LH Landing Light – Lens Retainer Strips

Several months ago, I’d taken a look at the landing/taxi light lenses and what it might take to mount them nicely. The LH wing panel was sitting horizontally on a workbench at the time.

About the first thing I noticed was that the mounting holes around the perimeter of the lens did not all correspond to the holes in the wing where the lights and the lens go. The holes lined up (pretty well) with the lens on the outside of the skin, but not when I put the lens in the opening, behind the skin – where it really belongs.

The other thing wasn’t really so much something I noticed, but rather, I realized that I needed to find a better solution for mounting the lens than the factory provided for – sheet metal screws through the skin and into the plexiglass lens. That’s just not going to cut it.

Now I had another classic opportunity for inspirational procrastination. I put the time to good use. It took weeks, but once again – procrastination paid off! The idea of retainer strips with anchor nuts came early. I also found that I’d likely use #4-40 hardware, because metric MK-1000 nut plates are absurdly expensive and challenging to source in the US. I hate mixing hardware standards on this bird, but that’s just how it goes. The blind anchor nuts on retainer strips behind the lens stuck in my head as an obvious solution.

What was not obvious to me at the time, was how to hold the retainers in place so that the lens could be fitted and fastened with the little screws. I made a prototype with a hand-cut strip of 0.020 aluminum and held the anchor nuts with AN426AD-3-3 solid flush rivets. The strip was flimsy and I attempted to hold it against the backside of the lens with – if you can believe it – sewing thread. Once I got the screws started, I’d pull the thread out. I was too unwieldy.

Weeks went by. Then it hit me – the same basic idea, but with 0.5 x 0.025 stainless steel strips, held to the plexiglass lens with little #4 CSK screws and ny-lock locknuts. I had to make new holes in the bottom half of the lens to match the wing, made six retainer strips and mounted them to the lens. Now I have a lens that is easily installable and removable. I’ve come to believe that this is what the factory does for the Sling TSi and I might have seen it if I’d looked at the TSi construction manual. Oh well. I got there. I’ll repeat the fitting and fabrication process for the RH lens assembly.

CF – Control Tubes, Brackets and Bearings

Mounting the control tubes in the center fuselage is very much like the process for the rudder pedals. Once again, clearance and alignment prove to be the main variables.

A couple of important discoveries made a big difference. The first discovery was that the elevator and flap torque tubes are not perfectly straight. They’re close, but they are not absolutely perfect. With an ever so slight bow and four bearing points, over a meter of distance, the centers of the bearing bores present different impacts, depending on rotational position of the tube. The variations are tiny, but if the bearing clearances are too tight – you get a surprising amount of binding.

The other discovery was that not all of the bearings have identical inner diameter. It’s a long story, but I ended up with a few extras and happened to find one that has good bit looser fit on the elevator torque tube.

The bearing with the looser fit proved to be ideal, when I put it at the LH end of the elevator torque tube. Careful dressing of the fuselage brackets and the retainer brackets with the Dremel sanding drum resulted in perfect fits everywhere – and fantastically smooth action.

Careful observation of how the bores of individual bearings center around the tube allowed me to ever slightly shift those centers in good directions as I opened the U-shaped bearing capture areas to eliminate pinching of the bearings around the tube. Each custom fit retainer bracket and bearing is marked for a specific location and orientation. I’m confidently optimistic that there will be just enough clearance for friction free operation after the retainers are permanently riveted.

At the moment, the flap torque tube movement is good, but it isn’t quite a limber as the elevator tube. It’s not of great concern. The flaps are driven by a linear actuator and won’t be anything I notice in the hand controls, which will be effortlessly smooth.

The two main control stick tubes are each supported by a pair of bearings along the roll axis. The front bearing is captured by brackets with U-shaped retainers, top and bottom, that are rigidly riveted to the structure at the front of the main wing spar carry-through.

The upper retainer should have been riveted before the carry-through structure was mated with the surrounding center fuselage members. This is another instance of the factory failing to comply with documented assembly details.

