Initial Panel Rendering

After a bunch of back and forth with Aerotronics, we have a first pass rendering of the instrument panel. They have been absolutely great to work with thus far.

The highlights:

  • Triple Garmin 3GX touch screens
  • GTN650 IFR Navigator
  • Dual GSU25 ADAHRS
  • G5 Backup Attitude Indicator
  • GMC507 Autopilot Head
  • GMA245 Audio Panel
  • GEA24 EIS (Engine monitoring)
  • GTR20 Remote COM (COM2)
  • GTX45 Remote Transponder
  • SDS EFII Controller
  • Mountain High EDS-4ip 4 place oxygen controller.
  • GDL-51R Remote Sirius XM receiver

Odds and ends

Now that the doors are painted, it was time to put them back together, including the handles and associated racks.. I pulled out the safety wire and finalized the connection between this rod from the Planearound kit to the middle rack assembly. First was to safety wire around the body of the rod leaving plenty of length to the ends to pull through the door and the access hole in the door.

I fished the safety wire up through the hole with the help of needle nose pliers.

Then the wire is passed through the hole on the plane around pin that secures the rod to the rack (inside the door)

Pulling the ends of the wire causes the pin to slide downward and into the hole.

Pin pushed into the holes connecting the rod and rack.

Final step is to twist the wire, snip, and tuck the end into the inside of the door ensuring that it doesn’t snag up on anything while operating the hinges.

I then cut and sanded the Aerosport carbon fiber door sil covers. Reason for doing this now is I need to place the Planearound Cam blocks on the sil, and this will add a small amount of height. I also wanted to drill through this while match drilling the block to the door sil. As you may see below, I had to also cut out a notch from the micro that I had previously applied to get the cam block to sit completely on the sil and provide enough edge distance.

Door Sil Cap
A view of sil cap from across the plane

With that done, it allowed me to place the cam block on the sil, drill, and setup the cam location.

Cam and Cam Block on the left door.

I also spent some time cutting 3″ holes in the upper forward fuselage for defrost fans/avionics cooling.

Not that I didn’t know it was coming, but I’m quickly realizing that I’m moving into the expensive part of the build. Some recent goodies that showed up are the Mountain high 4ip oxygen system and my Aerosport 310 Instrument panel!

Instrument panel, side panels, and center console test fit.

I also placed a deposit on my engine build planned for April of 2021. Still hoping to go to Aerosport Power in Kamloops, BC Canada in April to build my engine with a tech for 3 days with their build school, but we shall see. Border is still closed with no opening in sight. I also ordered an Airflow systems Air Conditioning system to install as well. It will add some time and expense, but it’ll be worth it hauling the family around in the summer months and taking the edge off.

I then got to installing the engine mount by match drilling the holes and placing bolts in place as I went. One word of advise I saw from others was to start at the lower center holes and work upwards. This goes against the plans stating start at the top hole. The mount needed to be pulled outward a bit to match the center of the pre-drilled smaller holes in the firewall. All of the bottom holes aligned well from the start and allowed less stretching of the mount outward to get the hole drilled.

Engine mount temporarily mounted

With the engine mount in place, I set out to start working on the sky bolt 1/4 turn fastener install. Really just the flanges for now. The rest will come when I am fitting the cowl after the engine is hung. I chose to install the Skybolts around the entire perimeter of the Firewall. I’ll keep the hinge and pin for the top/bottom cowl split. I played around with placement of the flanges keeping in mind to avoid any interference with the engine mount and the sky bolt receptacle.

Avoiding interference with the engine mount sets the starting position at the top of the firewall

Door gapping and paint!

Once a consistent gap of approx 1/8″ was achieved all around the perimeter of the doors, I utilized 1/8″ adhesive foam tape to finish off the gap.

This foam tape was stuck to the edge of the door and a key point was to cover the exposed edges on both sides with packing tape so it releases from the door after the micro dries.

Foam tape on Right Door
Side view of foam tape with packing tape on the sides.

I then slathered up both sides of the tape with micro. I might have gone a little overboard here… Most of this get sanded off in the end.

View of right door complete and curing
An Airplane!

