Archive for the ‘Rudder’ Category

Red beacon

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

I've been planning to put some kind of red flashing ground-recognition beacon on the airplane all along, and this weekend I finally got around to making it happen. For years I've been pondering exactly what kind of beacon I need and where to mount it – see here and here for details of previous plans that didn't get completed, plus thoughts on red beacons in general. What ended up working in my favor is the fact that, while I was trying to figure out what to do, the state of the art in LED technology has advanced to the point where it now makes more sense to use LEDs rather than xenon strobes or halogen flashers for this application.

The particular unit I picked is the Vertex LED lighthead by Whelen. These guys are known in aviation circles for making certified strobes and nav lights, but they make lots of automotive products too. This one is designed to work as a warning light for a cop car or other emergency vehicle, but it happens to also be the perfect size for an airplane too. Here's a photo I grabbed from the internet since I forgot to take a "before" shot prior to getting started:

I played with various mounting positions until I decided which one I liked best – it turned out to be the top of the tail, just like on your grandpa's Cessna. Then I got out the rudder cap and started cutting away at it with a unibit and Dremel tool.

The light will be held in place by two little pieces of scrap angle that will attach to the inside of the rudder cap.

A view from the bottom side. The beacon heatsink just fits into the widest point of the rudder cap.

That has the added advantage of putting the beacon about halfway back from the leading edge of the vertical stabilizer – farther back than on a Cessna – where the light shining directly forward will be blocked instead of getting into the cockpit and annoying me by glaring off the instrument panel.

The circuit board inside the beacon is flush with the top of the rudder cap. Now we just need to do something about the exposed shoulders of the heatsink sticking out into the breeze.

I covered the beacon with saran wrap and then laid up several plies of glass tape over it in a smooth shape:

It's a little late in the season to be doing fiberglass work – i.e. the temperature is a bit low in the garage – but for small projects you can cheat and use a heat lamp to get the resin to cure in a reasonable amount of time.

After sanding the initial layup, I installed the beacon again and followed up with a flox/cabosil mixture to build up the contour and give me a nice sharp edge around the opening for the lens.

I also laid up some flox inside the rudder cap to give the body of the beacon a nice solid shoulder to sit on, as well as thickening up the inside of the lens opening to avoid having a knife edge there.

After letting that cure and sanding it back down, the general shape of the "bump" for the beacon was basically done.

I applied one more coat of dry micro with a squeegee to fill in the low spots, then sanded it smooth.

A quick spray of primer dressed it right up. I'm quite happy with how the shape turned out. There are some small surface imperfections but I'll let the painter deal with those.

The beacon lens is very low profile. I still need to countersink the mounting holes in the sides, but that can wait until I get back the drawer full of #4 tinnerman washers I loaned out.

Now that it's all sanded smooth and blended in, the slight swell for the beacon is hardly noticeable:

What's that, you say you want to see my new rudder-mounted ground recognition beacon in operation? Very well:

It's hard to properly capture with the camera, but trust me, this thing is plenty bright.


Empennage fairings part IV

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

One more application of filler to the rudder cap – hopefully the last one, save for the inevitable pinhole filling. I'm really happy with the way the rudder cap has turned out.

I'm much less happy with the elevator tip I did the other day. I will probably throw this away and start over with a new one from Van's. The stupid counterweight is totally in the way, and it's looking less likely with every try that I'll be able to have removable tips on the elevators. Darn.

Here's the other, mostly untouched tip fairing, just to illustrate the situation.

Once again, I'm really glad the whole airplane isn't made of this crap.

Empennage fairings part III

Monday, February 19th, 2007

Okay, so the first try at closing up the elevator tip fairing didn't turn out so well. I forgot to take a picture, but basically the fiberglass had nothing to adhere to (the lead was coated with tape to prevent sticking) so it was very wavy and uneven. Also, since I only used three plies of 1 oz cloth it was very flimsy.

One of the nice things about fiberglass is that if you screw up you can usually grind off your mistake and try again. This time I'm going to try using a piece of aluminum to provide the structural strength, and the fiberglass will just be there to hold it all together. I made a forward bulkhead out of some scrap alclad (0.040" I think), scuffed it up so the epoxy would stick, and temporarily attached it to the counterweight with double-sided tape.

Then I laid up three layers of 5 oz cloth, with a single layer of 1 oz cloth over the top to help fill in the weave. We'll see how this turns out.

I must say, the new style of elevator counterweight is a real pain. The old arrangement seems like it would allow you to spend a lot less time messing around with fiberglass to get the tip fairing to come out just right. But what do I know…

Back to the rudder, I mixed up another batch of micro and applied it here and there. This photo is kind of hard to interpret, but what you're looking at is a glob of micro applied to the front face of the rudder cap, with a piece of scrap alclad (covered with duct tape to make it non-stick) taped in place to make it cure with a nice smooth, even surface.