I can’t really get good enough access for confident pulling of 4,0 x 10mm rivets, so I’m going to use screws and elastic stop-nuts for the uppermost holes and (probably) use rivets for the balance of bracket mounting holes. I’ve got to end up with good alignment and enough clearance so that the bearings don’t bind when the brackets get pulled down. I’m certain that the retaining brackets are going to shift slightly from their un-riveted positions. I might use screws after all. That would make it reasonably straightforward to take it all apart and re-tweak the final fit until I get it right. Absolutely no binding will be tolerated. Smooth, smooth, perfectly smooth – that’s how it will be. Period.

LH Aileron – Finishing Up

The LH aileron had been languishing under the bed in my guest bedroom with the skin cleco’ed in place. It just needed the outboard rib with the reworked hinge brackets.

Riveting the skin on the bottom went well. Now it’s back under the bed again, with and in the same state as its buddies. Final riveting of ailerons and flaps will wait until I’m in the mood to fit them on the wing assemblies. That might even wait until I have the wings joined to the fuselage. We’ll see. I think that decision depends on what I decide to do about painting. Fly first or paint first? Yes – another excellent opportunity for inspirational procrastination.

Airplane Noises

As far as I can tell, once an experimental aircraft build project gets to a certain point, there’s a right-of-passage that must be embraced — sitting in the thing. Today is the day.

I made a work platform from wood. It fits inside the fuselage on either side. I can sit on it, if and as needed.

Rudder Pedals – Tubes, Brackets and Bearings

Work in the center fuselage continued with trial fitting of the rudder pedal tubes. It’s looking good. Initially, the pilot-side (LH) mounting brackets were easily positioned and the 4,0 x 10mm rivets dropped easily into most of the holes. And, after clearing a bit of paint in the holes, the rest of the rivets fit as well.

The flight control linkages rely heavily on composite Vesconite bushings, or bearings, depending on how you want to think about their purposes at different places around the airframe. I’ve known for some time, after reading accounts and watching videos posted by other Sling builders, that getting smooth, friction-free action of the controls takes some care. Some folks use the expression – black magic.

These bushings are supposedly designed to be self-lubricating. That’s all well and good, but I know some builders have resorted to supplemental lubrication. I’m trying to avoid greasy, oily, dirt-collecting areas inside the cabin if I possibly can. I’m having some luck – so far.

Two key factors need careful attention – clearance and alignment. Having enough, but not too much clearance, makes alignment slightly less critical. Buttery smooth operation, without additional lubrication, seems to be achievable.

Opening up the U-shaped retainer areas in the floor brackets and the top caps, so that no squeezing of the captured bearings occurs, makes all the difference. I used a small sanding drum on my Dremel tool at a low RPM setting. Eventually, I was able to capture the bearings in the brackets without causing any pinching of the bearing around the pedal tubes.

Next, I used some fine sandpaper around a piece of dowel to relieve a small amount of material from the bearing’s inner surface, particularly at the edges of where a saw had cut them in half. They were once circular and then cut into halves. Some cuts were better than others, but it’s not unusual to find a slight overhang from one or both halves that narrows the bearing bore at the seams where the halves meet when they’re captured in the brackets. Just a slight amount of narrowing can cause binding.

After repeated cycles of fitting and filing, the result is smooth, friction-free operation.

The rudder pedal tubes came nicely coated with gray primer. Areas on the tubes were masked from paint where the bearings ride. Except – one of the masking areas is misplaced by 1cm. I’d read about this, and sure enough, when I measured I found the off-by-1cm error too. The Vesconite bearings are designed to ride directly on the steel. Relatively soft paint would likely gum up the bearing and defeat the self-lubricating properties. I put some protective masking tape around the tube and used a strip of fine sandpaper to precisely remove additional paint.

Last, but not least – I can see how the Sling-branded rudder pedals are going to look. I think it’s much cooler than the plain T-bars. It took almost 6 months after my quick-build kit was delivered to finally get all of the pedal parts. That was a full year after I’d placed my quick-build order, which included the option. All’s well that ends well.

