Tuesday, September 22
arrive in Mt. Vernon late Monday afternoon and Mark tells
me, "Wednesday I'm taking off for the train convention
and won't be back until next Monday." I recall my closing
prediction from last week: "Next week, I fly my plane." It'll
With the wing tubes mounted on the jig and the outboard end resting on chairs, we begin cutting rib slots and compression strut openings with a hot knives through the dacron sails. Remembering the effort we've already put into these sails, cutting them makes me anxious and I calculate and consider and watch Mark slashing and burning down his wing before I finally cut an opening for the diagonal strut. Before I make each cut, I walk down to check the location of the corresponding cut Mark has made and then cautiously make the cuts on my wing. When I think I am done with the trailing edge cuts, I check against Mark's side again and realize I have cut one strut opening the wrong hole. Mark is great, "If that's the last mistake you make on this plane, we'll be in great shape." I cut the correct opening three inches to the right of the mistake and momentarily wonder what I can do to disguise the error. Well, I tell myself, this plane is not constructed by factory robots, get on with it, and we do.
Dan Regan flies in his Coyote and helps us a bit. Here you see both wings pretty much assembled. Dan has been helping to twist and warp the wings so Mark can get the bolts started into the compression struts. You can see the flying wires lying on the wing's under surface, but probably can't see the upper wire set dangling under the wing.
After lunch we place the wings on either side of the trike. We are preparing to mount them in this next picture. That this location turns out to be a strategic one will become obvious through the next few pictures.
We mount the king post, then the wings. We use the ladder leaning against the hangar to hang the upper wires on the king post. So far the assembly goes very smoothly, almost as well as if we were re-assembling a plane we had taken apart.
Now to attach the lower wires. Mark slides all the thimbles of the lower wires on the left wing through a clevis and bolts the clevis to the trike's tribar. A piece of cake, since the right wing is only to happy to give upwards when Mark pulls down to attach the left wing wires to the trike. In this shot you see the wings hanging from the king post. Mark is bending to bolt the lower cables to the tribar.
Now comes the challenge. Mark loads a clevis with the right wing wires and I hang all my 175 pounds from a compression strut to give him as much help as possible. Still the clevis is an inch and a half from reaching its tribar mounting holes and I am thinking how proud I was a few weeks ago to have made this set of cables. Hope they aren't too short. Even one of them a bit short would necessitate redoing that wire.
But Mark just looks thoughtful. He bolts two tangs to the clevis sides and then with me hanging on the strut again, bolts the tang ends to the tribar. The wires are tight as guitar strings. Mark is saying nothing and I am wondering what is in his mind. Am I going to have a lopsided installation. Mark then reaches around the lower wire cables and pulls them altogether, wrestles with them, it seems to me, hugs them into one narrow space and lets them loose. What do you know, the wires now hang with a bit of slack.
Mark removes the tangs and we try again. I hang on the strut, Mark stretches the wires toward the tribar mounting hole. I see how close it is. Mark is able to insert the bolt into one side of the clevis and the tribar mount. He stops and gets thoughtful again. He picks a Phillips screwdriver from the box and using it as an aligning pin, inserts it through the clevis and into the as yet unaligned mounting opening. He then works the bolt through to the end of the Phillips' blade and follows the blade with the bolt as he withdraws the blade. Presto, the bolt is in place and Mark slips on a washer and tightens the nylock nut. The wings are mounted. In this next shot, if you can't see both sets of cables, you can see by the very squared off appearance of the wings that both sides of upper and lower wires are bolted firmly in place. . Pride and relief mingle in my mind; my first set of wires is a good one.
In the background of the last picture you can see Mark with the tail assembly. I put aside the camera--I imagine Marks thinking `bout time,'-- and help bolt the tail tubes onto the stabilizer. We then bolt the upper tail tubes temporarily to the wings and set the tail on a stack of boxes to determine the angle of incidence for the stabilizer. Standing behind the tail, Mark stretches a string from the leading edge of the wing across the trailing edge (the chord line) and measures the angle of incidence of the stabilizer. We shim the tail skid until we establish the incidence precisely, then mark the location of the bolt holes on the tail brace tubes. We drill and bolt them in temporarily and carefully double check the assembly. Here you see the plane just after we complete the above assembly. In this shot the cables do show up pretty well.
