On December 21st I had my first Technical Counselor visit. I'm a member of EAA Chapter 43 of which their TC Jim Sutton stopped by to review my work. I've been a bit confused/concerned about how I'm doing and moving through the assembly with reasonable ease and speed, so I wanted someone to double-check my work and he was happy to help.
The consensus on the review was that I was handily on track and addressing all of the major concerns he has with most builds. Basically paying attention to locations of potential vibration, proper deburing processes and anything else that causes problems in an airplane. Jim left me with a very positive feeling that I am on the right track of things. Of course it gets more complicated from here, so buckle up.
Here is the current state of each phase.
- Everything is completed minus installing the trim motor (which will be done after painting).
While technically the fuel tanks are part of the wings, there is enough work to be completed on each of these it deserves its own heading.
- I should receive the remainder of the rivets necessary to complete the back portion of the second fuel tank. I'm waiting to complete both tanks as I need a bit of pro seal to tidy up some spots on the first wing I worked on completing.
- Pressure testing of the fuel tanks is next to make sure I don't have any leaks (let's say a small prayer here to make sure I don't have any leaks).
- The flaps and ailerons still need the leading edge rivets installed when they can be matched up to the wings. This will be done once the main wing is complete.
- The left wing still needs to have the wing tip installed along with the position light
- On the right wing I ran short of zip ties over the past few weeks and the order is taking a bit longer than I was willing to wait, so the wing was put into storage until they come in. Once the zip ties are in, I can secure the electrical wires in the wing and close the top up. Once the top is on then the mirror wing tip and position light will need to be installed to match the left wing.
- The rest of the items noted on the wings will take up probably a week or so worth of work to complete.
- Leading edges between the fuel tanks and wing tips will still need to be installed but has to come after the fuel tanks installation.
- Landing lights - but I *think* those come after paint
- Finishing kit will contain the control rods for the ailerons and flaps which will need to be installed as well.
Given I'm waiting on a number of items for each of these parts (Fuel tanks and wings) it is time to move onto the fuselage. It's crazy to see where things are at now, but I just keep pulling parts out of the boxes and putting them together. I'm not far enough along yet to have any sort of punch list, but that will come.
A question came up on my YouTube channel about the time commitment along with the build/work/life balance in building a plane. The question revolved around if I worked full time and how I was accomplishing the work so far. I spent a fair amount of time on my response and thought the response would be good to include here.
Long story short - yes, I am still working full-time and maintaining a career. The more verbose TL;DR answer is below.
You know, I've honestly been thinking about this a fair amount during my build process.
I recently watched a presentation done by a Sling4 builder. As near as I can tell from his presentation he had everything working for him to complete the build in a reasonable amount of time. He has a mechanical engineering degree (so he knows certain engineering principles), he was building at home (although his garage was a bit on the smaller size) and never throughout the entire presentation did he ever make the excuse of "kids, family, work, etc" as a reason why he didn't get to the build process. After 5 years of working on it he was only at the phase of having the fuselage on the mains with the engine on the front. Ultimately he wound up having to hire someone to finish the project up. I hope to bump into him someday to see about what the reasons why he wasn't able to complete the project as it intrigues me. I don't fault or shame him for not getting it done - everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, but he seemed like he had everything there to complete the project.
I also think about the folks that go through the process to get their pilots license. It's not a trival process and takes some serious commitment and determination. In discussing this with a friend of mine who is a retired chemistry school teacher. She's very analytical and very methodical. In my mind I believe she could build an airplane. But she knows herself and isn't confident in her abilities to accomplish such a task. I certainly can't convince her otherwise, nor is it my job to do so. I do respect her position and don't push. So in the end, it's just not in the cards for some folks.
As for myself - here are the things that I think work in my favor:
- I'm married with no kids and an amazingly supportive wife for these types of projects. In one of my earliest videos I talk about "the talk" every spouse goes through when deciding to build an airplane. My wifes response when I brought up the subject was "when do we start". btw - having the spouse on board and approval of the time commitment is ESSENTIAL.
