The Slow Road — Section 28 Fwd. Fuselage Lower Structure

Hours to Complete: About 30

I started Section 28 in early June, but didn't move on to Section 29 until late September (and as of early January still have half a dozen steps to complete). Part of the reason was I elected to do a lot of grunt work (drilling/deburring/dimpling and surface prep for priming) for Section 27 and 28 before beginning any assembly. The theory behind this was to be more productive with my time…..which in hindsight didn't really pan out. In practice, and combined with all the distractions of work and family, I was less productive as it was easier to put aside a session in the garage when I knew the required work wasn't going to be very interesting. It also didn't help to have NOT logged a single hour during the month of July (and I did NOT even attend Airventure 2015!).

I'll also admit to losing a not inconsiderate amount of overall motivation for the project during 2015, so the tangible possibility of achieving completion seems to have drifted a ways over the horizon. Unlike others, who are now far ahead of me and chomping at the bit to complete their aircraft, I've “lost contact” with the RV-14 frontrunners. Those guys will likely be flying in 2016 or 2017. At his point, I can't see being complete until 2018, and that's going to be dependent on finding a completion partner. The remaining kits are approximately $18,000, the engine and prop probably $35,000 at the minimum and more likely $45,000, another $25,000 for avionics, $8,000 to $12,000 for paint, $2,000 for interiors, and a host of other miscellaneous items. I, er we, will also need a hangar for a least the last year of final assembly, probably a minimum of $500 per month. So some of the de-motivation is feeling the relentless pressure of the financial commitment that will be required to complete. Some is related to a huge uptick in my day job workload. Some was related to the hoop-jumping in securing my medical (which resulted in a huge reduction in my flying hours during 2015), and although that was resolved in late September, I've yet to get back into any kind of regular flying.

So hopefully, 2016 brings fewer headwinds, and I can get re-energized and back to steadier progress and the attendant positive reinforcement one gets from visible progress.

Practiced drilling out some flush rivets...



Lost Summer of ’15

In the run-up to summer, multiple events conspired to severly crimp my kit-building productivity.  

At the end of April, I spent a morning in the cardiac cath lab, receiving a couple of stents–the result of a less than stellar annual treadmill stress test about six weeks earlier.  Part of my FAA mandated regimen, the stress test is required to verify that my decade old bypass surgery is still performing satisfactorily.  Well this year’s test indicated something was amiss, and after some additional radiological testing, it was clear that I’d need some additional plumbing work in order to return to form and to renew my FAA medical.  So into the cath lab for about an hour and all was put right.  Unfortunately the procedure requires a 90-day waiting period before re-submitting to the FAA, so summer flying was severely limited and the annual Oshkosh trip didn’t happen either.  With the stress test satisfactorily perrformed in September, and follow-up trips to the cardiologist and AME, all of the paperwork has been sent into the FAA and hopefully I’m cleared to fly by the first part of November.

But that wasn’t all….

The week before Memorial Day someone decided to run a red light directly in front of me, putting me unexpectedly into the market for a new car.    

Fortunately, only the car was injured, but it was another distraction, requiring hours of online and back-lot shopping, and ultimately, a flight to Virginia to pick up and drive home the the new ride. 

Meanwhile, back at home, domecile repairs were in full swing–first a new roof, then replacement gutters, finally a scrape and repaint of the entire exterior, with trim modifications to all of the window and door openings–literally six weeks of pretty much non-stop activity and expenditure.  
It wasn’t until early August that I was able to return to building activity and there’s been a full slate of back-to-school and family weekend activities that have resulted in a lot of abbreviated work sessions. 

And now, with Winter approaching, I’m going to have to re-arrange the workshop again, so I can fit that new car into one side of the garage, instead of leaving it out in the freezing air and snow….

It now looks like 2017 is best case for completion…

Section 27 – Firewall

Hours to Complete: Approximately 42
The Firewall has perhaps the fewest parts in any sub-assembly in the entire kit.  Three stainless steel panels (right, left and top) which are riveted together using 11 total angle pieces, a couple of doubler plates and a handful of nutplates are all that makes up the Firewall.  This is the forward-most bulkhead of the fuselage, only the engine is forward of the Firewall.  

It’s quite stout when riveted together and eventually the engine mount will be bolted through six punched holes at the corners of the rectangular shape that makes up 4/5s of the assembly. 

