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My Dragonfly

Pat Panzera's MK II-H

Patrick Panzera, EAA 555743
ppanzera@eaa.org

Dragonfly
Larger view

My MK II-H in its current state.

In the inaugural issue of Experimenter I introduced myself with a brief background story of the path I took to become this newsletter’s editor. In the article, I briefly touched on my Corvair-powered Dragonfly project. Since I’ve been asking you to submit your stories for us to publish, I figured it was only fitting for me to do likewise.

Just after placing my freshly minted airman certificate in my wallet, with 41 hours in my logbook, I surmised that the only way I could afford to meet the required minimums for an instrument rating and commercial and flight instructor certificates would be to get my own plane, so I started shopping. I quickly saw how expensive airplanes were, and I knew I possessed the skills to build a plane, so I started looking into experimentals.

I sat down and made a list. The two most important things to me were that I could build from plans and that the plane could use an automobile engine. Other items of importance were that the plane be made from wood or fiberglass (I had extensive experience with each), that it be a two-place (I’d like to bring my wife or kids), that the seating be side-by-side (for easier communication with my passenger), and that it go pretty darn fast (it had to be an efficient “tool”). The “coolness factor” was just a bonus. I started reading everything I could get my hands on. I was already a subscriber to KITPLANES, and I had noticed a small ad in the classifieds section with a tiny photo of a Dragonfly. I was hooked! I showed the photo to my wife and told her that this was the plane I was going to build. She just rolled her eyes.

I went to the local fixed base operator (FBO) and asked around if anyone knew where I might find a Dragonfly to look at. I was told there was a beautiful one in the nearby city of Visalia, so I headed to the Visalia FBO and asked around. There I was told that in addition to the one I was sent to look at, there was a Dragonfly project for sale by a local Visalia man who decided to not finish the plane after several close friends of his died in a plane crash. I made contact with this gentleman and made him an offer for the complete plane.

The gent I purchased the plane from had a background in woodworking similar to mine, had been in construction, and was currently a building inspector, which is what I was at the time. The craftsmanship shown in his work is impeccable. I could not have done any better myself.

I was (and still am) very pleased with the purchase. All the major lay-ups were completed, and the plane had been fully rigged, including all the controls. The only major item left was the landing gear. The plane was built as an MK I, with the wheels located out at the ends of the canard, but it didn’t have the wheelpants installed. The project came with a full set of MK II parts (the parts needed to install the main gear inboard), canopy, cowl, engine, instruments, electrical, paint, and upholstery. There was not a speck of filler anywhere (the weave was bare), so I had a bit of filling and sanding still to do. Some say that the plane at this stage is at 75 percent complete with 75 percent to go.

Right off the bat I set the plane up in my driveway and began to check the rigging. The plane was built in 1983-1984, back before digital levels were common. The plane still had all the Bondo blocks in place, so it was easy to check everything. Each measurement I took was dead on. The worst of it was that the sweep of the wing was off 3/16 inch. I can certainly live with that.

Dragonfly
Larger view

The plane before I started working on it.

With the plane rigged, I took a few photos and brought them with me to the 1997 Ottawa Field of Dreams annual Dragonfly and Quickie fly-in. I showed the photos around and asked everyone’s opinion. There, I was fortunate to get a ride in a Dragonfly. After that ride I knew I had made the right decision, and I knew that the design met my full expectations.

Dragonfly
Larger view

The cockpit of my plane as received from the original builder. This is one of the photos I took with me to the 1997 Ottawa Field of Dreams.

Once I got home from the fly-in, I was pumped! No sooner did I get home from the fly-in than I started working on the plane and made the canopy. I had seen enough at Ottawa that I knew I wanted it to hinge forward, so rather than use the already-built canopy bulkhead, I made my own hoop from 1/4-inch Baltic birch and fully encased it in glass. I also started filling the weave of the fuselage. On the Internet e-mail list I joined before my trip, someone mentioned the technique of using a notched trowel for applying micro. I had already tried some weave filling using the more traditional rubber squeegee technique and was not too thrilled with the results. But the notched trowel method made short work of the process.

Dragonfly
Larger view

One of the first things I worked on was the canopy and filling the weave of the starboard side of the fuselage. With very little space to work in my garage, only one side can be worked on at a time.

While at Ottawa, I had noticed that not many people had faired in their vertical stabilizers. I wanted to do something a little different on my Dragonfly, so once I completed the canopy and was bored with filling weave, I added a slight dorsal and faired everything in.

Dragonfly
Larger view

This not only shows the vertical stabilizer fairing, but also the notched trowel method of applying micro. The white spots are where the surface was low.

Another hot topic at the time was that of tail wheel springs and their propensity for failure. So, I added some unidirectional  carbon fiber cloth to the bottom of the stinger and carried it forward to the fuselage where I flared them out. Now the spring is quite stiff.

Tired of sanding, I decided to tackle hanging the engine. The plane came with a new 1835 HAPI VW conversion and the appropriate “old style” engine mount. I got out my plans and read the section on installing the mount to the airframe. Unfortunately, the engine mount didn’t even come close to fitting the little aluminum angles protruding from the firewall.

Dragonfly
Larger view

You can see that with the lower attach point properly aligned, the upper attach isn’t even close.

