Information For New Builders
So you have decided to take the plunge and build a plane. Great! Welcome to the minority that is able to see what hard work will one day gain them. You will find that the build process can be lots of fun (if you let it) and you will end up with something that will bring you lots of joy, usefulness, and excitement in the future to come. However, there is a bit of a road to travel to get there. So I thought I would put together a list of things that I found I needed to learn to get going. I also have a list of terms at the bottom that you will come across, especially on the forums. Hope it helps you as well.
- Goals - First thing to do is set some realistic goals. Don't expect to finish one in two years (only a couple of people have done that, and if you can great, but don't expect to). Best thing to do is set a realistic goal based on what others have done in terms of time and based on what kind of time and help you will have available. I have a fun goal of two years, but it's not my hard goal so that I'm not upset if it doesn't happen (it's not going to happen). It does help drive me, but that's something personal to me. You'll have to do what works for you. The last thing you want is to set expectations to a point where if they aren't met they anger you or worse make you quite. Don't do that.
- Preparation - There's a lot of information that floats around there in random places. I'm doing my best to capture it all in this website to make a single location for info. However, I won't be able to get everything, so there's still research involved. The first best place to start is to read through the Cozy Newsletters. Marc Zeitlin has all of them on his website. Reading through them helps you to understand the work that went into making this plane and all the testing that was involved. After reading things, you'll understand why the lower winglet is there and why you really don't want to remove it. The forum is also full of lots of information, though it may be harder to find things at times, especially if you don't know what you're looking for. Join the Cozy List (through Marc Zeitlin) and the Canard Aviators's list (in Yahoo groups) and start saving emails that appear to have good sources of info for the future. There's also a quarterly publication of the Central States Association. It's an inexpensive print newsletter that will often have articles that you might not find in other areas. This is also a good idea to get and read. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for information on joining.
- Preparation (shop) - You're going to need a place to work, wherever it is. Working at the house will make it easier to get to the project, but sometimes you may have to work in a hanger. Biggest things will be temperature control and layout. Composites require work to be done between 70 - 80 F and you typically want the temperature to remain constant during the work. Many people (myself included) have been caught by temp changes requiring parts to be redone. Keeping your glass and epoxy clean is also important. Make sure you're ready for whatever comes your way. The build table is important as a lot of things will be made on it. Making it movable and flexible in size is a good thing so that you can accommodate changing needs. I made an 8 ft and a 4 ft table that I can link together for 12 ft used initially. Later on, I'll use the two separately.
- Preparation (plans) - It really helps to read through the plans. The really important stuff is in Chapter 3 which you will likely review on several occasions. After that, reading through the chapters can help to give you a sense of how things will come together, why you do certain things in places that don't always get explained well, and what to expect up next. When you do start to build, I suggest using a highlighter and marking off text that is completed (ie: after the layup is cured and inspected and doesn't require redoing or repair). This will let you know what is and isn't done for future reference. Make sure you also add the plans updates on the Newsletter page. You will find the links to updates at the top of the page.
- Budget - Nice thing about plans built planes is that you don't have to make a large payment up front for a kit. You can buy as you go and it stays relatively cheap in the beginning. It's best to set aside a budget for the plane so that you don't spend more than you should and you don't create relationship stresses. I set aside a certain amount of money from each paycheck to the airplane fund and only buy items from it. If I don't have the money, I don't buy unless there's agreements to do so. As I get raises, I generally put it all into the airplane fund as we're living just fine on what we previously had and that's more funding for the plane. Do whatever works for you.
