Elevator – Counter Balance Skins and Composite Tips

Finishing the elevator was accomplished over a period of about 3 weeks. The composite tips needed repeated sessions of fitting, filling, sanding and priming to achieve a satisfactory appearance. The interface between metal and fiberglass part was dramatically improved from what it would have been, had I left the fiberglass parts untouched.

The fiberglass parts were built up, especially around the leading edge, with Poly-Fiber SuperFil epoxy filler to reduce unsightly gaps. It takes a day for the filler to cure before wet sanding with 400 grit 3M paper, followed by Rust-Oleum wet-sandable automotive (rattle can) primer and the better part of another day for that to dry. Patience is the key

Once I was happy with the fit of the tips, it was time to match drill the parts against the holes in the counter balance skins. That was quickly and easily done by hand with my lithium-powered hand drill and a #30 bit. I’d reviewed numerous discussions about how others attached their tips and decided to simply follow the construction manual, using the ordinary 3,2 x 8 mm domed rivets that were supplied with the kit. Done and done.

The elevator tips took a while to complete, but I didn’t get carried away. All-in-all, the results look rather nice – me thinks.

Elevator – Structure Assembly and Covering

The elevator presented itself as the most daunting of the empennage sub-assembly phases. It’s a lengthy piece – over 8 ft (2.5M) long, with ample potential for unwieldiness, twisting and treachery. Yet, after several weeks of thoughtful and careful steps, the thing has come together nicely.

Since the main spar channel was assembled, many of the remaining elevator fabrication and assembly tasks were accomplished during the last half of April and the first week of May.

Simple wooden supports were clamped and strapped to my workbenches. The structure merely rested on three points. Alignment was assessed with a laser-level, before and during fitting, and again after assembly. It all seems to be spot on.

I’ve talked much about it before. Vertical orientation seems to allow the structure to be established and then remain naturally true and relaxed, throughout the entire sequence of tasks – at least for the Sling 2 kit. It’s easy to work from all sides, with a minimum of manipulation. Gravity feels like it’s been working more for me, rather than the dark forces of Twist and Distortion.

The main surfaces of the elevator are covered with two skins. Each skin covers both top and bottom. There is a critical bend at the trailing edge. If the TE bend is not perfect, you’ve got trouble. Out of the box, my elevator skins were good. I’ve had skins for other components that weren’t. Believe me – it is absolutely futile to attempt assembly with an improperly fabricated skin. I know what to look for [now]. Also, the EL skins are extremely delicate – especially the LH one, where there are only a few inches of highly vulnerable material between the top and bottom panels of the skin. Great care in handling is essential.

The leading edges of the elevator are formed by factory bends that wrap the skin around the main spar channel, to overlap and join with a single row of rivets. Some builders have used a roll-forming tool to “break” the edge of the overlapping (top) skin. I have the tool, but didn’t use it. In my unpracticed hands, the potential to make things worse, not better, presented itself as I experimented on a few (not enough) scraps of aluminum sheet. A man’s got to know his limitations. The LE bends of the factory fabrication were better on one skin than the other. As you might expect, the resulting LE overlap was better on one side than the other. The LE seams are out of sight. It’s fine. Done and done.

EL – Pitch Trim Servo Retainer

Building an experimental aircraft from a kit is more than just a paint by numbers affair. And, with so much information available online – finding several ways to accomplish a task is not unusual, especially if you look. As it happens, I spend hours and hours searching for and looking at how others are doing things to build the same model, as well as similar types – or just general whys and hows of related skills or techniques.

Sometimes I come across an idea that just seems better than what I see in the kit construction manual. (20 years of aircraft ownership and maintenance have shown me that [most] aircraft designers and manufacturers do not actually walk on water.) My kit instructions describe a process that may possibly go beyond what the servo manufacturer – Ray Allen Company – anticipated as an acceptable way to mount their T2-7A servo.

My kit instructions call for enlarging 4 holes on the servo mounting rails (of the composite housing) from their original 0.125 (1/8) inch size to 0.2340 (#A) inch, and then setting an M4 steel rivnut into each hole. The documentation for the servo indicates that the holes may be enlarged to approximately 0.1440 (#27) inch, just enough to clear a #6-32 screw. The M4 rivnut approach seems like it risks the servo. Apparently other builders have had similar concerns and pursued alternatives.

