiting for my engine to be delivered – I need to get some of the parts so that I can start laying out the plumbing. None of the brake or fuel lines or the rudder pedals have been installed yet.

So, where does the fine line between fuselage and finishing kits exist? Not sure. Note however that the tail fairings come with the finish kit, so you will definitely need to have it available in the last stages of building the fuse. It isn’t 100% mandatory, but you will have to take a few steps back if you don’t have it.

As far as navigation of these pages go, I will bite the bullet and start updating the finishing kit section and call this section done. Even though there is quite a bit left to do on the fuse itself, I think it would be less helpful to have to look in two different places for the latest updates.