This last weekend, and the Monday and Tuesday after, have been totally consumed with travel. About a month back, Steve Smith and I realized that we both had deliveries and pickups in the Pacific Northwest, and that by pooling our resources we could achive some pretty powerful efficiency. Steve had just ordered the finishing kit for his RV-8 from Vans Aircraft in Aurora, Oregon. He'd also bought an overhauled engine for the RV-8 on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. I needed to deliver Brad Hill's lightweight (64 lbs for the shell) carbon fiber HP-24 fuselage to Brad's place near Seattle. I also needed to pick up the flaperon molds and plugs that Brad had made at his shop. We realized that using one of my empty glider trailers and his van, we could do all of that stuff with a single out-and-back trip.
Our plan was to use my trailer to bring Brad's fuselage down to Steve's place. Then Steve and I would drive the trailer up to Brad's, drop off the fuselage and pick up the flaperon molds. Steve would take the van up to Vancouver Island to get the engine, and then drive back to Brad's. Then we would hook up the trailer, drive to Vans Aircraft, and stuff the 40"x40"x97" finishing kit into the trailer along with the molds. Then we'd drive back to Steve's place and drop off the finishing kit and the engine. So we had a van, and were going to Vans, but first going to Vancouver Island, but not until we'd passed through Vancouver (OR).
We left from Steve's place on Friday afternoon, after finishing up at the office around 3pm. We made Yreka CA that night and stayed at a Motel 6. Saturday morning we got right on the road, and made Monroe WA at around 7:30 PM. Sunday morning early, Steve got right on the road to Vancouver Island, leaving me at Brad's to unload the carbon HP-24 fuselage from the trailer and load the flaperon molds. Steve's trip to Vancouver Island, involving ferry transits both ways, went right on profile, and put him back at Brad's by about 6:15pm. By that time we'd rearranged Brad's shop around the HP-24, talked about glider design and the upcoming ADFs, sketched out the next few tasks on the fuselage internals development, and were ready for a quick turn and departure. We made Wilsonville, just north of Aurora, Sunday night, and stayed at the Comfort Inn there. Monday morning early Steve called Vans to make sure the kit was ready (it was, of course), and drove the last few miles out to Vans.
Dick VanGrunsven gave Steve and I a tour of the Vans Aircraft facility, including their production floor and warehouse. It was more than eye-opening, it was jaw-droppingly amazing. Once a cottage industry shop, Vans has grown into what you'd call a medium-sized company, with spacious facilities equpped with modern high-volume production machinery and packed literally to the roof with aircraft parts. They have dozens of employees working in engineering and prototyping and production and administrative departments and others besides. I had not realized that they'd gotten to be such an industry powerhouse. And had I not seen it myself I would not have believed that there was enough resources in the homebuilt aviation sector to support such a large and vibrant company. By the time we left Vans I was suffering from airplane overload, and I was glad to be away and begin to wrap my head around what I'd seen.
After the tour, Steve and I rolled the finishing kit crate into the glider trailer, stuffed the flaperon molds in on top, tied everything down with ratchet straps, and were under way. Jazzed by our visit to arguably one of the most prolific aircraft companies on the planet and fueled with liberal doses of coffee and iced tea, we drove straight through to Cupertino, arriving at Steve's place at 3am on Tuesday 4 March 08.
The trailer at Brad's place.
Brad's fuselage, canopy frame, canopy transparency, and fin spar, safe and sound at Brad's shop.
Brad already at work on the cockpit.
Steve Smith and Dick VanGrunsven (in the blue shirt) at Vans Aircraft. These are quickbuild fuselages for RV-series homebuilt airplane kits. The short wide ones behind Steve's back are for RV-10 four-place airplanes, and the rows beyond contain fuselages for RV-7 side-by and RV-8 tandem two-seaters. The RV-series is constantly being upgraded and refined, we noticed several detail differences between these fuselages and the one delivered to Steve last May.
Here are quickbuild kit wings for the fuselages, stacked four deep, four high, and three wide. They only look finished, in actuality the bottom skins on the far side are omitted, and some of the skins are only held on with temporary pop rivets that the builder removes in order to prepare the skin and structure for permanent riveting.
I believe the white cartons contain new Lycoming engines. The room beyond the roll-up door has rows and rows of shelves with all of the small parts that go into the kits.
Two photos of two of the three Trumatic CNC punching machines that cut out the sheetmetal panel contours and punch almost all of the rivet holes. These machines are near enough as makes no difference at the very epicenter of the homebuilt aviation revolution. Having skins and bulkheads pre-punched with holes that line up perfectly has completely changed metal sport airplane building. With the pre-punched skins and bulkheads there's no more layout or guesswork, no patches or oops holes. What used to be a stressful tedious puzzle is now a clear sequence of much simpler tasks.
Steve and Dick looking over the development prototype of the new RV-12 light sport airplane. From what we saw of this machine it is a very highly refined design that encompasses much more than just an airframe. While we were there, Vans engineers and proto guys were hard at work on integrating the cowling, engine installation, and cooling systems, and also on the avionics and instrumentation systems. Those troublesome aspects of most kits are why it is too often possible to be 90 percent done with the kit, but still have 90 percent yet to go to achieve flight. With the RV-12, all of the development and engineering on that stuff is done for you, and all you have to do is put it all together. This is gonna be the mondo popular light sport airplane. These kits are gonna go flying out the door at Aurora, and I think builders are going to be extremely pleased with them.
Getting ready to load the finishing kit into the trailer. The week prior, Steve and I had made a pair of two-wheel dollies, which we screwed onto the bottom of this crate so we could easily move it around. The loading crew at Vans was very helpful.
Twenty hours and 650 miles of driving later, rolling the finishing kit crate into Steve's storage locker. There was literally not an inch to spare to get the crate turned and maneuvered into the locker.
Two photos of the knee hump portion of the cockpit floor plug that Brad is developing. The boss in the middle serves as a mounting pedestal for the instrument pod. It also serves as stiffener for the area where the control stick pivots mount to the undersides.
Homebuilt aviation is not for folks who don't try things at home.
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page updated 4 March 2008 all text and graphics copyright (c) 2007 HP Aircraft,
page updated 4 March 2008 all text and graphics copyright (c) 2007 HP Aircraft, LLC