Seduction, Number 50 and the 'M' Word
by Richard Clements
This article appeared in the December 1995 Falco Builders Letter.
Oshkosh 1984. You sit in Dave Aronson's superb Falco and the thought is immediate. No need to look at Glasair or RV3 or Swearingen 300SX or Thorp T18 or... you are in the ultimate. The past and the future encased in a wooden entity of uncontrollable desire. You have been seduced, you must have it. Falco number 50's birth was simple-order the plans. Its nurturing of eleven years was not. This is a partial story of those eleven years.
Shortly after that memorable sit in Dave's bird, the plans arrived nice and snow-white in a round chipboard container. A study of them quickly revealed the ominous fact that a two-car garage was adequate but not optimum. As my wife was visiting family in France at the time, I took the opportunity to enlarge the garage without opposition. Airplane building began on 14 September 1984 in a heated and well equipped shop/garage. It flew eleven years later to the day-14 September 1995.
The tail spar construction was easy and everything proceeded nicely. Ego reigned. It was plainly evident the plane would be finished in a year or so. The euphoria soon ended. The ribs purchased from Francis Dahlman fell apart in my hands (glue joints separated). Now terror reigned. A newspaper headline, "Homebuilt airplane disintegrates in flight" flashed before my inward eye. The media loves that sort of thing. (As a matter of fact, the local TV Channel 7 interviewed me and my upside-down Falco, under construction, after a Sidewinder crashed, killing a father and son. They wanted to know if homebuilts were safe. Stupid question to ask a homebuilder.)
But, what was wrong with the rib glue joints? Was the dryness of Colorado air affecting the Aerolite which Francis used? Thankfully, a gentleman of Skybolt fame, Lamar Steen, who taught woodworking for thirty years in Denver schools advised me "Throw that #@!& Aerolite away. Use what I recommend for my Skybolt builders-Bondmaster M666". His background and his advice was well taken. Bondmaster M666 is a two-part epoxy manufactured by National Starch.
Yes, the people who make the starch in your shirts. The glue is unsurpassed in my opinion. A 1/4 inch gap will be structurally sound when glued under water! Like all epoxies, it is thermoplastic which means it begins to lose strength above 200° F. It is red in color which clearly shows joint seepage. If you don't see glue seeping out of a joint, better find out why as you have a starved joint. It sands easily without gumming sandpaper (Note: hardware store sandpaper is worthless. Buy several good sanding belts and disks, cut them into pieces and staple them to various sizes of wood blocks. They will last forever). M666 makes a perfect filet and wipes away with a wet cloth. It stays open for more time than you need. For example, the entire surface of a wing was skinned with one prepared piece of plywood by myself at a leisurable pace. Right on Lamar, throw that $#@& away and fly in peace.
There are as many opinions on sealing wood as there are kinds of wood. It seemed to me that if Varitane is good enough for a bowling alley, it should be good enough for a wood airplane. It is not, as it is too heavy. T88 epoxy is okay, but the West System is better. Do not thin epoxy because when the thinner evaporates it will make thousands of pin holes in the surface. Not good for water resistance. For a smooth and thin layer, seal with the epoxy as warm as possible and use a squeegee for spreading. Concerning wood rot, here are my thoughts. Rot occurs mostly where wood and metal are in contact. The reason is, the metal, being colder than the wood, creates condensation which is immediately absorbed by the less dense surrounding wood. This moisture is condensed back on the metal. A kind of pump evolves. Entrapped in this unending back and forth water flow are oxides, acids and whatnot from the metal, wood and atmosphere. This is what rots the wood. The obvious solution is to do what you can to eliminate the metal/wood contact.
Very early in the construction, differences with Sequoia began. The seduction became difficult. The first tryst was the glue as Alfred is steadfast in his Aerolite recommendation. But Aerolite was not for me after pieces fell apart in my hand. The next difference was control surfaces skinning, for at the time, the plans called for skinning with cloth. Now that seemed strange, as included in my plans, were control surfaces made of aluminum. So why not skin with 1.5mm plywood as its weight is not much more than finished cloth, and it certainly is stronger and easier to construct? A call to Francis Dahlman and then Alfred produced the response, "&%#@ Clements, build the airplane according to the plans". That did not happen as Falco #50's control surfaces are skinned in plywood. Curiously, about six months later, a revision to the plans arrived with control surfaces skinned in plywood.
From then on I went my way. For example: The fuselage was built first because it seemed undesirable to walk forever around the wing while building the fuselage. The fuselage jig required considerably more rigidity than what the plans called for. Very exact fuselage former spacing was provided for the wing connection points on the fuselage. The main wing spar from Trimcraft Aero (Francis Dahlman) had a 2° warp which provided many fun hours adjusting ribs to compensate for the warp. Etc. Etc. Etc. This was just the wood stage. Hold on for the systems.
Along the building years, I served three years as treasurer and one year as vice president of EAA Chapter 301, two years as president of a local civic association, six years as Republican Precinct Chairman, put two children through college and watched my printing business go south. Then in the of 1988 my wonderful wife, Catherine, became ill with carcinoid cancer of the liver. She was given five years to live. The Falco became of no importance and lay dormant.
The medical profession contends that we all have cancer in our bodies of some magnitude. The level of the magnitude determines the threat to life and when medicine begins to kill you. The immune system keeps most of us free from the threat magnitude, but when the system falters, cancer can flourish. So what does medicine do? Simple, it destroys the immune system with chemotherapy and radiation, and you die! Never in the history of medicine has so toxic a therapy been embraced by so unknowing a populace. Even blood-letting for high blood pressure was more humane.