For the Sling 2, the pitch trim servo sits flat on a tray that is riveted to the structure, inside the elevator. 4 screws pass through holes in the bottom elevator skin, the tray and the servo rails – and then must thread into something. I expect that #6 washers and elastic stop-nuts would be just fine. But, they may be just a bit fiddly to work with under the circumstances. Space inside the elevator is tight.

A fellow Sling 2 builder came up with what I thought was a great way to go – fabricate a pair of 0.0625 (1/16) inch thick aluminum straps with 6-32 (K2000-06) nut-plates attached with solid flush (AN426) rivets. The straps not only accept the screws, they also capture the entire length of the mounting rails on either side of the servo. When I first saw it, the solution immediately struck me as simple and solid.

EL Structure Assembly – Main Channel

Elevator assembly is straightforward, but you have to carefully study and understand several details, to avoid pitfalls.

The current version of the Sling 2 Empennage Construction Manual leaves much to the imagination of the builder. Build sequence details are very important. The written steps are basically in the proper order, but the labels (numbered bubble call-outs) are not to be relied upon. I had to cross-reference several pages to figure out exactly what parts were referenced in each written assembly step.

If one is not very careful, it is easy to rivet together parts prematurely and/or to occupy holes that need to be left open for later steps. Even the factory has trouble with this. I have more than a few rivets to drill out and remove on my QB fuselage, in order for me to rework factory build issues. Take time to understand what exactly has to happen to achieve the correct result.

Elevator – Prep and Prime

Spring weather is here with luxuriously warm sunshine. I was able to get all of the smaller elevator parts Alodined and primed. The main channel parts had been done while my paint booth was still set up, before the QB delivery.

Once again, I’ve demonstrated that shortcuts don’t pay off. This time, I tried to skip scuffing the parts. I degreased, rinsed, applied Alumiprep 33 and rinsed again. But, my brush application of Alodine didn’t produce any measure of satisfaction. The results were blotchy and left places that just seemed bare. So, I went back, scuffed every square millimeter of every part with my trusty (red) Scotch-Brite pad. Then more degreasing with diluted Extreme Simple Green Aircraft, rinsing, Alumiprep, another rinse, more Alodine and a final rinse. Better this time.

Brush application of Alodine simply does not compare with dipping, but as a base for priming, it seems fine for good paint adhesion. If I was going to leave the Alodine treated aluminum un-primed, I think I’d have to go with dipping to get a more uniform “golden” appearance. There’s also un-tinted Alodine. I haven’t tried it. It might be hard to tell how effective the application is, especially given the primitive conditions and minimalist process I’m using. Stick with what you know.

My shop is full of wings and fuselage and my paint booth is now the great outdoors. It works well. I can paint more and in less time. There’s the added bonuses of not having to wear a body suit, a respirator or mess about with the ventilation fan. Good old Rust‑Oleum Self-Etching Primer in a rattle can is easy and effective.

I suppose it may seem silly to devote so much discussion to this topic, but I have spent more time on metal preparation than anything else – by far. It’s been terrifically time consuming. I think perhaps a future me might skip Alodine and priming of any next project. It’s certainly proving to be a lot of work. For this build, I’ve already come this far. Plus, the QB wings and fuselage were Alodined at the factory. Possibly, the effort will add an extra bit of long-term value. It’s satisfying, in any event.

Rivet Shortening – Apparently, Someone’s Got to Do It

There are several points in the build where short rivets are required. Sling Aircraft (TAF) has chosen to leave this task as an exercise for the builder, to adapt some from the ordinary ones supplied with the kit. Here I’m shortening 3,2 x 8mm rivets to about 5mm. These will be used to fasten the piano hinge and control horn to the elevator trim tab.

For some steps, I use a small box end wrench and a socket to provide support around the entire head of the rivet, as I drive the mandrel out or back in using a hammer. I use a cutoff-wheel in the Dremel Tool to trim the rivet body.

Closing Up The Rudder

With a good rudder skin, I was able to prepare, fit and secure the skin to the structure. Using techniques that I’ve learned from building similar components, the rudder went together smoothly. It’s a fine result.

There are still several tasks remaining to complete the rudder – fit the skin for the aero counter-balance, mount the internal counter-balance weight, run the strobe wire, fit the strobe to the rudder tip, and then finally, finishing the fiberglass and mounting of the rudder tip.