The Sling-branded pedals are essentially the same as the ones for toe-brakes, except that they are mounted on the standard pedal tubes and the hand-brake configuration is used. The toe-brake option has different pedal tubes, different brackets on the floor and no hand-brake. I know because I got a bunch of those parts. I worked with the factory and eventually got all of the parts I actually needed for my pedals.

Rework Outer Seatbelt Brackets

Any work on and in the center fuselage is part of a big step forward. In this case, the work is actually rework, owing to one of several shortcomings introduced during the factory quick-build of my fuselage – which evidently was a bit hasty. TAF admittedly rushed to ship in the last hours before a three week holiday shutdown. Let’s just say there were a few shortcuts taken.

There was a general class of shortcut that I’ve found several examples of – riveting places and parts that shouldn’t have been until other steps were completed. The most vexing examples were the seatbelt anchor brackets being mounted without the AN5-5A bolts and washers in place. I’d noticed this very early on after delivery and have been troubled ever since about how I’d be able to get things as they should be.

As I mentioned in my last post, I finally overcame a mindset that I’d have to drill out and re-rivet the center brackets to place the bolts. With courage and great care I was able to flex my way to a happy result. The outer brackets demanded the drill and re-rivet approach. That has proved very doable, especially since I’ve got the fuselage solidly down on the floor where I can work on it without concern about toppling. Yay again!

I’ve gained some valuable experience with drilling out the big 4,8mm rivets from my rework of the aileron and flap hinge bracket sub-assemblies. With a #12 bit in my lithium battery-powered drill I was able to get the outer brackets off cleanly. And when the time comes, I’ll be able to rivet them back on – with the bolts in place. Glad I don’t have to worry about this anymore.

Fuselage Sitting on Main Landing Gear

It may not seem like a big deal, but having the fuselage safely off of the workbench, where it had been (somewhat precariously) perched, is a great relief and a meaningful milestone. It’s now in a position where I can work inside the center fuselage – comfortably and confidently.

The fuselage spent months sitting on the wooden structure that held it inside the sea shipping container. Then it sat for weeks on a workbench and up on some blocks that I was constantly concerned might cause great damage if the structure should somehow roll forward or backward on those blocks.

With the main landing gear in place and some help from my wife and also from my friend Charlie, the three of us were able to remove another wooden shipping structure at the tail, clear the blocks and the workbench from underneath the center fuselage and set the whole business down on the floor. The tail is supported by a padded sawhorse. Joy! Joy!

I’ve been waiting for months to work inside the center fuselage. I did the first bit of work right away – installing the center seatbelt anchor bolts into the brackets where they should have been placed by the factory – before the brackets were riveted to the CF structure. It’s clearly called out in the construction manual, but the step was forgotten.

At first, I thought I would have to unrivet both center brackets in order to get the bolts into position. But, I eventually became hopeful that I could flex the brackets just far enough to slip the bolts in. Yes! It worked. Good thing too, because it really would have been nearly impossible for me to re-rivet the brackets with conflicting structure in the way. I’m so glad I went ahead and attempted positioning the bolts as I did. Done!

I have the same factory-forgot-the-bolts issue with the outer anchor brackets, but at least there’s ample space to drill out and re-rivet. There’s no way I can flex those outer brackets enough to get the bolts where they need to be. The structure in that area is far too stiff.

Main Landing Gear Assembled

I thought it would be very challenging, but the main landing gear bolted to the fuselage without much of a fight. I’d spent days wondering how it could be done. As it turned out, I found I was able to do it single-handedly. Good preparation was a key factor.

Initial fitting revealed several things that needed to be addressed. First, there was space between the composite landing gear and the heavy steel brackets where it attaches to the fuselage with M10 Class 12.9 bolts – two on each side. I confirmed with the factory what I quickly suspected – too much gap. I found out that the gap, if any, must be 0.5mm or less. I was seeing just under 3mm. The factory offered to make custom laser-cut stainless steel shims. I measured and provided details about the LH and RH gap distances and received the shims in just a few weeks. Beautiful.

