Flaperons – The End of a Chapter

From Wikipedia – A flaperon (a portmanteau word) on an aircraft’s wing is a type of control surface that combines the functions of both flaps and ailerons. Some smaller kit planes have flaperons for reasons of simplicity of manufacture. The Kitfox Phoenix uses Flaperons for this very reason. Simplicity of use does not necessarily translate to simplicity of assembly.  As with most things on the Phoenix, this was an area that required a good amount of patience to complete.

I arrived home in July to find Florida was in the middle of a drought.  No rain in the afternoon translated into high heat all day long.  Working in a metal hangar in this Florida Summer heat is like working in an oven.  The meager fan I have in the shop barely provided any relief.  Still the work must go on and my goal for this month was to get the Flaperons installed and tested.


The first item on the list was to create the flaperon wing tip.  This was accomplished by shaping a wood base and covering it with two part epoxy. It was attached with more two part epoxy.  The epoxy was then sanded and reapplied until the wood-epoxy piece was seamless with the aluminum flaperon.  Then, the counterweights were added. These balance the weight of the long flaperon assembly so that input in either direction is equal.

Following the counterweights I installed the flaperon connecting arm.  Each wing had a different angle of attachment so this was a bit of a tricky process.  The picture on the left shows the attach point of the left wing while the right picture shows the angle difference between the left and right flaperons.

Using clecos, I reattached the flaperon connection points back onto the wing.  I then was able to hang the flaperon onto their perspective wings and install the bushing assembly and connecting rods.  Voila! All my control surfaces now work using the control stick and rudder pedals.  That’s why they call it a stick and rudder airplane!

The last step in preparing the wings involved the installation of the pitot tube.  The pitot tube is used by the airspeed indicator.  This works by sampling the clean air pressure  near the wing and comparing it to normal static air pressure.  The difference in pressure translates into air speed.  The pitot tube that comes with the kit is essentially a bent tube and nothing like the one in the picture.  I will be installing Garmin’s G3X Touch screen system, so I wanted a pitot tube that was more appropriate for this system.  The folks at Kitfox had just the thing, and sent out the upgraded pitot tube used in Garmin/ Dynon installations.


The installation of the flaperons was the last section of the wing chapter.  So there you have it.  With the fuselage and wing chapters complete, the Kitfox Pheonix is now ready for fabric.  All I have to do now is disassemble the entire plane back to its original components……  Waaahhhh!

Before I do that I do want to double check all the work I have done so far.  I am calling on my friend Buck, the Space Shuttle Quality Inspector, to go step by step through the instruction manual and revisit all the work I have done to this point. The purpose is to create a punch list.  There have been certain sections of this build, such as installing the seat belts, which I have put off for a later time.  I want to review all the chapters, and create a punch list of all these items.  I can then decide if I wish to complete the work before or after I skin the plane.  Having Buck review everything will also give me a better feeling that I did everything correctly.

That’s it for this entry.  I’ll be back in October to continue on.  Hopefully the weather will be cooler and I will be able to put a dent into applying the fabric.  Oh wait!  There is one more thing I forgot to tell you.  I successfully completed my Private Pilot checkout.  Yep, I can now legally fly my Cessna 172 with passengers.  Yeah…I love Flying!



Just A Bracket

My good friend Callan came to visit for a week.  We spent alot of time at the airport, flying and building the Kitfox Phoenix. Callan is an avid blogger, so I thought it might be fun to have her be a guest blogger on my site.  Enjoy…

When you are building an airplane from a kit, details matter.

When the instruction book tells you, forty similar looking metal flanges come out of a bag.

Each one needs to be precisely marked in five places, using a constructed 14° jig, then drilled and deburred, leaving the holes clean and smooth.

Pairs are joined together by inserting and peening over a very specific rivet, creating twenty brackets.

Using spacers to act as prototypes for the hinges the brackets will eventually carry, sets of brackets are attached to the trailing edge of a wing that recently got its leading edge mounted into place.

Drilling through the aluminum backing strips that needed to be epoxied and riveted into place, the brackets are attached to the odd numbered wing ribs with temporary “cleco fasteners” that hold the space for pop rivets.

Each of the brackets need to be carefully and precisely mounted so it lines up with its neighbours, forming a very orderly line.

This may seem like a lot of work to install a pile of metal flanges, but these will end up forming the hinge that holds the flaperon to the wing.Tropical Tuba fits their Flaperon

Comprising both flaps and ailerons, the flaperon is one of the primary flight control surfaces used to manoeuvre the plane in flight.   The rudder and tail allow some direction, but the flaperon allows the plane to gracefully bank and turn.   It is the flaperons, controlled by the stick, that allow controlled flight.

The safety of every person who will ever fly in KitFox Phoenix will be determined by the effective operation of the flaperons.  That’s why it is important to take so much time, attention and care to making sure the hinges are properly constructed and perfectly installed, because lives depend on it.

