Category Archives: Aircraft Restoration

Is a blog just a blog?

Sorry about yesterdays disjointed post. I’m really not sure what happened, other than distraction and a somewhat confused general state of mind after spending the day in the shop cleaning up.

This morning I am gonna’ do a little house cleaning here on the blog.

I had set up a blog for Off Grid stuff. If you know me IRL you know I want to live ether next to, or near by a small airport away from “the city.” Hey, I am a small town kind of guy. I also want to be living as self-sufficiently as possible. The Off Grid blog had a few entries that I wanted to keep so I moved them her to FBJ and closed down that blog. If you are interested, they are in the Off Grid category on this site and I will be posting any new stuff here.

It seems like the FBJ site has always been somewhat enigmatic to me. Maybe it’s my OCD that gets in the way of just posting when the mood strikes. I like to have things compartmentalized into there own little categories separate from each other. Having an idea for a post is one thing, I have them all the time, what usually keeps me from posting is where to post it. This gets messy when you have so many interests, and worse when you have a bunch of topic specific blogs. So here we are again, It all comes back to FBJ. I am going to try and post when the ideas strike rather than saying to myself that it should be posted somewhere specific to that interest.

I will continue posting to Lumber Jocks because I am participating in the woodworking community there and that interaction is important to me.

The Vintage Aero Works site and blog are still in the planning stages, but that site will most definitely be reserved for aircraft restoration projects and related topics. it will be my commercial/professional website.

So what will be posted here on FBJ? A little bit of everything. A lot of aviation, some school related posts, woodworking adventures which will mostly be tool and aircraft related along with skill builders and cabinetry work, and any progress in moving off grid and all of its related topics. All of this along with an occasional soapbox post on politics, religion, philosophy, the economy, or anything else that pops up.

One of my goals for this year is to be more engaged with the FBJ site. We shall see how it goes.

Until next time. Peace, Love and Airplanes.

Test Pilot: 101

Test Pilot, one of the most glamorous titles for a pilot, right? Well, sort of. The adage goes, if you deviate from limits or design you become a test pilot. This usually is intended to make you think twice before deviating from said limits and/or design. In the movies the Test Pilot usually pulls up just before impacting terra firma, or in the more intense films he ends up climbing out of the smoking or maybe not. The realities of flight testing seem to be that it is a much more mundane job, or at least it is supposed to be. When it gets exciting, something has gone wrong.

None of this comes from experience as of yet, it comes from doing some research on test flying amateur-built experimental aircraft. I have been wanting to build or restore an airplane for a long time and as the primary worker-bee I want the spoils of war, namely, I wan to test fly my work. Many experimental builders think of the test period required for the airworthiness certificate is just the need to fly off the 40 hours without attracting any attention from the FAA or NTSB; this was never how I saw the test flight. I had always planned on a full and thorough flight test program but I wasn’t really sure what that was.

Flight testing is apparently akin to an aviation black-magic that only a few initiates have a deeper understanding of, or at least that what it seemed like. After poking around on the internet for a couple of years I gathered a few resources but was still somewhat in the dark. Many moons ago I put a book on my Amazon wishlist “Flight Testing Homebuilt Aircraft” by Vaughan Askue. This was the only reasonably priced reference book I could find and it didn’t require an engineering degree to read the table of contents. This week I finally purchased the book. I am only about half way through and already I have had dozens of ah-ha moments of clarity that merged my pilot brain and mechanic brain in a way that they both benefited from the point.

As I said, I’m only about half way through this reading, I am sure I will be reading this book several more times. The biggest thing I have learned is that a good flight test program begins long before a single part is constructed or reconstructed as the case may be. Since I am inclined to move into restorations what this means for me is that I need to start thinking about the flight test program before I start the work.

By approaching the restoration as a test pilot as well as a mechanic I can head off some of the things that slow down all of the phases of a project, as a mechanic it gives me a closer relationship with the airplane from a systems and structural perspective.

I will be finishing the first read of the book fairly soon and I am looking forward to putting some of this new found  associative knowledge to good use.

Blue skies and tailwinds,

Knowledge tests done

Stearman wing rib jigOn Monday, June 4th I went down to Ocean Air Flight Services with my classmate Rob where we took our General and Airframe knowledge tests passing them both handily. With that behind us the next step is to head out to Byron Airport, again with Rob, and take the practical for General and Airframe which we already have scheduled for Tuesday, June 12th.

Today I took the day off from studying, got side tracked by a little “work”, then got to take a few hours of mental relaxation and headed down to the shop to work on the Stearman wing rib jig I started working on back on May 29th.

Working on the Stearman wing rib jigI started off by trimming the blocks I milled the other day down to the right size. After trimming things down a bit, I gathered the rest of my materials. With brass tack nails, glue, and a couple of hand tools on the jig board I got started nailing the blocks into place.

