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Builder Spotlight

March 2016 Issue




Check Your Six!

Rearview mirrors for your homebuilt fighter plane.

You don’t have to be flying a Grumman Tomcat into combat to find a need for seeing behind you. Just like in a car, you have more aft situational awareness with mirrors, without losing your forward vision. We might use them to check the control surfaces’ position and movement, ground traffic taxiing up on our tail, rear seat passengers’ condition, or if you fly formation, monitor your wingman or flight element positions. I also check my departure climb alignment to the shrinking runway in my mirror.

My objective was to keep the mirrors simple, lightweight, adjustable, secure, and not allow them to block forward visibility. So with more time than money, I came up with a way to clip some mirrors to my RV-8 roll bar. I use two—one flat mirror and one convex wide-angle mirror. You could fit more and adjust each for different blind spots. If your plane does not have a conveniently placed roll bar, you might still use the concept with another mounting method of your design.

 

Layout and Cutting

I made mine 1.5 inches wide, 6.5 inches long, and curved to follow the roll bar and windscreen/canopy top. Simply trace the shape on a piece of cardboard, cut and transfer to the back side of the acrylic mirror. Use a Sharpie type felt pen on the back of the mirror, being careful not to scratch through the gray mirror backing. I cut the acrylic with the same fine-tooth bandsaw blade as aluminum, but not too close to the finish line. I slowly belt sanded the edges and then finished with the Scotch-Brite wheel. If you are not careful, you will chip or abrade the edge of the mirror, leaving visible feather flaws in your reflection. Find the right pressure and angles to polish, but not melt the plastic.

Cut the acrylic mirror with a fine-tooth blade outside the line to avoid damaging the mirror.

Cut a 1-inch length of the PVC pipe, one for each mirror. (I tried two clips for a long mirror but found it was not needed, and they would apply an unwanted twist distortion to the mirror when clipped on). Now mark and cut out a 13/16-inch slot opening. This slot will allow the mirror to pivot on the roll bar, giving you a six o’clock high view to a mug shot of yourself. Finish the edges of the clip to your liking.

Find the right pressure and speed to avoid melting the plastic and abrading the reflection image.

Finish with the Scotch-Brite wheel, finding the right angle to give a clean finish.

Cut a 13/16-inch notch opening from the PVC pipe clip.

Assembly

The placement of the pipe clip on the back of the mirror will define the usable adjustment rotation and clearance for the canopy closure. For my application I placed the pipe clip overhanging the top of the mirror by 3/16 inch. This gave me enough clearance for my sliding canopy to roll and close over the top of the mirror. And the start of the slot is set 11/16 inch from the mirror’s front edge.

I cleaned the parts and roughed up the PVC pipe and back of the round plastic mirror in preparation for gluing. You cannot do the same on the back of the acrylic mirror without damaging the reflection image of the mirror. I found a generous amount of clear silicone adhesive has held the mirrors now for two years.

For my application I glued the pipe clip slightly overhanging the top of the mirror and 11/16 inch from the front face.

Clip, slide, and rotate to find your best location to cover the blind spots. It’s easy to adjust as needed.

In Use

Simply clip the mirrors on your roll bar. Try different positions along the side and the top to allow the mirror to tilt up/down or in/out depending on position. I would imagine three long curved mirrors would give you a lot of blind spot coverage for those with the need. I like to adjust my long flat mirror to see straight back at the tail feathers and the convex mirror on my back seater to see if they are having fun. Now you might need a new placard: “Objects are closer than they appear.”

Now you can check your six for who’s riding your tail.

Simple, lightweight mirrors ready to clip on.

Here both mirrors are adjusted on the high and outside range. And you can see that virtually no forward visibility was lost.

Note: Reflection images were staged or simulated for safety considerations.

Cheers to blue skies and a clear six!

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