We remove the tail, push the trike back into the hangar and head back to town and Lucky Linda's for supper.
Wednesday, September 23
This is Mark's last day on the project this week and he wants to have me flying, so we have agreed to start work before breakfast at 6 a.m. I manage to get to the strip by 6:14 and see that Mark in the half light of dawn already has the trike out and the tail assembly sitting in place. He has bolted the lower tubes to the tail and I arrive just in time to help bolt the tail tubes to the wing.
The air frame is done.
You can see from the lighting, it is still early. The western sky in the background is slightly pink from sunrise and the sun is not yet high enough to cast shadows. Isn't she gorgeous?
Still to do: rudder cables, the stabilizer push/pull tube, the sail cover for the space between the wings, the prop guard wires, and the guard wire support tubes.
In this next shot you see some of the material and tools for completing these jobs. The blue dacron, Velcro already sewed along its edges, will connect the two wings, the long tube will be cut to length and bent and slipped over the shorter one (not yet cut to length) to make the rudder push tube. You see big cable cutters to clip the prop guard wires which we will install in place. A brown cardboard box holds small clippers and nickos for the rudder cables, the gray box holds the bolts, nuts and washers we need. The tape measure is ready and Mark's book of hard earned precise measurements at the ready. The shadows indicate the sun is moving across the sky and we want to be finished today.
Mark goes to work on the rudder cables. He connects them to the eye bolts on the pedals and threads them through the pulleys I installed last week. When he holds threads them through the rudder horns, he is not satisfied with the alignment. Luckily, I can simply reverse the brackets holding the pulleys on the axle to achieve a near perfect alignment of the cables. That is, the cable from the eye bolt through the pulleys under the seat and through the axle pulley and on to the rudder horns almost scribes a straight line. Mark slides the tiny nickos through their thimble, holds the assembly in place with a clevis in the thimble to locate his cut. I center the stick to a neutral position and then quickly, snip and crimp and the first cable is done. Mark does the same on the second cable and the rudder control is finished. Here you see Mark threading a nico onto the second top tail wire.
The top tail wires are extremely important to the overall rigidity of the plane.
While Mark is working on the stabilizer push tube, I cut the dacron for the wing connection. I Velcro it temporarily in place and cut the openings for the rear king post and oil reservoir and the gas tank filler tube and set the dacron aside.
I help Mark hold the two tubes that will become the stabilizer push tube in position. The tube must be bent to pass safely under the prop. Mark decides a second bend will be necessary and we collect parts and head back to town for lunch.
After lunch we go to the house and Marks sews a piece of plastic stiffener on the wing cover. He hems all the edges, including the edges of the circular opening for the filler tube.
Back at the field, we install the stabilizer horn which extends several inches past the end of the stabilizer. I remove it and cut off the excess within 3/8 of the rear bolt hole and install the horn. We connect the push tube at both ends. Mark holds the shorter tube of the push tube assembly in place, and I sit in the right seat and hold the stick in what I like for the rudder neutral position. Mark cuts the tube to length and we hold them in place to check prop clearance. We drill and bolt the two tubes together and install the assembly to the stabilizer horn
And to the stick control. You can see the prop clearance as well. The two bends in the long tube are only a half inch apart and in this shot look like a single bend. Very neat.
I install the gap cover. It fits nicely. The plastic stiffener Mark uses makes this easy to install and gives it a really smooth line.
By the way, the plane is facing south so the king post acts as a sundial. The shadow tell us it is early afternoon. Well, lets see, what next, Mark?
"That's it. It's done."
I push my plane, Captain America III, out onto the field and set the camera on the tail gate of Mark's Suburban to take a time shot of this next picture.
Now I indulge myself with the camera. I have had this picture in my head since the beginning of the project. Mark's trainer in the foreground has a black instrument pod, mine in the background a white.
