Epoxy Report

Hudco's Clearstream 9000 laminating resin

Now that I’ve done scores of layups and can proclaim myself an expert at room temperature wet layups, I can say that I’ve been very pleased with the performance of Hudco’s Clearstream laminating resins.  I received two different hardeners with my initial shipment, a slow and a fast, as you’d expect.  Since temperatures in the Seattle area are below the national average I received more of the fast hardener, per Stan Montgomery’s input.  Typically I can get about 45 minutes of working time out of a fast batch.

This resin is low odor, easy to work with, and cures at relatively low temperature.  I haven’t tried many of the other epoxy resins popular with kit builders, so I can’t site any direct comparisons, but if I were to buy more epoxy, I would certainly seek out more of this stuff.

A friend of mine used to work for a large adhesives company – one that supplied Boeing with adhesives and laminating resins – so I got some of his samples from time to time.  I did a side by side comparison of his laminating resin that met Boeing specifications, and I found the Clearstream to be better for the amature builder: odor was lower, easier curing, and slightly better peel strength in my unofficial bench test.

I did call Hudco to order some more epoxy at one point, but was shocked at the price (nearing $200/gallon as I recall) which is much higher than a gallon of say West Systems.  Stan Montgomery ended up sending me some directly without charge, which was a nice gesture.

I’m not sure how Glassic Composites selected Hudco as their epoxy supplier, but I suspect Stan had some connections with the company.

Last time I checked their website, I could find no evidence of their Clearstream 9000 laminating resins.  Perhaps they discontinued the line.

Moving to a Hangar

Inevitably I’d need to move my project to a hangar at some point. I wasn’t in critical need yet, but I began doing some investigation in 2002. The most convenient airport for me was Paine Field in Everett because that’s where the Boeing plant where I work is located, and it’s the closest to my house. Unfortunately the hangar options weren’t looking too good. The rental hangars were old with nothing more than a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling… and there was a one-year waiting list. Furthermore, airport policy is that no maintenance is to be performed in those hangars. There were also some privately owned hangars on the field, but buying one wasn’t really in my budget, even if I could find one for sale.

Arlington Airport was another option.  Their hangars are pretty old too, but I believe it was OK to work in them. Unfortunately Arlington is a good 40 minute drive from my house. On the plus side, Arlington has good homebuilder roots as the host of the Northwest EAA fly in and home of The New Glasair.

My last practical choice was Harvey Field. Not quite as far away as Arlington, but not many hangars available over there. Plus it’s located in a flood plain. That’s not really a “plus” at all, is it?

By pure luck I happened to surf to the Paine Field web site one day and noticed an announcement: they were considering constructing more hangars if they could get enough tenants to sign rental agreements. So I hurried down there to get the scoop. Jackpot!  They were planning to build brand new T-hangars and rectangular hangars of various sizes, complete with overhead lighting, 20 amp electrical circuits (4 outlets), sprinkler systems, and fully rated for aircraft maintenance (and construction). I put my deposit down right away. They easily got enough tenants to commit (I think there’s a waiting list now) and the project went forward. It took a little longer to complete than they had planned, but that was fine by me. I loaded the airplane onto a flatbed truck and hauled it to its new home in late June, 2003.

One thing I knew was going to be a problem was electrical power. The new hangars did not have 240VAC available, which is what my air compressor requires. I talked to the airport office about adding a 240VAC circuit for me: they were amenable, but it would have cost me over $500. I asked them if they were crazy because I could buy a new 120VAC compressor for less than that. They said they weren’t crazy and I just decided to go ahead and buy a new compressor. Unfortunately the story doesn’t end there.

Periodically when the compressor would start up, it would trip the circuit breaker. This didn’t affect other hangars thankfully, but the circuit breaker panel was in a locked electrical room at the end of the hangar row and I had to call airport maintenance to reset it. Invariably it would trip on a Friday evening when the maintenance people had gone for the weekend, leaving me powerless. I could not find any explanation as to when the breaker would trip and when it wouldn’t. It wasn’t temperature related, or other loads on the line. 9 times out of 10 the compressor would start up just fine. It was weird, and very frustrating for me and for the airport people.