After sanding was completed, it provided a very nice and consistent gap all the way around the door. It also helped fix some spots where the door was ever so slightly above the surface of the cabin top or fuselage. This was mostly in the pillars around the windows/windscreen.

Right Side Sanded
Representative of the gap all the way around.

The process was replicated on the left side along with micro’ing over the fiberglass strip covering the small gap between the cabin top and fuselage.

Left door and side slathered with Micro
Right side fuse gap sanded.

Once all the micro was sanded and I was happy. I moved on to painting the doors. I followed the same process that I did for the overhead. A black PPG DPLF epoxy primer coat followed by PPG K36 high build primer. I did 2 rounds of that after fixing a couple of minor imperfections that really showed through after some paint on it. That was followed by an application of PPG Omni sealer, then 4 coats of the Oxford White base coat. The final step was to use the same Eastwood matte clear coat that I used on the overhead. Hopefully the clear coat will help protect a bit with all the wear and tear these things will endure. Below are some various shots of the doors the latter ones being the completed ones. It’s always hard to take pictures during this process. After the DPLF primer, I’ve basically only got enough time to clean up the gun and get ready for the next coat to be put on while it’s still wet.


In between paint sessions I spent some time doing some odd and ends like attaching the rudder cable fairings and rear NACA vents with Proseal. I also drilled some holes and riveted on nut plates to accept #6 screws on the bottom cowl plates I added to the firewall some time back. Lots of progress!

Rudder cable fairings
Rear NACA vents prosealed in place

Final door gaps and misc

Starting off from where I left off.. I slobbered a fair amount of micro around the bottom of the door openings to blend it with the adjoining structure and the previously done sections of the cabin top.

After sanding smooth. Another application of micro.. rinse and repeat a couple time, mostly just filling in little divots and/or imperfections.

I also used micro to cover over the screws attaching the cabin top to the structure.

Of course in between sessions of sanding and applying micro.. I got to painting my overhead panels that house the lights. I think it came out really good and hope it blends in well with the dark natural look of the overhead console.

Some other goodies arrived as well. Tires and tube along with my Matco wheels and brakes. I went with Desser Retreads and their 90 degree stem tubes. The items I purchased are listed below:

SKU: 15/600-6 6 RT
SKU: 500-5 6 PLY RTO
315/600-6 AERO CLASSIC TR-87-70 *BUTYL EASY VALVE (GL-1587)
SKU: GL-1587B
SKU: GL-5087B

Here are the wheel, brake, axle, and spacer combos from Matco that I purchased..

WHLNW511.25 – NOSEWHEEL, 5″ 1.251
MSCTRA1.5 – WASHER; A6 1.502

I’m still a little ways away from putting the plane up on the gear, but it won’t be too terribly long from now.

Then it was back for one last skim coat of micro around the doors and I placed a strip of fiberglass over the gap between the aluminum skin and the cabin top. Lots of bouncing around working mostly off plans for now.

There was also one other thing that I’ve been meaning to do prior to getting too much further along and installing the upper forward fuselage sections and buttoning up the tunnel… I wanted to pressure test my brake and fuel lines to make sure there were no leaks. It would be much easier to fix now while things are still generally accessible. I used my air compressor with an inline regulator and a shut off valve to decouple the air compressor from the lines. I placed a pressure gauge on the other end. The procedure was to get pressure in the lines (I used 20-25psi for the gas lines and 50psi for the brake lines). Make note of pressure reading on the output. Shut off the ball valve and let it sit for about 5 minutes. There should be no loss of pressure. If there is.. you’d spray with soapy water to find any leaks, which I did anyways just to give me peace of mind.

Inlet to the return line on firewall
Pressure gauge on other end
Still holding 22psi after 5-10 minutes

I then tested the fuel supply line. I had to reverse things and measure at the firewall and insert the pressure from the wings. The fuel filters and pump are uni-directional and doing it the other way.. I couldn’t get any pressure to the other end of the line.

I used a slightly different setup for the brake lines. I got a 1/8″ to 1/4″ NPT adapter to connect into the brake fluid reservoir. I used a 1/4″ NPT tee to connect the gauge into and capped off the AN fittings that go to the gear.

