A Time for Lists

to-do list

There comes a time in every homebuilt project where you need to start making lists. To-do lists. Up until that time, you are simply working on whatever you see that looks interesting, or following the assembly manual, step by step. But airplane projects are well known for the old 90/90 rule - "ninety percent done, ninety percent left to do!" It is amazing just how many details crawl out of the woodwork when you actually think the thing looks pretty complete. And all of those details take time - so much time. One of the biggest time sinks is simply wandering around the shop, trying to figure out what needs to be done before the darned thing flies.

So when I reach that point, I begin to sit down and make To Do lists. I sit down at the workbench and stare at the nascent airplane, going through my head to remember all the things that I had been putting off because I didn't have the parts, or simply didn't want to work on them. I like to make the list in great detail, because I want to try and wrap my head around everything I need to do before the machine is ready for inspection. So along with "Install the wings", I like to put down "add a ground for the Aux Audio input". Then there is the ever-popular "look for missing rivets". In this case, I still have "do some fiberglass filling on the nose-cone" - I tend to put fiberglass work off because of the mess.

The list is a good place to figure out dependencies. For instance, on the jet, I need to rivet on the belly skin, but before I do that, I still need to add some cable retention points in the rear fuselage. But I need to rivet the belly skin before I can install the flap pushrod fairings, because they go OVER the belly skin rivets. Making the list helps to work those little processes out. I like to tape the list to the fuselage by the way - it keeps it from getting lost in the workbench clutter, and it is fun to be able to see things as they get crossed off - signs of progress.

The best part about the list is that it indicates that you're getting close to the end-game in your build. h sure - the list will grow, almost as fast as you cross things off, you'll find other things to do. But you know that when you can contain it to a page or two, you truly are getting ready to go fly!

Paul Dye

Paul Dye, Kitplanes® Editor in Chief, retired as a Lead Flight Director for NASA’s Human Space Flight program, with 40 years of aerospace experience on everything from Cubs to the space shuttle. An avid homebuilder, he began flying and working on airplanes as a teen, and has experience with a wide range of construction techniques and materials. He flies an RV-8 that he built, an RV-3 that he built with his pilot wife, as well as a Dream Tundra they completed. Currently, they are building a Xenos motorglider. A commercially licensed pilot, he has logged over 5000 hours in many different types of aircraft and is an A&P, EAA Tech Counselor, and Flight Advisor, as well as a member of the Homebuilder’s Council. He consults and collaborates in aerospace operations and flight-testing projects across the country.

2 Replies to “A Time for Lists”

  1. While I fully endorse the to do lists - and use them myself - some of our projects take so long we may forget what we need to do.

    On my first project, when ever I left deferred work, I attached a piece of blue painters tape to whatever it was that needed more work. Sometimes that meant putting the tape on the skin near the item and writing on the tape what needed to be done.

    By the time I got to the 90/90 stage and made some to do lists, there were still a lot of pieces of blue tape all over the airplane. Some of which I am sure I might have forgotten about.

    I found it a great way to move on and not forget that there was a part to order or a nut to torque. Of course I did finish up and remove most of the blue tape reminders during the build, but a lot survived until the end.

  2. I am perhaps "King of The Lists" - well maybe second to Paul. I use lists for airplane projects and to organize my daily living. A few years ago I gave up using paper when I discovered the "Reminders" app that comes with the iPad. Very easy to use, supports multiple lists, makes it easy to move things around as priorities change, and best of all is backed up on the cloud and synced with your iPhone so you can refer to it when you're out in the hangar.

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