After a few hours of tacking and gluing the blocks in place I had almost all of the inside blocks in place and nailed down. There are just a couple of blocks left on the interior to install then I get to extrapolate the nose-block and figure out how to block the furthest aft vertical truss piece. That last item is going to be interesting because there is no room to block in the piece with the gussets in the way on the sample rib I have.

I learned a few things while doing this today; the most important of which is to not hold out on the good lumber for the jig blocks. Another thing is that lots of small blocks is much better than fewer large blocks. While your at it, if you use a good medium/hard wood, take the time to pre-drill the blocks. As it is, there are 73 blocks on the inside (or will be anyway) and I am estimating 60 blocks on the outside, that’s a total 133 blocks for this wing rib jig.

Were I to start over on this one, I would take a lot of time to pre-cut, pre-drill, sand, and set nails in 250 or more 3/8″ x 3/8″ x 5/8″ long blocks of Douglas Fir. In fact, I am sure I will be doing another jig sometime in the near future so I think once this jig is done, I am going to prefab a box of 500 or more jig blocks. Of course to fabricate that many blocks I will need to build a jig-block jig to make all of them. 😉

☮ ♥ ✈

Enter December

Here we are, it’s already December. It seems like just yesterday I was all jazzed about starting a build project, a new weight loss program, and going back to school.

Let’s get the ugly out of the way first. The build project was basically abandoned. I had only built two bulkheads and had not spent that much money, so it wasn’t a painful decision just a pragmatic one. The airplane would not really meat my needs in the long run, so it wasn’t a good choice in the first place.

Going back to school was a bit more interesting. My initial plan was to work towards an aeronautical engineering degree. After some thought and talking with some other people it seemed wiser to work on a more practical program like getting my FAA Airframe & Powerplant certificates.

I signed up for the Spring semester at San Jose City College and began working on my general education requirements. In the Fall I signed up at Gavilan College in the AMT (Aviation Maintenance Technology) program and work on my A&P.

One of my instructors and a fellow student are electrical engineers and they both confirmed that going after the engineering degree, while interesting, wouldn’t really help me with my plans.

My first term is just about over now and things are going well and I’m looking forward to next term. Admittedly, at the moment I am looking forward to winter break a little more.

Till next time,

AMT school and projects

It’s been a few weeks since I posted last. School has bee going well, it’s a lot of hard work but I am having a great time. Lot’s of quizzes and tests and we are covering a lot of material. It’s hard to believe we are already half way through the first semester.

Classes are a combination of lecture and shop time with a variety of shop projects. Projects so far have included steel bar stock forming, riveting, sheet metal layout and bending, stock drilling, taping, broken bolt/stud extraction, Heli-Coils, and safety wire. we have several more projects lined up as well.

Outside of the class room, I got myself hooked up with a repair/restoration project. It’s a late 1950s Cessna 140A. I spent much of Saturday working on airplane. After removing the doors we set to work on removing the wings. After the wings were removed we set to work on the tail section removing the vertical and horizontal stabilizers. After all that and a bit of a bath, we got started on stripping the landing gear down.

With the airplane now on a rotating frame, we need to remove the spring steel gear legs so we can get started on skin section removal here-n-there and a really dig into a thorough structural inspection.

The best part of this project is that I am getting some real-world repair, maintenance, and inspection time in. I am looking forward to our next trip down to work on the plane again.

Until next time, blue skies and tail winds,


This time next week I’ll be sitting in class!!!

I have some more fiberglass work to do today that requires me to leave the house and pick up some materials and supplies over at TAP Plastics. With stuff in hand I can finish the big patch of repairedness by the front door and move on to the next spot tomorrow. There are three spots I have not gotten to yet. If I can get one more done before school starts that will be good. The rest will need to be done on weekends. before the wet season begins.

Not nearly as many projects got finished over the summer as I had planned, and nothing got done on the airplane mostly due to buttstucktochairwhileoncomputeritis; eh, it happens. With any luck being at school will help motivate me to work on weekend projects and if I chunk them down into smaller pieces like paint a wall and not the paint the entire stairwell including floor maybe I can find and keep my motivation to get them done.

It’s kind of funny how I am great at planing and running projects and events in the real world but when it comes to maintenance around the homestead I seem to get stalled-out. Not sure why that is, but I have ideas. We have been here 15 years as of April 1, no joke, that’s our anniversary date here, and I have been itching to move on for several years now. Not like it’s a bad gig or anything, on the contrary, it’s a really good gig that has saved our butts through bad times and has given me opportunities to pursue my own business interests, learn a ton of new skill sets in the outside world, and is now allowing me to go back to school. I have absolutely nothing to complain about.