Picture of the brake setup

Then it was time to final gap the doors. I’m shooting for an approx 1/8″ gap. This will allow some space for paint, which will narrow that gap down significantly. To prep for that involved a lot of sanding. I re-installed the door handles and McMaster seals for this step so the door would be as close to its final position as possible. Then sand sand and more sanding. I used some thick scrap metal and wrapped 50 grit sandpaper over it to use as a gauge and to also sand back the last little bit by running it back and forth in the gap. Below are some pics during that sanding process.

Here you can see the top part is the typical gap I started with

This was repeated for the left side..

So now it’s time to get the foam tape I ordered and place it between the door and the cabin top and micro on either side of the tape to get a really nice final gap. Micro will also be used to build up a couple of low areas of the cabin top to match the height of the door.

Cabin Top Permanently Attached

Needed to finish up a few things after the paint was done which are much easier while the top is on its back. One of those things was trimming the fiberglass substrate for the headliner. I did that by laying out paper to make a template, transferred it to the fiberglass and used aluminum sheers to cut it out.

Paper Template

Testing the fit on the right side.

The same thing was done for the left side.

Both fiberglass pieces trimmed and in place.

I then spent some time installing the Map lights for front and rear passengers, overhead lights, and the Aerosport headset and seatbelt hangers.

Front MAP lights
Rear MAP lights and overhead dome light
Closeup of the front

I also got the headliner material in a Graphite color laid out to have a look at it all together.

Overhead panels complete!

I then put the door strut brackets back in and tested out the McMaster seal. The seal is actually a little short.. I guess I shouldn’t have cut it exactly previously. I suspect the build up with micro and paint is to blame. I may end up ordering another seal to make it perfect, as this is something you see every time you enter the plane.

Sitting in the back seat observing how the overhead and paint came out

Then it was on to doubling back and finishing a few tasks that I had left prior to permanently attaching the top. I had left the #12 and #19 holes un-countersunk in order to use Clecos while finishing the doors. So I countersunk them per the plans, installed the HW (loosely), and then applied a Flox/Epoxy mixture with a zip-lock bag with the corner cut out in the gaps between the lower half of the fiberglass door frame and the metal structure. I then tightened all the screws and cleaned up the edge to make a nice fillet all the way around.

Left door floxed and bolted in place
Right side screw heads sitting flush in the door sill
Right door done too!

Now my plan is to work on finishing the transitions along the bottom edge of the door with micro to match the rest of the cabin top. Then I’ll be working on final gapping the doors and painting them to match the cabin top.

Cabin Top Finishing

A long overdue update… Finishing the cabin top paint has dragged out longer than anticipated… After some discussion on VAF, I decided to use PPG paints. The suggested method was to use a darker epoxy based primer (like PPG DPLF) and then spray their K36 high build primer over it, wet on wet application. The darker DPLF serves as a guide coat of sorts, but also helps with adhesion. You spray 1 coat of the DPLF let it flash and then spray two coats of the K36. Let it dry, then block sand it stopping if you ever see dark come through. Clean up and do it again. The idea is to sand down the highs, while building up the lows and get something that is optically flat in the end. Knowing that these paints are pretty toxic and smelly.. I first had to setup a spray booth in my garage in order to exhaust all the fumes and overspray out. I looked online and at what a few others had done and built a 10×12 booth out of 1.5″ PVC, plastic sheeting, and a lot of duct tape. This took a while as I had to get all the supplies and do the build itself.

Rough sketch of the booth
Supplies are here.

I decided to buy a 12″ “Explosion proof” fan for the exhaust. This basically is a sealed motor type of fan. I’ve seen many people say that they’ve successfully used a standard box fan from Walmart or the like, but I wanted to be as safe as possible and not risk blowing up my house. I am using 20″x20″ furnace filters; 2 for the inlets; and 1 for the exhaust. I am using standard 20″ box fans for the inlet air as those blow shop air into the filter and shouldn’t have hazardous fumes passing through them. A single 20″x20″ furnace filter would catch most of the over spray prior to being sucked out by the exhaust fan.

Booth build in progress.
Filters in place

I was going for a negative pressure booth and as I got to testing it, I believe I achieved it as the plastic side walls were being sucked inward with the fans on. In this pic, I only have 1 inlet fan, but did add a 2nd one for more airflow.

