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Lessons Learned

Lessons from my build

Mistakes happen – If you think you are going to get through the build with just the parts that Vans sends you, then you are mistaken.  I am not finished the empennage while writing this and I have purchased 3 rudder skins, 3 left elevator skins, 1 right elevator skin, 2 trim tab spars, 1 left elevator spar, 1 rudder aex wedge and 2 trim tab skins (which I bought voluntarily so I can screw it up on two of them and get it right on the final one).  In almost every case fatigue, inattentiveness, rushing all played a part in messing things up.  Slow down.  Pay attention.  Take breaks.

Get help when you need it – Sometimes you need 3 hands to do things.  Go find that third hand.  Don’t try to jury rig something, get a neighbor or a child or anyone to help out.

Don’t try to solve problems you don’t have – One of the nice things about building a Vans Aircraft is all the help there is on the Internet.  Many people have come before you and probably run into the same problem you’ve run into.  Often times when reading a build site, or surfing through VAF you can find alternate ways of performing tasks.  Take these with a grain of salt.  It is very tempting to look at what they did and want to emulate it.  After all, if they ran into issues and solved it this way, then its a  good thing.  Trust me, DO NOT replace the steps that Vans has provided you until you actually run into a problem.  Try what Vans says to do, first.  If after working it out on your own you find that an alternate way is the way to go, then you can start to experiment with new methods.  Heck, you might come up with an easier way to do things.  Give the Vans method a try first, then go to something else.  Every single time I’ve had an issue with the Vans step, bending a tab comes to mind, all I had to do was mock it up and try it.  After two or three tests it came out just fine.  The times I tried someone elses method I find out they left steps out, have access to tools and knowledge I don’t have…etc.

Buy some oops rivets – just get some.  No sense in your project grinding to a halt because you don’t have any.  I got  some in two lengths, 3.5 and 4.

Count your Pop-Rivets – Along the way you are going to make mistakes.  No problem, you can drill out rivets and replace them.  Be careful with your PoP Rivets.  You have a finite number of them and it doesn’t take to many mistakes before you find yourself having to order new ones.  I need about 17 AD41-ABS rivets today to finish my elevator.  It is the day before memorial day.  Vans charges .04 apiece for them so the cost would be .68.  Shipping will be about $20 and they wont ship until Tuesday (if I’m lucky).  So I will get my rivets on Thursday or Friday for ~$21.00 for .68 worth of rivets.  If I had counted them last week I would have found this out and been able to save the time and maybe money as well.

Organize the little baggies – When you take delivery on a sub structure from Vans you will get a bunch of little baggies of stuff.  Rivets, bolts, hinges, nut plates etc…  Each of these is in a nice bag so that they don’t get lost.  Get yourself a cheap organizer from a DIY store and label each cubbie that you put screws, nut plates, rivets….etc in.  The label should be what the item is and what bag it came from.  You can use old coffee cans, Altoid boxes, whatever.  Just so that you can put an item in a container and label the container.  The reason to do this has several facets.  Vans instructions don’s say “Use an MK-318-BS rivet from bag 627…”.  The instructions just say, “Use an MK-318-BS rivet…” which you now have to go search for.  You have to get out your inventory of the bags that were provided by Vans, find the rivet and use it.  It takes time and if you had a nice organizer box full of compartments, you could just look for the right compartment and grab the rivet.  Another example is a baggy that comes with 3 diffferent sizes of bolt, washer and nuts.  If they aren’t organized, your project grinds to a halt until you can sort them out.  What if the baggie has two bolts.  You use one, then 2-weeks later the plans call out to use 2 bolts.  Will you remember that you used the wrong bolt, previously or will you assume Vans didn’t ship two bolts?  I’d forget, sure as heck.

Get the CD and an electronic inventory – Go to the Vans Aircraft website and order your plans on CD.  Once you have this resource electronically you can use it to search for a particular step in the instructions.  Unfortunately the plans are not searchable.  Also, call Vans and get them to send you a text file of your inventory AND a text file for the bag inventory.  That bag inventory has saved me.

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