The joy of building your own plane is knowing exactly what went into it.   That doesn’t just include the parts, the bits and bob, it also includes the level of craftsmanship that joined those parts together.

When Sabrina sits back to reflect on her days work, she understands that the construction of an airplane is much like the construction of a life; the challenges are in the details.  She may have a many steps ahead of her, but she can be sure that she has thought through and done this step right, one bit in creating the foundation for a safe aircraft built with pride.

A Gal And Her Plane

In preparing to fly with her son and daughter down to Key West in her Cessna 172 Skyhawk, the freedom of flight always has to be balanced with safety, in maintenance and in operation.  That has to start somewhere, and as she taught her children, the only place to start is by getting the details right.

And that’s why in building an airplane, a bracket is never “just a bracket.”

Tanking & Bracing

Tank w/ Site Guage

Tank w/ Site Guage

Time to install the Strut Braces and Fuel tanks in the wings. The strut braces connect the struts to the wing spars.  Their purpose is to strengthen the entire wing assembly and keep the struts from vibrating during flight.  Imagine the cross bracing on your favorite steel bridge.  The strut braces perform the same function.

The strut braces require the fabrication of spar connectors.  These are eight, very small pieces of angled steel with a mounting point for the strut and two holes drilled for rivets. The angled steel parts must be fabricated from 4130 steel stock. I had intended on making these back on the ship, but the ships own work took priority, and I was unable to fabricate the parts.

Oh… before I forget…just before Thanksgiving I attended my son’s “Winging Ceremony” in Corpus Christie.  He graduated flight school and is now a Naval Aviator.  Thank You.  Yes I am very proud.  It is quite an accomplishment.  He will be flying the P3 sub chasers. It turns out that training for the P3 is done in Jacksonville, 3 hours north of where I live. That’s great news as I will now have my son living near me, at least for the next 6 – 8 months.  He was in town for the holidays and wanted to work on the plane, so I assigned him the task of making the parts to attach the strut brace.

As he was working on that I started working on the installation of the fuel tanks.  This involved washing out the tanks with acetone, and mounting them with silicone sealant.  After the tanks were mounted, I then installed the tank fuel level kit.  This is essentially a site glass made from hose where one can observe the tank level.  The picture says it all.  I have a little more work to do reinforcing the tank, and then I move to installing the wings leading edge and flaperons.  I have two more weeks this month to work on them before another two month tour at sea.

In other news I am pursuing my private pilots license.  I recieved my 3rd class medical and solo’d last week.  I’ll be studying for my ground school while on the ship and hope to take my test when I return. My son seems interested in helping me the the airplane.  I am hoping we get the type of quality  time we never were able to have when the kids were teenagers.

Butt Ribbing

Butt Ribb

Butt Rib

Butt Rib Expanded View

Left & Right Butt Ribs







It sounds like the title from one of the Marx Brothers movies, doesn’t it? Like Duck Soup or Animal Crackers.  One might also believe it to be part of the human skeletal system. The butt rib.

The butt rib is the only rib that is not physically attached to the wing.  It is attached to the fuselage so that when the wing swings into the flying position the butt rib is flush with rib number 1, the wing rib closest to the fuselage.  This allows for a smooth transition between the wing and the fuselage facilitating  smooth airflow.

The process of installing the butt rib included a lot of drilling, glueing, and shimming in order to properly line up the butt rib to rib #1.  The whole process took about a week to accomplish.  We have a lot of dockside repairs to accomplish on the ship so I will not be back to work on the Phoenix until mid December

Winging In the Rain


The last two periods of working on the Phoenix had me concentrating on fininshing the wings.  Working out of a metal hanger during the middle of a Florida summer was not something I was looking forward to.  Fortunately, it rains a lot during the month of July.  My original plan was to air condition my home garage and work on the wings there, however the afternoon rains, combined with an inexpensive fan, made it fairly comfortable to continue work in the hangar.

The last time I was home I was able to connect the wings to the fuselage and line up the various wing settings.  Sweep, twist and dyhedral.  At this point everything was held together with hose clamps or some other temporary fastening system.  Now it was time to drill out all the small holes, mix up some epoxy adhesive, and permanently rivet all those attaching points to the wings.

An aircraft’s wings are arguably the most inportant part of the plane. When building their first flyer, the Wright Brothers spent most of their development time experimentig with many different configurations of wing shapes. If the previously mentioned settings are not in tolerance, the aircraft may as well be scrapped.  The plane will simply be unbalanced and therfore unsafe.  This is why most builders consider this part to be the the most intensive and nerve racking part of the build.  There is just no room for error.

Before removing the wings I had my friend Buck verify that all the wing settings were in tolerance.  Buck was a quality and safety supervisor on the Space Shuttle program.  If it wasn’t right, he wouldn’t buy it off.  It was important to me that I had a second set of eyes looking over the settings and signing off on my build log.  Once I had his signature, I knew I had taken the time to recheck my work. I knew I had done it right.