The plane is built but not ready to fly. Mark goes to catch up on his mail orders and I make some adjustments to the plane. While moving the trike to the field Tuesday, we heard the right wheel hub rubbing on the brake plate. I had installed this brake so the plate fit inside the hub and had not turned down the plate quite small enough. So I remove the wheel and the brake cable to get to the brake assembly, drive back with it to the machine shop and turn a 16th of an inch off the plate. Reinstalled, the brake drum rolls freely.
Wednesday evening Steve Gould drops by the strip where Mark and I are taking a break and the three of us discuss the battery I should install in my plane. Mark is leaving early tomorrow for his Tennessee miniature train convention so I am ready to knock off for the week without flying. Steve offers to take me to Evansville in the morning to shop for a battery. Good. I might still fly as predicted before this week is over.
Thursday, September 24
Steve meets me in Harbor Town where I am staying and we drive in to Evansville for a super breakfast at Bob Evans. Coffeed and fed we check out a couple of stores before going to Batteries Plus just a couple of blocks south of the Lloyd Expressway on Greenriver Road. What a selection they have. We looked a couple before I decide on a sealed battery that would deliver 17 amps to my starter. I liked that idea of power. I had tried to start it with a 14 amp used battery and the clicks of the solenoid were making me hungry to hear some power. The dimensions of my new battery would allow me to install it in the battery box with little or no modification and I anticipated the wires would all work too.
Back at the strip, I slipped the battery into its mounting box and connected the left terminal wires first. This was the positive side on the old battery so I didn't think to question my connection. Then when I pushed the negative wires into place on the right terminal (with a screwdriver, fortunately) I jerk my hand back from a violent splash of sparks and smoke. Steve watching from behind me says, "What the heck did you do?"
I look for damage. The smoke had come from several inches of melted insulation on two wires, one from each terminal. I don't know what I did. Contacted the A-frame with my screwdriver? Don't think so.
"Look, John," Steve says, "The positive side on this battery is reversed from your old one. See the red square by the terminal? That's the positive side.""
I knew that.
The "short " of it is I had simply grounded the two terminals through the two wires with the melted insulation. Remember the old adage about assumptions? I sure felt like an ass.
Okay, now what. Well, since the terminals were physically distanced from the wiring I had done I would have to make four new wires to reach their proper terminals. I removed the short wires and drove back to town to make the wires.
While I was working in Mark's machine shop, Bob Pierpont and a buddy Ralph dropped in. Bob, a flyer who has appeared in this saga before, offered to return to the field with me after lunch and help complete the job. Great, I say, and you can be first to taxi with me in my plane.
We install the wires but even the new battery does no more than click the solenoid. Sometimes it will actually engage the starter gear and turn the prop ever so slowly. After a couple of hours fiddling, I decide to give it up till Mark returns next week and we put the plane back in the hangar.
After supper I call Steve and tell him my problems and my intention to return next week. Steve is curious enough to offer to go to the field with me in the morning to check out the wiring if I'll stay Friday. I grab the chance. Maybe I'll fly yet.
Friday, September 25
By 8:00 a.m. Steve and I are at the strip. Steve has brought his volt meter. Steve owns and operates a computer store in Mt. Vernon and understands electrical circuits pretty well, I'd say. But I have a mental block about my wiring. Every thing else worked exactly as planned, I repeat several times to Steve. He merely repeats, it's got to be the circuits.
First thing Steve does is take the voltage on the old battery. He reads 12.8 volts on a 12 volt battery. "See what I mean, John. It's got to be the wiring." Next Steve reads my new battery. 12.5 volts. Okay, what is wrong, here. I demonstrate for Steve the starter's attempt to turn the prop: slowly, like a minute hand in slow motion. Still, nothing is heating up.
Steve studies the wiring installation and suddenly asks, "Where's the ground from the starter? We go around the other side and find the ground from the starter to the engine housing. It is a 4 gauge piece about 3 inches long. Looks good. "Wait a minute," says Steve, "the engine is insulated from the air frame by the lord mounts." He shows me and I feel the rubber mounts for myself. Of course. Still there is some ground or the prop wouldn't turn at all," I say. "But not a good ground," Steve says. "Grounds are as important as any part of the circuit but they're often overlooked are carelessly done."
