Van's Air Force - Western Canada Wing
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Western Canada Wing
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Jim Oke's RV-6A Project

Jim's project is complete! See the finished product here.


I chose to do my main gear alignment using the wing spars only, before installing the ribs, etc. This made doing the set-up a lot easier although Van's instructions do imply that you have the skins in place for measuring. I used some clamped on wood blocks to work around this.
While the fuselage was upside down with the wing spars and spar splice plates installed, it seemed like a good time to locate and drill the fuel selector mounting holes. One does have to remember that this is all upside down though.
A few sequence shots to show the installation and riveting of the forward bottom fuselage skin beginning with the basic internal structure and ending with two finished views.
... step 2... Everything clecoed in place. Sharp eyed readers will see that a mix of 3/32" and 1/8" clecoes are being used. I went to larger rivets in a few areas to avoid the "smoking" rivet problem others have reported in the cockpit floor.
...step 3... The longitudinal stiffeners have been riveted.
...step 4... The firewall and spar bulkhead lap joint have been riveted.
The job is finished.
The view from the rear.
Builder Jim Oke (on left) and fellow riveter and RV-6 builder/flyer John Peck celebrating after finishing up the forward bottom skin riveting job.
Months later. Yes, I do have an engine! Its an O-320 from Aerosport power. Planning the Sensenich metal propeller.
I am setting up my cockpit for right seat solo. No, I'm not a helicopter pilot wannabe, I just instructed lots in the right seat of a Musketeer for the Air Force and like a left hand throttle and didn't want to have a complicated dual throttle linkage. Thus the primary flight instruments are on the right side of the panel and radios, etc. on the left side. The large square instrument is a Lowrance GPS intended for boat use but which has a nice CDI-like rotating compass card style display. Lots of capability for my use without the expense and bother of the specialized aviation units - much more cost effective (meaning cheaper !) too.
The panel a bit farther along. I decided against the centre post mounted engine controls and so the throttle, mixture and carb heat controls will mount in the semi-rectangular plate at the bottom centre of the panel. This just bolts on to the underside flange of the panel with a couple of AN3s. The idea is that the engine controls can be detached and the instrument panel removed without disturbing the engine control hookups.
The engine baffles done from a Van's baffle kit. This looks like a real jigsaw puzzle when you first open the box but I found the instructions quite good and everything went together rather easily. The thought of making the baffle system beginning from raw material is a bit daunting. These baffles seem much more solid than the set I put on my RV-3 about 12 years ago.
I am using a Positech oil cooler purchased form Van's. The usual RV problem is to find a place to mount the oil cooler, the situation being there isn't much space under the cowl! I finally went with the traditional mounting on the baffle behind the #4 cylinder but to move the oil cooler inwards enough to get decent airflow, I had to trim a half circle from one of the mounting flanges to clear one of the engine mount tubes. I will have five long mounting bolts and one short one. The unit looks rugged enough to withstand this rather unconventional modification.
More of the oil cooler installation.
Still more of the oil cooler installation.
Panel final preparations with the avionics sleeves ready to go in. I will have a simple VHF comm and a mode C transponder to deal with the CYWG airspace situation. Both are used King units.
Panel final configuration, ready to paint, wire, and install!
The rudder pedal assembly ready for final installation. Lots of fiddly little split pins needed here, better to get them done on the bench instead of lying on the cockpit floor!
I am using an Odyssey PC680 battery. Here it is in place in the usual Vans battery box with the main contactor just above and a grounding buss on the back side of the fire wall. The silver stuff is foil backed house insulation that will go on back of the firewall in sections between the reinforcement angles.
And here we are with the instruments in place, "some" of the wiring done, and ready to install in the fuselage to see if it will work.
Where the panel fits in the airplane. Note I am using the popular auto fuse panels for my power distribution system.
The other part of closing up the forward fuselage is the firewall penetrations for fuel and oil pressure, etc. Here is a shot of my firewall ready for the engine to go back on.
The engine is back on, the firewall stuff is done, the wiring is done, the air vents are in place, the rudder pedals and cables are in place, the fuel and vent lines are in place. YES, it's time to rivet that last fuselage skin on!
A final panel shot before it came out again to finish up the forward fuselage and prepare for painting. It's a basic VFR setup with a VHF comm, intercom, ELT and transponder on the left side with the large GPS unit as the center of the flight group on the right hand side. There's a glove box sized for VNC's to the left side. The engine gauges are from Van's
I glued a few shaped bits of 1" foam board to the inside of the wingtip to try and avoid the "squashy" wing tip syndrome sometimes caused at fly-ins by curious spectators.