My cat wanted to help write this entry:


More empennage fairings

Sunday, February 18th, 2007

Today was an all-fiberglass day. Sorry, no action shots – hard to hold a camera with sticky fingers.

I sanded most of last night's primer off of the top rudder fairing, then put another glob of filler on the front where it still needs to be built up. My favorite tool for this kind of sanding is a 3" red scotchbrite disc in a die grinder turned down to low pressure. I also use a 60 grit sanding block where necessary, but power tools make the job go faster.

While the rudder fairing was curing, I got out one of the elevator tip fairings and started playing with it. The lead counterweight at the front is going to throw some sand in the gears of my plan to make removable empennage tips. It is tempting to permanently attach the elevator tips and just glass over the counterweights, but I'm still going to try to make them removable because I love a challenge. (Mary would probably say that I'm just plain stubborn)

I laid up three layers of lightweight cloth, sufficient to cover over the open end of the fairing where the counterweight lives. It's not much to look at right now because the peel ply is blocking the view. Underneath is a layer of electrical tape to prevent the fiberglass from sticking to the lead. With any luck this will form the starting point for a closed-end fairing that will cover the counterweight but will still be removable – we'll see tomorrow.

Hours later, the second coat of filler on the rudder was dry, so I proceeded to sand away at it. The shape is almost there now – just needs one or two more layers.

After shooting a coat of primer to help me check the finish, I put more filler on a few spots to fix some of the more egregious pinholes. My goal is just to get the basic contour correct – I'll leave the detailed surface finish work to the painter.

In the middle of all this, I bought and put together this particle board file cabinet for Mary. I found myself thinking how awesome it would be if airplanes were put together with quarter-turn fasteners. I'd already be flying!


Working on top rudder fairing

Saturday, February 17th, 2007

I decided that I should work on the empennage tips next, because it will be a lot easier to mess with them while I have the tail removed from the fuselage. Once the engine goes on I'll have to keep the tail attached to prevent the fuselage from tipping over on its face, so I'm trying to get as much done on the empennage while I have the opportunity.

For no particular reason I decided to start with the top rudder fairing. I trimmed the flanges enough to get the part to fit onto the rudder, and match drilled #30 holes through the skin into the fiberglass.

It isn't a terrible fit, although it is quite a bit shorter than it needs to be. I'll have to build up the forward face with filler.

The plans have you attach the fairing to the rudder skin with flush pop rivets. A lot of people use filler to make their fairings match the contour of the empennage surface, then use a layer of fiberglass to hide the joint between the aluminum skin and the composite fairing. Me, I really like the look of a well-fitted fairing with a perfect, visible seam between the two parts, so I decided to steal Randy Pflanzer's method. He made his fairings removable by using 4-40 screws and nutplates instead of blind rivets, which lets you take the fairing off to clean up the join line.

I riveted nutplates to the fairing, using a thin strip of alclad as a backing strip to keep the rivets from pulling through the fiberglass. On the first side I did (facing down in this photo) I used the same rivets to attach the nutplates to both the aluminum and the fiberglass. That turned out to be a pain to do properly, so on the other side I first riveted the nutplates to the aluminum strip, then riveted the strip to the fairing with one rivet between each pair of screw holes. That way turned out a lot better, since I could do the tricky riveting of those tiny little nutplates out in the open where I had better access.

By the way, the gaps in the alclad strips in the photo above are there because I made the them out of scrap and I didn't have anything long enough to span the full length of the fairing.

Here's an initial view of how the fairing looks when screwed in place. A #4 flush screw fits in the same dimple as a 1/8" rivet, and I really like the look of the visible fasteners. There is about a 1/16" gap along the join line, which will need filling.

I protected the rudder skin with a layer of electrical tape (very thin but rugged enough to resist sanding) and some duct tape too for good measure. Then I used some 60 grit to knock down the high spots in the fairing. The very tail end was the worst spot, as the fairing was quite a bit thicker than the rest of the rudder back there.

Then I mixed up a batch of epoxy and microballoons that was about the consistency of peanut butter, and slathered it all along the join line, making a special effort to try and force it down into the gap. I also tried to build up a big glob of filler on the forward face where the fairing is too short, but I expect I'll have to revisit it a couple more times in order to get enough material where it needs to be.

I'll let the whole mess dry overnight, then sand off all the excess and see where it leaves me.

Oh yeah, while I was doing stuff in the airplane workshop I installed the eye bolts through the firewall, to which the rudder pedal return springs will attach.