Negative pressure
Exhaust fan at work

The next several pictures are of various stages of the DPLF and high build application. I didn’t take many pics of the black DPLF, because I had to spray the K36 high build about 5-10 minutes after applying the DPLF, so it didn’t leave a lot of time to take pics.

Not perfect, but more high build after this helped the transition.

The interior I’m going after is a two-tone graphite and Oxford white combo. Aerosport told me that their fabrics closely match SEM based paints. So I asked my local PPG dealer to make that color for me wanting to stick with PPG paints at this stage. They were really great to work with. Here is the Oxford White paint for the Cabin Top.

A couple more pics low to the surface.

While waiting for paint to dry etc.. I had some time to work on the doors. There were a few dings and nicks in the doors, which I filled with Micro and sanded smooth as shown below.

Micro over some big dings.
Those dings filled in after sanding

I then spent some time on filling in the door hinge pockets. This is needed to have a continuous surface for the McMaster door seal to seat against. I bolted the hinges in place with packing tape around them and used some micro/flox/cabo mixture to fill in the pocket, while leaving enough room for the hinge to slide out.

Micro/Flox/Cabo mix over the door hinge pockets.
Space for hinge to slide out.
Initial sanding of the door hinge pockets.

Here you can see a coat of the K36 high build with some hints of the darker DPLF coming through after sanding.

Then disaster struck. I had bought a disposable paint cup system ( a clone of the 3M system) to facilitate easier clean up and less use of harsh chemicals for cleanup.. First, while spraying the darker DPLF, I didn’t have the top of the paint cup seated well enough, and caused a slight drip, which I fixed, and then just dealt with it.. But then when I started spraying the K36, Well.. I must have not screwed down the top sufficiently enough because just after I had started to spray the K36 , the paint cup flew off of the spray gun getting paint (probably at least 16 oz.) all over everything… Leaving a big mess to clean up and me calling it a night at that point…

Huge mess of paint on the floor.. Thankful all on plastic.
After wiping off the bulk of the mess..

I then had to sand and start again for that coat.. it ended up okay in the end, but very frustrating when it happened… You can see here that I got some paint splatter on my hood. I opted for a fresh air system here as I did have a 3M cartridge-based system, but with these paints containing isocyanates, which don’t have an odor, there’s no good way to know for sure that your mask is working fine. Just because you don’t smell anything doesn’t mean you’re protected.

Some paint splatter on my fresh-air hood.

Then it was on to the top-coat. My PPG dealer suggested applying an Omni sealer on top of the last K36 coat, so I did that followed by a bunch of coats of the Oxford white.

After the top-coats were done, I removed all the masking, did some basic cleanup and got ready to clear coat the darker natural looking carbon fiber of the cabin top and the Oxford white as well. The darker exposed overhead areas was sanded with 220 grit, 320 grit, and 400 Grit sandpaper and cleaned up. Then a matte clear coat by Eastwood was used to clear coat the entire finished top and below are the results, which I am very happy with. Again, not 100% perfect, but very acceptable, IMHO. The rear areas that aren’t 100% painted will be covered with a fabric headliner material. Cutting and affixing the fiberglass for that area is up next along with getting the interior of the doors ready for paint. I will likely hold off actually paining the interior of the doors until I mount the cabin top and final gap the doors.

A view from the rear
Left side. You can see the paint line is reasonably straight
Similar view from the right side.

I’ll be filling in the front area where the support bar comes in once the top is permanantly attached to the plane. For now, I need to leave this area to be able to bolt down the support bar.

Overhead lighting

While waiting for epoxy to cure.. I spent some time on my overhead lighting plan. I am essentially copying what Ed Krantz came up with for an overhead lighting control circuit. It is car-like in operation. I plan for overhead white lights above the front and rear seats as well as in the baggage compartment. These overhead lights will be on a dimmer. I’ll have red map lights also dimmable. I plan to install footwell lights as well as panel/avionics lights also on dimmers. The door pins have magnets in them and I plan to use 4 proximity sensors (1 for each door pin; 2 per door). Not only will these be used to ensure that all 4 door pins are seated (causing a red LED to illuminate on the panel otherwise), but they will also be used in this lighting circuit. These proximity sensors basically act as a switch and will indicate when a door is opened. When opened, the overhead lights will come on full intensity, despite what they’ve been dimmed at, and stay on for a pre-determined time (somewhere around 15 minutes). Of course there will be an override button to disable this feature if you want/need to taxi with the doors open at night. I’ll also likely put an on/off switch on the circuit to be able to disable it during times where the doors may be open for long periods (i.e. annual condition inspection). I put together a quick video on my prototype of the circuit.

