Ten Things You Can Do to Help Him Build the Airplane

(without actually getting your hands greasy)

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Steve Sutton loading baggage through the original GlaStar cargo door. Photo: Kathy Sutton.
Steve Sutton loading baggage through the original GlaStar cargo door. Photo: Kathy Sutton.

Note to readers: This article is not intended to give anyone the impression that it’s always the guy who builds the plane while his “better half” bakes cookies or plays tennis. However – since the vast majority of homebuilders are male, let’s face it, gals – if you run the shop or even spend a lot of time in it, you are not the norm. If you happen to be one of those rare fully competent female builders, please forgive me and skip to the technical articles. But for the rest of you gals, if you’d like to become more involved in “his” project, read on for a few tips on how you can make a real contribution as your GlaStar takes shape.

I speak from experience. Since that fateful day at Sun ’n Fun ’96 when we committed to building a GlaStar, my husband Steve and I have spent almost six years and 2000 hours in the shop. At least 80% of that time, we’ve worked as a team (and yes, we’re still married!) Over all those hours together in the shop, I have immensely enjoyed taking part in building our dream plane. And despite my lack of a mechanical background, I’ve been able to learn a whole lot about building (and isn’t that what it’s all about?) while taking pride in seeing our project come together.

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A little personal background: when I was in grade 7, I desperately wanted to take shop. Despite my lobbying, girls weren’t allowed, so I ended up in home-ec, baking cakes and sewing aprons while the boys learned how to use tools. Later in life I took a night course in carpentry and learned the basics in hand tools. Still later, when we bought the GlaStar kit, I had this vision of myself drilling a perfect row of rivet holes, expertly installing hardware and laying up fiberglass like a pro. It was only after we started the tail section and I tried my hand at drilling that I realized good shop skills take plenty of time and practice to develop. So, since neither of us thought I should use GlaStar parts to learn how to drill straight, I decided to be a full building partner – but to choose the tasks I could do well.

Gals, finding jobs you can enjoy and do well– while you help him complete the project – is what this article is all about. Guys, if you’ve read this far, maybe you’ll share these tips with your wife or significant other. Hopefully I’ll inspire a few other tool-challenged females take full part in a very rewarding project.

Now – here are ten things you can do to help him build the airplane (without getting your hands greasy). Tasks are ranked from easiest to hardest. Good luck!

Create a project photo album. Now, we are talking both FUN and REWARDING! This is the album you’ll proudly display at Oshkosh one of these years. It’s proof that you two built the airplane and are proud of it. Tip: Get a good point-and-shoot camera and keep it in the shop at all times. Take lots of photos, and keep your album up-to-date. Now, since you’re in the shop taking pictures, why not try a few other things!

Record notes in the manual. This task includes flipping back and forth through the pages to find certain steps (can be challenging), making sure he didn’t miss anything, and checking off each step when it’s done. Tip: It’s helpful to record dates and comments right in the book. Neatness and thoroughness count.

Keep a binder of builder tip printouts organized and up-to-date. A lot of work, but the appreciation factor is huge if you discover the ONE tip that prevents him from wrecking a part or saves him hours of frustration. Note: This job may include using a computer to search the GAOA archives when he runs into trouble.

Locate small parts in the parts bins. This is more challenging than you’d think. You will need to review the instructions, figure out what’s needed for the assembly, cross-reference the index number from the diagram back to the actual part number that appears in the parts list at the front of each section, and then retrieve the right parts from a bin. Caution: Attention to detail is paramount! There are a heck of a lot of small parts, many of which look alike, and the numbering system takes some getting used-to.

Mark or label parts. This can involve anything from simply writing numbers on a set of look-alike parts (e.g. hats or nose ribs), to developing a complex color-coded tagging system. Tip: If you’re corrosion proofing, you’ll need a system that works after being sprayed green. Warning: The consequences of mis-labeling (or not labeling) are considerable, so be systematic and thorough.

Cut fiberglass cloth (BID and DBM) to size. This is a really fun job and a snap for anyone who sews! Involves pattern fitting and getting the most out of a piece of cloth. You’ll impress him by explaining why it’s necessary to cut on the bias. Tip: Use a fine felt pen when tracing your templates on the cloth, but be sure to cut inside the lines to avoid ugly edges on your fiberglass lay-ups (pen marks bleed and become darker after applying resin).

Deburr. Tedious but rewarding: once it’s done, it’s done. Your smaller hands will help you deburr well in tight situations. Very satisfying to feel all those nice smooth holes. Caution: Practice on non-airplane parts and keep a close eye on your results. If a hole is over-deburred, you can’t undo it!

Design the aircraft color scheme (paint and upholstery). Ladies, this is where your color sense and decorating know-how really come into play. Forget the standard stripes and go for something more creative! Remember, you’ll have this plane strapped to your bum some day – so make it look pretty! Caution: May lead to conflict if he’s “let’s just put a blue stripe down the fuselage” kind of guy.

Keep the project paperwork in order. Face it – nobody enjoys this, but somebody has to do it. A well-organized project file will pay off big-time when you need to get the “OK to fly” from the FAA or (in Canada) the MOT. Caution: If he hides the paperwork because he doesn’t want you to know how much the airplane is really going to cost, forget this task and let him go it alone.

Read the instructions (he won’t). Out loud, if necessary. Repeat, with emphasis, if you think he isn’t listening or appears to be charging ahead without heed. (Ladies, if your guy won’t stop for directions in the car, he likely won’t stop and read the manual if he’s lost, either). Note: Men cannot multi-task, and therefore he won’t hear you unless you can get his undivided attention. Warning: If he won’t listen and you think he’s about to make a big mistake (e.g. drill through the wrong thing), you may have to do something drastic to get his attention, like pull the plug on his drill.

The bottom line: get involved. The more you participate, the more pride you will take once you’re both airborne. It’s a great project to share. Pick your tasks well – this list is certainly not exhaustive – and helps him get that airplane finished!

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