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Bolts and Safety

Tedd McHenry, Webmaster

I was moved to write this by a recent fatal crash involving a strut-braced, ultralight aircraft in the U.S.  The crash was caused by the failure of the strut-to-fuselage attach bolt, which was in turn caused by improper installation of the bolt.  Granted, RVs don’t have struts, but they do have lots of bolts, most of which are critical to flight safety.

In this case, a rudimentary understanding of the proper use of bolts would have prevented the owner from installing the strut bolt improperly.  This information is readily available, and not at all difficult to understand.  The bolt bible, so far as I’m concerned, is

“Nuts, Bolts, Fasteners and Plumbing Handbook”
by Carroll Smith
ISBN 0-87938-406-9
Motorbooks International
PO Box 2, 729 Prospect Avenue
Osceola, WI 54020
This is not an aviation book, it’s a car racing book.  But it covers the use of aviation fasteners and plumbing better than any aviation book I’ve seen.  It is available from (, or directly from Motorbooks International.  Buy it, read it.  I don’t want to loose another homebuilder only because he didn’t read this book.

Another excellent book is John Schwaner’s “Sky Ranch Engineering Manual.”  This book is primarily about Lycoming and Continental engines, but it has an excellent section on fatigue, which covers bolt fatigue.  It is well worth reading.

If you want to learn more about fatigue than most practicing mechanical engineers know (trust me, I are one), you should read Carroll Smith’s “Engineer to Win.”  This is another car racing book, also available from Motorbooks International and  Okay, it’s not an aviation book, but take a look at some of these chapters and tell me if you think knowing this stuff might help you build your RV.

Smith can be a bit bombastic at times ("The single-shear mount is a crime against nature and a perversion of the bad engineer.”)   But he explains materials science more clearly than anyone else, in terms easily understood by the layman, yet without glossing over details.

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Van's Air Force Western Canada Wing is not affiliated in any way with Van's Aircraft Incorporated. Western Canada RVator is not a publication of Van's Aircraft or any other corporation. All products reviewed or mentioned are not necessarily recommended for use by RV builders, but are described for information only. All builder's tips are presented only as a source of information and a forum for exchange and the sharing of ideas and construction methods. No responsibility is assumed, expressed, or implied as to the suitability, accuracy, safety, or approval thereof. Any party using the suggestions, ideas, or examples does so at his or her own risk and discretion and without recourse against anyone. The members of Van's Air Force Western Canada Wing, the editor of the Western Canada RVator, and all authors and contributors are not responsible for any product or builder's tips misuse, incorrect construction, or design failure, nor any other peril.

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