Now That’s An Aileron!

Several Chronicles have dealt with getting the plane in the air. This note offers some balance, touching on craftsmanship and early foundational influences that contributed to working toward a more true and trusty airframe.

Static Display. N95BJ sits in the vast middle of the hanger, 30% done with 300% to go. It holds center stage in Charlie Brown Hangar’s 1993 EAA Fly-in. The raw brown fuselage sits on bare struts with no wheels. The raw wings and main spar and canard are in place, also stylish in matching brown weave. The completed strake shell units are temporarily braced on. The uncut canopy sits in place on the longerons.
I am busy answering questions and then pointing out the simplified rudder cable placement, my latest and most important accomplishment.
A man comes in the distant open doors and strides up to the plane. He looks a minute, unblinking. After a moment he strides back out. A few minutes later he reappears with a 3 foot white box under his arm. He sets the box carefully on my table and opens it. He lays back the soft fabric covering and lifts something out and turns around to me and says,

“Now son, That’s an Aileron.”

He holds out the part on the cloth and I step closer to see the beautiful, pristine, probably never-before-touched-by-human-hands Lancair aileron. It is perfect…precise…
From the corner of my eye I see my ailerons, rough and just-knife-trimmed, cower in shame, trying to cover their raw nakedness.
He launches- “See this tube here?... I put that on so I can slide weights in there…any weights I want, and it’s capped off here on the end and that way I’m not limited to permanently mounted weights here… so after painting I can place whatever weights it needs.”
I’m surprised and ask if this isn’t final paint? He said no, it was still in primer. Wow.
He hands it over, with the cloth. It is truly spectacular. I can’t find a flaw or blemish. Not one. After a moment I ask “How did you do this?”
He said what do you mean? I said how did you get it so…perfect? I asked if he was a professional painter.
He looked at me quizzically and said, “Oh, you mean the aileron? It came that way in the box from Lancair. I just mounted the balance tube to it.”
If you look at his beautiful plane now, it carries on the full theme of perfection. And his friendly emphasis lives on- If you are around my kids very long you’ll see one of them wink and say something like, “Now That’s a… hamburger!” or whatever.

Craftsmanship, early influence
I gravitate toward methods of building quickly and simply, and enjoy recounting those findings of special significance. But as you know from walking the fly-in lines, most folks lean heavily toward appearance. I got to see one plane early that covered both extremes and all the bases.
KC GIG A couple of months after getting the boxes in the garage, I drove eleven hours one way to get to Terry Yakes’ spectacular KC GIG in Olatha Kansas. (The next year it took just three hours in the back of Nat Puffer’s original VariEze to get there). There were 86 EZs I think, and I got to listen in to Mellville, Tift, Atkinson, Ken Swain, Schubert… then
Gary Hertzler walked and talked me gently around his airplane.

Subtle. Stunning.

I ask a couple of questions. He explains, spending a moment on this particular improvement and then that little detail and then this element and then he moves over to an elegant handcrafted component that replaces three others…
He ends up by pointing to his original canopy catch and its evolution, mentioning how over the years it had been one of the early and more significant contributions to ez safety. Then he did something not many of us ez drivers do, he stopped. And went on about whatever he was doing before I walked up. Looking at props I think.

I walked away wanting more, mesmerized at how his plane just embodied light-maximum and sleek-minimum and clean-utility and how it was so stunningly spectacular in function and appearance. When I closed my eyes I saw thin svelte precise corner tapes and weightless consoles and cowls and pristine paint.
At home a new chapter started growing in the notebook on the workbench. Technique. The box was wide open and I was outside of it. But I was standing on sound basics. From that point early on I felt the room to spend time and effort to get things right.
Back in the garage I was looking at the approach to the airframe differently now. First thing, inch by inch all the fledgling fuselage corner tape widths were Dremeled down to exactly two inches. Maybe an inch and 15/16ths. Probably got an extra five knots there.
As I got familiar with the new-to-me parts, there was an incentive to fully understand the intent of the plans and install pristine components cleanly and deliberately and accurately. Now that I knew corner tapes and such could be so perfect, I dug into Burt’s Yellow Moldless Composite Construction Primmer and the CPs and other pubs and re-learned everything they held. New tapes or glass layers were laid in with fresh perfection in mind.
I installed Gary’s spiffy cable/spring canopy restraint that still does the job today. As I formed and trimmed the ninety degree aluminum tube that holds the swaged cable end, washer and spring inside the headrest, I kinda floated through a passage where things are done with a little more care and attention to detail and… craftsmanship. Another two knots? All right!
Years later there was a little reinforcement at a Jackpot RACE. We were all taping our hatches and gaps. Hertzler was walking by and stopped at my plane, looking at the tape coming around one of the strake/wing leading edges. It had a wrinkle in it. He gently lifted the tape up and worked it and laid it back down, smooth. I recalibrated again.

Gizmo Balance
I will conclude here with a moment at an un-named fly-in, on another planet where there was no one any of us know, that for me, moves the perfection vision back toward center. Walking the line, I saw an example of what could happen if I didn’t weigh things carefully, physically and rationally.
We came up on what has to be, then and now, one of the sweetest VariEzes that I have ever seen. It was velvet cream with satin grey underneath. I remember it flowing, almost like having no seams even at the wing roots or cowls or wheel pants. Even the interior gave the rounded appearance of being all one flowing surface.
It did have joints and screws but you just didn’t notice them. I kinda had it in mind with my paint scheme now.
An enthusiastic audience followed the builder from detail to detail as he described elaborate finishing processes and canopy grooves and motor drives and fans and automatic this and blended that. He was interrupted by a shout from the guys in the weigh-in crew. He had been waiting for the weigh-in event to start so he could get his plane on the scales, mentioning several times that his was the lightest around.
He pushed over to be first, with about five planes lined up behind him. The crew got settled in and down to business. But as they tallied his totals there was some kind of problem…
They re-checked all the scales and tallied again. They rolled the plane off the scales and then back on and clicked the calculators again. He removed seat cushions and a couple of wrenches and headsets and a handheld and sectionals and they tried it again.
He wasn’t at all happy. I couldn’t hear everything but did catch them telling him the weight of the oil in the engine had to be included.
We turned around… and there was no one in line behind him.
The plane was beautiful. Very beautiful. No pressure…

And finally One day a LongEZ driver came in the hangar and just kind of stood there. He said he had just weighed his newly acquired mochine, and with him and his GIBette, his fuel was limited to two gallons. Thaaaaat couldn’t happen.

One more image. I mentioned Ken Swain earlier. When I was getting started building and still thinking 175 lb Cont A-75, he took time to listen to me a little, and then explain his choice of the 0-235 engine for his VariEze and then offer a few thoughts and suggestions on things he had seen evolve. I remember his scimitar prop, but mostly the image of the weave in his spartan ailerons. Perfect craftmanship- and no filler.

Now That’s an Aileron.

Bill James, Fort Worth VariEze

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