After Catherine endured two chemotherapy sessions she decided it was not in her interests to continue another dose of death. She faired well enough. Then Christmas 1991 we learned of a woman in Fort Collins, Colorado who's energy healing was impressive. We visited her the day after New Years. Our lives took a profound change on that day. In short, the work healed Catherine, and I spent three years learning it. The calling to understand something totally alien, totally contrary to my understanding of conventional science was irresistible (like being seduced by the Falco). There are indeed other forces available to us for healing. Today, I am one of 52 persons in the world certified to practice Quantum Energetic Technique. All of this took time from building N618RC and so did the "M" word.
Alfred is absolutely right about one thing-modifying the aircraft. It will perhaps add years to the construction time. But, nothing is absolute. On my first flight in a Falco with Karl Hansen, the gear level was raised, the ammeter pegged and the emergency gear crank was turned several times to secure the gear in the up position. The reverse took place upon landing. The same occurred on two other flights with other Falco builders. To me, this was not right. It was poor engineering. An emergency system should not be used as a normal system (like using a circuit breaker as a switch). Further, the forces applied by hand-cranking must surely over-stress the entire system and eventually cause failures. A modification (the "M" word) was mandatory.
Two Martin Marietta aeronautical engineers, one hydraulic engineer, one process control engineer, three EAA Technical Counselors, one FAA Certified Design Counselor, a retired Ball Brothers machinist and myself developed a hydraulic system for my aircraft. Now in my printing shop is an hydraulic paper cutter which in 30 years of moving a clamp and cutting blade up and down at least a thousand times a day never missed a beat. This was the system needed for the Falco. In essence, it was quite simple. We replaced the screwjacks with hydraulic pistons. The geometry remained the same. Hard points were machined for the piston medial anchors.
An emergency system was devised and installed. Over 100 gear extensions were done on jacks including failure of the pump and electrical failure. Not once did the system do anything other than what it is supposed to do-raise and lower the gear effortlessly both normally and under system failure conditions. The downlock is the hydraulic pressure which is little different than a screwjack downlock. Now any system can fail. So, the quest is to design one that has the least possibility to fail. In my mind, hydraulics is that system. The gear lever is raised or lowered, three green LEDs come on, and I fly the airplane unconcerned about the landing gear.
Well folks, this modification (or 'experiment') placed my aircraft, which I now call a Metafalco, in a Sequoia nonstandard classification. Any inquiry about the aircraft will be informed of the nonstandard classification. I cannot purchase anything for it from Sequoia Aircraft. But the Metafalco has numerous other "M's". There is the sacrilege of the pilot in command sitting on the right. I have my reasons for this change, and it sure makes Catherine look good sitting on the left.
The exhaust system has the anti-reversal system found in Kent Paser's book "Speed with Economy" which happily produces a nice fuel burn reduction. I recommend all of you read the book for ideas derived from 20 years of experimenting and racing. There are single exhaust pipes for each cylinder. A Toyota starter with bracket manufactured by a good friend, Ron Denight, here in Denver. A Honda alternator. Full electronic ignition to come. The removal of the gear extension system between the seats allowed for a hinged instrument panel and a sloping console from the floor to the instrument panel. On this console is the fuel selector and gauges, gear and parking brake and flap handles, elevator trim and all the radios.
Since the radios are on the console, the indentation in the forward fuel tank was removed. This increased the fuel capacity by one gallon. The instrument panel is now uncluttered and even has a glove box like a Ferrari should! The seats recline. The control stick is a "Hey, look at that stick!" You've got to see my rope trick for the tie downs. Etc. Etc. Etc. Somewhere along the way I received a letter suggesting that I was building an abortion. Correct me if I am wrong, but as I understand it, experimental is the first word in EAA. Experiment. Surely everyone must understand that without that word, the EAA would not exist and none of us would be involved in the wonderful arena of building Stelio's masterpiece.
The issue of modifications is not one that Sequoia will discuss with you for any length of time. They have their position which is undoubtedly well rooted within the liability assemblage and perhaps the desire to keep the fleet pure. Nevertheless, it would be beneficial to have definitive guidelines from Sequoia as to what modifications are acceptable and what are not. My input on this is nothing would be accepted that involves structural changes or safety of flight. Anything else, let's talk about it.
As in sealing wood, there are as many opinions about paint as there are paint colors. Out of frustration with the advice being given in this matter, I called the local Ferrari dealer. What paint do you use? PPG Acrylic Urethane. A magnificent color which can be seen for miles in all directions. Accentuating the color are appointments of Southwest/Indian motif.
Building is the issue and allure of the EAA and the aircraft, not the flying. Nothing less that a complete aerodynamic redesign can "M" the way the Falco flies-fast, smooth and responsive. In that regard, the Falco is near perfection. I had my kicks flying the F100, the F101, the F104, the F4, etc. Flying is not a biggie with me, but I treasure my Metafalco for the way it flies and its "M"s, for they are simply system modifications. This is not open rebellion or crass indifference or sour grapes. This is due thought for things that needed thought. Building the aircraft and making it better in my mind gave me great satisfaction. I suspect it is the same with all builders. See mine, and perhaps you will understand. Eleven years ago I sat in one and was seduced.