Aero South Africa – What a response!

I am truly humbled by the response we received from our visitors over the last two and a half days. Thank you to everyone who made the time to visit us at the Aero South Africa Exhibition and thank you for your interest and wonderfully encouraging response. I also have to thank my wife Caroline who valiantly made time to take everyone through what Heritage Flight Simulation was about and explain the Spitfire offering while I had my head down providing hundreds of Virtual Flight demonstrations. Also without my daughter Kathryn pitching in on Saturday we would have floundered in the midst of all the interest.

Of course the kids loved the VR and all flew pretty well in the DCS World Spitfire. Talk about the Playstation generation!

What struck me the most though, was the reaction from real world pilots. We had many visiting our stand, including retired and active airline, commercial and recreation pilots. Without exception they were the ones who were truly gobsmacked. I could not have wished for better! I believe the experience in the actual cockpit will be unsurpassed.

We had a Visitors Book going where individuals could register their interest in being notified when our Spitfire Experience at Krugersdorp Airfield is up and running. This is expected to be towards the end of this year. The experience will entail an hour of tuition in the HFS Spitfire Mk.IX cockpit with a qualified instructor from the Aviatech Flight Academy. This will encompass basic operational procedures such as start-up, taxi, take-off, basic manoeuvres and landing. Upon booking you will be sent the Spitfire Pilots Notes in preparation. Eighty six people have already expressed interest by signing up in the book! Many left comments as well, such as “Fantastic!” “Love it!” “Can’t wait!” “I want one!” and “Amazing!”

Thanks again!

Here follow a few pics from the preparations and the exhibition…

Loaded for the trip to Wonderboom Airport
Ready for opening day
After the second day with my lovely wife Caroline. Her calm ways got me through all this!
My wife Caroline and daughter Kathryn….What a team! Thanks ladies!!

 

We have a Spitfire…

The physical build of our Spitfire Mk.IX is complete. Next week we transport it to Wonderboom Airport near Pretoria, for the Aero South Africa exhibition. I have to admit, I am very proud of the outcome.

A week after the show I leave for a whirlwind tour of various Spitfire related events and venues, taking in Flying Legends, Royal International Air Tattoo, and the Shuttleworth Collection plus various museums in England, then over to Canada, taking in Toronto, Ottawa, briefly to the US for Oshkosh, back to Edmonton and then Washington State in the US. Scheduled back here after the first week in August. If anyone wishes to meet, let me know and lets see what we can arrange.

We will then couple all the wiring and electronics. I am extremely excited to then finally be able to fly her!

There are a few design mods I wish to make around the mounting arrangement of the potentiometers for the trim wheels and possibly beefing up the seat raising mechanism before I finalise and make available the plans.

I will try report from the Aero SA exhibition, in the meantime for your viewing pleasure, herewith some pics of the completed cockpit!

 

Prototype Build Volume 4 Part 3 – Auxiliary Controls

Something really unique about the Spitfire is that, in sharp contrast to the beautiful exterior, the interior was a jumble of what feels like almost ad-hoc add-ons. Controls have been placed where there was some space. Copper tubes and cabling lay everywhere in a steam-punk jumble. This in stark contrast with aircraft like the P51 Mustang or FW190. This photo of an unrestored Mk.VIIIe HF illustrates the point:

MkVIIIe HF (unrestored)

With all the auxiliary controls in our HFS cockpit having been fitted, ours still looks somewhat bare in comparison. However, once we connect all the electronics there will be many cables running through the cockpit , all adding to the atmosphere!

Here for your pleasure a few pictures of the interior before refitting the seat and doing some cabling and copper tubing refinements.

 

 

 

 

Our progress now allows us to focus on refinement of the different design elements and getting ready for the Aero South Africa Exhibition.

Prototype Build Volume 4 Part 2 – Flying Controls

The last week and a half have seen most of the major components come together. The windscreen brow was cut out of its vacuum pull and fitted. It’s great the way it has made the whole of the windscreen structure quite rigid.

The rear glass was also cut and fitted. This completes all the glass component installation. The final fit-ups for the wing fillets were also done and the fillets painted.

Rear glass fitted

All the aluminium 2mm Bend Diagrams were completed and bending done. This resulted in a flurry of spray painting 🙂

Hanging out to dry…

Work could then begin in earnest on the centre pedestal including the finalisation of the control column, rudder pedals and elevator centring mechanism, with these all having being in place today.

32 days to Aero SA…!!!

Prototype Build Volume 4 Part 1 – Take a seat!

