I kind of stopped writing blogs after I moved the plane to the hangar. Mostly because I wanted to spend time working, not updating this page. April 6, 2020, Norma Jean took to the skies. The sense of accomplishment you feel after you feel the wheels lift off the ground is pretty amazing.
I got through my 40 hours of Phase 1 testing fairly quickly. It took a little over a month. I now have over 70 hours on the plane and have taken a few shorter trips with it, as well as a round trip down to Charlotte, NC.
The plane is now back from paint, and I could not be happier. Here is a photo taken on our first trip this past weekend to Lake Placid.
I suppose the plane is never really done, but I’ll take it. I have little squawks here and there, but nothing major. Still learning the avionics, but have flown a little IFR and its a very capable platform.
It has been about 5 months since I’ve posted an update. I don’t even know where to begin. I sold my Archer – which is pretty depressing. It was the right time, and I had to exert zero effort to sell it. It needed FAA-mandated avionics upgrades by the end of the year and was due for an annual. So I probably saved about $6k that I wouldn’t have gotten back. So its outta here. Gives me more time to focus on the RV.
First things first… I installed the landing gear. And then removed it about an hour later. Unfortunately the plane does NOT fit into my garage with the landing gear on. Its close, but its not going to work. So after a few ideas, my buddy Mike came up with a clever dolly design. Still don’t know if its going to work – but its the best shot we have. The nice thing about it is that it will allow me to roll the plane around with much more freedom than just the gears.
So then – we got the final paint scheme back from Jonathan @ PlaneSchemer. I absolutely love it. I’m really happy with the design. I may have him paint it as well, which means I’ll have to fly it down to Alabama.
Then, I took a trip up to Williamsport, PA with a fellow EAA member to the Lycoming factory. I bit the bullet and ordered my engine. I drove up there to see it being built and to talk to the guys that built it. It comes from the same factory as all the certified engines found on Pipers, Cessnas, etc – however, this one is a little special. Its kind of like a blue-printed car engine. They take the stock parts and make them better. The cylinders on this thing are balanced to within 0.5 grams. And when I was given my “birth certificate” for mine, each one was EXACTLY the same weight as the rest. This thing is going to run SMOOTH!. So its now sitting on my floor, along with the prop, waiting to be installed. Once I get the gear back on and verify these dollies work, we’ll hang the engine.
However – I’ve been liking having the plane so low to the ground. It helps me climb in and out without having to get a step ladder. Why would I need to get in and out? Well, in addition to ordering my engine, I ordered my avionics – and the installation is underway. SteinAir built my panel, bench tested it and sent it in this nice wooden crate! I cannot wait to get this thing powered up. I’m hoping to be able to apply power in the next week or so. I’ve invested about 30 hours so far, and probably have a good 30 to go.
Took quite a bit of tweaking to get it just the way I wanted it, but finally have my instrument panel finalized, and all the carbon fiber parts have been shipped off to SteinAir to build everything up. In the meantime, I’m installing what I can before it all arrives. It’s going to be awesome!
In a nutshell:
Dual Garmin G3X Displays – PFD/MFD, each with their own ADAHRS and internal GPS’s
Garmin GTN650 – primary navigator and COM. Unfortunately I need this for IFR
Garmin GTR-200 – secondary COM
Garmin G5 – backup attitude indicator
Garmin 3-axis autopilot
Garmin GTX-45R remote transponder
Garmin GDL-51R SiriusXM Weather/Radio Receiver
4-Place Mountain High Pulse Oxygen System
Garmin Intercom System with Bluetooth Phone/Music Inputs
Its been a month since my last update and I’ve gotten a ton accomplished – over 50 hours of work, and that’s with the plane being gone for a week! The biggest news is that my engine has been ordered. Its scheduled for a May delivery and my plan is to fly out to Lycoming in Williamsport PA to see my Thunderbolt being built. Sun and Fun is the first week of April this year and I plan to start ordering my avionics shortly after.
In other news, I have the inside of the plane painted. The auto body shop up the road from me picked up the plane and had it for a week. They did a great job masking everything off and getting paint where it needed to be, including the insides of the doors.
Because its still cold out, I decided to put off working on my fiberglass. Sanding makes a hell of a mess inside the garage, so I moved on to the interior instead. Its better anyway. I still don’t have the airplane up on the landing gears, so this makes it easy for me to get in and get out. I didn’t even bother putting the doors back on. Much easier.
I’ve figured out how to get the Oxygen System Distribution boxes installed without any visible screws using a product called ClickBond. They worked great. I have all my Aerosport interior panels fitted. You can see that I had the interior of the airplane painted to be very similar to the Aerosport interior panels… even though most will be covered with carpet. At least it will be durable underneath.
Lastly, I got my instrument panel installed. I’m working on getting everything mounted and then I’ll take it out and ship it off to have the panel built up by SteinAir. Thanks to Garmin who makes these handy stickers. I temporarily installed my seat so I could sit in there and make sure my instruments were where I wanted them.
Oh… and I started working on the overall scheme for the plane too. I have my interior and exterior colors picked out. I’m still trying to finalize the paint scheme, but it will be similar to one of these. The leather seats will be the deep red you see here. The carpeting will be black to accent the carbon fiber in the plane, and the headliner will be gray to match the paint and Aerosport interior panels.