So we discuss grounding the engine mounting plate to the airframe and I wonder why we shouldn't have a four gauge wire from the negative side to ground. I have installed two wires from the negative terminal to ground, one for a buss ground and one for the alternator ground but no 4 gauge for the starter.
Suddenly I feel really stupid. As a kid tinkering with my `39 Chevy, I had learned the wiring on the negative side of a circuit had to be equal in size to the positive side. You can't expect to put 17 amps into a 4 gauge on the positive side and have it flow through a 14 gauge on the other, but that is just what I had done. On my schematics where I had not marked wire gauges, it all looked right. Forgetting the lord mounts, I find a 4 gauge strap in the repair station and replace the alternator's # 14 ground wire with the 4 gauge. Try the starter again but still only a disappointing click.
Both Steve and I are stumped only for a minute. "Wait a minute. We still haven't wired around the lord mounts. Yeah, the starter is still insulated from the 4 gauge strap on the airframe." I am only vaguely hopeful, loosing faith, really, but Steve is certain. "We wire around this mount, John, and she'll start. It has to." I find my first mounting strap, the one that was too short for the new battery, and we use it to wire around the lord mounts. Looks really professional. I think, well, if this doesn't do it, that wire belongs there.
I offer to let Steve try the starter button. Rain has begun to fall and I can't take the plane outside but you can hear it turn. "Nope," he says, "it's your plane." I'm glad to hear that response and step over to the starter. Flying switches off (down), master switch on, and I press the starter button.
Any solenoid clicks are lost in the full sound of a starter turning the prop with seventeen available amps.
I turn to Steve and we are both grinning. I shake his hand and thank him for his help. What a good friend Steve has been. My spirits are up and I am going to wait out the rain and fly this afternoon. Steve returns to town to open his store and I put away tools and even watch a bit of TV, hoping the rain will stop but it only increases The combine across the road which has been a veritable mounting of dust moving through the beans, has stopped dead in the field. I am so up about getting the starter working, I don't mind.
I finally drive into town visit Steve at his computer store and Tom walks in, looking for some lunch buddies. During lunch, the rain stops and the sun shines. Tom offers to go to the field with me and he gets his camera and we head out. We pull the plane out of the hangar--the rather heavy rainfall has all but disappeared into the dry ground-- and Tom and I confidently put on my helmets, preparing to begin breaking in my engine. We sit down, plug in our helmets. I reach up to my control box, set the switches, prime the engine, look back at the prop as I yell, :"Clear prop," and see Mark's pup, Pigtail lying comfortably in the shade right under the prop.
I chase her away and try again but there she is. The ground directly under the prop has become her favorite spot. I get out of my seat and lead her to the hangar where her food and water are located and tie her there.
Back in my seat, master switch on, mag switches up, "Clear prop" and I touch the starter button. No doubt about it, in seconds the engine fires. Both Tom and I yell triumphantly and I taxi out to strip.
Mark has instructed me not to fly, even around the patch, until I get an hour and a half, maybe two hours on the engine. This is his break-in technique. Taxi at different rpms. Eventually get the front wheel off. We taxi for about ten minutes. Once I try full throttle and quickly realize the prop needs more pitch. To be expected. We stop and check for leaks in fuel and cooling systems. Not a drip. Gear box. Fine. Quick check of air frame and wings and back to taxiing. This time with more confidence. I pull the nose wheel off several times. The wind from the west is at 10 mph and above. Coming back from a taxi to the east end of the strip I lift the plane off briefly. "She flies," Tom yells over the intercom. Yeah, she flies. She flies.
After a bit we stop and Tom gets some pictures. It is hot, almost tropical, and Tom helps me push the plane into the hangar. We sit and talk drinking some coke before Tom leaves and I head back to Terre Haute.
Is the building of John's plane over ??? I still have to break in the engine and do some high flying. I'll get back to you one more time, for sure.