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.
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.
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.
Completing the horizontal stabilizer went smoothly and turned out beautifully – ultimately. The fine folks at TAF, now Sling Aircraft, were super-supportive. Without going into great detail, I’d found that the leading edge bends of both HS skins were not on centerline – root to tip. They just wouldn’t fit properly – imposing significant stress and twisting of the structure. Sling Aircraft stepped up to quickly provide replacement HS skins and that saved the day.
I’ve been impressed with how precisely the holes in the skins match with the assembled structure. I’ve made a very conscious effort to take advantage of the kit precision. I try to get the skins initially positioned with very few clecos. I want to be able to move the skin slightly, until I can see that nearly all of the holes in the skin and structure are concentrically aligned. Starting the fitment process with fewer clecos makes that easier – possible. In practice, I’ve found that good overall initial skin position, relative to the underlying structure, allows the great majority of rivets to drop in – effortlessly. Once I’ve got the skin in place, I can further anchor things down with alternate clecos and hand-inserted rivets for the entire HS assembly.
I used a vertical HS working orientation that allowed me to evaluate skin fitment on top and bottom surfaces at the same time. Once the skin was in place, very few rivet holes needed attention – and then, only the slightest dressing with a chucking reamer in my lithium battery-powered drill. With a relaxed final fit of skin, rivets and structure – I’ve seen that when the rivets are pulled, nothing really moves. The permanently fastened skins are remarkably free of surface deviations. I’m quite pleased and anticipating that the contours of the final painted surfaces will be excellent.
The horizontal stabilizer assembly started by fitting together 2 sections of rear spar channel with the center section sandwiched by doubler plates – front and back. The result is over 8ft long. Appropriately sized cleco fasteners temporarily hold the parts together. A laser level helps to confirm that the channel is true – straight and free of twist.
The rear channel components were permanently fastened with a combination of 4.0 x 10mm and 3.2 x 8mm pulled rivets. Assembly continued with ribs joining with the front spar channel and clecos hold the front components as they are fitted and fastened in a similar fashion as the rear.
I’ve found that when 2 or 3 parts are sandwiched together with many rivets, it can be a little tricky to get a relaxed fit. Many overlapping holes must align precisely, in order for the rivet shanks to fit through all of the layers easily. I try to take whatever time is necessary to get the best concentric alignment of as many holes as possible, so that little or no reaming is necessary. The kit parts are punched very precisely and overlapping holes will likely line up, given the chance.
My assembly process starts with just a few clecos, while test fitting rivet shanks in many or most of the holes. Then I loosen and reset those few clecos until there is good natural alignment of as many holes as can reasonably be achieved. Eventually, a majority of the holes will line up perfectly, leaving only a very few that may need a little reaming to easily accept a rivet. Straight-shank chucking reamers seem to do a great job. Use the exactly right sizes. #30 and #20 are common.
The HS structure, without skins, is somewhat delicate. I’ve used a couple of stiffeners, from a Vans Aircraft workshop (skills practice) kit, clamped to the innermost HS ribs to provide support while the entire structure is riveted.
The HS structure is symmetrical. At some point, a decision must be made as to which side will be the top and the other side, therefore, the bottom. For my HS, continuity of how the rib flanges relate to the spar channels has turned out to be somewhat better on one side than the other. The side with the best potential for smooth skin support was chosen to be the top. I used a black permanent marker to make indications inside the front spar channel, where they can be seen during the various assembly phases.
With the HS top chosen, left and right HS panels become apparent. 2 Heyco 0.375in snap-bushings have been placed in the rear forming holes of the 2 innermost left-side ribs and anchored with some dabs of gray RTV. The nylon snap bushings are intended to protect the pitch trim servo wire (cable) as it passes through the ribs. I’ve elected to use nylon snap bushings instead of the rubber grommets supplied with the kit.
I spent several work sessions to make sure I can expect good results when it comes time to close up the VS by riveting the skin to the underling structure. By that time – the VOR antenna, its RG-400 coax cable and the tail strobe wiring must be in place and will be expected to last the lifetime of the aircraft. No pressure!
Holes around the edges of the skin were typically large enough to accommodate 3,2 x 8mm domed rivets, but the holes in the skin at the interfaces with the ribs were smaller and needed to be enlarged with a #30 straight flute chucking reamer. All holes in the skin were carefully deburred. Overall, the concentric alignment of holes in skin and structure were pretty good, but a few will need to be match-reamed during the final fit, immediately prior to the riveting.
The antenna base required 4 recesses be machined into the plastic-like material that allow shortened rivets to fit without interference. My trusty Dremel Tool did both jobs handily – shortening the rivets and creating the recesses.