When it comes to building airplanes, technically Im an amateur-and Im perfectly content with that characterization. You see, our “special” airworthiness certificates afford us some pretty amazing flexibility, and Im having a real blast taking advantage of it. Many factors drove me away from certificated airplanes and toward the amateur-built side of the fence, and every once in a while my appreciation for those factors is renewed.
Every year when I conduct my own condition inspections, as I take my sweet time and give my airplane the attention and loving care it deserves, I savor the notion that quality and safety are in my control. No shop is rushing me out the door or milking me for my last dollar. If I happen to take two weeks of my own time to finish, going over every last inch and detail, the only cost to me is my time and sweat. And lets face it, as was the construction of this wonderful airplane, the process of maintaining it is a labor of love. Whether its the annual condition inspection or just lubing the tailwheel, this same degree of patience and care goes into the task.
Look What I Found
During my most recent condition inspection, while doing my “every inch” inspection of the tail surfaces with a mirror and flashlight, I discovered what appeared to be tiny cracks in the front spar of my horizontal stabilizer. The cracks were so small that they could just as well have been flecks of dirt, but they did catch my attention. After picking at the area with my finger, I still couldn’t tell if they were cracks in the structure or just the primer. I had to sand and file away the area a bit just to confirm, and even then I wasn’t positive. I ended up drilling out a rib to be sure. Long story short, they were indeed cracks, albeit small, and the cause was more than clear-there was not enough of a relief notch at a bend. Simple stuff.
The cracked area was heavily doubled, but Im not interested in taking any chances. Replacing the spar was what the doctor ordered, but replacement would be a far more involved task than simply building an entire new horizontal stab. I ordered the parts, and a week later I was mating the shiny brand new HS with my fuselage.
Its a bit humbling to find fault in your own work, but I have no qualms about it. That HS was the first component I built on this airplane, and in terms of “education and recreation,” it definitely was more of the former in my case. Having hopped into the project with essentially no prior experience, Im not surprised that I overlooked a small detail at that phase (in my defense, the plans didn’t call for a relief notch in that area until a later revision). Its not something that would have downed the airplane, but its definitely not something I was going to let go without remedy.
Coupled with the humility of finding the miscue is the satisfaction of having caught the problem (it was extremely obscure) and possessing the ability to crank out a higher quality replacement in short order (three days). OK, I guess that is enough patting myself on the back, but Im serious about it having been a positive experience. Even better was that I did it myself, as an “amateur,” without the intervention of the Feds. I laugh when I consider how much that repair would have cost if it had happened to my old Mooney!
More Freedoms, Reveled In
Ive renewed my appreciation for other benefits of my amateur status recently as well. I admit Im having a love affair with the freedom to add and experiment with new systems in the airplane without the burden or hassle of approvals and paperwork. I have absolutely no desire to tweak things to the point of negatively impacting safety or reliability, but I proudly take advantage of the privilege to make changes without the feds watching over my shoulder.
Case in point: I added a removable cross-country fuel tank to my airplane, which came in handy when it extended my range on a recent coast-to-coast trip. It was a fun little project, designing and building a mount for the tank and plumbing it into the fuel system. On the trip I did discover some things Ill want to modify, but I revel in the fact that I don’t need permission or approval from any sort of government entity to complete the mods on my own.
Another example. Im in the process of installing an inexpensive ham-radio-based APRS system in the airplane (see Sam Buchanans story about this technology on Page 43.) Im making my own antenna for pennies, and Ill be able to experiment with the system until Im content with its performance. Again, Big Brother is nowhere near my shoulder. Im not hiding anything-I just enjoy not needing to jump through any hoops. Common sense rules, as well it should.
As amateurs, were trusted simply to be responsible with these types of freedoms. I take it seriously, because its something Id like to take advantage of for decades to come.
Dan Checkoway is among his many talents-high-falutin computer programmer, entrepreneur, musician, EAA Tech Counselor and workshop teacher-a repeat offender: In addition to his Vans RV-7, which had racked up more than 1600 hours by April 2008, Dan has begun construction of an RV-8. He swears that itll be light, simple and only as well equipped as it needs to be.