Now it was time to lock it in.  I very carefully drilled and reamed out every rivet hole in the assemply.  I checked and double checked my work, verifying that each hole received the proper sized rivet.  I mixed and applied a lot of adhesive making sure everything was in its proper place, then waited the correct amount of time for it to cure.  I kept myself from rushing and at the end of the day I knew I had done a quality job. 


It was now time for the final test.  The wings on a Kitfox are made to fold back, similar to those on fighter planes used on WW II aircraft carriers. I reattached the wings, first connecting the aft spar and strut.   If everything went well I should be able to swing the wing in the forward position and slide a bolt through the connecting point.  I placed the left wing into position and tried to slide the the bolt into its the connecting point.  It would not seat. Had I failed?  My heart and hopes sank.  What did I do wrong?  Was I now going have to reorder new wing kits and start from scratch?

I tried the same thing on the right wing.  The bolt went in half way.  I pulled out my trusty reamer and ran it through the hole.  A little grease and the bolt went right through.  Everything lined up perfectly.  So why was the left wing giving me so much trouble?.  After a closer inspection it seems a little of the adhesive had found its way onto the slide rail and bolt hole.  After cleaning up the excess adhesive, and reaming out the bolt hole, evrthing lined up and fell into place.  I rechecked all the settings on the sweep, twist and dyhedral, and it all lined up.  Had I actually done it right?  Is this actually built as designed?

No guessing here.  Yes it’s right and I am sure of it.  I look forward to taking this bird into the air. As Hardy Krugars character “Heinrich Dorfmann” said in the movie The Flight of the Phoenix, “I see no insurmountable problems to making this airplane fly”.  The wings are locked in and correct.  I find myself taking great joy in just swinging the wings from the stored position to the flying position and easily dropping the locking bolt into place.  It’s a good feeling and one I will remember when I accomplish the planes initial trials.

The next step involved finishing the wings.  The fuel tank, pitot tube,  and other such items need to be affixed, plumbed, etc.  That’s the plan for the next trip to Florida.  Putting fabric on the plane is within sight.  Once the wings are done, I will be at the halfway point of this build.

Settling In

The New Hanger

The New Hanger

This December I moved my stuff into the new hanger. It  took a little while to get moved, but I managed to get everything out of my garage and into the new space.  I bought some shelves at Home Depot so could maximize the space and keep things better organized. They took a day or so to assemble, but in the long run it was well worth the time. I moved my large desk from the house so I could have a place to do my paper work and work on my computer.  It was kind of like moving into a new home.  As soon as I got things organized I started right in on the process of building the plane.  As requested by Cliff I started from scratch, reviewing the work he already accomplished, then restarting the process of assembly from page one of the manual. Things went well and I was able to complete the fuselage portion by late December.

Cockpit Flight Controls

Cockpit Flight Controls

Empanage Fit Check

Empanage Fit Check

This included installing the flight controls in the cockpit, and assembling the tail section. It turned out I did not need to be back to the ship until January 8th, and there were still two things I wanted to get accomplished. The first was building a workbench. It took a few days, and as you can see I went a bit overboard.  I have to say, I was really happy to finally be reunited with my old bench vise.  It had been sitting in storage for over ten years.  I disassembled it, greased it up and it works like new.  I also mounted my old friend the bench grinder.

The Workbench

The Workbench

The second goal, after building the workbench, was to mount the wings.  The wings are what are called Quick Build wings.  They are assembled by the manufacture and shipped in near complete condition. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done on them but having them built on a factory Jig does have its advantages.  In order to hang the wings I needed to prepare the Strut Attach Brackets and temporarily secure them to the wing using automotive hose clamps.  The struts were then attached, and with the help of a few friends, Voila!  The Wings are attached. The Phoenix is really starting to look like an airplane.





Hanging it up!

Yes, I have not posted to the blog since March, and yes, very little work has been done on the Phoenix.  I guess I bit off more than I could chew, so I am forced to announce that I will be… renting a hanger at my local Airport.  Yes fans, the Phoenix project is far from over.  Let me catch you up on what has been going on.  The empennage was still on the Nancy Foster when I took a job as Chief Engineer on the Bell M. Shimada, a ship which is home ported in Newport Oregon.  At that time, I had completed putting fabric on the Elevator and Rudder.

I had a week to get to the west coast, so I packed up all my parts and placed them in my garage in Florida.  Packing what I could fit in the Mustang (aka Angelina) I made for the west coast and my new ship.  The ship had been neglected for a while and I had a new engineering team assigned to me.  None of them had been on an Fishing Research Vessel (FRV) before so I had my work cut out for me. Needless to say my focus has been on getting the Shimada back into shape.

In late August I took a two week vacation.  While home, my name came up in the Hangar lottery at the airport.  I signed the papers immediately and spent most of my vacation moving the Phoenix into my new hangar. The plane I used to get my license, N6177, is two hangars down, so I am very close to the folks I normally fly with.  I have also managed to meet all my new hangar neighbors.