The Airplane in a Makerspace: An Update

The Legal Eagle with tail installed. The fuselage was placed on leveled tables which acted as a reference surface in order to true and rig the landing gear.

The homebuilt airplane project at Appleton Makerspace is moving along well! With proper provisioning and support from the members, a Makerspace is proving to be an excellent environment for an ambitious project. From custom-machined engine parts, to wood CNC-routing, to 3D-printed cable fairleads & fairings practically every capability offered by Appleton Makerspace is being put to use assembling this scratch-built ultralight aircraft.

From custom-machined engine parts, to wood CNC-routing, to 3D-printed cable fairleads & fairings practically every capability offered by Appleton Makerspace is being put to use assembling this scratch-built ultralight aircraft.

One of the disk brakes installed on the main landing gear. The disk mount was designed in CAD software then fabricated with the CNC mill, the lathe, and the Diversion 180 TIG welder donated by Miller Electric in 2015.

Visitors will currently find the plane sitting proudly on its own landing gear with wings affixed. (You know you’ve made progress when a friend’s four year-old child identifies what you’re working on and exclaims “Daddy, he’s building a plane!”)

 

Jokes aside, build progress over the last several months has been quite rapid. Although working in a shared workshop that is open 24/7 with 40 members offers unique challenges to the aircraft builder, the opportunity for collaboration, the equipment, and the occasional hand lent by other members make for an easier (and more enjoyable) project. Having a heated facility with its own kitchen/breakroom, an assortment of tools for various disciplines, plenty of table space, a wifi connection, and the ability to use noisy powertools at 2 am without bothering anybody keeps my neighbors happy.

A nearly-complete rockershaft stand designed to lock into the cylinder head of a 1/2 VW engine. The part was designed in an EAA-member licensed copy of Solidworks and machined on the CNC mill.

Other Makerspace members have taken a serious interest in the seeing the plane fly, and having talented drafters and fabricators around has turned this two-person project into a team endeavor. Leading a small team of folks building a custom-airplane for nothing more than fun and an opportunity to learn is proving an invigorating challenge; in addition to the logistics of a build project I have to account for the skills and schedules of a team of folks that, although talented, aren’t “airplane people” (Yet!).

Brake disk mounts bolted together after machining and before welding. The bushings were cut on a lathe to ensure they ended up perfectly square, and the assembly was welded together as one unit before being cut into two mounts in order to maintain accurate alignment.

As far as large CNC equipment is concerned, Appleton Makerspace is still pretty humble (for now). Although we have a working CNC lathe, CNC mill, and a laser cutter we don’t yet own a Shopbot or other large CNC router common to most Makerspaces. Fortunately my build partner, a mechanical engineer who lives and works in Madison, is a member of Sector 67. Their facility offers some larger equipment should we want to machine anything more substantial; if you live in the Madison area definitely check them out!

We anticipate the airplane will be ready for flight-testing in June. I plan to conduct as much engine run-testing as is feasible at the Makerspace (with necessary safety precautions adhered to!) so that if tweaks are necessary they can be made in a well-equipped shop before shipping the operation out to the airfield for flight–testing. The decision that an aircraft is ready for flight is never one that should be made lightly; we’ll work as long as we have to be sure that this plane will safely fly. That being said, Appleton Makerspace has made building an airworthy airplane a far easier undertaking.