Our two weeks in Arlington building a Sportsman & having fun.

Here is a record of our Sportsman 2+2 TWTT build experience, a ‘documentary’ video on youtube

Glasair assigned two main A&Ps, Ben Rauk and Ian Hawk, to work with us. We met Ben at Oshkosh. Rick was very doubtful on whether we could tackle the build (because of his bad ankle which prevented him from being on his feet more than few hours a day) until after talking to Ben. His enthusiasm and assurance that GA would find ways to accommodate Rick’s physical limitation was one of key deciding factors for our purchase. The other was the ‘mistake’ which I made holding the plane order sheet while watching the air show and had not flown for a while. It was like going grocery shopping when you were very hungry ;-). Scott Taylor, GA operation manager sealed the deal by agreeing to give us a small additional discount providing that we took the next production slot on September 20, 2010. He also guaranteed to give us a full refund after a test flight. Two weeks later, Helen, GA CFI flew their yellow Sportsman from Oshkosh to New York for our test flights. Scott was correct in stating that nobody backed out of the deal after flying the Sportsman.

It took us 11 working days to build the Sportsman. We worked 10 hours a day from 7 is to 5:30 pm with two 15 minutes break and half an hour lunch. The working hours were spelled out in the ‘welcome’ package sent ahead few weeks before the build but I was too busy with the avionic panel design, trip planning and financial arrangements to notice. We did have some ideas about the tasks by reading Dave and Ed’s Sportsman 2+2 Project blogs:


GA also sent us the build manual CD but I gave up after reading the first few pages. It was difficult trying to visualize all the steps. We figure that we would just learn on the spot.

There were 6500 tasks laid-out steps by steps in booklets. All the jigs were setup, and tools were laid out on table for each task. Ian and Ben would give us a demo then watched us do the first part and came back to inspect the final work. They also gave us lessons on how things work. At the end of the day, we would check & sign off all completed tasks, safety and instructional items on the board. It is clear that excellent procedures and good instructions are keys to make it possible for novices like us to
assemble an aircraft in two weeks. We were greatly impressed by Ben and
Ian’s attention to details, skills, pride in their work, and their patience in teaching and explaining things to us. We had a good laughs every so often. One was when Rick squeezed out half a tube of torque seal. Ben took a picture of big red globs all over several bolts but Rick edited it out of the video. The other was a picture I took of the alignment laser beam – it was in the video 😉

During the build, I did manage to have three flying breaks with Helen in Glasair’s new red turbo-charged Sportsman. One was a more than two hours of mountain flying over majestic Cascade mountain range (unfortunately I did not bring a camera to record the views). Rick also had a break flying 2 hours with Helen over the Puget Sound and Cascade mountain range (the video had some of his aerial shots).

We also enjoyed the visit by Mort and Alma Joslin, parents of a rowing friend, who lived in Seattle area. Mort was a WWII pilot who flew missions in the Pacific. It just happened that one of the A&P, Ian, was doing missionary mechanic work in Papa New Guinea and told Mort that many relics of the war, drop tanks, bomb fragments etc. were still there. Helen, our instructor, also had a nice chat with Mort and told him about an airport restaurant in California making furniture out of WWII parts (drop tanks, aircraft components etc.). Mort helped with the construction of our plane by putting in a pop rivet in the wingtip fixture 😉

We got a chance to meet probably the entire Glasair staff during a celebration of Jeff Lavelle’s Glasair speed record of 362.481mph at Reno Air Race. Bad weather prevented Jeff from doing a flyby so he arrived a bit late by car. I had fun listening to Mikael Via’s story of the arrogant rival Lancair pilot who got beaten by Jeff. We also enjoyed meeting John’s fiancée, Misty. They just got engaged the day before and John was thinking of having the wedding at Glasair’s hangar.

The build was hard work but we had lots of fun. Rick had been doing owner-assisted annuals on our old plane, the C177 Cardinal, for 7 years so he was more familiar with the plane innards and the tools. It was an A&P (airframe & power plant) crash course for me. The hardest task was riveting the wings. I had never seen a rivet gun before let alone operating one. I practiced riveting like 3 large flat-head and 3 small round-head rivets against a piece of wood before actually doing it the wing. I had to hold the rivet gun steady, straight on the head, and to synchronize the pressure with John (another A&P) holding the bucking bar behind each rivet. I got better by the end of the second day (near the end of the task!).  John and Ben had to drill out 10 or so smileys (rivets with deformed head due to off-center pressure). My defect rate was less than 0.5%. I guess that Rosie, the riveter, would not have minded me joining her in the assembly line ;-). I was told later on that one of the builders suffered a heart attack while riveting and had to be taken to emergency room. I only crashed to bed early on one day (on the second day of riveting) and not on the hangar floor. I put in 2 to 3 hours of my company’s work after the 10 hours build each day, and was surprised that we got up bright eyes and bushy tails eager for the new tasks everyday. It showed that fatigue was all in the mind 😉

Our build was not entirely free of mishaps. Rick fell off a chair while racing from one work table to another (he had a bad fused ankle and was assigned to most of the sitting down jobs). Few days later, he aggravated the strained back muscle while bending down to look at the underside of the engine. He had to take some exercise breaks during the build – it was documented in the video ;-), and could only worked half a day in the last two days. Luckily, we were ahead of schedule at that point and did not need his full participation.

I now feel like knowing everything about a plane and would not hesitate to tackle some minor repairs or modification work in the future (with the right tooling, materials and to be inspected by a real A&P).

We completed the build to taxiing state on Friday 10/1. I came back to NY on Sunday and Rick stayed until Tuesday for the FAA inspection. Our plane passed the inspection with flying color. The inspector only found one non-critical stabilator bolt which was not tight enough to his standard (for the record, I did not work on the tail section ;-)). He gave the plane its ‘birth certificate’ on 10/5 which happened to be Amy, our daughter’s birthday. In a way, this plane is very much like a second ‘birth’ child for us.

Since our avionic panel is a custom design with many new-to-market avionics, it took Glasair factory few days to work out the wiring bugs and did the instrument calibrations. We were told that the 1st flight was supposedly to take place last Tuesday. After around 12 hours of test flights, the plane will be painted (see our paint scheme design at the end of the video) then flown for another 13 hours to meet the FAA 100nm flying restriction hours before Rick can fly it back to NY. We hope to get it back it before the start of winter weather.

Hai Longworth