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What Our Members Are Building

Building a Personal Cruiser

Bruce Sturgill, EAA 707277
bruce@pursuitofflight.com

Morgan Hunter
Moments after arriving at EAA AirVenture 2007 Morgan Hunter, the builder of the prototype Corvair Cruiser, was invited to tie down under “the old brown arch,” the highest place of honor for any homebuilt visiting OSH.

Bruce
Bruce Sturgill at work. Larger view

The following is a compilation of three articles written by Bruce Sturgill and published in CONTACT! magazine over a two-year period.

One of experimental aviation’s cardinal rules for anyone considering a kit- or plans-built project is never to buy a kit or plane from a company whose product has never flown. Well, I broke that rule. Had I not known Steve Rahm and of his other plane design, the Vision (American Affordable Aircraft), I would have heeded the rule. I thought Steve’s FoldaPlane technique was an intriguing idea, and I felt very comfortable being a beta builder of his new design, the Corvair Cruiser, even though it had yet to fly. It was just too tempting to become involved in this project, and I appreciate their willingness to allow me to become beta builder “007.” What a serial number!

FOLDaPLANE
Whenever I explain the FoldaPlane technique to others, they get this funny look on their face, but once they see how it works and how simple it actually is to put together, that look changes to a smile with a little head nod and an, “I get it.”The plans or instructions were a little “thin” so-to-speak, but that’s to be expected as a beta builder. (It’s the job of a beta builder to find the shortcomings and report them back to the designer so that plans can be revised accordingly before they get into the hands of future builders.—Pat) All parties involved with the development of this kit have been extremely helpful when I needed things clarified.

When the “kit” arrived at my house in a flat box (via UPS), I scratched my head a bit wondering if this was really going to work. The box itself was approximately 6 feet by 3.5 feet by 8 feet and presumably contained my new plane. I jumped right in and got started as I had pre-ordered my epoxy and fiberglass and my flat worktable was ready to go.

GETTING STARTED
It’s a blast to assemble the pieces, which go together like a puzzle. Each part fit exactly as described in the plans, and the fuselage “tub” went together rather quickly. Be careful with the individual parts as they are pretty flexible and easily damaged. Garage or hangar rash is not a myth. The flexibility helps when you put the bottom part of the fuselage in the cradle to form the shape of the plane, as that’s the key to the FoldaPlane concept. My wife and daughter helped place the pre-assembled flat parts in the cradle, and in less than one minute it took form and began to look like an actual airplane. As all the parts started to come together, the structure became very rigid, which reassured my confidence in the design.

Ruddervators
Bruce, hard at work on the ruddervators.
Getting the fuselage to this condition takes very little time.
Larger view

One of the most challenging parts for me was building the “Y” bulkhead for the tail section. It took a few phone calls and some serious head scratching on my part, but I finally managed to complete that portion of the process. I’d personally like to see this section already completed in the kit as I think it would help speed up the overall construction of the empennage; otherwise, I couldn’t be more pleased with the quality of the kit.

THE PAYOFF
The Personal Cruiser fits my current flying requirements because about 90 percent of the time I fly solo, so the thought of a single-place aircraft, which may meet the definition of a light-sport aircraft, seemed like a good fit. The ample room that the cockpit offers is a real plus. With a reasonable cost to build, ease of construction, and inexpensive operating costs, the plane makes even more sense for me. On the other hand, if I want to increase my airspeed and travel at a faster speed in an economical cross-country machine, I have that option, especially with the installation of a cruise prop.

Personal Cruiser Data

Type

Fixed-wing, single-place

Gross Weight

1,250 pounds

Empty Weight

750 pounds

Useful Load

500 pounds

Fuel Load

12-18 U.S. gallons

Fuselage

Length

17 feet, 4 inches

Cabin Width

29 inches (interior)

Landing Gear

Tri-gear castering nose wheel

Wing

Span

25.5 feet

MAC

36 inches

Area

76.5 square feet

Loading

16.33 pounds/square foot

Airfoil

Eppler

Aspect Ratio

8-to-1

Dihedral

6 degrees total

Empennage

Type

V-tail

Area

16 square feet

Span

6.125 feet

Propulsion

Horsepower

100

Propeller

66-inch ground-adjustable

Performance

VNE

212 mph

VA

147 mph at 4.8 gph

Rate of Climb

1,800 feet/minute

Stall

53 mph (as currently tested)