The great people at TAF USA worked hard to support me and promptly get me a rudder skin that I was satisfied with. The one that came with my empennage kit wasn’t bent properly on the trailing edge. It simply did not fit happily on the structure. A second skin was unfortunately damaged from moving about inside the crate during shipping. The third one was the charm.

It is crucial that the skins are fabricated perfectly. This plays a huge part in the resulting components being true. Precise fabrication is a critical element of the pre-punched and bent parts that allows them to assemble into a component that is uniform and free of twists, even without the use of jigs. The design of Sling aircraft absolutely depends upon the accurate fabrication of the parts. If yours aren’t right, work with TAF to get ones that are. Don’t mess around.

RD Structure Assembly

I’ve finally gotten back to building after hours of rivet-by-rivet QB build construction review. Parts inventory reconciliation and almost daily communications with TAF was accomplished over a couple of weeks.

The preparation and priming of the rudder structure was done before QB delivery, as I anticipated having to furl the curtain walls of my paint booth to eventually accommodate the fuselage and wing panels in my shop. Having the prepared parts on hand, left me in position to do a quick test fit and then permanently rivet the structure. The assembly went well, in the same manner as the VS and HS components.

Quick Build Kit – Inspection and Inventory

It’s been a big challenge, but I’ve finally managed to get to a (mostly) known state – at least as far as kit inventory and condition is concerned.

Overall, build quality is pretty good. The fuselage and wings appear to be true. The fit of the skins are pretty nice. Unfortunately, there is some (non-shipping related) damage and several workmanship issues that tempered what I’d hoped would be an over-the-moon experience. A miscue on the rudder pedals and throttle quadrant configuration vs. what I ordered, and a surprising number of missing parts, added drag. I’m certainly fortunate and happy to have a Sling 2 QB kit in my workshop now, but it’s honestly proving a bit difficult to completely escape feelings of being somewhat let down.

I got a lot for my quick-build dollar, to be sure. The wings and fuselage are completely Alodined. I hadn’t expected that. The canopy is mounted. The fuel tanks are assembled. Wiring, pitot and static lines are in the wing and rear fuselage. Much of the interior is painted gray. On the other side of the scale, however, there are a few unfortunate issues that I’ll have to rework. Plus, there’s a respectable list of parts that I’m working with the factory to provide.

I’ve agonized about what else to say here, if anything. I don’t want to be negative. I understand that profitably producing aircraft and kits is extremely challenging. And I’m sure TAF finds itself ever between the rock and the hard place of delivery schedules and customer expectations. Speaking for myself, but I would imagine also on behalf of just about every Sling customer — I sincerely hope for TAF’s continued success, while at the same time, strongly encourage their management to make decisive steps towards getting [more of] the details right on the first go, even if it takes longer. Don’t ship it until it’s right.

Quick-Build Kit – Delivery and Unloading

After nearly two months from the day she left the factory, my Sling 2 quick-build kit has found its way to my shop.

We were on the clock to get everything unloaded and to restore the container to a completely empty and clean condition. Heartfelt thanks to my good friend Charlie, my wife Mary Ann and our nephew Brandon for their indispensable assistance. We extracted the contents of the container with great care and had no issues of any kind. It all went perfectly. Nevertheless, the process certainly called for a good bit of thought and anticipation of the challenges – there are some, to be sure.

Everyone pitched in, including the truck driver. He was very intrigued by the whole affair and happily offered to help. He had no idea what was in the container and his eyes were almost bigger than mine when the seal was broken and the doors opened to reveal an airplane inside! Wow! How cool is that?!

The fuselage, two wing panels and four wooden crates were sequenced out of the container. Initially, the three biggest crates had to go in to the garage. The wings fit perfectly on my handy EAA stands. The fuselage is still perched (and bolted) on the shipping structure, just as it was inside the container. I did loosen the bolts holding the rear [wooden] shipping structure, just prior to extraction from the container. This was to allow some play between the framework and the empennage mounting points on the fuselage, where it had been tightly bolted during shipping. I didn’t want anything on the airframe to get stressed or bent as we moved the unwieldy payload from the container to the shop.

It’s all very exciting. The next steps are to complete parts inventory and build inspections.