Plane-Power Keeps the Juice Flowing

There's nothing like meeting vendors face-to-face to get instantaneous answers to your questions about their products, and the aisles in the four large commercial buildings at Sun 'n Fun were chocked full of information seekers. I spent a bit of time with Stephen and Linda Klodd of Plane-Power, chatting about the latest innovations in powering up your flying machine.

What initially caught my eye was an elegant little voltage regulator, its flat-pack form factor about a quarter of the height of the traditional mechanical regulators.

Stephen explained that the regulator on display had several features that you just couldn't get before, such as reverse polarity protection should you accidentally reverse your battery terminals, user-switchable to either 14 or 28 volts systems, user-adjustable output voltage, and when used with another one (as with a twin), the two regulators will load share with just two conductors connecting them together. And, it's PMA approved for installation into certified aircraft. All for $169.

Plane-Power also had lightweight alternators (Experimental aircraft only) on display in 60- and 70-amp varieties. Priced at $459 and $479 respectively, these units are another cost effective way to significantly increase the electrical power available in your airplane with minimal investment. And, these units come with all necessary hardware, mount, and even a new wiring harness to finish off your upgrade.

Finally, I took a look at the slick little alternator designed for the venerable Continental O-200. With a full 50 amps of output power, this gear-driven unit not only greatly upgrades the old generators originally used by Continental, but will save significant weight as well. It also allows for a greatly simplified electrical system, as the voltage regulation is internal. Not quite yet available for certified aircraft, Plane-Power is expecting the FAA's blessing in short order.

It occurred to me that Plane-Power is doing for alternators what SkyTek did for starters, and upon sharing that observation with Stephen and Linda, they heartily concurred. More information about the full Plane-Power line-up can be had at

What's That Banging? Metal Being Shaped

On my way to the Zenith 701 sheet metal project, I was waylaid by the constant and very loud sound of sheet metal getting the heck pounded out of it. One of the instructors, Jake Hunsinger of Mansfield, Ohio, invited me in to join the fun.

Using the Tuck Puck method, developed by Carey Culpepper last April, the participants set a flat, round piece of sheet metal on a concave puck base, machined from UHMW plastic. (It's available for $30 from, as is the $26 instructional DVD.) Also, the TuckPuck can be used to stretch the metal instead of a shotbag. This method is also described on the MetalMeet website.

Hunsinger was introduced to metal shaping in October of 2006, and quickly got involved in the online community. While metalshapers work on other applications such as classic cars, aircraft components such as wheel pants and scoops can be shaped as well.

The rudimentary shaping that I did started with deburring a round piece of sheet metal (away from the flat file's tang, thank you very much). Once my chances of slicing my hand open with the sharp edges were eliminated, we centered the metal over the puck, and with a long, rounded plastic mallet, I pounded away around the interior circle, drawn on with a Sharpie. A few good whacks resulted in a "tuck" or a "flute" at the outside edge of the metal, which was then stretched and flattened with the long plastic mallet with a rounded end. Round and round I went, until I had a rough bowl-shaped piece of metal where a disc once was.

The real use of the skills became apparent when Hunsinger showed me the wood form for a pair of wheel pants that would be shaped at the workshop. A paper pattern for that part was laid over the wood form, with orienting arrows and reminders to ensure the piece is shaped properly.

Because my bowl was pretty lumpy and uneven, it was time to smooth it out in the English wheel, this one featuring a rounded lower wheel. I was impressed with the emphasis on personal safety during this workshop experience. Not being of large stature, I received quite a bit of advice on which mallet would be easiest for me to handle. There were also a lot of careful eyes on my work on the English wheel, most of it advice on how not to smash my thumbs between the upper and lower wheels.

This was just a quick taste of metal-shaping, and I expect to have a more in-depth experience at AirVenture 2008. Besides, I need another bowl for the matched set.

As Things Wind Down...

As Sun 'n Fun concludes, it comes home that the week has seen a lot of aviating, hangar flying, buying, selling and wishing. Even those for whom flying is a some-day dream, the allure of aviation holds sway. Here are some reminders of what the week was like.

If It's Not One Thing...

It's another, and in the business of showing and selling aircraft, neatness counts. Early on in this year's Sun 'n Fun adventure, rain-soaked grounds served as the nemesis of vendors and campers. As the week progressed, what was once mud turned to dust, necessitating morning rituals like this one. No word on whether he does windows, but we're not asking.

Teaching Homebuilding Skills

Many a homebuilder has heard the admonition from the uninitiated about how they love the idea of assembling their own plane, if only they possessed the skills necessary.

Here at Sun 'n Fun anyone interested can receive free instruction in the skills needed for pretty much any aspect of aircraft construction, such as building a wood aircraft, which volunteer instructor Dick Navratil (top photo) is providing here.

Of course, depending on the project, the skills needed may include welding, fabric covering, composite construction of basic electrical systems and avionics, as Paul Edlund is doing in the bottom photo.

And we can't forget metal-working skills, as metal airframes are among the most common to kit-building projects. For those skills, Burl Nelson and Jim Hoak help convert the unenlightened into competent shapers of metal, including bending, forming and riveting as they're showing Dave Lautenschlager by assembling the rudder of a Zenith STOL 701 in the center shot.

Regardless of the discipline taught, the volunteer teachers possess the experience required to pass on their knowledge to those hungry to fly a machine of their own making.

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.