Cabin top shaping and finishing

Continuing from last time, I shaped the foam build ups that house the conduits into the switch pod with a long knife and sandpaper. Here you can see the basic shape I was after. There were some imperfections, so in the end I put a layer of epoxy flox over this whole structure to harden it up and provide a good base for filler on top. I’m leaving a gap for the support bar to go into place and get bolted down. I’ll then glass over this front area later once the cabin top is attached to the plane and make it look nicer.

Then it was time to start filling in the surfaces that will be exposed and painted with filler. Initially I chose to use a polyester bondo material called Evercoat Rage Ultra. I did the vast majority of the right side with this.. I wasn’t really happy with it in the end. I found it difficult to mix properly and it did really stink the garage up really badly. I then tried using the more generally accepted epoxy and microballons as a filler on the left side. This seemed to go much better. I felt like I could mix it up properly and fairly consistently each time and it was easier to spread. I also doesn’t smell at all.. I’m sure most of my struggle with the bondo was inexperience and sticking with it probably would have gotten better, but I decided to forge ahead just using the micro. I spent the better part of 2-3 hours sanding off the bondo that I had put on the right side until I was down to pink again.. . I then spent several sessions of filling and sanding.. filling and sanding the micro over all the exposed areas. Through this process, I learned that it’s ideal to mix up enough for the whole job and spread more than you’ll need rather than doing multiple fill and sand sessions. The thought here is that you’ll never mix the epoxy and micro to the same ratio between batches and the 2 different mixtures have different densities making it hard to sand well. So far I haven’t found it to be too much of a problem, but I’ve also not painted it yet.. so maybe time will tell. The below pictures are various stages of slathering on micro around the door pillars and flat areas in the door entries.

Left Side door

You’ll see below that I did end up spraying some black primer that I had lying around as sort of a guide coat prior to adding more micro. This can help see low spots easier as well as help as a sanding aide to not sand deeper than before. If you see black start coming through, you know to stop. In the end, I don’t think this was really needed.. I think judging with your eyes and fingers do just as good of a job in the right light.

The below pictures show a better profile of the build up into the switch pod. Here it’s still not perfect yet as I needed to fill imperfections and blend into the flat part a bit better.

Still some sanding to do
Still some divots to fill in.
Getting closer

Here I’m just about at the point of being happy with the overall shape and have little to no imperfections.

Just about ready to finish off the part.

Once you’re happy with the contour of everything, you apply a skim coat of neat epoxy and I used a squeegee to move the epoxy around in all directions to fill in any pinholes. I then used a 4″ foam roller to smooth it out and let it cure overnight. The foam roller leaves some small “dots” from the nap of the roller which I will lightly sand after things cure.

Finishing off with Epoxy via a squeegee
Finished the neat epoxy application over all surfaces.
Closeup of the right side door entry.
Closeup after cure and still a little sanding to do

I’m relatively happy with how it looks currently. By no means is it perfect, but I really just want something that is presentable and isn’t an eye sore. Next up is to paint it. The plan is to use a dark PPG epoxy primer and do a wet-on-wet application of PPG K36 high-build primer. There will likely be at least a couple of rounds of that building up the surface, block sanding, and repeating until the surface is as perfect as I can get it. Then a top-coat of paint will be going on after that. I’m planning of a charcoal and oxford white interior scheme, so this will be painted an Oxford White. I’m currently working of getting supplies together to build a temporary paint booth so I can shoot primer and paint in a reasonable atmosphere.

Overhead Console

I started off by getting the center of the cabin top marked in the aft and forward positions as well as marking spots on the overhead console itself to align both the front and rear to the top. I also installed the top baggage bulkhead and the skin to keep the rib steady as it can be floppy otherwise. Below is a picture of the spreader I bar I used to hold the aft end up while drilling holes (not all the way through, just enough for a cleco to bite) through the flange and into the cabin top. The forward end was held with clamps in the door openings.

