00 Building the shop (Part I)

This entry is part 16 of 28 in the series 00 - Prep/Logistics

I’m not Norm Abrams, but I do have a pretty good collection of tools. In Atlanta (where we lived before moving to northern Illinois) I had a 24×24 room adjacent to our 2-car garage. This became my shop. Back when I was going to build an airplane then, I was going to take down the wall between the shop and garage and use that space for the build. Having cars in a garage in Georgia is a convenience and not a necessity.

When we made the move to our current location, we looked, but we couldn’t find a house with a space for a workshop. We ended up in a house with a 3-car garage. We put the two cars in the garage and crammed all my tools in the remaining space. It was pretty much impossible to use them without spending an hour or so moving things around. And in the winter, it got awfully cold out there.

When the decision was made to build a shop, I realized that some people aren’t into woodworking or need a shop, so I decided to build it as a garage. That way when we sell the house, it can be an additional 2-car garage or a shop. Also, it would be rather difficult to get an airplane out unless there was a 12 foot wide doorway.

I located some plans for a 670 square foot Mechanics Garage on the internet. After doing a site survey and securing the necessary building permits, I start looking for subs. Anything I hadn’t done, wasn’t comfortable doing, didn’t have the tools to do or just plain didn’t want to do, I contracted out. I contracted out the excavation and concrete work since I don’t have a backhoe or the necessary forms used in foundation work. We broke ground in June 2006.

By early July, we had the foundation poured. After this picture was taken, pea-gravel was dumped in the interior area and the backfill was done. As I had never built a building from start to finish by myself, I enlisted the help of my neighbor Ryan. Ryan is a contractor who has built and renovated more houses than I can count.

Here’s me and Ryan discussing if there’s a better (easier) way to put up the wall sections after building the first one on the driveway and dragging it into position and then raising it.

We decided to build on the gravel in the location it would be lifted from. We eventually put down some plywood to provide a flat surface on which to work. The next four pictures are raising the second wall section.


Within a few days, we had four walls.

Next was the hardest part. Putting up the scissor trusses. I could have used a traditional rafter design, but I wanted the headroom that an engineered truss would provide. Normally, these are put in place with a crane. But this is an economy operation and between me, Ryan and another friend, we were able to get all the trusses up in two days without a crane.

The roof was real easy. Ryan put me in touch with his roofer. He showed up the next day, figured out what kind/color shingles I had on the house, came by two days later (with his crew) and in about 3 hours, I had a finished roof!

At this point, I was on my own. No more Ryan. I had told him that I would only bug him until I got the building “dried in”. He did help getting me started with the siding though.

Then I ended up getting an inguinal hernia. What’s really bizarre is that I got this walking on a sailboat. No lifting, no straining, just walking on a slow moving boat. This put me out of the construction business for about 2 – 3 months. By then, the cold weather had arrived. So then everything went into hurry-up mode. Not much time for pictures.

We were able to get the siding put up before it got too cold. My son Steve helped with the windows and siding. Like many teenagers, he’s not real big on having his picture taken, so not many pictures of him.

Then it was time to pour the floor. I wanted to get the floor done before winter set in hoping that I would be able to start the electrical work. Before pouring the floor, I had some additional work to do. I didn’t want a forced air furnace. It takes up a bunch of space and in a dusty environment you go through a lot of filters. So I installed a radiant hot water floor heating system (http://www.radiantcompany.com/).

Over the gravel is a plastic vapor barrier, then 2″ of foam insulation. Next comes the reinforcing wire mesh. Tied to the wire mesh is 7/8″ plastic tubing. In all, about 700′ of the stuff. Hot water (from a flash boiler) will be run through the tubing which will heat the concrete. In addition to being very efficient, There’s no large furnace (the boiler and manifold can be seen in a later picture) and no blowing air.

In November, the concrete contractor poured the floor. I rented a trenching tool and dug two trenches (one for electrical and one for gas/phone/cable/internet).

A side note here: If you ever build a house, have the rocks and old concrete hauled away. Trust me, it’s no fun hitting a 100 pound block of granite when you’re pulling a trencher. I hit the first when I was halfway through digging the gas trench. The gas line is too rigid to detour so for the rocks that were too big to dig out, I had to break them with a hammer and chisel. Not fun.

I had an electrician run a 60amp service from the main panel in the house out to the garage. (I’m okay doing the interior electrical, but I’d never done any outside electrical). Then I had a plumber run a line from inside the house to the buried line outside and connect the other end to a stub inside the garage (I don’t do gas). Once that was done, it was just too damn cold to work for the next few months. The original plan was to have EVERYTHING done by now. But the 3 month medically induced down time prevented that milestone from happening. I tried a couple times to start the electrical but gave up when I couldn’t feel my fingers from the cold.