Here are the wings ready to paint with the fuel tanks and wing tips on. That's about a year's worth of dust on the top of the wing which accumulated while working on the fuselage details.
A nerve racking part of the project - drilling holes in a $2000 CDN piece of plastic! I used a new #40 drill to do the initial holes and then a Uni-bit in a battery handheld drill to open them up to final size. The Uni-bit worked like a charm on the plastic and provides a nice chamfer to finish up. The canopy edges were sanded with 400 wet/dry paper to smooth them out to reduce stress points.
The canopy frame painted just before assembly. Canadian Tire body filler was used to form a flat surface on the forward bow for the plastic to rest on. Likewise the curved aft tubes.
The various sheet metal parts of the canopy painted just before assembly.
With the forward skin on, time to see if the canopy and windscreen still fit.
One of the messier jobs is doing the fiberglass lay-up to complete the windscreen - fuselage join and carry it around the canopy bow to overlap the canopy. No secrets here, just rough up the surfaces and lay on the fiberglass and epoxy .... followed by much filling and sanding.
There are a few light metal clips holding the forward edge of the windscreen in place underneath the fibreglass.
Yes, being able to get the canopy open again was a relief! (The pink "string" hanging down is actually a strip of plasticine used to fill the 1/8" or so gap between the canopy and windscreen bow while the epoxy was setting up).
Lots of little details to finish up such as the rudder stops to get ready for painting. I added a little sheet metal fairing in front of the tie-down eyebolt to fair things in a bit and perhaps avoid digging the tiedown into the grass some day. It's just a piece of .025 aluminum folded around a triangle of 1/4" plywood. (So this is one RV-6A that will have a bit of wood in it.)
Setting up the spinner to drill the mounting holes. The scriber was adjusted to just touch the point of the spinner and the propeller rotated to make sure the spinner wasn't wobbling.
The fiberglass work seems endless. The lower corners of the cowling didn't quite match the lower corners of the firewall and bottom cockpit skin so I added a few layers of cloth and epoxy to build up the cowling. (Needless to say, lots of filling and sanding was needed here too.)
The day finally comes to clear out the shop and set up a paint booth. I used a light framework of 1x2 wood strips and a roll of poly. Note the exhaust fan in the far wall and the furnace filters in the top of the "door" to filter the air. The door just gets pulled into place when the fan is running. A good seal at both floor and ceiling is needed to keep the overspray inside the booth and out of the rest of the shop.
A real problem is how to hold the various parts when you paint them. The elevators were tricky due to the heavy counterweights in the tips. I used 5/16" dowels stuck in a horizontal 1x6 (a recycled part of the wing spar box, btw) spaced to fit into the holes where the hinge rod end bearings normally thread into the spar. A bit wobbly but "hands free". Now to get on with some painting!
First step is a through cleaning with a detergent (I used TSP) followed by a rinse followed by scuffing with a scotchbrite pad and an alodine solution.
I am using the PPG Omni automotive paint system. There is a light coat of etching primer underneath the grey epoxy primer seen here. I am using a mid-range ($$ costwise) HVLP gravity fed spray gun and a small "touch-up" gun for some jobs.
There are quite a few fiberglass parts in an RV-6 when you add them all up. This was the first coat of plain epoxy primer which showed up a couple of thousand or so (it seemed !) pin-holes to deal with.
The stabilizer. Don't worry, this was just the initial "tack coat" of paint put on quite thinly to "set" for ten minutes and was soon followed by a second (and third in some places) final coat.
The primer also shows up all the lumps, gaps, nick, dents, etc. that you missed the first time around. The white spots are a few dabs of filler added and wet-sanded in that never-ending search for perfection (well, maybe next time).
Taa daa! Finally, a nice glossy painted elevator. (Not visible are a few minor paint runs to deal with - there is a learning curve to climb when spraying paint.)
On it goes. Here is the fin spray setup I used. Just a couple of angle brackets to pick up the hinge points and a brace to hold things vertical. I used the same method to support the rudder as the elevators.
The painted fin and rudder. It is possible to go from bare aluminum to final topcoat in one session for small components with the modern automotive paints which are designed for fast drying commercial production work.
