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The Decision to Build the Thatcher

By Ashlynd Leighton, ashlyndl@gmail.com

Ashlynd with David Thatcher
Ashlynd with David Thatcher standing in front of the prototype CX4 at the 2010 Sun ’n Fun Fly-In at Lakeland, Florida, moments after Ashlynd purchased plans number 420

The decision to build the Thatcher CX4 – to my surprise – was a simple one. I’d been researching all sorts of airplanes to build, and with each EAA AirVenture Oshkoshand Sun ’n Fun visit during the past two years, I thought I had selected “the one.” But quite predictably, each time I thought through the pros and cons for the ones I liked, I realized they were all just pipe dreams, with cost being the most prominent of cons for each aircraft.

The Thatcher CX4 attracted me most because of its sheer beauty, but second to its beauty, it seemed to be both practical and possible for even me to build: practical because I believe I can do it – I’m ambitious enough, have some exposure to aircraft manufacturing, and I’ve enlisted my very talented aircraft-builder fiancé for guidance; possible in that I’m still fresh out of college and successfully managing student loan debt, among living costs. The Thatcher, therefore, deemed to be not only the most suitable starting point in my homebuilt calling, but an achievable dream as I’ve longed to be a part of the camaraderie and passion of homebuilders. Plus, I can build my Thatcher CX4 to meet the light-sport aircraft standards, so I can take advantage of the lower cost of obtaining a sport pilot certificate and still fly my plane.

Ashlynd
Ashlynd is an effective and competent salesperson. Here she is working with a potential customer as he tries on the MSONE cockpit mock-up at the MySky booth at Sun ’n Fun 2010.

I discovered the CX4 during the summer of 2008. I’d been working with MySky Aircraft (a special light-sport aircraft manufacturer) for several months but still fantasized about being a pilot and building my own little airplane. While taking a break from the exhibitor booth with aforementioned fiancé Morgan Hunter to check out the homebuilts at the flight line, I distinctively remembered discovering the airplane quite clearly; I was glad to have escaped the monotony of running an exhibitor booth, enjoying an ice cream cone and excited to see the trophy airplanes at the flight line. I visualized the sweat, blood, and tears which had poured into those gorgeous machines that stood so proud.

Then I saw them – I moseyed to a stop at the sight of the two Thatchers side-by-side, breathless, with ice cream melting down my cone. They were simply stunning! And nothing appeals to me more than small, sporty-looking, bubble canopy style, low-wing tail-draggers. It was truly love at first sight! Furthermore, this may have been the first time I was genuinely excited about an airplane other than the two Morgan had built. I inspected the airplanes thoroughly and excitedly talked to him about how neat it would be to have two of these of our own and fly formation together. Ever the craftsman, Morganstudied every square inch of the planes carefully, more quiet than I but reassured of their superior beauty nonetheless. It was clear from his demeanor and quiet response that these indeed were remarkable aircraft, and every so often in the year-and-a-half to follow (until the moment I bought the plans), he would remind me of the aesthetic beauty and craftsmanship the airplanes possessed. Although the photo didn’t turn out quite how I would have liked, you can see the excited expression on my face in this picture Morgan took at AirVenture 2008, ice cream and all – just like a kid.

Ashlynd in front of Bill Stinson’s CX4.
Ashlynd in front of Bill Stinson’s CX4. Bill’s paint job is nearly identical to the prototype except his striping is a very dark blue whereas Dave’s is black.

So it was during my lunch breaks at Sun ’n Fun this year that I found myself repeatedly straying toward the flight line to stand beside the CX4; talk with the designer, Dave Thatcher; sit in the aircraft (several times); and simply fantasize about how incredible it would be to have one of my own. Then it dawned on me that I could – through devoted time and hard work, of course. I walked away with at least three spec sheets that week, and near the end of the show (and with Pat’s guidance and support!) I found myself holding plans, serial number 420! Dave threw a CX4 hat on my head and insisted I simply come by later with the cash for the plans, but as excited as I was I couldn’t help visualizing the typical scenario where the homebuilder enthusiast walks up to the spouse, having spent too much money and enlisting in another pricey, time-consuming project. So I immediately ran (yes, ran) to Morgan and told him quickly, “I am buying the plans. Is it okay? Can you help me?” He was elated.

