CONSTRUCTED BY 7th AND 8th GRADE STUDENTS OF THE PALMDALE LEARNING PLAZA
(1994 - 1997)
UNDER THE GUIDANCE OF THE EXPERIMENTAL AIRCRAFT ASSOCIATION, CHAPTER 49
TEACHERS AND PARENTS
The following pages describe the project in words and photos from its inception through the flight test phase.
Peggy O'Brien, a teacher in the Aeronautics Curricula at PLP, conceived of the project in 1993. She envisioned a hands-on project for her 7th and 8th grade students that would introduce some of the vocational opportunities in aviation. Members of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Chapter 49 offered to provide assistance and training on aircraft construction for both the students and teachers. One of their stipulations was that the aircraft be constructed so that it would be capable of flight, rather than a display or museum piece. We hoped to be able to instill in the students the sense of responsibility that goes with the realization that the results of their work would actually be flown. The KITFOX experimental aircraft kit was purchased from the Skystar Corporation with funding grants from the Northrop and California Edison Corporations. The plan was to construct the airplane at the PLP classroom site that was being created at the Palmdale Mall. In this way the construction progress could be observed by the entire community.
The kit was delivered in Aug 1993. Many of the major parts were preassembled as part of the kit. For example, the entire fuselage structural assembly had been welded and primed at the Skystar factory.
Student training sessions began in Feb 1994 in portable classrooms since the Palmdale Mall site was still under construction. The wheels and brake disks were installed on the landing gear struts. The main landing gear, tailwheel, and tires were then installed on the fuselage temporarily to allow it to be moved around more easily.
The students learned how to operate the power drills and how to make basic measurements. The pitch control system was installed and the rudder pedal attachment brackets were created by the students out of aluminum stock.
MOVE TO A NEW SITE
TEMPORARY FIT CHECKS
The horizontal stabilizer and elevator were temporarily installed to check the operation of the pitch control system.
The seat was temporarily set in place to check for clearance with the various cockpit controls. The seat belts and the rudder cable guides along side of the seat were installed. The seat was then installed permanently.
In October of 1994 the partially completed fuselage was trailered to the Fox Field Open House. It was displayed along with other experimental and antique airplanes.
THE WORK SESSIONS
The students from two different classes were bussed from their classroom to the Mall site for three hours; one class on Tuesday and the other on Thursday afternoons. Four to ten students from the class would work on the airplane during any one session. We began an evening session on Tuesday nights so that the parents could observe and help in the project. There were usually two or three volunteer EAA members on hand during every session to guide the construction activities.
FUSELAGE READY TO COVER
By June of 1994 the fuselage was ready for covering and the engine was temporarily mounted. There was still much to do in the cockpit and in the engine compartment, but we decided to set the fuselage aside and begin construction of the wings.
The wings were assembled on four work benches that were acquired from the Northrop Corporation. The benches were carefully levelled, and restraining blocks were built to hold the spars in position while the ribs were glued in place.
BUILDING THE WING
Periodically we took photos of the various components and assemblies that would be hidden from view after covering. We wanted to be able to show the FAA inspector the fine workmanship.
The first step in the construction of the wings was the preparation of the forward and aft spars. An aluminum web insert was positioned inside each tube spar and carefully riveted in place. Two strut attachment fittings were also rivetted in place on each spar.
Aluminum tube cross-bracing was installed between the two spars. The primary wing ribs and false ribs were glued in place with epoxy structural cement. (Gooey and messy, but VERY strong.) Latex gloves kept MOST of the glue off of the students' hands and clothes
FINISHING WING CONSTRUCTION
The students soon became adept at laying out hole locations, drilling holes and pulling pop rivets. They seemed to enjoy the physical activity and showed good hand-eye coordination. Their attention span was rather short, however, and they didn't really understand how each little task fit into the big picture of building an airplane.
The pre-molded fiberglass wing tips were pop-rivetted in place as well as the two wing tip reinforcing braces.
The wing trailing edges were glued and riveted into place, then special reinforcement plates were riveted onto those ribs which would later support the aileron.