- Education - Some of the best education you can get is hands on practice. There are several ways to get some practice in prior to starting. One method is through the EAA workshops. These carry a price with them, but are generally led by experts in the field that can give you immediate feedback on your work. The next best thing is to help out a current builder. What better way to know what you're getting into than to actually help build a plane for a day. The builder will generally appreciate the help and you get some hands on experience. You just have to be careful with this route because it's easier to learn bad practices because the other person may or may not be doing the right things. If you read through Chapter 3 and everything you see follows those instructions, you're probably fine. The third way (and what was my way) is to just do the practice pieces in Chapter 3, which you would do these even if you get outside experience. The first piece lets you know if you're heavy or light on the epoxy. The next gets you working with foam, both types of glass, contours, and familiarity with composite's strength. Take some time to learn how to straighten out both types of cloth as that is something you will be doing a lot of. The ultimate education comes from starting the plane. The chapters are laid out so you learn progressively from flat non-aerodynamic pieces to the complicated aerodynamic pieces. Just remember that thousands have built canards before you and no one has had major structural issues in flight. They're just extremely strong and forgiving materials. The other important thing to do is attend fly-ins and other events where you can get around other pilots, see projects, and get ideas. There's also nothing like a spirit ride which most are happy to give. Flying in one of these planes is a major motivator for everyone.
- Fiberglassing - Read over Chapter three of the plans for info on fiberglassing. It's usually best to review this often. Also, check out my fiberglassing tips for some helpful hints that I've picked up along the way. Hopefully this will give you a leg up on the process.
- Have Fun - The best thing you can do is make sure that this project remains a fun activity. There will be those days during large layups where you're tired and wondering if this is really worth it, but then you see a structure forming and realize that it is worth it all. As you carve your personal sculpture out of a foam and wood, you'll come to appreciate the beauty in the construction process. There's also the times spent imagining the interior layout, color schemes, and other things that will make this plane you're own personal work of art. Involve the family and friends. Just make sure to compensate others for their time (food, promises of free flights, etc...). So have fun, live a little, make mistakes, get messy, and build yourself an airplane!
Terms For New Builders
As you get started in this, especially if you join the forums before getting plans, you will come across a bunch of terms used by many that may have little meaning to you at this point. Keep in mind that the plans covers a lot of this, so things get easier when you get your plans. So in an effort to help, here's a cheat sheet to get you up to speed on the lingo.
- BID - Bidirectional fiberglass. This is glass that has the weave split two ways evenly (50% goes left and right, 50% goes up and down). Has a high degree of conformity to curved surfaces and strange shapes.
- Flox - Epoxy mixed with flocked cotton. Used for bonding structures together or when a solid re-enforcement is needed such as glass-to-glass edges. Extremely hard and heavy, so only used where needed. Can be mixed in various degrees such as wet flox (high epoxy to flocked cotton ratio) to dry flox (low epoxy to flocked cotton ratio).
- Hard Point - Describes a few different materials. One is solid fiberglass (no foam) such as the landing gear bolt points that are made up of around 22 layers of glass. Also can describe points where either aircraft grade plywood are added (like the landing brake) or aluminum inserts (like in the firewall). Typically used where a bolt must be added to sustain a fair amount of force or a threaded area is needed.
- Micro - epoxy mixed with micro balloons. Micro balloons are very small hollow glass beads. When mixed with epoxy, they make a very light weight filler material that can have the consistency of frosting depending on the amount you mix it in. Micro is used for filling in the voids in the foam surface prior to glassing, for rounding corners to allow glass cloth to lay down correctly, and for final finish work. Micro can be mixed in various degrees such as micro slurry (usually a 1:1 mixture by volume of micro balloons to epoxy) to dry micro (high micro balloons to epoxy ratio). Slurry will have the same viscosity as the epoxy. A wet micro will be thicker, but will still pour in a fluid manner. Dry micro will be solid and retain it's shape, but can be spread with a little bit of force.
- Peel Ply - A material used to add a finish to wetted out glass. Typically use a dacron fabric that creates a roughened surface for better adhesion as well as smooth out layer transitions. Plastic peel ply uses plastic and can generally remove more excess epoxy but leaves a smooth surface that will require sanding to add layers to
- UNI - Unidirectional fiberglass. This is glass that has the weave mostly in one direction (90% up and down, 10% left and right). Provides higher strength when the force is primarily in one direction. Does not conform to irregular surfaces as well as BID.