Based on all the other work on this plane, it was easy to tell where the mistake was made—the pre-manufactured mount. I figured that this would be a great time to switch to the “new style” mount and called the only vendor at the time, Great Plains Aircraft Supply. I was told in no uncertain terms that HAPI engine mounts were low on the priority list and that I’d have to wait until the company “got around to it.”

Frustrated with the answer I got, and with no experience whatsoever, I bought some tubing, cut up my HAPI mount, and jigged it back together as a new-style mount. I then took it over to a local welder, who proceeded to ruin all my work by gobbing up the perfectly crafted joints with molten metal and trying to hide his “workmanship” by grinding the welds. Even if the mount was structurally sound, it was just too ugly to go on my plane!

Dragonfly
Larger view

Here’s an example of one of the joints on my first attempt to make an engine mount, prior to the welder ruining it.

So, I bought more tubing, built a better fixture, and took the whole thing to a better welder, who TIG welded it up beautifully. I then hung my engine.

Dragonfly
Larger view

The firewall was modified for the “new style” mount, and the HAPI engine was hung when I decided to go with a Corvair engine.

Prior to the engine hanging I did some hangar flying; I leveled the plane in the cruise flight attitude, climbed in, held the side stick with my left hand, and sat there for an hour just to check the ergonomics. It didn’t take long to determine that the stick was too far aft for me. So, I measured 1.5 inches in front of the bearing block and 1.5 inches behind it, and cut out that section of the armrest. I then measured 2 inches in front of the forward cut and removed 2 inches from the arm rest. This allowed me to epoxy and glass the 3-inch section that I removed previously (which still held the bearing block) 2 inches ahead of where it once resided, and with the 2-inch piece I removed from in front of the stick, I was able to put it behind the stick, filling the void left by moving the stick forward. It was a very simple operation all in all. I did this to both of the dual side sticks, as I plan to fly from the right seat when I give rides or lessons (once I become a certificated flight instructor).

While hangar flying, I determined that the center spoke of the upper seat back bulkhead was right where I wanted a handhold for ingress and egress. So I cut out the spoke and reinforced (and widened) the area for a good grip. This has worked out to be a great modification.

About the only other modification I made to the airframe was to remove the small header tank, in order to install a new full span tank, to be made from foam and fiberglass as the original was made.

Dragonfly
Larger view

With the airplane on its side, you can see the remnants of the work done to move the side sticks forward. Notice, too, the stock header tank, which has been removed since this photo was shot. A full span header tank will be installed at a later date. Also seen in this shot is the reworking of the seat back bulkhead after removing the center spoke.

Dragonfly
Larger view

The more completed cockpit area; notice the position of the right side stick, the missing center spoke of the upper seat back bulkhead, and the complete lack of an instrument panel and header tank. I removed the instrument panel with its visual flight rules layout, so I could install a full instrument flight rules panel made from carbon fiber.

This is when I quit working on my plane. The short version of the story is that I got sidetracked with research and development on a Corvair engine for the Dragonfly. Oh, yeah, then there was the year or so that I didn’t work on either my plane or my engine, as I was kind enough (maybe stupid is a better word?) to offer to help another Dragonfly owner convert his MK I to an MK II for him, but I won’t bother you with the details of that. If you are interested enough, you can read all about it here: www.Angelfire.com/ca2/PanzeraFamily/YellowDragonfly.html.

Dragonfly
Larger view

My Dragonfly was pushed to the side when I was working on the Yellow Dragonfly.

While working on the engine for my plane, I came across a Quickie Q2, which was further along than my Dragonfly, and I found a partner for the Q2 who could help speed along the process. So, I quit working on engines and Dragonflys and started working on this Q2. Shortly thereafter, my partner bailed and moved away. I still wanted to complete the Q2 and fly it while finishing my Dragonfly, but another even better deal came along. I had the opportunity to buy a flying Dragonfly at a very attractive price. I thought I could buy this Dragonfly and fly it while I finished the Q2. Here’s the story on the Quickie project I dubbed Q-Vair: www.Angelfire.com/ca5/QVair/Page1.html.

So I picked up the new Dragonfly and brought it home. Although I swore to everyone that I would not do this, I decided to sell the Q and put its engine in the newly acquired Dragonfly, and fly it until I finished my original Dragonfly.

Dragonfly
Larger view

The new Dragonfly with the engine from the Q-Vair installed.

Now, bear in mind, my goal was not to become the repository of abandoned tandem wing projects, nor was it to become some sort of Corvair aficionado. My intention was to get to a point where I would be able to afford to build the time necessary to become a certificated flight instructor (CFI) and get that darn glider rating, so I could finish where I left off when I was 17. But that goal was set more than 600 logged hours ago.

Since setting that goal, I still managed to get my instrument rating. I’m currently a written exam and a checkride away from my commercial ticket, but I’m forgoing that in lieu of becoming a sport pilot CFI, where the commercial is not needed. I’ve logged hundreds of hours in high-performance and complex aircraft, and even have close to 50 hours in turbines. I received a high-altitude endorsement as well as a taildragger endorsement along the way. So now my original goal of building a cheap plane to log time in is almost pointless. But, have no fear, I still want my own plane, one in which I can give instruction, especially to those who are about to fly a tandem wing aircraft for the first time. And I still want to see the Corvair pull my original Dragonfly through the air.

Dragonfly
Larger view

This view allows you to see the quality of the glass work. Even the seam at the turtledeck is tight.

 
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