Holding the Aft end up
Front Alignment to center

Once that was done, I took the cabin top off of the structure to work on finishing it upside down on the bench. First up was to sand down the high and ugly spots around the door frame and near the hinge pockets. It was such a nice day out that me and my son (who is up my butt constantly) went outside to make some fiberglass dust out there for a change. One note is that I am using a headliner material for the back half of the plane, so that area I don’t have to be too fussy with. I just need to make the areas around the doors pretty. As you can probably see from the pictures, the inside surfaces aren’t the best. I can say that this is the most recent top that is gel coated on the outside and the best quality that Van’s has put out yet. The 2 prior versions, especially the first, green color, one was really bad, and a lot more work to deal with for the early builders.

Sanding the high spots down
Me and my buddy!
Drilling extra holes to make sure I get adequate squeeze out for the adhesive

I then got the switch pod match drilled into place. This will house my light switches for taxi, landing, etc.. along with light dimmers for all interior lighting.

The overhead comes with a bar over the baggage compartment area to hang things on, if needed. I got to installing that by finding the center line and drilling the holes for screws to hold it in place.

I plan to do a matte clear coat on the overhead and leave the carbon fiber finished look. I think it’ll come out great. This is the 2-part clear coat I am using for the job (to be done later).

I then finished something I delayed a little but until I took the top off. I used the door strut brackets and wrapped them in packing tape and epoxy/floxed the area underneath of them. There were some gaps in the curvature of the fiberglass compared to the angle of the brackets and this provides a nice solid underlying surface for them to rest on. After curing, I popped them off and this is the end result. This side is the side that I used a washer to get the strut angled the way I wanted it, and you can see it is now permanently part of the structure.

I then worked on putting conduit runs on the back half of the overhead to easily run whatever I want/need through here. First to secure it, I copied what Dr. Mark in TX did with using zip ties and small pieces of metal riveted into shallow holes (same depth as the cleco holes) in the cabin top. This worked really well. Once done, I used some epoxy and flox to secure the areas between the ties so they don’t flop around and make noise.

Then it was time to run conduit in the door pilars. This will allow me to easily get wires up to the switch pod for all the functions intended. It’ll also allow me additional paths to get wires from the back of the plane down to the front, as needed.

Spot Epoxying the conduit in place

Once cured, I used some Loctite Expanding foam to fill in the gaps around the conduit. This will eventually be covered over with some epoxy flox mix for strength, but can be sanded down to shape beforehand.

Even though I did decide not to use the Airward hinge reinforcements I bought, I did decide to use the backing plates on the interior of the cabin and door hinges on the door side. Here is a picture of the cabin side after attaching them with some epoxy/flox and using screws to hold it in place while curing. This will alleviate needing to fumble around with nuts and washers.

One of the last things I needed to do was to figure out lighting for the overhead prior to bonding it down permanently. Most lighting will end up in the metal panels that screw into the openings you see, so really nothing to do for those right now. I did, however, decide to put two small LED lights in the baggage area. So I centered those around the hanger bar drilled the holes, and test fit them in place.

I drilled some 3/4″ holes in the back of the switchpod to run the conduit into it and as you can see, I also drilled a couple of holes on either side of the overhead to more easily allow wires that come from the back and get them into the switch pod and down the conduit.

I decided to unroll the headliner material (graphite is the color name) that came in to see how it looks against the dark carbon fiber finish of the overhead console.

Then the time came.. to permanently attach the overhead to the cabin top! I used the 2 part Lord Adhesive from Aerosport Products for this job and made sure to use a release agent on the clecos so they wouldn’t get stuck!.

I then used some #6 screws and some epoxy/flox to attach the switch pod in place. You can see some squeeze out here, which I wiped up prior to finishing up for the night.

After things cured overnight, I then took all the clecos out. Sanded down some squeeze out and filled in the area around the switch pod with some more foam to start to shape the transitions from the door pillars to the switch pod. I’ll let that cure overnight and then I’ll sand it to a basic shape and then next up will be starting to perfect the surfaces around all of this for final paint.

All bonded to the cabin top!
Building up the area into the switch pod