With the wings in storage and the fuselage skins measured and laid out, I can start working on assembling the fuselage! It's been a long time coming, but so looking forward to this step. Big updates as follows.
First up I finished fabricating the last component parts of the fuselage that I can ahead of time. These baggage back support channels will be needed once the skins are together to start building out the baggage area in the rear area of the cabin.
I've said before how handy the CriCut Maker is for taking CAD drawings and cutting them out for use in the project. Here is the template I used for the top ends of the baggage back channels.
I orginally planned to use the crosshairs in the middle of the circle to mark where to bore the hole in the blanks, but I realized I cut the blanks to length first. No way to expand the hole to the correct size by drilling (step drill only works on full area, not edges).
Cut the circle portion away, then traced the curve on the blank.
Carefully cutting them out with the bandsaw and gently finishing with a round file worked fine. The baggage back channels bent up nice.
To measure out the side skins, I used the same method as the lower and upper fuselage skins. They too have a gentle taper curve from front to tail. I adapted the plans into CAD and added 250mm sections, to be measured out on the skins for better accuracy of the taper.
Another template I cut out after CAD entry is are the cut outs for the rear cabin windows.
Unlike the bottom and top fuselage skins, both side skins need to be mirror images of each other. To accomplish this, I stacked two full sheets of 020 and clamped them to the bench.
Then I proceeded to lay out the balance of the measurements on the side skins. To ensure both side skin sheets stayed aligned, I drilled and clecoed indexing holes at the corners together. These index holes are on part of the aluminum that will later be trimmed off. From this point on any holes drilled for windows, supports or other items will be exactly the same on each sheet.
The plans are somewhat difficult to interpret here with regards to where the windows actually are on the side skins. Great measurements if you are using a CNC machine to cut out the holes - not so much for a scratch builder! It took some time and several cross-checks to be sure but they are correct.
Drilled A3 pilot holes along the measured edges of the skin, through both sheets and 10mm in from the skin edges where the fuselage longerons attach:
Balance of pilot holes drilled and clecoed. My camera really distorts proportion on long lengths like this, the taper from front to back of the side skins is much greater than what is seen here (see the CAD diagram above):
Another challenge when scratch building is being sure of the best order of drilling holes - i.e. what will I need to pilot drill, from which side and what attaches here. You can see some notes on the skin in red reminding me to wait on these holes until later assembly as there are doublers here that need to be back drilled on later assembly steps:
Extended the lines on the window templates to confirm they match and line up with what's drawn on the skins:
Taped the templates down in the right locations, then drilled pilot/index holes through both sheets, at the corners of the windows. These pilot/index holes will eventually be widened out to 25mm radius in the skin - but both skins will be exactly the same, just like everything else.
A trace out of the template edges onto the aluminum sheet confirms window orientation to other cabin area components - perfect!
Like the lower skin, the overall dimensions of the side skins are too big for a 4x12 sheet of 020 aluminum, so it requires a extension on the tail end. This doubler skin extension also bolsters the "box structure" of the fuselage tail that supports the horizontal tail and rudder. These side skin extensions are some of the first pieces I made in this project, several years ago - glad to see them being put to use after taking space on the shelf!
Took a few minutes to finished sizing and sanding the rear wing pickups - eventually these plates will attach at the top front corners of the rear fuselage to be mount points for the wings - will be needed very soon, so wanted them done and available.
Unstacked the two side skin aluminum sheets and put the drilled but unmarked lower sheet aside. With the marked sheet back on the bench, I trimmed the edges to the correct shape using shears:
Hard to see in this picture due to camera proportion distortion, but the top edge of the side skin definately has a gentle curve from front to back:
This angle shows the side skin taper well. This is after I trimmed the bottom edge:
Re-stacked the skins again, re-indexing them using the same pilot holes I drilled as before. Then I traced the outer edges of the first skin (now cut to correct size) onto the second skin, making a perfect copy:
Removing the first side skin and returning it (rolled up) to storage, I replicated the layout lines on the second skin - this was easy as the pilot holes already exist where the support angles will be, then this exact copy was cut out using the traced lines from the first skin, then rolled up and put away for now into storage.
Next I got the top skin back on the bench an cut it out from the sheet. Once done, it too was rolled and put into storage.
Bottom skin, back on the bench for trimming to size. Here the pilot side has been trimmed away:
Again, camera distortion at work. Here is the trimmed to size lower skin looking from the tail to where it will join the cabin. It does show however show the curved taper of the fuselage sides. Very happy how this turned out:
It looks really lopsided in this picture - but dimensions between the edges and the access hole are completely equal and square - weird.
Next up, fitting the internal bracing around the access panel (affectionately called "hell hole"). It is supported on 3 sides by Z shaped channels:
The first Z fits laterally across the fuselage skin just aft of the hole. Then one on each side:
Z channel is called that, but it's a bit lopsided to be a true "Z"
Two more overlapping Z's fit laterally on each side, really stiffening up the lower skin:
Next up, the lateral L stiffeners and diagonal L's in each lower bay:
There are literally tonnes of discussions on various forums and websites about "oil canning" of Zenith fuselages. Oil canning is where the skin surfaces between the lateral stiffeners tends to drum a bit as rough air passes over them during certain aerodynamic situations. Some say it's not a Zenith unless it does this but I don't think it needs to be that way. I remember going for a demo flight in a very early model and couldn't believe the noise in the cabin on slow approaches or steep turns (where the airflow over the fuselage is turbulent or "dirty" as they say). Almost too much to endure.
When the original Zenith 701 came out to build it was a plans only design, built in a garage and to be absolutely the the lightest structure possible. Zenith intended it to be be flown as an ultralight on 65HP Rotax two-strokes - so I understand that less weight was important and made it easiest and cheapest for the average person. I guess the drumming of the skins was considered an acceptable trade off.
As the design evolved into what is now the 750 STOL (like mine), the 750 Cruzer, the 750 Super Duty and the 4 seat 801 which all use larger and heavier engines, the drumming remains. In my opinion, Zenith needs to update their designs in this regard. Current larger engine horsepower choices allow for more overall aircraft weight and by extension the reinforcement of these areas - the weight penalty is extremely small for what it resolves. Less drumming is better on pilot fatigue and more importantly airframe metal fatigue.
So to improve my airplane I'm adding additional diagonals to all fuselage skin bays. None of this additional weight is significant nor does it impede any further components form being installed or functioning - all it does is stiffen up the skins to reduce (or hopefully eliminate) skin drumming. Here are the first two bays in the lower fuselage skin with the additional bracing installed:
Next up, I'll finish adding the extra diagonals where needed, then start to prep the lower skin for the addition of the lower longerons. In the meantime, I'm headed to the Zenair/Midland Huronia Airport open house soon and will pick up a couple of more parts from them for the fuselage I can't make in house and some more stuff from Aircraft Spruce - exciting progress ahead.
Thanks for reading along!
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Husband, father and 911 dispatcher. Long time pilot with a licence that burns a hole in my pocket where my student loan money used to be. First time aircraft builder. Looking to fly my own airplane.