Load Factor

+4.5g/-3.0g at 1,250 pounds

Takeoff/Landing

400 feet/350 feet

Economy Cruise Power

30-35 hp, 3.0 gph, 110 mph

Top Speed

140 mph (as currently limited)

BUILDER ASSISTANCE
Some time back I produced a TV story on a couple of builders who were going through Lancair’s builder assistance program at the Lancair factory in Redmond, Oregon. I thought it was a great idea, but at a cost of $4,000 per week (at that time) it was way out of my budget. The builders I interviewed really liked their program and thought it was well worth the time and money. Having someone walk them through the building process certainly gave them a jump-start on completing their plane. I wondered how could I get assistance like that with my plane.

IT SEEMS TO MAKE SENSE
I wanted to build with someone who had already built a plane like the one I’m building, so I called Scott VanderVeen at Pro-Composites and asked if it had such a program. It does offer a builder assistance program where advisors come to your garage/hangar and assist with the construction of your Personal Cruiser or the Vision aircraft. The thought of having someone come to me never crossed my mind, and being a beta builder of the Personal Cruiser I jumped at the chance.

Arrangements were made, plans were discussed, materials were ordered and Morgan Hunter of Pro-Composites came out during the first week of October. He arrived on Monday around noon after a long flight from Florida to Portland, Oregon, and we didn’t waste any time getting to work. He looked over the plane closely to see how good my construction skills were, patted me on the back, and said I did excellent work, but he also pointed out some things that could be “a little more excellent.” And thus we began by making an attack plan for the coming week, including correcting a few minor mistakes that I had made. Morgan’s attention to small details helped make assembling other parts a lot easier.

THE WEEK BEGINS
Over the course of the week, we took my “tub” and turned it into a “tub with wings” or something that really resembled an airplane. We aligned spars, drilled holes, poured liquid foam, mixed epoxy, laid a lot of fiberglass, microed wing cores in place to make those spars look like wings, and mixed a lot more epoxy. I also got to experience what happens when you have micro that’s too thick and you get an exothermal reaction. You don’t want to do that with wing cores and then pour foam; it takes a lot of work and time to fix that little mess. Morgan did comment that construction goes a lot faster when you have someone mixing micro and cutting glass for you.

Morgan
Morgan turned out to be the resident photographer,
so the best photo available of him doing any work
is this one where he’s fitting a rib to the spar.
Larger view

I found out that what you think you should get done and what actually gets done are very different. I planned out all the things that we were going to accomplish during Morgan’s visit, yet we completed only about half of them. During the course of construction little things would pop up that needed to be fixed, purchased, or moved that I hadn’t anticipated. One of those things was moving the fuselage from side to side to accommodate putting each spar on so the wing foam cores could be attached. I could have opened the garage door and had both wings on at the same time, but that makes heating the space a little difficult in the Northwest. Another was driving two hours to purchase pour-foam. Here’s a tip: Measure out exactly how much glass you have on hand. Unroll the roll and measure it; it probably looks like you have more than you think (at least it did for me). I ran out of bidirectional glass two days before Morgan left, and no one had any locally. We still worked, just not on the tasks I would like to have accomplished during his stay.

Left wing
The condition of Bruce’s project after Morgan left.
More bidirectional glass was required to finish the wings.
The left wing was ready for sanding, and the right
needed the trailing edge put on. The gear legs are
shown under the table, ready to go. Larger view

Wing spar attachment
The wing spar attachment. Although the plans call
for 3/8-inch bolts, Bruce felt better with 9/16-inch bolts.
Larger view

SUMMING UP THE EXPERIENCE
Was I disappointed that we didn’t finish all the things I had planned? Yes, at first. However, looking back on what we accomplished and all the little things that I didn’t anticipate, I’m very pleased. You have to take into account that with two wings, a fuselage, and a 4-foot by 10-foot table in a two-car garage, you start to move a little slower, especially if you don’t want to break any fragile foam parts.

