Building an airplane – July 18

Jonathan Thom finishes the assembly of the main landing gear

The airplane build had to go on ice for well over a week while I attended a conference in Germany (The 2nd International Conference on Airborne Research for the Environment, a.k.a., ICARE 2017). 

One of the major benefits of going to ICARE was that I got to meet Wolfgang Junkermann, the pioneer of using what Europeans call “microlight” aircraft in atmospheric research.  A microlight is actually quite a bit heavier than the ultralight we are building; Wolfgang’s Enduro weight-shift trike has a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 990 lbs., or more than double the 480 lb. MTOW of the Zigolo. I was impressed by the array of instrumentation he had integrated into this airframe using custom housings he had designed and fabricated himself.

Today, despite some residual jet lag on my part, Jonathan and I resumed work for about half the day. For the first time, we’re working without Chip Erwin’s oversight, so things are taking significantly longer as we puzzle through the complex and sometimes cryptic plans.  Part of our recent evolution as airplane-builders is the ability to recognize when things aren’t quite as described in the plans (e.g., some supplied parts are obviously different than those depicted) and the confidence to improvise minor changes as needed, such as cutting the ends off bolts that intrude into spaces where they would interfere with other parts.

Another part of that evolution is the realization is that having had more student workers on hand would actually not have been the advantage I previously assumed it would be.  There is very little true assembly-line style work, and virtually every component requires careful modifications (e.g., drilling out new or larger holes). It would be impossible to delegate these tasks to assistants who do not already have a high comfort level with shop skills.  So it’s now my feeling that two people working together is the optimum number, or three when Chip is there to oversee things and assign tasks.

Despite the inevitable slowdown, we made measurable headway today, completing the main fuselage assembly and the main landing gear.

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