By the fall of 1995 the airplane was ready for covering. But first, we decided to have an "airplane signing" party. All of the students who had participated in the construction thus far were invited to come to the Mall and sign their name with a permanent magic marker on one of the internal parts of the airplane.
In late Sept. 1995, after the wings were completed, the project was temporarily moved to the Frontiers of Flight Museum at Fox Field near Lancaster for covering.
The large hangar with good ventilation allowed the students to participate in the covering process using surgeons gloves and paint masks when necessary. The wings were covered first
COVERING THE WINGS
The fabric, a light weight, unshrunk Dacron, was first rolled out onto the wing.
The fabric was smoothed out over the wing, then clamped in place around the edges.
The edges of the fabric were marked with a magic marker, then trimmed with pinking shears. A fast-drying cement was applied to the wing leading and trailing edges and the fabric was pressed into place.
The second wing was covered in similar fashion. Notice the mask which many students used when the fumes became too strong. After both wings were covered the fabric was shrunk tight with an iron.
In November, 1995 we again placed the Kitfox on display at the Fox Field Open House. Both wings were covered and the fuselage and tail were ready to cover.
TAPES, RIBSTITCH AND "POLYBRUSH"
The work effort was now broken into two teams, one applying finishing tapes and "Polybrush" to the wings, and the other cementing the covering to the fuselage and tail surfaces. Polybrush is a dope-like, fast drying paint that fills the pores of the fabric.
The fuselage was turned upside down and the bottom and side covering applied in the same manner as the wings. It was then turned right side up and the top covering applied
The first coat of Polybrush was applied using a brush. Because of the wide capstrip on each rib, there was little need for ribstitching but we felt that the students should see this process. Ribstitching was performed on the wing ribs at 6-inch spacing with the students tieing most of the knots.
Finishing tapes were applied over the ribstitching on each rib, and along the edges of the wing. A small iron was used to stretch the tapes and to smooth out the wrinkles and the edges.
The fuselage and vertical tail covering were completed, and one coat of Polybrush applied. The students began to see that this collection of individual parts just MIGHT turn into a real airplane!!
COMPLETING THE FUSELAGE COVERING
Finishing tapes were applied to all of the corners and edges of the fuselage. By this time the students had become accustomed to the awful smell of the Polybrush, and chose to work in short spells rather than wear the rather cumbersome (and non-becoming) respirator masks.
The "workers" pause for a photo at the end of a covering session. The final phase of covering was done in November, 1995. The hangar was not heated and the temperature was getting quite cool near the end of each work session.
COMPLETING THE TAIL SURFACES
Applying the finishing touches to the stabilizer covering. Some of the students became quite proficient at the covering, painting and ironing processes.
Special "bias-ply" finishing tapes were used on the vertical fin and rudder. These tapes could be stretched around the curved edges and cemented into place.
The final coat of Polybrush was applied to the horizontal stabilizer, completing the covering process. All components were now ready for the application of a silver primer to shield the fabric from harmful ultraviolet rays. Due to the toxic nature of this primer it was sprayed on by the EAA members when the students were not present.
ASSEMBLY AND PAINTING
With the covering completed, and the silver primer applied, the airplane was returned to the Palmdale Mall in early Jan 1996. The wiring, engine installation, instruments and preparation for final painting were completed. The students selected the color for the airplane. They selected Nevada Silver with Royal Blue trim. A student competition was then held for the paint trim scheme for the airplane. In late May 1996, the airplane was moved to Dale's Hitching Station for final painting. The students were not allowed to participate in the final spray painting process due to the toxic nature of the paint. After painting the airplane was moved to a hangar at a Fox field where the blue trim was applied and the final assembly accomplished.
The airplane had finally reached the airport and the final assembly was started. The first step was to prepare the windshield and skylight for final installation.
The stabilizer, elevator and rudder were installed and the hinges were safetied with cotter pins.
Now the workers were all smiles as they began to see the final product emerge. The various components that had been scattered around the hangar were beginning to come together.
The windshield, doors, cowling, and turtledeck were installed and the fuselage was essentially completed.