The ailerons. Gee, could those be ordinary coat hangers hooked into the tooling holes in the end ribs to hold them up? Note the yellow tint to the floor which indicates the amount of overspray which is inherent in this painting method. That's why the pros use a fancy downdraft booth.
Remember those fiberglass pinholes? I sprayed a polyurethane "surfacer" on the fiberglass components which left sort of a light power on top of a hard underlayer. The outer layer sanded off quite easily and, as if by magic, the majority of the pinholes were gone and a nice smooth surface was left. The gear fairings were ready at this point. My later "type S" cowlings were a lot more work due to the amount of weave that showed through the surface (no gel-coat). Here they are with the lighter coloured surfacer partly sanded off to show the grey epoxy primer underneath. They later got another coat of epoxy primer followed by spot filling and more hand sanding.
This shows the result of almost three weeks of pretty intensive work. Lots of small parts all needing their fair share of attention to prep, prime, fill, prime again sometimes, paint, sand out the runs and "oh ohs" and repaint.
Next up, the wings and fuselage. They are simpler shapes to paint but bigger and harder to handle so will have to see how they go.
"Prep and prime" takes on a new meaning with the wings due to the surface area involved and the weight of the components.
Again, first a through cleaning with TSP and scrub with scothbrite to break the shine.
Then apply the alodine solution and hose off.
An evening picture after the primer coat. I used a variation on the usual Van's wing jig and supported the wingtip end with a piece of pipe inserted in the wingtip light access hole. This allowed the wing to rotate for access to the flap support structure and the aileron gap to get enough paint in there without lying on the floor. The spar root was clamped to hold the wing either vertically or horizontally with a piece of wood and screws.
And the wings are done! I choose to paint the wings in a vertical position to get the best access for applying an even coat of paint although it increases the chance of the "runs". A horizontal surface is a bit more resistant to runs but harder to reach across to get a uniform layer of paint. Life is full of compromises.....
Around this time I did the cowlings. I was pleased with the way the top cowl turn out on the first try.
The lower cowl had some runs plus I missed some of the cloth weave and pin holes during the filling process so it was back to the wet and dry sandpaper and some more filler, etc. Sigh.
On to the fuselage at last. First step is to remove about an acre of plastic protective sheet that has been there for the last few years. It looks nice and shiny but I shudder at the amount of care and detail work needed to make a natural aluminum finish look and stay nice.
The fuselage in place in the paint booth, not a lot of extra room for my "assistant".
The fuselage about ready to prime. Note that a good deal of masking and sealing is required to protect the interior, windscreen and the engine. Lots of paper (saved from the kit packing, no less) and a couple of rolls of masking tape were used. Sorry, no pictures are available for the scrubdown and alodine of the fuselage - try and imagine lying on your back underneath the fuselage with all sorts of nasty fluids running down your arm and dripping in your face - probably one of the least pleasant jobs in RV building. That's why no pictures!
The canopy took a fair amount of preparation due to all those pop rivets that show on the surface. I tapped all the puller shanks back in, applied a dab of filler to fill the hole, sanded and then applied more filler to smooth the area. I didn't count 'em but it sure seemed like a hundred or so. Lots of masking tape and paper to protect the plastic as well. I used some better quality tape up against the painted edges and taped away afterwards with some cheap stuff.
The fuselage in primer (with a few last minute filler touch-ups in progress).
The canopy took a lot of preparation for not very much paint. Not a good technique to be painting multiple components in a small space due to overspray problems but this was a light touch-up coat and both canopy and fuselage came out alright. There is no substitute for space when painting except more space means a bigger spray booth, more dust problems, bigger exhaust fan, etc. More compromises...
The fuselage after the final colour coat. Next step will be to strip the masking tape and paper off and wheel it out to see what it looks like!
The fuselage rolls out at long last. Note the trees in the background and the leaves on the ground. The first primer was applied on 5 Sept and this photo was taken 20 Oct - about 7 weeks of fairly intensive work. Painting is a bigger job than meets the eye.
Not done quite yet. The lower cowl needed several tries to get the right coverage and gloss and I eventually repainted the flaps and ailerons to get a better colour match with the wings.
Unmasking takes time too. Getting the tape to peel back at the windscreen line took careful work with an Exacto knife and even the occasional touch with a Dremel to get through the fibreglass and filler.
Likewise on the canopy.
With the painting done, time to begin final assembly. Here the vertical and horizontal tail surfaces are on and the elevator movements are being checked. For info, an RV-6 tail will just fit out through a 9 ft. single garage door. (Mine did anyway !)
