John's Plane Week 6
Fiberglass, Fueling, and Cooling

August 12, Wednesday

Monday and Tuesday My other life interfered with this building project and I did not return to Mt. Vernon until this afternoon.

Soon I will be installing seats and an instrument pod so I visited Smittys Fabrication to check on their manufacture. Smitty is Tom Smith, Mark's nephew, who took over the fiberglass production from his Uncle Mark.

Smitty's Fabrication is located about 5 miles east of Mt. Vernon just a couple blocks south of State Road 62. I arranged to meet Tom after supper when he can usually be found working until 9:00 pm or so. Tom met me at the door.

I asked Tom about my 2 seats and he set them out on a polishing table. Here you can see the seat shell before the tank has been formed. Tom is holding the preformed front wall of the tank in place.

He showed me another seat shell with the filler cap installed. You can see me testing the filler for strength in this next picture.

And I take a look at the filler tube from the outside where users pour in the fuel.

Tom manufactures a variety of items for the ultralight market and for anyone who wants a custom made item. He can build a mold and make a one of a kind item as he has done. He makes a small tractor hood for Historical Reproductions who buy and restore John Deere garden and lawn tractors. He recently made some helicopter parts, too, but he produces what has become the standard in wheel pants and pods for the ultrlight after market.

Here is Tom checking a shelf of wheel pant stocks. None of them are painted; the customer does that by sanding lightly with a fine paper and painting whatever color he likes. Tom stocks 3 sizes.

Here is a closeup of one already painted. It's RED, in case the color doesn't show on your computer.

The basic manufacturing process is simple, once you have the mold made, but it requires a lot of care and a lot of elbow grease. Tom lays in a fiber glass sheet and impregnates the sheet by brushing on the appropriated resin. The gas tanks must have a resin that will not react with fuel, for example. Tom applies alternate layers of fiberglass sheets and resin, according to the thickness required. The final coat is a gel coat. Here you see Tom displaying the two sides of a wheel pant mold.

I'll also need an instrument pod like the one on Mark's plane. Tom gets out the mold and lays the parts out for me to see.

Tom hands me a can of wax and instructs me in waxing the mold. This red or gray surface must be highly polished so the part will pull away from the mold after it has cured. The slightest rough spot and you have a marred surface on the product which may or may not be repairable. As I polish the mold I think of this and think Tom is going to give this mold a second coat after I am gone. Some molds receive 5 or 6 waxings before each use.

The larger items Tom stores in one of Mark's hangars. Smitty's produces three ultralight fairings. The standard single place fairing shows up well on this green MX.

The GT-400 fairing is next, on the grass in front of the hangar..

And next, the large fairing for a two place. This fairing weighs only about 16 pounds..

Tom also manufactures a windscreen to mount on this fairing.

Another view of the 2 place fairing shows the built in instrument panels. Given the price of some instrument pods, this 2 place fairing becomes more economical. Tom claims the pod not only makes the plane look niftier, it will protect the pilot and passenger from cold winds, increase the top speed and reduce gas consumption at cruise..

The largest stock items Smitty fabricates are the floats.

Here is Tom looking at a pair of floats we have laid out on the grass at Mark's airstrip..

August 13, Thursday

This morning, I fit the radiator temporarily in place. I mount the bottom of the radiator with two clamps to the A-frame cross bar and the top to the root tube with two tangs which I twist 90 degrees. This location has proven successful installed on Mark's trainer. It is of a size that will not allow overheating. And Mark has installed a thermostat on the Rotax 582 to insure an operating temperature at cruise of about 140 degrees.

We will remove the radiator and take it to a radiator shop to have a 45 degree fitting welded on the lower fitting. This will allow us to install the water hose with a slight curve to the engine's exhaust side fitting. The top fitting is directly in line with the fitting on the carb side.

I begin installing the fuel lines Thursday afternoon. The seat tanks will feed into the saddle tank overhead in a system separate from the engine fuel lines. I install two lines from the front right top of the tank we drilled previously. I route them neatly down the seat down tube.

One of these lines I connect to an electric fuel pump and to protect the pump, I install a filter between the pump and tank.

Dan Grimm, an old friend of Mark's, has come to Mark's machine shop to build a mounting device for a stainless steel oil reservoir. We talk quietly, exchanging a tool now and then. Dan has worked with Mark for years and knows the shop well. He directs me to some of the tools I haven't needed before and my work is a bit easier. I get interested in what Dan is doing and he lets me snap this picture of him..

The engine fuel system next. I install a line from the shutoff valve to the vicinity of where I will install the pulse driven fuel pump, leaving plenty to allow a neat installation. I join the two sides of the saddle tank with the typical curving 12 inch piece that also allows for water and sediment to fall below the outlet valve to the engine. I run the small primer lines from each carb, join them with a "T" and run the prime line to the vicinity of the planned primer valve site.

This picture of the radiator also shows the fuel lines ready for the pump to be installed.

Jerry Halstead form Newburgh, Indiana stops by for a visit and I catch Jerry and Mark looking at the web site you are looking at now. We do stop just to visit, now and again.

August 14, Friday

Mark gives me a sketch of the stick installation and tells me to gather parts from stock. I find the saddles, nylon washers, and nuts and bolts. I make a 7 inch tube which will slide over the control bar and, bolted in place, prevent the control bar from sliding out of its vinyl bushings. Some of the parts, Mark locates for me and I begin to assemble them. This will include the teleflex cable mount from stick to ailerons and the aluminum plate that guards this assembly from feet climbing in and out of the plane or from grass and water flying all over it in taxiing.

I can't find the narrow spacers and ask Mark where they are. "Oh, we make those," he says. So I find the small anodized tubing and cut and debur the spacers on the lathe. Dan Grim who is working on his project, offers some helpful suggestions and finally I get the device assembled.

As I look at it, I can hardly believe I spent several hours on it. Next time it will go faster. Much of what I learned I learned because I made mistakes. A tube turned end of end and throwing off the measurement by half an inch, for example. Had I got it right the first time, I would not know it could be reversed. Here is a shot of the stick assembly. Next week, I will remove the shiny parts and paint them black.

I finish about 3:30 and head for Terre Haute with a primer kit for my Sprint.



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