About The Project:

The airplane is a home-built, scratch-built Zenith CH 750 STOL. Building from plans/blueprints is a challenging way to build an airplane, since most of the parts you use to build it are not prefabricated. I chose the Zenith CH 750 STOL for its rugged design, its STOL (Short Take-Off and Landing) characteristics and its aluminum construction. Zenith Aircraft Company has designed this airplane so that it can be built from scratch or from a kit by the average person. They provide excellent technical support for both kit and scratch builders. In addition, I'll be installing a 1965 Chevrolet Corvair 164 cid horizontally opposed, air cooled, 6-cylinder engine, with special conversion parts to make it suitable for airplane duty. This is what the airplane will look like when I'm done, although I'll have a different paint scheme:

Follow my progress below!

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

DIY Aviation Survival Vest


The cold weather is finally coming to a close. I never could get a good heating solution going in the shop this winter, so not much progress was made on the Zenith for the past few months. In the interim, I've worked on a few more drafting videos and decided to put together a pilot survival vest. My mission for 2019 includes visiting some backcountry areas with the Cessna, so it just makes sense to have some kind of survival gear with me in the event of a forced landing or if I get stuck someplace. This kit fits well with my aviation goals in the future, especially when the Zenith is completed. Check out the video below for some show-and-tell on my DIY Aviation Survival Vest:


Sunday, March 10, 2019

Drafting Basics - Reading Zenith Blueprints Parts 1 & 2


Spring is just around the corner, but we still have too-cold temps for me to be in the shop. My number one priority for next winter is a real furnace that keeps the shop warm-ish all the time. After a long cold soak, it takes hours and hours to bring the shop up to temp because all the machinery, materials and other mass just sucks the heat right out of the air. So my solution is going to have the shop just stay heated all winter long to about 50-55 degrees, and then turn it up to 60-65 when I work out there. During the cold snap in February, it took me 3 days to bring the shop up to temp with my radiant kerosene heater. My big forced air propane and kerosene heaters just don't have the ability to maintain a temperature very well. They fill the shop with heat, but are super loud and super powerful, to the point I have to turn them back off and then the heat gets sucked right back out of the air. what a pain,

Anyway, since it's still a little too cold to work out there, I've added some Drafting Basics videos to my YouTube channel. These first two videos are all about how to read Zenith Blueprints. More videos on basic drafting skills and how to draw parts will follow.

Drafting Basics - Episode 2: Reading Zenith Blueprints - Part 1:

Drafting Basics - Episode 2: Reading Zenith Blueprints - Part 2:

More updates and build videos to come. Once I can start working in the shop again, I'll be priming and closing up the rudder. I'll then move on to the slats and flaperons.


Saturday, December 8, 2018

Shop Updates


I'll have some new videos coming out soon, but I can't seem to gain any traction on video editing when I have other actual things to do on the Zenith, the Cessna and my home. Case in point, the shop is continually evolving in terms of fabrication capability. For a while now, I've wanted a press brake kit from Swag Off Road. They make a fantastic finger brake kit that works with the 12- and 20-ton Harbor Freight hydraulic H-frame presses. Shortly after I bought my 20-ton version in mid-2017, I ordered the Swag Off Road machined bottle jack knob, which eliminated the need to use the jack handle to release the valve. It's a great upgrade and rather cheap. I then added an air-over-hydraulic jack, because manually pumping that press is awful.

Later in 2017, I took advantage of Swag Off Road's one and only sale, Cyber Monday, to order their upgraded arbor plates. Harbor Freight ships both the 12-ton and 20-ton presses with the same weak arbor plates. The 20-ton press can grenade the plates under full load, and some people have gotten hurt. The Swag Off Road arbor plates are a welcome addition to the press.

For this year's (2018) Cyber Monday sale, I finally snagged the Swag Off Road 20-ton heavy duty finger press brake kit and got it tacked up:

I'm only running a 110 circuit for my TIG welder, so even at full amperage I'm struggling to get this thicker stuff stitched together. Fortunately, full penetration welds are not required, so I'm getting by. Here, you can see the press brake in position atop the upgraded arbor plates, with the machined knob on the bottle jack valve:

Lastly, I've been working for a few weeks trying to get the wobble out of my drill press chuck. When the drill is running, you can visibly watch the chuck wobble pretty badly. I was measuring up to .040" run-out, which is terrible. The drill eggs out my holes and just won't drill squarely. I break a lot of bits drilling steel now, and just can't get everything squared up. First, I tried a new chuck that fits the MT2 spindle. It's a lot heavier, but is nicely made and very solid. It did nothing to fix the wobble. 

