This has not been a very enjoyable week-end by any means as what I thought would be a day’s work to deal with the problem bolt eventually took both yesterday and today to complete. It also felt as though every step was beset with problems and I have to say that compared to all the work I’ve done on MYRO over the many months previously, including the ‘biggest’ and ‘worst’ jobs that I had to tackle in that time, the work over these last two days has been by far the worst.
I arrived at Linton yesterday at around 11.30am and with the prospect of a hot one ahead of me, the day was already beginning to warm up. I had a quick cuppa with Bob and Tony and an early lunch while my hands were still clean and then got cracking. The first job, which I needed a bit of help with, was to remove the left wing and this is how poor MYRO looked afterwards.
So far, so good and by now it was beginning to get pretty hot. I had to keep working though, otherwise I would never get the job done. First I removed the aileron and then I pulled out all the wing battens and carefully laid them out in order to one side. Battens are lengths of aluminium tube that are curved at one end and pushed into tubes called batten pockets that are incorporated in the fabric of the wing covering. Much as weight-shift microlight wings in particular are referred to as sails, battens and batten pockets are another hangover from the world of sailing. The function of battens is to give the wing the profile that it needs to produce lift as it passes through the air.
Anyway, because of MYRO’s age and also because the wing fabric is Ultralam, a plastic/fibre laminate material that becomes a bit harder and brittle with age, ideally one would not want to remove the battens unless there was a special reason. Obviously on this occasion I had no choice because of the need to remove the wing covering to get to the bolt.
With the battens out and a strut that passes through the underside of the wing fabric released, I was able to pull the wing fabric down towards the wing tip until I got to the offending bolt. I then realised that in the process, the bolt had fallen out inside the wing, together with two essential plastic spacer washers. I managed to locate the bolt but I was never able to find the washers and that therefore presented me with a problem. Without the washers I couldn’t reassemble the joint that the bolt secured.
I looked around MYRO and decided that the best option was to remove two plastic washers from a rudder cable connector because I could replace them at any time as they are fully accessible. So I removed them and got back to the bolt. I put one washer into place but then found that the second one was too thick so I had no option but to try and thin it down a bit. All the while it was getting hotter and hotter and although I’d brought a flask of iced orange squash with me, I was rapidly working my way through it even by this stage. John the other AX3 owner at Linton, has a small bench in his hangar and I started rubbing the washer like mad on a sheet of wet-and-dry paper, which is all we had, on it. I’d been going for what seemed like ages but could only have been 10 or 15 minutes and the sweat was pouring off me. But worse, the amount of progress was negligible because the wet-and-dry was far too fine.
It was then that Bob had a look inside his tool box, never thinking he would have any plastic washers let alone any of the correct size, and found some. I was mighty relieved I can tell you. I gratefully took them and headed back out into the heat of the day to finish the job off. Or so I thought.
I got the bolt and joint secured and then had to refit the wing covering. That wasn’t too bad though, accompanied by regular swigs of my rapidly depleting orange squash, and I was constantly spurred on by the thought that everything I did brought the end of the job closer. I could even see myself getting the wing back on again by the end of the day, never for a moment realising how hopelessly optimistic this would prove to be.
With the wing covering back in place, all that remained was to replace the wing battens. The first one, followed by another and another…I was delighted how smoothly it was all going. And then, of course, it happened. The fourth from last, about five or six feet in from the wing root, didn’t slide in smoothly. I gave it a bit of a push, obviously too hard with hindsight, and there was an ominous ripping sound. I turned the wing over and although the main damage was inside the wing, there was the tip of the batten sticking out through a small hole that it had made in the underside of the wing. I was absolutely mortified and highly fearful of what might have happened inside the wing. John came down to see how I was getting on before he left and I told him what had happened. His excellent advice was very simple. ‘Roger, it’s late, you’re very hot and very tired. Put it away and come back to it tomorrow and it probably won’t look half as bad as you think’.
So that’s what I did. By the time I’d moved MYRO back to its parking spot, tied it down and covered it and the loose wing with tarpaulins for the night, not only was I exhausted but I also felt physically sick. It was then that I realised that I’d probably got a touch of sunstroke.
After a surprisingly restful night, I awoke early this morning and after picking up a few things, like more orange squash to fill a much bigger flask, and some long-life milk for our tea, I headed off to the field. When I arrived, Lee who has a Quantum had flown out some time ago with a passenger so before getting started I opened up the hut to get some air into it as the day was already very hot. I decided that I wouldn’t make the same mistake as yesterday and that I’d stop for a long break when the sun was at its highest and for shorter ones when I began to feel really uncomfortable. I’d made a plan of how I’d proceed. I thought that with the wing laid out on the soft grass, I’d remove all of the battens along from the problem one up to the wing root, then carefully crawl inside the wing and inspect the internal damage. So that’s what I did and I was delighted to find that despite the horrendous ripping sound, all that there was was a batten sized hole in the batten pocket through which the batten passed every time it was inserted. With me inside the wing to guide it, if someone carefully pushed the batten in, once I’d got it over the small hole, then it would slide into place as usual.
Lee gave me a hand after he’d finished putting his Quantum away and the job only took a couple of minutes to do. I’d had to pull a pin out of a wing strut and turn it a bit, as I’d done yesterday, to free the wing covering up enough to do the job, but as this only took a few minutes to refit yesterday, I thought that I’d soon be finished. It didn’t take long to refit the aileron – only three bolts with wing nuts and safety rings. Then all I had to do was refit the aforementioned strut.
Now I don’t know whether it was due to the heat, which had been exceptional all day, or what, but lining up the holes and spacer washers and refitting the pin that holds it all together was a nightmare. The wing seemed to have twisted somehow taking the holes totally out of alignment. In fact what took minutes yesterday was almost impossible today. Bob said to go away and leave it for another day, but you can’t keep doing that or you’d get nothing done. I tried carefully lifting each corner to induce a kind of twist in the right direction and eventually succeeded. I guess what took a couple of minutes yesterday must have taken two hours or more today, and in the most intense heat as well. But at least the job was done.
I still, of course, have the little hole punched through by the batten in the underside of the wing, but this is not serious, just cosmetic. With a small patch on it will be almost unnoticeable. But the wing is at last ready to go back on, and I at least had that as a source of satisfaction as I pushed the wing over the soft grass back beside MYRO and covered it with a tarpaulin.
Surely my misfortunes must now have come to an end? I’ve had enough of them since bringing MYRO to Linton, that’s for sure, and none of them of my own making. Whoever, banged that bolt up into the wing has caused me so much grief and so many problems. But now with a bit of luck, MYRO should come together completely next week-end. It’s still a two week delay, though, when I’d been hoping to be getting MYRO permitted while my licence paperwork was being processed. I’m very annoyed and disappointed by how such an apparently trivial thing escalated and escalated until it became a major problem. And all so needlessly.