Speaking about stalled out, the last few weeks have been one of those weight loss plateaus that picks at your resolve to hold fast and keep on track. Well I have kept on track and I am starting to see results again. I am within a few tenths of a pound of my lowest weight in several decades and a few pounds from reaching a benchmark goal. I am still logging my food and exercise and plan to continue with that. A friend recently gave me a bike so now the wife and I can go hit some of the bike trails before the weather turns, in all of my copious amounts of free time of course.

I have made a two year commitment to complete my FAA Airframe and Powerplant mechanic certificates which will be followed with some real world work experience, with any luck anyway. The plan is to start cultivating the contacts and experiences in the restoration world that will position me as a vintage/warbird restoration specialist.

There are other certificates and ratings I want to pick up along the way, most notably a senior parachute rigger certificate which ties in nicely to test piloting aircraft I restore. Another thing high on my list of certificates is to finish my flight instructor and instrument flight instructor tickets. It’s all part of the master plan that I have been working on since 2006.

Sometimes it is hard to believe I have been a pilot since 2004. I want to finish of my first decade as a pilot by reaching several aviation goals but time is quickly slipping away. The AMT program will wrap July of 2013, that will give me till ether April 24 2014, the anniversary of my first flight as a student, or October 11 2014, the date I earned my private pilot certificate. Most likely I’ll run with the October date. That will give me 15 months to reach my other goals after earning my A&P. Hey, all it takes is money and time, right?

FlyBoyJon’s First Decade of Flight Goals

As you can see I am a little better than half way there. It has certainly been an an interesting decade for me and I am looking forward to several more with a lot more aviation.

✔ Private Pilot
✔ Instrument Rating
✔ Commercial Pilot
✔ Advanced Ground Instructor
✔ Instrument Ground Instructor
O Airframe & Powerplant Mechanic
O Flight Instructor
O Instrument Flight Instructor
O Senior Parachute Rigger

As always my friends, blue skies and tailwinds,

Keeping in touch

It has been almost a month since I last posted an update and not a whole lot has happened. The semester ended, I earned four A’s and one B and I’m not happy about the B, but it was what I earned. I am doing a lot of day job catch-up to try and finish a stack of projects before AMT school starts August 10th, and let me tell you, AMT school can’t start too soon. I am so excited to start this program. I have been catching up on all of my aviation mags, reading the federal regulations relating to AMT’s, and poking around in some of the other study materials as well as looking up info on my own airplane project.

Speaking about the airplane project… I have done almost nothing since February 6th and that makes me a little sad. Yesterday I was out at Kelly Moore picking up some materials for the day job and decided to ask the resident paint encyclopedia Dan about the properties of varnish and the thinning there of. Don confirmed some things I had heard before and gave me some new insight into the use of varnish for aircraft wooden structures.

Turns out that gloss finish is lighter weight that semi-gloss or matte finishes. The reason is simple. To reduce the gloss in the finish they add a de-glosser, small particles that make the surface a little less regular. The less glossy the finish, the more particles. This is an over simplification of the chemistry involved, but it is the basic gist.

So for airplanes we want the lightest coating possible to keep the over all weight of the airplane down. One thing done to reduce the weight further and improve the penetration of the varnish is to thin it with paint thinner. The thinner acts as a carrier agent allowing the varnish to go deeper into the wood structure and then evaporate off. It’s a win win, less varnish used and a deeper layer of protection. We varnish wooden aircraft structures to protect from moisture from water but it also protects from other things like oil, fuel, and anything else that would soak into the wood and cause or accelerate deterioration.

Just about all wooden parts are treated on all surfaces to protect them including in between parts where they are joined by hardware. This is one of those capture points that would accumulate moisture and trap it causing an acceleration in deterioration. Inside drilled holes is another place to ensure a good coating and penetration of varnish to protect from the corrosion of metal parts.

The parts that are not completely treated are the ones joined with adhesives. Many structural pieces are joined with epoxies. For the epoxy to penetrate and join the materials those surfaces must be completely free of varnish. The epoxy protects the surfaces it is in contact with.

After a joint has been made and cured, varnish can be used around the joint to protect wood not protected by the epoxy. But danger lurks here if you are not careful, if the varnish, or more precisely the material used to thin the varnish, reacts negatively with the epoxy it can weaken or even destroy the structural integrity of the joint resulting in catastrophic failure.

To mitigate the risk of this kind of failure, you need to do some destructive testing. Test the wood for penetration with different ratios of varnish and thinner, using different thinners, and those mixtures that work best on epoxied joints. Making sure to use the techniques and materials you would use on the airplane. Same wood, same epoxy, same varnish mix.

Ideally, the woods own internal structure will separate before the joint fails under static or dynamic loads. If the joint fails, its back to the bench for a new formulation.

