Where’s My Epoxy?

Unloading the multitude of parts from “the crate,” it wasn’t immediately apparent to me that the one-million-or-so gallons of epoxy I needed to complete the aircraft were nowhere to be found.  I now realize the reason it wasn’t included was because epoxy is considered a hazardous material, and if it was in the crate, the entire 621 pound shipment would be considered hazardous. This would have been far more expensive to transport.  Therefore Glassic Composites elected to drop-ship the epoxy directly from the supplier, Hudco Industries.  Not a bad plan overall, but somehow their timing was way off; I don’t think Glassic placed the order with Hudco until the day my fuselage was crated.  After a couple of calls to Hudco with promises of “it should be there any day,” I finally managed to get a UPS tracking number out of them.  Sure enough, it was finally enroute, but this was about 2 weeks after I received the kit, mind you, so I was definitely getting anxious to lay up some parts.

Clearstream 9000 Epoxy from Hudco Industries

Well, UPS had other plans for my epoxy and drove a truck, or forklift, or perhaps an airplane over the box.  I believe their politically correct words entered on the www tracking page were “Container damaged in transport. Remainder returned to shipper.”  Damn!  Now I’d have to wait even longer to do my first lay up.  I did manage to keep busy during this waiting period by building bulkhead templates, but you can read about that in the next section.  Whatever careless act UPS inflicted upon my helpless epoxy, I hope it made a huge, sticky mess.

A few more calls to Hudco, and a couple of weeks later, I finally received my epoxy.  Not a million gallons, but 5 gallons of resin and about 7 quarts of hardener (the mix ratio is 3:1 by weight).   Plus some structural adhesive and 2-part filler compound.  Now I could actually build something.

Aligning the Fuselage Halves

The SQ2000 fuselage comes in two pieces – left and right halves – which makes perfect sense since it’s built in a mold.   The Velocity fuselage is also a two-piece affair, but I believe theirs is split horizontally, forming an upper and lower half.  Does one design have an advantage over the other?  Hard to say for sure, but it seems to me that the highest stresses will be travelling down the centerline of the fuselage (butt line 0) so that would give the edge to Velocity.   I’ll have to be very cautious doing the layup of this complex and important joint to make sure everything comes out perfect.

The fuselage halves arrived from the factory bonded together with structural adhesive.  The manual is very clear to point out two things:

  1. It is critical that the two fuselage halves be in perfect alignment.
  2. The factory doesn’t do this before they bond the halves together.

To the casual eye, the two halves looks pretty well aligned, and indeed they are.  But they weren’t perfect: off by about 0.125″ I’d say.  It’s too bad the factory didn’t take a few extra minutes to do the alignment, because it would save the builder several hours.

The first step was to break the blobs of structural adhesive (dark grey circles visible on the flange (mohawk)).  A hammer and chisel worked pretty well, although I did delaminate a few plies here and there.  Not to worry though, the flange gets cut off eventually.

Once all the bonds were broken, I had a little help to remove one half of the fuselage (it’s not heavy, but kind of big for one person to handle) and set it aside.  You can see the grey adhesive blobs pretty well in Photo 2.

Next I took my trusty angled grinder and ground off the remaining adhesive.  This was pretty tough stuff.  I also sanded away any loose plies that my chisel victimized.  This exercise was repeated for the other fuselage half, of course.

Side note: this was about the point my neighbor came down and said “What the hell is all that noise about?”

With a little help again, the halves were once again mated up, and carefully aligned.  There are several lines molded into the fuselage to assist with the fore/aft alignment, but nothing for vertical alignment… you just have to go by sight and feel.  Once I was satisfied, I drilled holes through the flange, installed fasteners, and just be safe, hot-glued the flanges together.  And no, I don’t wear suspenders with my belt.