My experience with Scott and Morgan’s program was great. Did everything go according to Hoyle? No. But at the same time a lot of things were accomplished. We were busy from the time Morgan arrived to the time he left, and it takes time to do a job right. I learned where I was doing a really good job and where I could speed up in other areas, plus I felt a lot more confident about my abilities to finish the Cruiser in a reasonable amount of time. It was, to say the very least, an enjoyable experience to have Morgan there for the week. He’s a smart and enjoyable person to be around, even for 10-12 hours a day for six straight days. Not only did I learn a lot of other things about airplane construction, but also my little jewel is getting closer to becoming a plane. I still have a long way to go, but it doesn’t look as far away as it used to. I just wish I had started building at the young age he is and not put things off for one reason or the other. So for you guys who are thinking about building a plane, get started!

COSTS?
Morgan said he wouldn’t mind if I shared what the cost of this week was for me. Total including putting Morgan up in a hotel (not a classy one, but not a dump either) and meals was right at $1,500 and worth every penny to me. Plus I got a little break being a beta builder of the Personal Cruiser. I could have saved the hotel bill by having him stay at my house, but I thought after working 10-12 hour days together I’d need some time with the family and Morgan needed his personal time, too.

THE WORK CONTINUES
I thought that by now I would be a lot further along, but it seems like I haven’t gotten into a consistent rhythm for working on my plane since Morgan left. Having to hold up my end of the trade for having Morgan out for a builders assist week (my wife June got a new kitchen), took a little longer than we thought. The wife really likes her kitchen; and I have to admit it does look a lot better than the old one.

Fuse with canopy
Canopy not cut in this shot. Bruce cut and tucked it
away in the same box it was shipped in, for its protection,
until he’s ready to permanently attach it. Larger view

The turtledeck, forward deck, and canopy are all cut to size even though I don’t have a picture with the canopy cut. It’s tucked away in a box for safekeeping. Since I won’t need it for a while, I’ll include details about its installation in a future update. I haven’t permanently attached the turtledeck or forward deck yet. I’m still working on the flight controls and the interior parts, and obviously it’s much easier to do that with them off. I have to admit; it’s very nice to have some moving surfaces that are attached to metal.

Gear leg
Clamps and straight edges to make sure it’s attached
properly. The blue sand bags are to help hold the gear up
while the flox sets. Larger view

Bruce on table
Bruce’s unorthodox method of standing on his worktable
microing the aileron section of foam in place
Photo by Victoria Sturgill

Fuselage
Turtle deck, forward deck, and cut for the canopy.
Larger view

I have the gear legs out from under the table and put on. The wings are covered; however, I need to cut out the ailerons and create my wingtips. I found that I was able to get a better fit of the trailing edge sections of foam by setting the leading edge of the wing in a cradle and working on a flat surface, thus the reason for me standing on my worktable. Using this method I was able to get a much smoother fit between the other sections of foam, making for less sanding time.

Wing glassing
Looking at the bottom of the wing covered in peel ply,
with a strip of carbon fiber on the section for the aileron.
Straight edge to keep things straight, of course. Larger view

The glassing of the wings is a time-consuming job and was made a little more challenging by not having a helper to hold the other end of the glass or mix epoxy. If I were to do it over, I’d purchase an epoxy pump instead of using a scale to get the correct ratios. The pump would make the process of the larger lay-ups go much quicker and smoother, though some builders are fine with using the scale method. I would agree that for the smaller parts the scale method is just fine; however, I think I have more waste with the scale method.

I would also enlist the aid of a helper; that was a lot of glass. I tried to take stills and video of the process, but it didn’t work out. I had my hands full just getting the large sections of fiberglass on straight and with the right amount of epoxy. I did spend a lot of time prepping the foam, making sure it was nice and smooth. It doesn’t look like I’ll need a lot of fill, especially with peel plying the surfaces. Glassing both wings was a big milestone that I was glad to have finished. Now that my work “busy” season is over, I hope to spend more time in the garage working on the plane.

View Bruce's video of the initial stages of his project.

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