00 Building the shop (Part II)

This entry is part 13 of 28 in the series 00 - Prep/Logistics

Once it started warming up, I was able to install the hundreds of feet of conduit for the electrical. Interesting thing about where we live; even residential structures are required to have conduit. Which means no Romex. I could have wired the entire garage in a weekend. But because of the conduit, it took me a couple of weeks. That said, I really LIKE having the electrical in conduit. If you ever need to run a new circuit, all you need to do is push a couple wires through the conduit and you’re all set. And you don’t have to worry about grounding wires. Once the conduit was done, the insulation went in. I wanted a well insulated structure so I have 6″ of insulation in the walls and up to 18″ in the ceiling.

Because of the delay (and because I ABSOLUTELY HATE mudding drywall), I decided to contract the drywall work out. The drywall crew had the sheetrock up, taped, mudded and sanded in less than 4 days. It would have taken me a month to do that. They also agreed to leaveĀ  their scaffolding behind for a couple of days to I could paint, install the lights and ceiling fans.

Here, I’m preparing one of the SIXTEEN fluorescent light fixtures.

I’m really glad I got the drywall crew to leave the scaffolding. It was a bit unnerving installing 8-foot light fixtures while standing on wobbly scaffolding 12 feet up by myself. I don’t even want to think about doing it without the scaffolding.

This is a picture that I took just after I returned the scaffolding.

The small wood box in the corner is the manifold for the radiant heat water tubing (boiler and pump aren’t in yet). Also notice the quad outlet boxes (gray) every 6 feet. I have read, and agree, that you can never have too many outlets. Each wall is on a separate circuit. It is also said that you can never have too much light. Hence the four rows of 6000K/94CRI fluorescent lights. (basically that means bright and white!)

I wanted a floor that would be easy to clean and would also make it easy to find any small screws or parts. I went with a 2-part epoxy designed for garage/hangar floors. It’s a real pain to apply. You have to acid etch the concrete, then neutralize it, then rinse it. Oh and don’t forget the walls are finished so I had to cover the bottom four feet of the wall so as not to damage it with the acid/neutralizer/water. Then once the paint is mixed it has the consistency of honey. So spreading it is a challenge. And since it’s an epoxy, you have a limited time to get it down. Oh yeah, you also have to apply two coats. But once it’s down, it looks real nice… Except that it makes imperfections in the concrete very apparent. In the upcoming pictures, you’ll notice it’s very shiny.

The garage door was another area I obsessed over. I went with an 8 foot high door instead of the typical 7 foot door. Then there was the issue of heat loss. 128 square feet is a lot of potential heat loss. So I got the highest R-value door I could find (R-10). I figure if I lose too much heat through the door, I’ll build a temporary wall out of 3-inch foam in front of the door. The other problem with a garage door is the rails that the door follows when you open it. The horizontal portion is typically the same height as the door opening. In a normal garage, this is fine. But the ceiling at the rails in this shop is going to be about 11 feet high. That’s three feet of wasted headroom. So I got a larger radius curve for the vertical to horizontal transition that put the rails just below the ceiling. No wasted headroom now.

This is about halfway through installing the door.

The last garage door I installed was in 1982 and I didn’t remember much so this was all new.

The moment of truth. Just a slight lift and it effortlessly rolled open! I love it when plan comes together.

Once the door was in, it was move it day. Some of my tools hadn’t been touched since I moved them into the existing garage back in 1999.

Along the back wall are all my stationary tools (tablesaw, drillpress, radial arm saw etc.). Because space may get a bit tight, I’ve got all my tools on mobile bases that will allow me to move them around when needed. In fact, just about everything in the shop is on wheels. Don’t forget to notice the nice shiny floor!

Here’s the heating system. Flash boiler on top, the control unit, pump and expansion tank in the middle and and the manifold in the wooden box on the bottom. The flash boiler is really amazing. These are becoming more and more common in houses instead of traditional tank-style water heaters. Instead of heating 50 gallons of water and keeping it hot all day, whether it’s needed or not. These flash boiler (also called “tankless water heaters”) instantly heat the water on demand. The initial numbers are encouraging. It looks like it’s going to be less than $10 per month to heat the shop.

Finally some finish pictures. This is after landscaping.

Yes, that’s a propeller over the door. Since I’ll be building an airplane here, it seems appropriate. Besides, there’s a story behind this particular propeller.

00 Factory visit

This entry is part 11 of 28 in the series 00 - Prep/Logistics

Once the shop was finished, we (both of us this time) made the trek down to Sebastian to visit the factory, see the latest model and take a test flight.

After a tour of the factory and where all the parts a manufactured, we visited the Builder Assistance Center. This is where people can build and work on their Velocities. We will be taking advantage of this facility to do what’s know as the Head Start program. I’ll spend about a month starting the build process. Then we’ll transport the airplane home and finish it.