- I'm no stranger to big projects. In my adult life I've managed to complete 3 different scratch built basements with bathrooms and bedrooms. All three took between 15 and 18 months to complete. I did all of the trades from electrical, plumbing, framing, drywall and finishing. I leverage in the areas where I'm not as skilled in (or don't want to actually do the work).
- My work schedule is fairly consistent. Sure there are the exceptions to this, but I rarely if ever travel for work and when I do it's for a very short period of time.
- I am building the airplane at home. Which means I can go out to the garage and dabbble a bit for a few minutes or hours without having to worry about stopping for a moment for a snack or to help on something else.
- The time between the order placement and arrival of the kit was 10 months. In that period of 10 months I prepared the work environment to be as organized as possible and started notifying all of my outside commitments that I was going to be less available than normal for a few years due to the plane build. I haven't given up my outside commitments (I serve on an HOA board and volunteer for a state wide aviation group as their web master), but I do limit the amount of "extra" work I take on from these commitments.
- I say "no" to a lot of things. This includes committing to watching TV series/shows or other projects that others may be seeking my help with. I can return to these activities when I am done.
- I still say "yes" to the important things that matter. I still exercise and enjoy an evening out with friends where I can. The importance here is to find the balance and I think I'm doing an o.k. in managing the balance.
- Knowing I was going into this project I horded my vacation time until the kit arrived. Covid has been actually an advantage for me in this effort. Vacations pretty much ground to a halt anyway. So by the time the kit arrived I had nearly 8 weeks of PTO accured at my work. From the week of Oshkosh 2021 I was taking at least every other week or every third week off since July. This has helped a lot. Keep in mind I've only taken 6 of those weeks off, and when I do take the time off I focus mostly on the build during that time.
- I studied a lot of other people's builds during the time between the order and the kit arrival. Additionally I got lucky as another SlingTsi builder moved into the area and I have made myself available to help with his build. It mostly was just holding/handing tools to him as he needed them. I honestly didn't know what I was doing other than just hanging out doing what I could to make myself useful.
- I have some absolutely amazing neighbors. My father-in-law lives at the other end of a shared alleyway and have been storing the unbuilt section and completed sections of the kit in his house. It's a short 2 minute walk to his place. My nextdoor neigbhors hounded me about why I wasn't using their garage to store airplane parts in their garage. So when the wings were underway, I would work on one wing while the other was stored in their garage. I have their garage door code and have been told numerous times that I have access anytime I want - but I am respectful of their time and try to always let them know when I am entering/exiting. Another neighbor across the alley is a snowbird and is in AZ for the winter and is letting us keep our vehicle in their garage during the cooler months. By having this support network I don't have to take the extra time to run to a storage unit, I just walk over and grab what I need.
- I also am constantly staying on top of all the different vendors for delivery times to make sure no one is waiting on me. I slide this in here and there during my work day. Having parts and materials all on site is important. Right now I got behind on zip ties which is delaying me a day until I get the next order in. Not a huge deal, but if it was a week, then I couldn't complete this stage until it's in.
- I'm working on multiple things at the same time. Currently I have the right wing occupying the main bench. The fuel tanks are waiting on rivets (this is the parts thing to stay on top of). The wings are waiting on the fuel tanks but even with that - there are plenty of things to be working on around that. Basically if you think about it as any large project or company. Airlines don't make money unless the airplanes are flying, so what do you have to do to keep them flying? I used to work at a newspaper where the presses measured in the tens of millions of dollars - the only way the paper was making money is if the presses were printing something. So I'm always trying to stay moving with purpose. Not busy work, but with purpose.
Other things that keep me going overall is watching others build processes. If you have caught the UK Sling build - that guy impresses the hell out of me. He did the empennage, wings AND fuselage builds in a shed in his back yard.... A GARDEN SHED! I'm building mind in a 2 1/2 car garage, so my space has to be palacial compared to his... but even with all that - from where I'm roughly at now he was about 12 months from being at first flight. The gentleman locally was about the same timeframe... so I'm hoping by next xmas I'll be doing first flights.
Anyway - that's all for now. Look for an update later in January.