Eventually enough was enough and I got permission to run a new 240VAC circuit into the hangar. They said I could do it myself provided it met county codes. So I did. The good news was that my hangar was only two units away from the electrical room, so pulling new wires through the conduit was pretty easy (with the help of some friends and their scaffold). The bad news was that panels were fed by 3-phase power, common for commercial buildings apparently. For those of you familiar with such things, you know where I’m going with this: you can’t get a 240VAC circuit out of a 3-phase feed. I could get a 207VAC circuit, but that wouldn’t do me much good. So after a few days and a few calls to the Paine Field Electricians we settled for a dedicated 120VAC circuit wired to a 30 amp breaker. Problem solved, although my new compressor doesn’t have quite the “umph” of my 240VAC compressor, which now sits quietly in the garage.

Aside from a rather sizeable monthly rent, the only other problem I’ve had since moving to the hangar is heat. The airport fire department will not allow heaters of any kind in the hangars. Heck, I even got a nasty “code violation” letter the other day because they found a small electric heater during a surprise inspection. Never mind that it was sitting on a shelf, unplugged. So winter work has slowed to a dead crawl for now.

Receiving the Rest of the Kit

In June 2002, as my fuselage work was drawing to a close (yeah, right), I figured it was time to order some more kit components. Rather than mess around with ordering just one or two subkits, I decided to bite the bullet and order everything. A large amount of cash to layout all at once, but I didn’t want to take a chance on KLS Composites going out of business before I had everything I needed. So I ordered the wing kit (rib & spar wing, not the foam core version), canard kit, cowling kit, and strake kit. In late July 2002 I got the call that my parts were ready and on their way westward.

Stan Montgomery gave me the crate dimensions, approximate weight, and the tracking information for the trucking company. I was to pay a crating fee and the shipping cost. This time they used Estes Express/G.I. Trucking as the carrier. G.I. wasn’t quite as flexible with regard to delivery options (i.e. “we’ll be there between 8AM and 5PM), so rather than try to coordinate an uncrating party like last time, I opted to have them hold the crate at their depot in Auburn, WA. Then, when it was convenient for me, I rented a truck and drove down to get it. One thing Stan failed to mention when he gave me the crate dimensions: It had a “chimney” to fit the winglets. The chimney turned out to be about 2 inches taller than the truck box. Hmmm, now what? The crate was long enough that we decided to shove it in as far as it would go, and tie a rope around the back end. Needless to say, it was a rather nerve-racking drive home (about 50 miles) with $20,000 of airplane parts dangling out the back of the truck. But I made it home with no problems–just a few weird stares.

The crate also turned out to be way heavier than Stan had estimated. It weighed nearly 1200 pounds if I recall correctly. Moving all that weight from Tennessee to Seattle translated into a whopping C.O.D. shipping fee of $1787. When I told Stan about that, he promptly waived the $200 crating fee, which was nice, but ouch.

Since it worked so well last time, and because the crate was so heavy, my buddy Chris and I dismantled the crate inside the truck and just removed the pieces one-by-one. Suddenly my garage was full again.

Building in the Winter

I had to quit working in October, about 120 hours into the project, when it became too cold for epoxy work. I should have planned ahead back when I was in the “preparing the workshop” phase, but I completed the workbench just days before the kit arrived, and by then my mind was on the airplane–not on heaters.

Nevertheless, mother nature caught up with me, the ambient temperature continued to decline, and I could procrastinate no longer.

I considered many heating options for the garage and my first solution was to purchase a 4000 watt, 240V electric heater from McMaster-Carr. According to their chart, 4000W should have been plenty to heat the volume of my garage. I ordered it. It arrived. I plugged it in to the outlet that I had wired especially for my compressor, and off it went. But to my disappointment it made more noise than heat (the fan wasn’t balanced very well). Clearly, it wasn’t going to keep my garage in the mid 70’s throughout winter, so I sent it back.

I considered tapping into my house furnace and running a duct to the garage, but that presented a problem with the thermostat (being located in my living room) not to mention the hassle of running additional ducting and cutting through walls, etc. There were plenty of propane heaters on the market that would suit my needs, but I dreaded the repetitive task of refilling propane tanks. Finally I settled on a natural gas convection heater, which I also purchased from McMaster-Carr. This heater had a 60,000 BTU/hour output and would be much more convenient since I had a gas line running nearby. So I ordered it, and while awaiting its arrival I ran a gas line into the garage. I chose a convection heater because I wanted to heat the entire volume of air in which I was working, as opposed to a radiant heater which primarily heats objects in it’s path. Convection heat is much more even, and better suited for composite work.

My garage is insulated so heat loss was not a huge concern, but just to boost efficiency I insulated the garage door too.