Next, I added new bearings. Still no dice. I used the shop press for the bearings and to seat the chuck, so I know it's on squarely (assuming the spindle is within spec). I can only surmise that either the spindle is flexing during operation (certainly possible...it's pretty small in diameter) or it is bent slightly. I'll probably order a new spindle (a lot of the original parts for this press aren't available anymore, but SearsPartsDirect.com does have the spindles). I've had this press for years, and I've asked an awful lot of it. It's slated for replacement with a floor-standing model, but I haven't found one in stock locally, and I'm not dropping $125 on freight charges.

Anyway, I'll do another update once the press kit is fully welded and I have the new drill press. However, the next updates will have to do with the Zenith project and not just shop woes!


Sunday, November 25, 2018

Time Away = Mistakes!


After what felt like forever, I was able to get back out to the shop over the past couple of weekends to work toward finishing up the elevator. One of the things that first stalled me out so many months ago was that I was trying to "build a better mousetrap" when it came to the access panels for the trim tab motor/servo. Zenith's typical access panels are just panels that are over-sized for the hole they cover and then riveted in place. I have seen some nice flush panels that use screws and rivnuts, had been interested in doing something similar.

After messing around with a rivet squeezer and some scrap a aluminum a couple times, I wasn't able to get my rivets to squeeze properly. I've watched several videos on this and I'm certain there's something simple that I've overlooked. But, I couldn't make them work some months ago and set that (and the whole project) aside due to other distractions. I finally just decided to go with what the blueprints specify (the simplest of solutions, to be sure), because I can always retrofit later. 

Enter Fall 2018: It's been 9 months since I last touched the project, and over a year since I had any kind of progress tempo going. I was dreading cutting the access panels and actuator cut-outs on what was otherwise a near-perfect elevator. Well, with my time away and perhaps a little too cavalier an attitude, I made a few mistakes when I started cutting.

I have no idea how I ended up doing it, but I cut the access panel on the top surface of the elevator instead of the bottom, right where the trim servo is supposed to mount:

What a beautiful access hole & cover panel! But, it's pretty clear in the blueprints:

My only solution was to rivet the original cover plate I made (the very first part I made for the airplane!) over the hole and then rivet the trim servo to that & the skin:

This turned out okay and has plenty of strength, but I got very lucky with the placement and spacing of rivet lines. I also had to drill an extra hole in the left (hidden from view above) mounting flange of the trim servo to accommodate an extra rivet where there's an existing hole in the skin. Again, very lucky that this all lined up properly under the circumstances.

Here, you can see the access panel cut-out in the proper location on the BOTTOM skin, actuator rod sticking out the back and ready to trim to length and mate to the elevator. A keen eye will notice the rivet hole that's too close to the actuator rod port. This was because I laid out & drilled my rivets before laying out the actuator port. Another rivet approximately 12 mm from the edge rivet will keep things structurally sound. If it develops a crack at the edge, I can simply widen the cut-out enough to remove the crack & rivet hole.

As if all that wasn't enough, I accidentally drilled & mounted the trim tab bracket to the trim tab backwards:

These 4 extra holes are from where I'd had it mounted on the wrong side. I originally thought I formed the bracket as a mirror image to what is shown in the plans, and therefore thought I would need to mount it on the outboard side of the trim tab arm. However, because I failed to do a simple test fitment of these parts before drilling, I failed to see that I had formed the trim tab bracket properly, thus requiring it to be mounted on the inboard side of the trim tab arm. This isn't a complete disaster, since four A4 rivets in those holes will seal them up and only 2 of the rivet heads will be in the slipstream. But still...dumb mistake!