After the tour, it was time to take a test flight in the factory demo plane. This is the same airplane I’ll be building. This particular model has the Dash-V option which has a bench seat in the back instead of two bucket seats (haven’t decided on that yet) and a turbocharged engine (haven’t decided on that either).

Takeoff in the factory demo plane.

Me at the controls.

View of Sebastian, FL from 3,000 feet.

Post flight of me.

Me and Ann.

(Left to right) Me, Velocity instructor pilot John Abraham and Ken Baker.

Aircraft that are built in a non-production environment are certified by the FAA as experimental. This applies to all aircraft. Whether it’s the first couple of Cessna 172’s or the Boeing 747. Initially, all aircraft are designated “experimental”. It’s not until the aircraft, the manufacturing process and every other aspect of the aircraft has been evaluated that the “experimental” certification is removed. Until then, the aircraft must have the word “EXPERIMENTAL” plainly visible. There are also a number of other labels and notices that must be present.

Here’s a picture of what Cessna is currently calling the NGP (Next Generation Piston).

Notice the lettering under the window? Once Cessna has satisfied the FAA that the that the airplane can fly (predictably) and the manufacturing process is such that every aircraft that comes out of the factory will behave identically, then they will be allowed to remove the “experimental” label and related notices. Then the airplane becomes what we refer to as a “production” airplane. Homebuilt aircraft are never able to achieve production certification because they are all built by different individuals. Each one is a little bit different. Some types of homebuilt aircraft have gone on to obtain production certification. The Cirrus and Lancair, for example. The companies that originally built the components for homebuilders decided to go through the process and obtain production certification. You can now buy these airplanes the same as you would a Cessna, Piper, Mooney or Beech. When Lancair decided to come out with a production model, they changed the name to Columbia. In the fall of 2007, Cessna purchased Columbia Aircraft.

I mention all of this because Ann just had to take a picture of one of the required placards which are required for aircraft operating under the experimental certification.

Afterwards, we spent a couple days just hanging around the Flordia coast.

View from the motel room.

During turtle season, all lights visible from the ocean have to be off at night so as not to confuse the turtles when they look for the spot they hatched from to lay their eggs. In the morning when you walk on the beach, you’ll see numerous tracks where the turtles have come up to lay their eggs.

And finally, nothing says central Florida like this.

00 First Trip Prep

This entry is part 9 of 28 in the series 00 - Prep/Logistics

Originally, when I was planning my month-long stay in Sebastian, I got a nice rate (for Florida in the winter) from the folks at the Davis House Inn. But that was when I thought that I was going to be starting in December. Unfortunately, January and February are more popular so the rate is higher. Oh well, that’ll teach me to procrastinate. So now the plan is to start work on the 14th of January. I’ll stay for three weeks until 2nd of February then come home to teach a class the first week of February. At this time, I don’t know if I’ll go back after teaching and work on the plane in Florida or just ship it home. I’ll have to see how far I get and how comfortable I am with the work required.

00 First Trip Prep

This entry is part 8 of 28 in the series 00 - Prep/Logistics

Instead of flying myself down, I decided to use some of my frequent flyer miles and let American Airlines get me to Sebastian.

I had the factory add a duct (or conduit) in the canard so I can install landing/recognition lights in the canard.

00 First trip preparations

This entry is part 6 of 28 in the series 00 - Prep/Logistics

My brother is in Sebastian! He’s even staying at the Davis House Inn. Unfortunately, he’ll be done with his business down there a couple weeks before I get there. For a while, it looked like we’d be down around the same time.

00 Preparing to leave for the first trip

This entry is part 4 of 28 in the series 00 - Prep/Logistics

Packing for the trip. The weather will be all over the place. There were even reports of snow nearby. So I’m bringing clothes for warm and not-so-warm. My brother is done with his job in Florida but he’s extending his stay a couple days so we can see each other.

00 The trip down to Florida

This entry is part 3 of 28 in the series 00 - Prep/Logistics

I arrived in Sebastian at about 1:30am on Monday morning. A late flight on Sunday was all I could get. And after the drive from Orlando…

My accommodations for the next tree weeks are the Davis House Inn. It’s kind of a B&B without the breakfast. Small but cozy.

00 Getting started

This entry is part 5 of 28 in the series 00 - Prep/Logistics

Monday morning at 9am I was at the Velocity office. After introductions I went out to the shop and saw the plane (or what would become the plane) for the first time.

View from the front (Left side).

View from the front (Right side)

Looking in the back from the right door. The doors have been removed and you can see one inside on the floor. In the back you can see some of the main landing gear retract mechanism.

Looking inside to the front from the right door. Once again, you can see parts of the doors and the wheel from the front landing gear. All the windows are covered to protect them from being scratched during construction.

I was introduced to Rick. He would be one of my guides in getting started on this whole project.