All of that having been said, paint thinner is not the only substance that could be used to thin the varnish. Naphtha could also be used. Using Naphtha would decrease the drying time and generate more heat in the curing process, the unknown is how it will affect the T-88 epoxy I will be using. This means I need to do some bench testing. I will be laying out a short test program later.

That’s all for now, so if you have a chance, go punch some holes in the sky for me.

Blue skies, and tailwinds,

Big changes continue…

I started this post a couple of days ago. I had to be sure things were going to happen before posting. There have been some big changes in my education plan over the last two weeks.

My first full semester at San Jose City College is just about done. Nothin’ left but finals next week. I have been doing well, I like all of my classes, my instructors are great, and I have made some new friends. My classes have all been GEs because I was planning on transferring to San Jose State to work on an engineering degree.

After doing some research and chatting with persons in-the-know I came to the realization that spending six years to get a masters in engineering just might not be a good idea. Statistically it is unlikely that a newly minted, 50 year old, engineer will be able to find a job as an engineer. Further more it doesn’t get me much closer to my career objective of restoring vintage airplanes and warbirds, with instruction and aerobatic competition on the side.

Another fly in the education ointment has been that I have little to no exposure to aviation folks. I have been focused on getting my GEs done, but there have been many distractions diverting my attention. Let’s face it, I have a lot of diverse interests. What I need to be doing is getting back to eat, sleep, dream, and live aviation like I was back in flight school.

With that in mind, I found a place semi-local, to work on my aircraft mechanic certificates. This would give me what I need to actually start working in the field. It also brings my objectives into focus on a practical level. A two year FAA approved A&P (airframe & powerplant) certificate program is available down in Gillroy at Gavilan College. It’s a bit of a hike and will cost a lot in fuel and auto maintenance, but over all well worth the effort.

One of the nice things about this is that I am still only a few classes away from finishing my AS in Aviation Operations at Mountain State which I can get done slowly over the next 2 years. I will also be able to get credit for my A&P, enough credit in fact that with a hand full of other classes I would qualify for my BS in Aviation Management. As for the Masters… I can work on it through MSU, SJSU, or another institution if I choose, but it really isn’t a necessity. The engineering stuff, well, that I can do on my own. The engineer provides data as needed to the FAA but is not a “Certificate holder”, It’s the A&P/IA who signs off on work done and mods.

In other areas…

Weight loss going very well. I am just shy of 30 pounds lost since the beginning of the year That is half of my goal for this year. It feels good to be getting into shape. Getting up early every day is still lax but I am getting better about it. School will held a lot since I will have to be in Gillroy by 08:00. I have also been getting a lot more exercise, though it is not every day yet. A lot more walking on the schedule and I have been much more active over all.

I have been keeping track of my food on and that has helped a lot. If you struggle with weight I recommend this site. Calorie counting is not for everyone but this tool makes it a lot easier. Recently I made some changes to the automatic plan they calculate by lowering my targets for calories, sugar, and carbs while increasing fat and protein. None of the changes are drastic, just tweaks to see if they achieve the desired effect. Boy have they worked out! 11 pounds of that 30 have been over the last 14 days. I am expecting a plateau soon but I am hoping for 10 more pounds before it happens.

The day job is still not getting the attention it needs but The plan is to focus on a kick-ass-and-take-names short summer with three projects that I want to finish before school starts on August 10th.

Building the airplane has been on a bit if a hiatus. I want to be in the shop working but I just haven’t had the time. It will get done, I just don’t know when. For now, it is not a priority. Once I am working on my A&P I may be able to use the VP as shop project time.

All in all things are going well and moving forward. And really, what more can I ask for.

Until next time, blue skies and tail winds,

A Jenny I know

Greetings fellow aircraft enthusiasts,

I want to give a special shout out to Brian Karli in Peachtree City, GA. Brian has been doing an amazing job documenting his Curtis Jenny Restoration. He started in 2006 with a pile of original parts and is getting ever closer to a meticulouslly restored Curtis JN-4D, and she is one georgious girl.

Almost two years ago I started following Brians restoration blog. I don’t want to sound like a fanboy here but I realy look forward to each and every post about this beautiful airplane and her restoration. It’s Brian’s enthusiasim, love of aviation, and continuing efforts in documenting his project that have keep the fire alive for me.

A Jenny would be an awesome build project, as well as several other fabric covered airplanes but at present finances, none of them are doable just yet. The Jenny is still on the short list for build projects. This is where the Pocket-Change Builder came from. Seeing Brian’s Jenny coming to life fueled my own desire to build and build now. So here we are, N-number reserved, build plans enroute, and me itching to dive in.

Thanks again Brian for all of your hard work.