The natural gas heater works great, and burns very clean, but since it’s unvented and I really didn’t want to kill myself, I bought a carbon monoxide detector to monitor any build up of that stealthy, toxic gas. It has a digital readout so that I can see the actual PPM concentration of CO in the air, which is pretty neat. Happily, CO levels are well within the acceptable range when running the heater.

Finally, for local heating, I purchased a small electric space heater (1500W max). It was inexpensive ($25 at Home Depot) and works great for curing things inside the fuselage. I just set it inside, plug it in, seal up the aft fuselage opening, and it keeps things nice and warm in there. Then I can shut down the gas heater when I’m done working for the evening and let the local cure continue.

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.

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.

Preparing the Workshop

My garage before the "workshop" conversion.

Having recently moved into my townhome, the garage was fairly empty to begin with, so I didn’t have to store, sell, or otherwise throw out a bunch of stuff, which was nice. It was also sheet-rocked and insulated which saved even more time. The below photo is my before shot (click on the photo for a larger image). I’ve managed to misplace my after shots, but when they turn up I’ll be sure to upload them.

The first thing I did was to remove all the miscellaneous shelving that the previous owner had installed and patch up all the holes in the sheet rock. Then I primed and painted the walls and ceiling white, which took way longer than I imagined. Good thing I didn’t choose painting as a career. Next I installed (4) 4 foot fluorescent light fixtures on the ceiling so that I’d have plenty of light. There were two incandescent light fixtures in the ceiling already, so I didn’t have to do any electrical work other than swapping the fixtures for power outlets.

I wasn’t going to get off scott-free (what does that mean, anyway?) with all electrical work, however. I planned on purchasing an air compressor, and most of the larger ones I looked at ran on 240 volts AC, and my garage didn’t have a 240V outlet. I discovered that there was 240V wiring running over to my dryer, but since the dryer was gas, it was not energized. All I needed was to install a 20 amp circuit breaker in my panel, splice into this wiring, run it out to the garage, and install a NEMA 6-20 outlet. Once again, this took longer than expected, but the finished product looks pretty professional in my opinion.

What workshop would be complete without a good work bench? I thought about this for a long time, and went to Home Depot a bunch of times trying to figure the best work surface that didn’t cost a fortune. One day I was talking to a coworker about this, and he mentioned that his neighbor had some bowling alley lanes, cut up, in his yard. Sounded like a good future work bench to me, so he managed to cut off a 44″ by 8′ section for me. I had a friend with a truck help me move it… good thing, as it weighs a ton (not literally). Another friend helped me build a support frame out of 4x4s, then lift, mount, and fasten the surface to the frame. It all worked out great, and the total cost was only about $50.

In between all these projects, I was buying tools. Below is the minimum required tool list from the SQ2000 construction manual. I have obtained nearly all of these tools at this point, as well as a 6.5 HP Craftsman air compressor and a host of pneumatic tools. The compressor is a great asset, and I would encourage any would-be builders to make the investment. Regardless of the ability to run pneumatic tools, just having the air gun is a great asset for removing dust and such. The only drawback is noise–not that it bothers me, but since I live in a townhouse I worry about disturbing my neighbors.

It was June, 1998 now, and the workshop was basically complete. I bought another free-standing storage unit and put up some more shelves, including one over the work bench with a rod to hold one roll of fiberglass. I considered building an enclosure to hold several rolls of fiberglass, but decided it would be better to keep the idle rolls inside the house. I only use one weave at a time during layups (generally) and keeping the other rolls in the house will keep them dust- and moisture-free.

Soon the kit would arrive and I could focus my efforts on building a plane, instead of building a workshop…

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Choosing a Kit

Now that I had the place, it was time to decide which kitplane to buy. Several factors come into play here:

  • Design
  • Performance requirements
  • Material
  • Seating/payload
  • Configuration

From the beginning, I preferred composite kits. This may have something to do with my experience with the B-2 which is primarily a composite airframe. Composites are easy to work with, don’t exhibit fatigue or corrosion problems, are lightweight, and have obvious aerodynamic advantages when properly finished.

Performance-wise, I wanted an airplane that would cruise cross country easily, as I plan to fly from Seattle to the San Francisco Bay Area from time to time. It doesn’t need to be a rocket, but a cruise speed in the high 100’s would be nice. Good climb performance is also important since there are so many mountains along the West Coast. Short/unimproved field performance wasn’t high on my list of priorities, nor was range. Sometimes, on a long flight, a fuel stop is a welcome diversion.

