Volunteer-Built Zenith 701 Headed for Missions of Mercy

At AirVenture 2007, I took the challenge of sampling the builder workshops—specifically sheet metal, composites and fabric—as a clean-sheet newbie. I wanted to see if I could pick up the basic skills necessary for building, and how the instructors and Technical Counselors would do with a rookie. Thanks to their patience, expertise and clarity in explaining the basics, I was indeed able to pick up the basics. (Look for the full report in the June issue of KITPLANES magazine.)

I also developed an affinity for sheet metal work. I liked the substantial nature of working with metal, and really liked working with power tools. OK, the hand-powered Cleco pliers were pretty cool, too.

So, when I saw the request posted by Jim Hoak on the Matronics Zenith email list, calling for builders to assist volunteers in an unusual and worthy project, the metal bug bit again. Hoak is the co-chairman of the Basic Sheet Metal Workshops at Sun 'n Fun, as well as a Zenith 601 XL builder. He was also my instructor at Oshkosh.

The volunteers planned to build a Zenith 701 during the six days of Sun 'n Fun, from a kit purchased by one of the workshop members. When the aircraft is completed (and dubbed Angel 1), it will be donated to a missionary organization. Several tool companies, including Avery, provided some metal-working tools, but the construction is being undertaken by the workshop volunteers and the folks who come to learn basic metal skills—no company participation. The plan is to build as much as possible during the show, and then complete it at the owner's home airport in Mississippi.

The 701 was well underway by the time I wandered into the air-conditioned workshop this morning, with a good portion of the fuselage having been riveted, and with a wing and a horizontal stabilizer laid out on the other tables. Under Hoak's supervision, the horizontal stab has been reworked several times until the measurements were as called out in Zenith's plans—a copy of which was prominent at each work station.

My participation consisted of pulling a long line of blind rivets with a pneumatic rivet puller, with the assistance of a couple of volunteers who made sure the rivets were square to the fuselage skin, and that the interior sheet metal didn't gap. After we pulled the majority of the rivets, out came the Clecoes and in went the rest of the rivets.

Good news for the occasional riveter: Properly instructed, you will remember how to do it, even after eight-plus months. And, yes, it was still fun.

One of the hidden gems of this project was the piece of sheet metal to be stashed inside one of the seats—featuring the signatures of the volunteers who worked on the 701. Hoak anticipates that the sheet will be completely filled by the time the plane is done. Once completed, no one will see our signatures unless they cut the seat open.

But we know it's there.

The Eyes Have It

Do you ever get the feeling that someone's watching you? The paint on the Sparrowhawk gyros on display at Sun 'n Fun drew many such comment from passersby as the strolled through the commercial exhibit area. And, yes, those eyes do seem to follow you as you walk past. Fortunately, this bird doesn't have eyes in the back of its panel.

Our Eyes in the Skies

The need to coordinate the arrival of thousands of aircraft, to manage the airshow flow, and maintain separation on the Lake Parker arrivals demands a lot of preparation and attention by pilots as well as the skills of dozens of our friendly aviation agency's top performers, the men and women of the Air Traffic Service. Every year they excel at soothing the nerves of anxious aviators, hand-holding those short-sighted souls who, for whatever reasons, fail to obtain and use the Sun 'n Fun NOTAM, and generally making life as easy as possible given the high-density nature of the flow and the extreme mix of performance ranges of the machines soaring into the Lakeland airspace.

We thought it worth it to show a few of them in a relaxed moment and say, "Thanks." So, well, thanks! As the event draws to a close, we can attest to another job well done.

There's a New Four-Blade CS Prop for Warbird Replicas

Dave Hansen of Vari-Prop is pretty excited about the company’s newest product, a four-blade, variable-pitch propeller for warbird replicas that will bolt on to basically any engine that can turn it, no matter whether the crankshaft is hollow or solid.

Vari-Prop can do that because all of its constant-speed propellers are operated by a master hydraulic cylinder run by an electric motor controlled by a circuit board, as opposed to the traditional constant-speed props, which use engine oil regulated by a governor.

The Vari-Prop hydraulic master cylinder and electronic rpm sensor, which only weighs 3.5 lbs, can be mounted anywhere on the airplane, Hansen says. “And our ground-adjusting system for setting takeoff pitch is so simple. Just turn one bolt to change all the blades’ pitch at once. Tighten the bolt to set and then go fly.”

Vari-Prop blades are lightweight wood covered with composite and embedded with leading-edge protection. “We’ve worked hard to make the four-blade prop look authentic,” says Hansen.

For more information email dhansending@aol.com.

Wing-Heating System for High-Performance Kit Aircraft

If your kit is meant to fly high and fast, and especially if you’ve designed the machine to fly well in the clouds, then you owe it to yourself to consider some kind of de-ice or anti-ice system.

Most systems designed for light aircraft include complicated pneumatic pumps, ugly rubber boots or expensive titanium leading edge cuffs. None of these are good solutions for clean, fast, high fliers such as Lancairs or RV-10s. RDD Enterprises, LLC, in cooperation with Kelly Aerospace Systems, has ported some technology developed for the Cessna 350s and 400s to the Experimental market with its Therm-X graphite foil wing-heating system.

Therm-X is an ultrathin graphite foil laminate applied to the leading edge of the wing and horizontal stabilizer. Embedded electrical buses no thicker than duct tape, connected to a dedicated alternator, control invisibly thin heating elements capable of warming the leading edge of an aircraft from near freezing to 120° in 1.5 seconds—and they do so automatically upon sensing the outside air temperature approaching the freezing zone.

“The really brilliant part of this system is how it sheds the ice,” says Matt Verdieck, who works in Operations for RDD. “The immediate edge, we call it the 'part zone,' is always warmed, but the product allows ice to accrete in a 'shed zone.' Then the system cycles on and off through six different shed zones very quickly, melting the ice just at the bond, so that it sheds off in chunks and does not melt and roll back and refreeze on the cold wing area behind the graphite laminate."

It’s not inexpensive protection, with complete systems for Lancairs running $18,000, but for that price you get installation, manuals, and a flight-tested (on your individual airplane) system, as well as a warranty. If you plan on flying your airplane in all weather, it’s a system that, the moment you need it, will seem priced just right.

Up, Up and Away

Not all that flies at Sun 'n Fun roars like a radial, buzzes like a hornet or spews smoke during low passes. The traditional Saturday-morning balloon launch provided an uncharacteristic bit of hushed flying for thousands willing to crawl out of their bunks and camps to witness the spectacle of color.

For others the quiet of the dawn hours provided an opportunity to reposition an aerobatic aircraft in preparation for the afternoon airshow.

And in case anyone is wondering, yes, that largest balloon is the largest dog the Sun 'n Fun spectators ever remember seeing. No word on what you feed a hound of that size, but we're pretty sure it's not your standard pet-store kibble.