Made great progress over the past month. Typically I invest about 40-50 hours a month (on a good month). I put in about 75 hours over the past 5 weeks. I’m motivated to get this thing done, or at least moved to the airport, by the end of 2019.
Since getting the doors finished, I’ve installed all the plexiglass, done a TON of wiring, front to back, for avionics, roughed in all the plumbing for my oxygen system, installed my engine mount and a lot more. I see the light at the end of the tunnel, so I’m motivated to keep going.
I’ve ordered my Thunderbolt engine and prop and am hoping that once the weather warms up, it’ll get delivered. I’ve also started working with a PlaneSchemer on my paint scheme, as well as Aerosport Products to work on the colors inside the cabin.
I’m less motivated to keep updating this blog, but I need to make sure I keep documenting things so that when the FAA finally does show up to inspect it, I have a nice record of everything.
Between Thanksgiving and New Years, I was lucky enough to be able to take some time off of work and extend some of the normal corporate holidays. This gave me a decent amount of time to try to get my doors completed. In total, just fabricating the doors and installing all the hardware necessary to make them latch has taken me at least 100 hours. Just as I got comfortable with riveting, they go and switch gears and make you learn fiberglassing skills. I’m still not a fan, but I’m getting there. What’s nice about fiberglass is its easy to fix, unlike aluminum.
In the past month, I’ve gotten the door latching system working, which also included an after-market 3rd latch. I also installed an aftermarket outside lever and lock to spruce up the look. The problem with aftermarket products is that it always takes 10x more time because once you deviate from the standard plans, you’re kind of on your own. I got the door seal working, which required a lot of “body” work to make it fit properly. Over the past week I’ve gotten the two rear windows and the door windows installed. Unfortunately the gas door struts that come with the kit are crap. They worked fine until I installed the windows, and now they don’t raise by themselves. So those will be getting replaced with stronger, aftermarket versions as soon as they arrive.
Next up is the front windscreen. After that, I have a lot of fiberglassing work around the windscreen and side windows. I’m anticipating all this to take me into February. After that, we’ll be working on the landing gears and engine mounts.
I’ve also ordered some “infrastructure” stuff. I’ve got wiring harnesses on the way for autopilot servos and some other navigation equipment. I also have a really exciting oxygen system on the way. Its state of the art and will allow me to fly up in the 15k foot range with ease. Engine will probably get ordered in the spring and avionics in the summer. Right now, my goal is a spring 2020 first flight.
As is the case with most after-market parts, the doors have been no different… everything takes WAY longer than anticipated. Even for items that seem relatively simply, progress comes to a halt. I think its because there are two sets of instructions you’re having to work from. There is a lot of integration between what the manufacturer intended and what the aftermarket parts vendor is trying to do.
I’m making two modifications to the doors – the first is a 3rd latch. This will provide better/easier closure of the door itself and provide a more robust system, in my opinion. There have been reports of doors not being latched properly and coming off in flight, and the 3rd latch, from PlaneAround LLC, will prevent that. I’m also replacing the stock exterior handle from Van’s with something much nicer looking (and lower profile) from Aerosport Products.
There is quite a bit of work involved to install the 3rd latch. Fishing these parts through the fiberglass doors has been a challenge. Also, securing clevis pins with safety wire so they don’t come off hasn’t been easy either. I’ve got one door finished, and the 2nd one pretty far along. My goal is to have the doors complete by Christmas.
Screwed up some holes, so filling them in
Installing Magnets in Door Pins for Latch Indicator
Originally, I was convinced that working on the fuel tanks was the worst part of the build. I was wrong. REALLY wrong. The doors are worse. I’ve never been so frustrated. Luckily, the worst part, I believe, is behind me. The doors are now fitted, and even hinged! I’ve finally gotten a little more comfortable with doing fiberglass work. The number of times I’ve had to put the doors on and take them off and continue to trim is amazing. I think they fit pretty well now. On to more fun stuff!
Things continue to move forward, albeit, pretty slowly. Traveling continues to get in the way. Oshkosh got in the way too – but I cant complain. Had a great time and finalized a lot of the details for avionics and a few other things. I’ve ordered my finish kit and its due to ship sometime during the first week of September… which is fine. I have plenty to do.
I’ve been working on the cabin top. In particular, getting the Aerosport overhead console fitted. I’ve installed some LED reading lights for each passenger, mounted some air vents and an electronic valve system that will allow me to adjust how much airflow is directed to everyone’s heads.
While at Oshkosh, I also picked up the FlyLEDs lighting kit. This integrates NAV/Strobe/Landing/Taxi lights into the wingtips and was a lot of fun putting together. I had to solder everything myself… and I only ruined one LED. I also met some folks from Aerotronics, who put together a draft of an avionics panel. Decided at the show that I’ll be going with a complete Garmin avionics suite.
I’m hoping to get the overhead console glued and blended into the top soon. Once the finish kit arrives, it will be on to the doors. I have the windshield and side windows cut for the most part – only a little bit of trimming left to do.
I also got my COM1/COM2 antennae mounted, along with the Bob Archer wingtip NAV antenna. Now that I read all of this… maybe I did get a lot done 🙂