The stainless steel is there as a fire-resistant barrier between the engine and cockpit.  Penetrations through the firewall will eventually be coated with tank sealant or fire-caulking.  The stainless is quite thin, so I’m thinking the inside surface will eventually need some sound and thermal insulation to help dampen the noise and the heat thrown off by the engine which sits just a few inches on the opposite side.

I prepped parts beginning in May of 2015, but didn’t actually do any assembly until August (part of the Lost Summer of ’15).  Most of the lower panel rivets are flush on the engine side of the firewall and these were largely backriveted.  Due to flanges on the firewall panels, back-riveting takes some pre-planning and careful positioning to prevent mishaps.  Once the top panel is attached, back-riveting becomes pretty much impossible, so one needs a bucking partner.





Hours to Complete: About 80

All of this work was completed a while ago. Started on the parts prep in March, primed in mid April, did assembly in May, finishing up around Memorial Day. More about the Summer Doldrums in another post.

This is main structural element of the forward part of the fuselage, which will connect together the wings, aft fuselage/empennage sections and firewall/engine. There's thus a punch of parts all of which need a bunch of repetitive and time consuming prep work–dimpling, deburring, fluting, and then surface prep for priming.

The primary reason to prime is to increase the corrosion resistance of the aluminum parts. Up to now I've been priming using SEM Self-etching Primer, mostly using spray cans. Once pieces are ready to prime, the “rattle cans” make for quick, easy and clean spraying. The self-etching primer is low VOC, but it's still VOC based which means it contains solvents and is thus is not particularly solvent resistant in it's cured state. Another signficant downside is that the durability of the primed parts is not quite as good as when using traditional chromate conversion methods like Zinc Chromate or Alodine. However, when compared with the toxicity of those processes, rattle-cans are a quantum leap less hazardous to your health. Despite the proven results from the chromate processes, I simply did not want to work with the chemical components. The self-etching spray can approach is fine for areas that are not subject to a lot of wear and tear or exposure to fuel. However, the forward fuselage has several characteristics that made me seek another approach to priming.

The RV-14's fuel tanks are in the wings and fuel thus feeds from those tanks through the forward fuselage and then to the engine. The fuel lines will have a number of joints and fittings as they wind from the tanks through the fuselage and to the engine. The fuel lines from the left and right tanks converge at the fuel selector valve, which is located on a console between the cockpit seats in the front part of the forward fuselage. WIth all of these parts and pieces connected together, there is thus at the least, foreseeable possibility of fuel leakage inside the forward fuselage. Thus one objective for the forward fuselage components subject to the fuel leakage would be solvent resistance.

Secondly, the forward fuselage is “where the action” will occur–it's where pilot and passenger will enter and exit, sit and move about, and where the baggage will be placed. Thus the parts and pieces of the forward fuselage will be subject to most of the wear and tear the airplane will experience. So impact and wear resistance is equally important.

These two functional requirements along with my aversion to toxic chemical handling led me to Stewart Systems water-borne epoxy products. Specifically developed for aircraft usage, the Eko line is a catalyzed epoxy system that uses water instead of VOCs as the delivery medium. This is fancy way of saying spraying with it isn't like the toxic experience of using Zinc Chromate or Alodine. However it is still spraying using a spray gun and requires all of the set-up of the gun, mixing and thinning of the paint and then setting up a spray area. These are all time-consuming steps, each of which has the potential for mistakes, mis-adjustment and carelessness. As such, I actually went to the time to prep all of the parts from Section 26 in order to conduct a single spray session.

Parts prepped for priming with EkoPoxy primer
Backyard paint booth–barely suitable temps in mid Spring.

Primed parts curing in the workshop.

Seat ribs ready to rivet.

Outboard baggage rib assemblies in place

All of the baggage ribs in place

Center Bottom Skin riveted to Seat and Baggage ribs.

Going forward I'll probably prep at least two sections worth of parts in order to cut down on all of the set-up and clean-up time.





Time to Complete: 34:15 HRs

I got started on the first section of the Forward Fuselage kit pretty fast, in comparison to the WIng and Empennage kits, commencing work within three weeks of the crate showing up in my garage workshop.

The Forward section of the fuselage is built around a pair of factory fabricated wing attachment spars, which are the same depth and composition as the main wing spars. The attachment spars form somewhat of a “sandwich” into which the left and right main wing spars will be inserted and bolted. These attachments create the main structural connection between the lift generating/load carrying wings and the rest of the airplane. There's also a C-channel rear spar element at the back end of the forward fuselage (all of the these spars are called bulkheads in the plans). Section 25 is about prepping these lateral structural pieces for subsequent assembly steps. In essence, you will be building the Forward Fuselage around these three pieces.