I eventually chose to relocate the GPS antenna to the aft fuselage to reduce clutter in the cockpit. The ELT antenna is aft of it. I considered using the "under the tail fairing" location but decided to go with the conventional ELT installation in the end.
Time also to finish up the engine baffles including fitting the sealing strips.
A lot of detail work is involved in finishing up the baffles. Here is the left aft section with the oil cooler cutout.
The full set of baffles - aft set at bottom.
I decided to use vinyl sheet letters and pinstriping. Surprisingly, the price from a local car pinstripe shop included installation!
Moving day at last! With the fuselage and tail group assembled it was time to head to the airport. No pictures but a tilt bed tow truck did the job quickly, safely, and easily.
In the RAAC Winnipeg Chapter hangar at Lyncest. That's Curt Reimer's RV-6 in the foreground also about ready to grow some wings.
One last detail before the wings go on are these fabric cones used to seal the aileron pushrods and keep drafts out of the cockpit.
Here's one in place with a bit of aviation grade bathtub sealant completing the seal to the fuselage side.
Assembling a -6A means supporting the fuselage somehow while the temporary spar which the main gear mounts attach to is removed. I used a couple of 2 x 6s cut to fit the bottom of the fuselage with a 6 in wide strip of 1/4" ply screwed to the top finished up with some carpet padding. The two bottle jacks lifted the fuselage until the main wheels were clear of the floor and extra blocking was inserted in case the jacks slipped.
Time for wing 02. Lots of preparation in pre-greasing the bolt holes and ensuring a smooth fit of the bolts in the wings spar prior to moving to the fuselage will help a lot when mounting the wings.
And the wing is on the move.
Curt applies some muscle to the wing tip. Well, not that much although the saw horse was there to help if necessary.
A look at about half of the 76 bolts in an RV-6A wing centre section. Quite a variety of sizes, lengths, and orientations so again lots of preparation in having the bolts organized as to location, pre-greased, washers in place, etc. will help the job go a bit easier. Reaching blind under the main gear mount fittings to get some of the nuts started is a challenge that mere -6 builders will miss.
The wings are on at last. Looks like the home stretch but lots still to do !
More to do in the centre-section - that's the aileron trim lever that fits between the seat ribs just aft of the fuel selector. Also visible is the wiring under the seat for the wing position lights and landing light.
Time also to check the control rigging and confirm the angular movement of the ailerons.
Back in the cockpit, time to install the instrument panel and make the various wiring, antenna coax, and pitot-static connnections. (The panel was left out to improve access to the centre section bolts when putting the wings on.) The cockpit floor ended up as a sheet of 1/8" masonite with some indoor-outdoor carpeting glued on and velcroed in place part way up the cockpit sides. The seat cushion forms were purchased from the Orndorffs in Texas - a local auto upholstery shop did the covers (and insisted on using proper aircraft flame retardant cloth too).
Back outside to hook up the fuel and vent lines, connect the fuel quantity senders, and add the forward tank support bolts. An assistant with very long, skinny fingers would be a help here!
The wing fairing strip needed a cutout to clear the brake lines (see below).
But this gets covered up by the upper gear leg fair covers. This bit is not covered in the plans but I used a number of riv-nuts into the bottom of the fuselage to hold these in place.
The upper side of the fairing strip. The black rubber strip makes a nice smooth fillet between the wing and fuselage. The flap fits nicely at the fuselage side - I didn't bother trying to improve this with a fairing strip, etc.
Another milestone is weighing the completed aircraft. Curt rented a set of electronic scales from a local car racing organization. Jacking and levelling the airplane took about half an hour, the actual readings took 30 secs or so. (Don't worry, the various wheel fairings were put in place temporarily to get an accurate weight and then removed again to get teh aircraft off the scales).
Another minor but neccessary item are the stick boots to keep pens and such out from under the seats. These were made out of surplus seat cover material and glued to an aluminum base ring to hold them in place.
Just when I thought three years of riveting was all done, it was time to get the squeezer out yet again to install some blind nuts in the seat pans.
Then when you have everything finished and looking just right, you get to take it all apart again for your friendly MD-RA inspector to come by for a critical look.
Then after a few weeks wait for the inevitable paperwork, the day comes to open the hangar door and move outside to go flying.
Starting up ....
Taking off ... it actually flies!
Post flight ... the famous RV-Grin!
Posing with the product of ones labours.

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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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Revised:  13 August 2003