By the way, special thanks to my Mom for taking the photos (featuring me) and helping me move around the fuselage pieces.   She was passing through Seattle that weekend on her way from California to Montana and I didn’t hesitate putting her to work (payback for all the dishes she made me wash as a kid)

Bulkhead Templates

I was anxious to get the project underway, but I hadn’t received my shipment of epoxy yet, so I couldn’t actually start building parts.  As I began looking through the builders’ manual to become familiar with the work that lay ahead of me, my razor-sharp brain noticed a common theme to each of the first few chapters; before building a bulkhead, it was necessary to first build a bulkhead template. The templates are built as follows:

  • Adhere a full sized bulkhead blue print to a piece of masonite using Scotch 77 adhesive
  • Cut the masonite to closely match the edges of the blue print
  • Sand the edged of the masonite to exactly match the blue print contour
  • Blow off the dust

The result is a light weight, rigid commodity that will later be used as a guide to cut out the foam core sections that will be the heart of the bulkheads. The templates also serve as a baseline by which the finished bulkheads will be checked.

Since this process did not require epoxy, I went ahead and built all the templates required for the fuselage. The way the builders’ manual is organized, I should have built one template at the beginning of each chapter, but I had to work out of sequence to keep busy during the pre-epoxy days. No big deal.

The fact is, I finished all the templates and still had no epoxy. Now what? Well, digging further into the manual, I decided it was time to align the fuselage… another epoxy-free task.

Receiving the Fuselage Kit

In mid June 1998, I received an email from the Glassic factory that my first subkit (fuselage and main spar) was about ready for shipment. There was just a small matter of sending them $11,815 first, which I did via wire transfer.  I would be receiving a single crate, roughly 6’x6’x13′ weighing 621 pounds by truck (Watkins Motor Freight), and they gave me a tracking number so that I could follow its progress from Tennessee to Washington via Watkins’ website.  And believe me, I did.

As the crate made its way westward, I started rounding up helpers as I knew I wouldn’t be able to unload the crate by myself, nor did I own a forklift.  With promises of beer and the excitement of catching the first glimpse of my soon-to-be airplane, I managed to get half-a-dozen helpers lined up.  I spoke with a Watkins dispatcher to set a firm delivery date of Monday, June 22, 1998 and requested that they deliver the crate after 4:00PM so that my friends wouldn’t have to leave work early.

Monday finally arrived and I darted home right after work to make sure everything was in order. About 3:30PM I got a call from the Watkins dispatcher, claiming that my crate had been mis-routed to downtown Seattle, and that it would be re-scheduled for a Wednesday delivery. “That sucks,” I thought. “My friends will be arriving in a few minutes, and now I’ll have to turn them back and hope they’re free and willing to return in two days. Damn.” As I went to my garage to sulk and await my helpers, I saw a somewhat lost looking guy wandering through my complex. As he approached, I could see the Watkins logo on his shirt. As we greeted each other and confirmed he had a very large crate for me, I concluded that the dispatcher didn’t know what the hell she was talking about. The driver was a little bit early, so I told him to go ahead and pull his truck in, but we may have to wait a little while until my friends arrived. I was his last stop, and he was very agreeable.

Moments later my friends started arriving and we opened the back of the truck to reveal “the crate.” Yes it was large. Yes it was wooden. Yes, it had “Fragile Aircraft Parts” stenciled on all sides. And yes, it was beat up pretty good. Or should I say it was beat up pretty bad?  I feared that I had just spent $11,815 for a bunch of wrecked parts.  The condition of the crate was too poor to attempt unloading it, so we decided to dismantle it inside the truck and take out the contents piece by piece. This actually worked out well, since the 2 fuselage halves were temporarily joined at the factory, and several more parts were loaded inside. Once that was unloaded and placed onto foam supports on my garage floor, the remaining parts took just a few minutes to unload. And to my relief, everything appeared to be undamaged. The Watkins driver offered to take away the remnants of the crate, I gladly accepted, and off he went.

The first parts arrive in my garage, June 22, 1998.