The photo below shows the forward-most bulkhead (see, it really does look like a mini wing spar!) with the seat ribs and vertical angles bolted onto it. This view is looking from the front right hand side. The end of the bulkhead(spar) with the multitude of different sized holes, on the left side of the photo with the red “R” is the place where the right wing will be attached via a set of bolts. These bolts are outside the fuselage structure, making the wing attachment (and subsequent annually required inspection of the bolts) much easier than in most other RVs. Other than the RV-10 (the four-place older cousin of the RV-14), all of the older RVs have their wing attach bolts inside the fuselage, which makes both assembly and inspections much more time consuming to accomplish.

The photo below shows the “rear” of the two spar/bulkheads, viewed from the left side. When positioned/paired with the front spar, there will be a gap the width of the wing spars. The wing assemblies will eventually be inserted into that gap and then bolted in place, using the holes on both the top and bottom solid square flanges that are attached to the spar/bulkhead edges.

There were no technical challenges to section 25, just some builder rust that had to be shaken off a couple of times.




The RV-14 is probably in the top two or three for the most thoroughly detailed and pre-fabricated airplane kitplanes. The copiously illustrated, step-by-step instruction manuals and the degree of factory prep of parts combine to enable a fast and obstacle free build process. Provided the builder fully utilizes all of this well thought-out material.

My build process includes a read-through of each manual section, picking and packaging of parts and hardware, and the use of various colored highlighters to emphasize warnings, cautions (e.g. DO NOT RIVET NOW notes) and certain kinds of tasks (e.g. dimpling, countersinking, reaming). My objective is to help prevent mis-steps and costly rework or part replacement. I even have several “Pay Attention” signs (see top of photo above) taped up around my workshop.

So how come for each of the major sub-assemblies I built for Section 25 did I have to drill-out and replace multiple rivets???

Focus, people, focus.




Four weeks after taking delivery of the Fuselage Kit I finally returned to actual building tasks. I took an exceedingly long time to do the parts inventory (some folks do it very quickly) for a couple of reasons. First, the kit comes in a single box which is jammed packed full of parts, placed and positioned for the sole purpose of minimizing the shipping size of the crate (even then it's quite large– approximately 40″ x 96″ x 12″).

Each kit is broken into “subkits”, which sounds like something helpful, but which again is mostly a technique for putting together groups of parts in the most compact shape, so that the shipping crate size can be minimized. Any “gaps” between subkits, miscellaneous parts and the crate is filled with crumpled up brown craft paper.



It thus takes a lot of time to simply “unwrap” the stuff in the crate. For the two previous kits, I just unwrapped and checked stuff off of the multi-page packing list. For the Wing kit, I pulled everything out of the crate and then placed parts and pieces in various places around the garage and house (like in, under the beds in a basement bedroom!). When the Empennage and Tail Cone kit arrived, the garage had grown smaller and there was still stuff to complete on the wing, so I had to keep that crate sitting on the garage floor for ten months. This proved to be incredibly aggravating as I really needed the space once I began working on the Aft Fuselage part of the kit. I was constantly stepping around the crate or moving the tail cone around duriiing assembly.

I had JUST finished the Aft Fuselage when the Fuselage kit arrived, so I was able to get the workshop entirely cleaned out to accomodate the new crate. As such all of the workbench tops were cleared off, so I decided that unpacking would also involve putting every part with all of the parts for each discrete assembly section. This required unwrapping parts, checking them off the packing list and then working through the cover sheet of each section until I determined where that part should be grouped.

At the end of the process, I had an empty crate reorganized into the build sections. It occured to me sometime during this process that the crate would make an ideal storage “shelf”, wherein I could relocated the parts from the workbench into organized sections. It took a couple of hours to convert the crate top into shelf pieces which then got mounted inside the crate.

I then set the crate upright and then stocked the shelves with the grouped parts. So less space taken up in the workshop and all parts accounted for and organized so there will be no downtime between build sections. Another advantage is that I've now touched every single part and got a sense for where it goes within its respective section. ln the end, I've just “front-loaded” some of the logistical tasks associated with this kit, but I at least feel better about the unpacking/inventory process.