Design was of premier importance to me. An airplane can have the best performance figures in the world and sell for $1000, but if it’s boxy and ugly I wouldn’t buy it. Personally, I think the Lancair line of kitplanes are among the best looking out there. The Glasairs are nice too, but they don’t have quite the style of the Lancairs. Just my opinion.

Seating: it’s gotta seat 4. Simple as that. This eliminates most kits.

Configuration: The 2 biggies are conventional and canard. Then you have your deltas, split wings, flying wings, biplanes and more, but I wasn’t really interested in any of those. I’ve always liked the look of the canard airplane. The Beech Starship, for example, is a thing of beauty, in my opinion.  Plus I think the canard design has some efficiency (2 lifiting surfaces) and safety advantages (more stall resisitent) over conventional design, but these points can be argued until the cows come home.

With these criteria in mind, the 4 kits I gave serious attention to were:

The Lancair was a bit too expensive and the Express, although a nice airplane with respectable numbers, just didn’t do it for me. I guess I just had my mind set on a canard. So it was down to the Velocity and the SQ2000.  One weekend when I was home (Bay Area), my Dad and I took a drive to Lincoln, CA to test fly a Velocity 173.  It was a solid, impressive aircraft that flew well and looked good. Once big plus for the Velocity was the fact that they’ve been in business for a while now, with a good safety record.  Glassic Composites couldn’t make that claim with their SQ2000, since it was a new kit and a new company. Nevertheless, I wanted to check it out, so I booked a flight to Tennessee and went up for a demo flight.

It’s obvious from the beginning of this web site that I ultimately chose to build the SQ2000.  Why?  Well, it flew as well as, or better than the Velocity.  It may not have been a fair comparison since I flew the Velocity 173, which is their big wing version with a lower wing loading, but the SQ2000 was much more sporty.  With it’s higher wing loading, plus the lack of flaps (like most low-end canard aircraft), it has a much higher landing speed as well, but I’m sure I can adjust to that without too much worry.  Although the overall cabin height of the SQ2000 is about 1″ less than the Velocity, I found I had more headroom since the seats are mounted lower. Since I’m 6’2″, headroom was a prime concern.   The SQ2000 is also a couple inches wider, which is nice.  I also didn’t really like the Velocity center stick.  As the pilot sitting in the left seat, having a center control stick forces you to use your right hand to control the aircraft.  To change radio or transponder settings, therefore, I would have to let go of the stick.

Another big plus that swayed me to choose the SQ2000 was the “advertised” lower construction time. The kit is much more complete than the Velocity since it uses molded wings and canards. The Velocity uses moldless construction which means I would be doing major fiberglass layups of the flying surfaces followed by countless hours of sanding and surface preparation. To top it all off, the SQ2000-XP kit cost the same as a Velocity 173 RG Elite kit.  I placed my order in March, 1998 for the fuselage/spar subkit (another Glassic benefit–pay for subkits as you go rather than purchasing the whole thing up front).

It would be about 4 months before I received the fuselage/spar subkit, which gave me plenty of time to convert my garage into a respectable workshop, buy tools, and do whatever else needed to be done.  I also took a weekend course on composite aircraft construction put on by Alexander SportAir Workshops. It cost about $200, but for the would-be airplane builder it’s money well spent.

Finding a Place to Build

OK, so I’ve actually decided to build a kitplane, I just didn’t know which one, nor did I have a place to build one since I was living in an apartment in a Seattle suburb.

The first obstacle was to find a home with a garage. To clarify, I should note that my reasons for buying a place were not solely airplane-driven. I would have bought regardless, simply because it was a good time for me to make my first home purchase (good thing I did too, as housing prices in Seattle have risen sharply) and I needed the tax write-off.  Since I’m single, I really didn’t need a big home, and I could do without all the yard work, so I concentrated on condos and townhomes. Minimum requirements were:

  • Nice location
  • 2 bedroom
  • Good condition
  • 2 car garage with single door and no center posts

Believe it or not, I found the perfect place online (this is 1996, mind you, so online real estate shopping was a failrly new concept).  I called up the real estate agent and she showed me the place, which seemed just right.  It was only a couple years old, and I would be the second owner.  It was half way between Everett (where the Boeing widebody assembly plant is located) and downtown Seattle, which was ideal.  Just for comparison sake, we looked a half a dozen other places, but I ended up buying the first one even though it was a bit more expensive than the rest.  I moved in around Thanksgiving time 1996 (thanks again Wagnon’s for your help) and have settled in nicely.  Condo living is okay.

Now it was time to figure out which kit to buy.