Building My Dream Plane – Day 01

Stating that this day far exceeded my expectations doesn’t come close to explaining how absolutely incredibly amazingly thrilling of a life experience that DAY 01 of my “Building My Dream Plane (Sportsman)” was. Instead of panicking about the 10.5 hours a day of intense work and inevitable brain drain with all the new techniques and systems I need to cram into just 14 short days; I only grew more excited as my first day of building my dream airplane drew near.

The FAA allows me to hire helpers to assist in building my own experimental aircraft, so my “Commercial Assistants” at Glasair Aviation have already been extremely helpful, patient and professional, obviously passionate about building the various kit aircraft that Glasair Aviation offers.  The project is also stunningly organized and has a storyboard-like wall containing the entire build, which coincide with the 1,500 pages of plans in bite-size booklets on the wall just to the right:

Glasair has Rick working on the wings (he worked for years a Boeing and is an obvious professional), Matt’s got the entire tail section, and Kevin is working on everything inside the cabin (such as brakes and fuel lines) and anything that’s firewall forward, including my super-awesome Lycoming O-390 engine.  And then there’s Ben, who oversees the entire project and not only ensures we’re on time, but helps with any questions or tasks that need doing like caulking the windows ensuring I get as professional a build to my aircraft as possible.

And actually, a lot of what I thought I’d have to build on the aircraft (after reading through the 1500 pages of plans before arriving in Arlington, WA for the build) was already complete when I got there, including fabrication of the sanded and primed carbon fiber fuselage.  The main steel cage was already installed, including the pulleys and the rigging inside the cabin.  The entire lower half of the wings, as well as the flaps and ailerons were already built and riveted, making it all make a lot more sense about how, even with a team of commercial assistants and 10.5 hour days, how I could end up with a completed aircraft at the end of two weeks.

Speaking of, it’s about 292 hours to build the Glasair Sportsman using their Two Weeks to Taxi program.  We ended up getting 30 out of the 25 we needed to get done today, partly because I haven’t been so excited to “work” this hard except for the days my recording studio (The Playground) was in full swing.  Matt said he’s never had a rudder install so smoothly and start off so “true,” so I’m taking that as a good omen of how our build may go.  I find it incredible how many measurements and angles and fittings and placements need to be within tenths of degrees or 1/16th’s of inches.  I plan to do whatever it takes to ensure that my plane flies as true as possible, especially knowing how much time I’ll be spending in this aircraft once I fly it back home from Arlington, WA sometime in April of 2012 if all goes well.

My favorite part today, though: Riveting the entire rudder section onto the airplane.  It’s only a foreshadowing of one of my main tasks during the build of this aircraft; riveting it together.  Rivets are not only stronger than welds, they evenly distribute loads across the aircraft, making it virtually impossible for certain events to happen, like the airplane falling apart mid-flight.  There are thousands of individual rivets on this aircraft, and I’m responsible for riveting a large part of them myself.  Luckily, my “Commercial Assistants” handle most of the rivets that can be seen in the main parts of the aircraft, like the tail section and underside of the wings, and I’m responsible for the rivets on the tops of the wings, the engine compartment, and other places that aren’t readily visible.  Thanks, Glasair!

And actually, a HUGE source of anxiety was eliminated today; one that made me feel that I was in WAY over my head: I designed a VERY high-tech instrument panel for my Sportsman 2+2. Instead of standard aircraft gauges, it’s only got two 10.5” computer screens, with a touch screen Garmin command center for EVERYTHING related my aircraft.  All my aircraft gauges and functions like all my flight instruments, engine information, fuel, communication radios, GPS, in-flight traffic, XM radio, airport charts, and so on are 100% computer screen only.  Although I used to build guitar amplifiers, I couldn’t imagine how we’d be able to build and correctly install such a stack of technology that simply can’t fail while in-flight, and one that not only needs to follow the rules and regulations set out by the Federal government, but one that will pass the FAA inspection already scheduled for the 14th of February 2012.

It turns out it’s being built by a company who’s specializes in these kinds of instrument panels, and being handed off to me already complete as I build my “amateur-built experimental aircraft” over these next 2 weeks.  Whew.

Anyway, as far as documenting the build over the next 2 weeks:  I’ve got full HD video running non-stop on the main work area, I’ve got a second HD video camera that’s shooting several hours at a time in the smaller workstations, I’ve then got a third HD video camera that travels with me from station to station and shoots wherever I’m working. Then, there’s my 4th camera that I shoot stills for the FAA on, in order to prove that I built more than 50% of this aircraft.

In addition, each team member has a camera to make sure we get the shots needed for the FAA documentation as well, so I’m convinced I’ll have enough footage to put together a really nice promo video for Glasair Aviation and a nice video diary for myself.  I was hoping to post “dailies” of some of the highlights of the day, but I can already tell I’ll be too wiped to do so at the end of each day.

That’s it for now; I’ll be posting every day, but not with nearly as much photo and video footage as I thought.  I need to relax, do my homework, and save all the video editing for another day…

Check out “BUILDING MY DREAM PLANE – DAY 07” for my next entry….

– Keith

P.S. I bought 6 orange shirts…I’m the guy in the orange shirt:

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  • Keith Cleversley
    August 15, 2012 at 3:55 pm 


    Your words truly mean the world to me; thanks! I continue to feel that the best any of us could ever hope for is to shine as brightly as we can, and it sounds like you, as well, are doing just that. I wish you the absolute best in all your journeys, both inner and outer.

    – Keith

  • Matt
    August 12, 2012 at 3:17 am 

    Congratulations on your new family member (the airplane). I’m only reading day 01 right now, but I am confident that I will be celebrating with you by the the end of this story. I’m a fellow audio engineer, amateur electrical engineer, musician, future pilot (only 5 hours under my belt so far), and seeker of wisdom. Can I attest to the powers of herbs and shamanism? No. I am ignorant to such things. Have I found much inspiration from your musings in the 2 hours since I found your website? Absolutely! If only we all had the courage to live the way you do. I am intrigued and hungry for experience… and nurtured intrigue has changed my life many times in the last 25 years. For what it’s worth, a stranger is proud of your conviction, dedication, and clarity of mind! If you make the SLIGHTEST change in the momentum of our species (think vectors), you will have made an infinite change in our evolution. Thank you

  • Wietze Lei
    February 7, 2012 at 6:21 pm 

    Hi Keith,
    Been to Arlington last year, in March. (Stayed in the Quality Inn hotel) I’ m from Holland, and I am building a sportsman over here. To be honest: I didn’t do a lot of building, Dynamic Aviation in Lelystad built my plane. The kit was imported by Friesland Aviation. Last Saturday we picked up the plane at the paint shop. It takes about 3 weeks to finish, and get the paperwork done before flying. I am very excited to fly my plane. (Still need one aileron to be finished and painted).
    Give my regards to Harry DeLong. Enjoy your building en have fun.
    For pictures of the paintshop:
    Best regards

  • Peter
    February 6, 2012 at 2:45 am 

    Hey Keith – G’donya from Australia. I have also been dreaming of building my own plane in the TWTT programme at Glasair. I just need to save up a few more pennies (or find the hen’s tooth of a ready built one for sale). Looking forward to reading more as you progress. And to the final video. Go for it! Peter

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