The following day, I took Pat’s advice and checked out the workshops at Sun ’n Fun. This way, I could at least walk away with some new knowledge to apply toward my project. Unfortunately, I was disappointed to see that between the poor weather and my timing (last day of the show), the workshops had mostly wound down already. I did find the opportunity to attend a TIG (tungsten inert gas) and MIG (metal inert gas) welding workshop and talk with one of the sheet-metal hosts.

Welding class

The welding host passed out PowerPoint notes and basically covered a 30-hour welding class in the course of three hours! I learned a great deal about general techniques, the anatomy of the machines/torches, terminology, metals and filler metals used, and general safety precautions. Then I observed a demonstration on scrap pieces, but I was really looking forward to fusing together some metal on my own.

Afterward, I picked the brain of sheet-metal host Jim Ash, who shared great resources and ideas to get my feet wet with sheet-metal terminology, techniques, and tools. Jim also recommended I read the Aircraft Sheet Metal book by Nick Bonacci which just arrived in the mail about a week ago. So while I didn’t walk away with a ton of knowledge or experience to apply to my project, I did depart Sun ’n Fun very enthusiastic and with a motivated partner, as well.

The following week, Morgan and I reviewed the plans, manual, and parts/materials lists, and began budgeting, preparing a rough timeline, and creating our own bill of materials list. (We’re not going off the suggested list entirely in the search for other sources to save a few bucks.) Also, Morgan and I needed to be creative about space since we live in a tiny house with only a one-car garage. We modified the table to be two smaller tables which may be disassembled when needed but rigged together for construction. Influenced by the designs of the EAA Chapter 1000 standard work tables, we also shortened the height of the tables to 34-½ inches.

Notebook

Shortly after building the tables, I ordered most of the required sheet-metal tooling from Aircraft Tool Supply Company and stopped by our local, Harbor Freight after work one night to purchase much of the remainder of the tooling. Morgan not only drooled over the idea of me wanting to buy tools and dragging him up to Daytona, but appeared to be the happiest man alive as we walked into the store, hand in hand, both excited to be buying tools!

Table

Table

With about $900 spent between the tables and the tools, we found some friends to loan us a couple items for long term (or until we’re able to buy our own), such as an air compressor, band saw, and rivet gun. Of course, purchasing tools and building the tables weren’t the only first steps.

Guest room

We have also torn apart and reorganized our guest bedroom for displaying the plans and completing the paperwork end of building the CX4. (Poor guests. Our spare bedroom hardly accommodates them these days!) Additionally, we have cleaned out our garage, pulled out and inventoried all of our older tools, and reorganized everything, including our clutter, to fit nicely. Hard work, I tell you! 

Meanwhile, I’m patiently waiting for my next payday to roll around so I may purchase the materials for the center section and spar. I’ve been shopping around to get the best deals and picking the brains of many experienced, knowledgeable folks at the Spruce Creek Fly-In community where I work. Upon their recommendation, I’ll be ordering much of the aluminum and steel from Alro rather than Aircraft Spruce or Wicks, which will be saving me at least $100. I’ve created a Facebook page to track my progress and photos, and more importantly, I’ve been logging into the friendly CX4 Yahoo group quite often to review photos, posts, and most importantly, to learn. As of this writing, exactly 4 days, 13 hours, and 15 minutes remain until I make my purchase for the materials – I’m simply ecstatic to start this homebuilding adventure!

How’s your project coming along? We’d like to see it; we need your contribution. The success of this monthly feature is dependent upon contributions from our readers, EAA members or not. Don’t think you have the talent or skill to write the article? We can help. Just drop an e-mail to your editor, Pat Panzera, and he’ll help you make it happen. Is your “project” flying and maybe not suitable for this column? Then let’s feature it instead. Send Pat an e-mail and tell him about it.

 
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