Building, testing and operating an experimental aircraft

EAA SportAir Workshop

02 May 2009

I’ve just completed Day One of the EAA’s Van’s RV Aircraft Assembly SportAir Workshop, held at EAA’s immaculate headquarters in Oshkosh, WI. So far, it’s been a fantastic experience, with plenty of one-on-one help available, since class size is limited to sixteen.

Buehler Leadership Center Buehler Leadership Center

The morning began at 8:00am with a classroom discussion covering the building process, tools, workspace, materials and processes, peppered with lots of specific questions from the peanut gallery.

Classroom Instruction Classroom Instruction

Since there just isn’t enough time in one weekend to address everything involved in building a kitplane, the focus quickly shifted to the specifics of the project du jour–a miniature wing section (provided by Van’s)–and the required skills to slam it all together before time runs out on Sunday.

Hands-On Workshop Hands-On Workshop

After a quick break for lunch, during which we got to view the first Trimotor flights of the season from Pioneer Field, we moved into the well-appointed shop across the hall, and began learning our new skills.

Ford Trimotor in Flight Ford Trimotor in Flight

Before starting the wing section, we practiced by joining two small sections of aluminum skin together, and then riveting them to a piece of angle. No prep work had been done, so we had to measure, lay out and properly space the rivets, drill, deburr, dimple, countersink, cleco, and then squeeze, buck and backrivet the stuff together.

Building the Practice Kit Building the Practice Kit

It was great to finally get the feel for the specialty tools like the air drill (awesome), the cleco pliers, the C-frame dimpler, the deburring tools, the 2X rivet gun and sets (backriveting ROCKS), and the rivet squeezer (buy a pneumatic one!). All in all, it was a nice, no-pressure way of getting a feel for all the basics.

Tools of the Trade Tools of the Trade

We then took these new skills and began to apply them to the wing section, which required a more careful reading of schematics, as well as the new skill of trimming with the aluminum shears. We got about 1/3 of the way through this mini-project when time ran out for the day, at which point my body was definitely ready to be horizontal.

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