Both wings were then installed and the flaperons were bolted in place on each wing. Flaperon controls were hooked up and checked for proper operation. All controls were then "rigged" to provide the proper movement as specified by the kit manufacturer.
FOLDING THE WINGS
The hangar was a small "L" shaped hangar at the end of a row of "T" hangars. In order to push the airplane into the hangar, the wings had to be folded back (a standard feature of the Kitfox).
First the two pins at the forward spar fitting were removed. Then the flaperons were rotated to a vertical position. The wings could then be folded neatly back against the fuselage and the airplane could be pushed into the hangar.
From this point on the student participation in the project was strictly on a volunteer basis and not part of their classroom studies. For safety reasons the remaining checks and operations needed to be done by the EAA experts.
The airplane was temporarily moved to a larger hangar and weighed in a level attitude using three bathroom scales. Measurements were taken to allow the center of gravity to be determined. All measurements were within allowable limits.
As we approached the time for the first engine run, the students suggested that we give the airplane a bath. A fairly large crew of former students and parents were on hand to wash the desert dust off of the airplane.
The decals, numbers, and necessary placards were applied to the airplane and it was deemed ready for flight by the EAA participants.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was called to perform the final inspection. Brian Ashton, an FAA inspector, completed the inspection and signed off the log books on 1 November 1996. The Palmdale School District purchased liability insurance for the flight test phase.
Bob Hoey, one of the EAA participants from the very beginning, performed some low speed and high speed taxi tests with the airplane on the taxiways and the runway at Fox Field. Following the taxi tests a leaky fuel valve was replaced and some minor adjustments were made to the brakes.
The students were not informed about the pending first flight for several reasons. The major reason was to minimize the pressure on the EAA volunteers and the pilot to fly the airplane if conditions weren't "just right". We were also concerned about the unpredictable weather and the possibility of a mishap or major delay. The Palmdale Learning Plaza principal, Rick Grove, and the primary coordinating teacher, Peggy O'Brien were on hand.On the 17th of January, 1997, following a couple of windy months, the core EAA volunteers prepared the aircraft for its first flight. Bob Hoey would be the pilot.
As he taxied back for a second takeoff, Bob reported that everything looked good
On the second flight the airplane climbed quickly to pattern altitude and completed one circuit around the airport. Bob reported that the handling qualities were pretty much as expected, and that the engine ran well.
Bob emerged from the airplane and reported "It flies just fine! Let's give all the kids a ride." It was time for a little celebration.
Some of the prime movers behind the Kitfox Program: left to right, Scott Liefeld, Jack Huffman, Bob Hoey, from EAA Chapt. 49, and Peggy O'Brien and Rick Grove from the Palmdale Learning Plaza. Not shown are Bob St. Clair, Frank Roncelli and Jack Hakes also from Chapt. 49, and teachers, Sergei Orloff and Lewis Haller.
The FAA required that forty hours be flown on the airplane, and specific flight tests be performed before passengers could be flown. The forty-hour test phase was flown by Bob Hoey and Ozzie Levi of the EAA Chapt. 49 and was completed on 27 May, 1997. Minor adjustments to the engine carburetor were made to accomodate the high altitude at Fox Field. Some minor adjustment in flaps and other controls were the only changes needed during the test phase.
The first passenger was Peggy O'Brien, the instigator of the program.
In August of 1997, Peggy decided to host a hangar party for all of the students, teachers, parents and EAA members who had helped make the project a success.
Some of the students who had worked on the early phase of construction were now seniors in High School, and had grown considerably!!
All participating students (more than one hundred in number), as well as some of the active teachers and parents, were offered rides in the airplane. Since the airplane is very light in weight and highly susceptible to the desert winds, scheduling the rides was often difficult. Nevertheless, during the remainder of 1997 most of the students, teachers, parents, and participating EAA members who wanted to fly in the airplane were given rides (21 flights).
On October 17, 1997, the Kitfox was flown to Edwards AFB and placed on display at the annual Open House. This year the event celebrated the Air Force's 50th Anniversary, and the 50th Anniversary of supersonic flight.
This history was prepared by Bob Hoey, Flight Advisor, EAA Chapter 49.