Finally, although this isn't a mistake so much as a modification, I added some of Zenith's "Standard  L" to my nose and tip ribs to stiffen them up. When Zenith forms these, they have a little more flange material around the radius of the nose, allowing for a 3rd rivet to be installed on the skin toward the nose of the elevator. I had to trim away material bit by bit to get the radius to form on these ribs without cracking the material. As such, I felt they were a little too flimsy, and added some stiffening angle to them:

Ordinarily, you would install a 3rd rivet on the top and bottom radiuses, just head of the 2nd crimp around the nose. But I don't have enough flange material. These nose ribs really only provide a little shape structure for the curvature of the nose skins, so they don't need to be super strong, but the stiffening angles will certainly ensure they don't flex or crease under any kind of pressure.

As to why I made the errors in the access panel and brackets, I can only speculate that it's largely because I've been away from the project and remembered things incorrectly. Once you break the cycle of productivity, it's really hard to get it back. Moving forward, I'll keep reminding myself to check and re-check the locations of things and do test fits BEFORE I drill holes. At least I have the elevator completed, and just need to disassemble, prime and re-assemble with rivets. I filmed a lot of these issues  and will present them in my elevator build videos. More to come!



Sunday, September 9, 2018

Training & Flying


As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the reasons I bought the Cessna was so that I could get back in the air while I build the Zenith. I had not been at the controls of an airplane in 5 years prior to buying the Cessna, and had logged very few hours in the previous 5. Most airplane builders usually have something to fly while they're building. After all, most builders are pilots and flying is largely the goal.

I got about 5 hours of dual instruction with a great instructor, and that included my Biennial Flight Review. I was amazed at how much I'd lost in skill in the last 10 years. I had to learn how to land a plane almost all over again! But, since getting my wings back, I've managed to fly another 12.5 hours. The plane has been in the shop for the past 3 weeks getting the nose strut rebuilt (a known issue when I bought it). But right before that, I flew my first Young Eagles!

My local EAA Chapter hosts three Young Eagles flight events during the summer. My first time out, I flew 31 kids and logged 4.8 hours of flight time, with 11 separate flights. It was a long, hot day, but totally worth it.  If you're unfamiliar with the EAA Young Eagles program, check it out here. I highly recommend getting kids to one of these free events to spark their interest in aviation! Free flights for kids ages 8-17, with a host of other benefits.

That's all for now. I'll be heading out to the shop to get back to work on the Zenith.


Monday, August 6, 2018

Where have I been?


Wow, a whopping 8 months since my last blog update...so what's been going on?

Since November 2017, I have worked a lot on the project, but that all largely went on hold once winter set in. The 2017-2018 winter season was so cold I could not heat my shop/garage the same way I had in previous years. I tried several alternatives, but nothing worked. I switched gears and finished up a basement project unrelated to the Zenith build.

I also had emergency surgery, had to deal with a rental property that was destroyed by my tenants, among many other things. From April-July, I did nothing but work on the rental property. I was able to sell it, though, so that's a relief.

In addition, I bought an airplane. That's right, I bought a plane! I purchased a 1962 Cessna 172D with a Stene STOL kit. Prior to buying the Cessna, I had only logged about 11 flight hours in the last 10 years! Since the ultimate goal with the Zenith is to fly the darn thing, I figured I better get back in the sky and knock the dust off my piloting skills. I looked for months for a suitable factory airplane to serve me while I finish the Zenith. I figured that the 172D with STOL kit is pretty good certified approximation to the Zenith, even though it's a lot bigger and heavier.  However, it gives me pretty good STOL performance in a tricycle, high wing package. I'll be doing some pretty solid training and practice with it, in hopes that I'll be ready to transition to the Zenith when the time comes. I got the plane for a really good price and it was local to my home airport.

The nose art was on the plane when I bought it. The former owner is an Air Force veteran, who had the nose art added in tribute to "The Ruptured Duck," of The Doolittle Raid. Not sure if I'll keep the art or not. But for now, she's a great VFR bird for training, practice and loads of fun!

Back to the Zenith:

I haven't given up. My shop has been full of other projects and such since about February, so the Zenith has just been in moth balls since then. Now that all side projects are largely done, I'll be getting back into the Zenith soon. I'm finishing up a DIY airplane tug for the Cessna right now. My last progress on the Zenith was in February 2018, when I worked on the elevator. I shot a ton of footage of the elevator build, but then the memory card malfunctioned and I lost over half of it. There is no way to get the footage back unless I re-shoot it while building a new elevator. You can guess that's not going to happen, So my next project update video will only have a little elevator footage.

More to come!