Next, the long M10 bolts needed to fit easily though concentric holes in the sheet metal channel and heavy steel brackets in the center fuselage. The brackets were perfect, but holes in the channel were a little bit tight. The slightest attention with a tapered reamer made it all just right. It was good to realize that this should be done before struggling to fit the bolts through the landing gear without sufficient clearance.

With a pair of tapered pins I’d made from spare 10mm bolts, inserted front to back, I was able to set and then hold the landing gear in position and slip in the actual mounting bolts. The bolts went in from the back, through the fuselage, shims and other mounting hardware and pushed the pins out the front. The elastic stop nuts were tightened to 25 NM, as specified in the Sling 2 LSA Maintenance Manual. (There’s treasure trove of important Sling 2 assembly procedures and details in that manual.)

All Sling Aircraft models are designed and manufactured in South Africa. Measurements are specified in millimeters and most of the fasteners are metric. There is, however, key structural hardware that is AN aircraft hardware – much more typical for aircraft designed, built, flown and maintained in USA. Detailed fastener documentation for my aircraft will be very important to anyone performing maintenance and they will need to be alerted about this beforehand. Spare fasteners may not readily at hand at a typical shop. I expect to keep some spare hardware in the aircraft for repairs.

Ailerons – Fab, Rework and Pre-Assembly

Aileron assembly has been delayed by ignorance and procrastination. It’s amazing how long it took me to decide to lever $20 out of my pocket for a tool. There’s an anchor nut that gets attached to a rib with a couple of stainless steel rivets that have a 120 degree countersink. I was reluctant to spring for a 120 degree, #40 pilot cutter. This left me pondering various alternative ways I might proceed to attach the anchor nuts. The door was left open because the construction manual doesn’t say anything about it. But, I did have reference examples – other builder’s and identical anchor nuts mounted in my quick-build fuselage. I finally ended up getting the stupid pilot cutter and then mounted the anchor nuts as I knew they should be from the very beginning.

Another self-inflicted setback has been in play. Sometime earlier, I’d riveted one of the aileron hinge bracket and rib sub-assemblies together. Unfortunately, something I’d noticed, but dismissed during initial fitting, had to be corrected. The bolt holes on the inner and outer aileron hinge brackets were not in alignment. To compound the problem, I reasoned that it would probably be ok to ream the bolt holes a little – make them oblong – and somehow that work out ok. Wrong! The result was better alignment, but at the cost of precision (proper) fit.

Sloppy fit for the outer aileron hinge just isn’t going to cut it. What could I do? Eventually, I did what I I should have done in the first place – ask the factory for guidance. I sent an email and got an overnight response directly from Mike Blyth – designer of all Sling Aircraft models. The outer bracket just needs to be bent a bit more. So simple! That absolutely did not occur to me. Sadly, I’d ruined (by reaming) the inner and outer brackets for one aileron and needed new ones. TAF USA rushed me replacements. Fantastic service!

With new brackets in hand, I slightly increased the bends on the outer brackets for both ailerons, removed the old brackets from one of the ribs and riveted all of the sub-assemblies together. Beautiful! I can sleep again. No more worries thinking about how I would try to rationalize wobbly ailerons to myself, the DAR, my technical counselors and everyone else.

RH Flap – Ribs and Skin Assembly

With a now ample supply of 4,8mm rivets in both 15 and 10 mm lengths, finishing the lefthand flap could proceed. I did, however, have to make a decision about how to address hole misalignment involving the short ribs of the hing-rib subassemblies. The solution I chose was hole enlargement and larger 4mm rivets.

I’ve learned that perfect factory bends are required in order to get relaxed fit and freedom from structure twists and wags on the trailing edges of control surface skins. Knowing what to look for during inspection is essential. It had been months since I’d received the quick-build wing kit components and done my inspections. I was reasonably confident the skins were good, yet there was a huge sense of relief to see them actually fitting very nicely.

For the flaps and ailerons, it is common practice to initially rivet only the bottom surface of the skins to the ribs and brackets. The top surface and the row of rivets at the leading edge of the control surface remain free until they are fitted to and the trailing edges are perfectly aligned with the each other and the wing.