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
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
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.
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.
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
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