Thought I should share how we have progressed over the last week. The seat and support frame have been completed and it looks every bit the part. With it installed the cockpit shell has suddenly been transformed. Sitting in it, albeit without any of the controls mounted, one gets a sensation of what it must feel like sitting in the real aircraft. Soon, it will be almost indistinguishable from really being there.

The seat height lever operates as per the original. It is interesting to feel the different working heights of the cockpit and how it affects the view out to the front. I fitted two 350N gas struts (the original had spring cylinders), but the forces they introduced to the frame were a little unsettling so I decided to take them out again. I am not sure what the spring force on the original is but I think I will tune them down to 100N each and see if that is manageable. As it is, the seat moves easily without them if you press your back against the rear and move the handle. Only a minimum of leg input is required.

The door has been completed and installed. Again, the latching mechanism is as per the original, and operates very smoothly.

Door completed and fitted

The column too is starting to take shape nicely.

Column work in progress

I have received the double mould for the windscreen brow section and had 4 clear acrylic pieces pulled from that. Next I will be cutting that out for fitment.

Windscreen brow double mould

 

Prototype Build Volume 3 Part 3 – Windscreen and Canopy

Some things just require more work and attention than others. The assembly and installation of the windscreen and canopy being a case in point. First, having assembled the windscreen, you need to ensure that the canopy edge matches absolutely when it is closed. So you need to assemble and install the canopy before you can fit the windscreen. You can then line the whole lot up, mark off, offer a prayer that all is good, remeasure, check again and finally commit to drilling the coaming holes.

This week has been somewhat nerve wracking in that way…

Happy to say that all seems to have come out well though.

Here are some pics and descriptions of the build this week:

Laying up the windscreen

The drilling and trimming of the Plexiglass canopy is potentially a hazardous exercise, the plexi being very brittle and prone to cracking. Using a Dremel tool at 25000rpm+ however ensures that the material melts before any stresses are induced and makes the task a lot easier. I started off using screws for the assembly however this does not clear the rear of the cockpit, so had to revert to rivets. Great care needs to be taken here to apply only the lightest pressure as the canopy will crack if you don’t.

I used a system as per the original Spitfire which incorporated bronze slippers running in the canopy rail. As I could not find bronze I substituted this with brass. Regrettably the sliding action is not sufficiently smooth, so I will redesign the mechanism with nylon rollers as used in the popular Vans RV sliding canopies.

I could then line up the windscreen with the canopy in full forward position before doing the final drilling and fixing of the coamings. The windscreen is now firmly mounted. I am still missing the top eyebrow section of the windscreen. For this I have designed a mould and have assigned a plastics vacuum forming company to manufacture it and vacuum pull a few samples. Along with the canopy, coamings and some machined parts, this will be something that I will make available at reasonable cost to prospective builders.

The instrument panel has been fitted to allow the final positioning of the internal coamings, gunsight carrier and gunsight dimmer bars. Again a painstaking process to ensure everything lined up correctly. I am very happy with the way this is coming together.

Instrument panel, internal coamings and gunsight carrier installed

Work has now started on the door. The design needed some modification to ensure that the canopy rail remains unobstructed. The machined parts for the door latches are looking great.

Prototype Build Volume 3 Part 2 – Covering it…Scarf anyone?

Another busy week and the covering has been completed. New skills learnt were to scarf the covering plywood. I marked the scarf lines at 8 times the thickness of the flexi-plywood, being 3mm and lined them up before sanding them down.

Went rather easily and once the fuselage had been covered, the overlapping areas sanded down nicely to a smooth finish.

The balance of the 2mm aluminium parts has arrived, some of which had been bent by the supplier. All looking good.

The seat is back from the upholsterers and looking good.

Next up is the Malcolm Hood so that the windscreen can be fitted. Eight weeks to go to Aero SA and much to do!

Prototype Build Volume 3 Part 1 – Mind and Machine equals Beauty

As I stood watching the CNC Router carving the beautiful, almost organic looking Spitfire cockpit coaming casting I could not help but marvel at the evolution of man and his tools. I would never have thought that I, a relative dunce at handwork, could recreate the cockpit of the most elegant aircraft design ever devised. And make it look good.

Carved mould to replicate the Coaming Casting

Such is the wondrous world of the 4th Industrial Revolution. Twenty one months ago I set out to create this, inspired by having flown DCS World’s Spitfire Mk.IX in Virtual Reality and the possibilities offered by 3D Printing, CNC machining and laser cutting. I must also mention that having seen the great work of John Fall on GrabCad also was inspiring and hinted at the possibilities. I must also acknowledge AutoCad in this, without them making available Fusion 360 free for start-up companies, I would not have been able to progress as I have. If ever I reach a $100k per year turnover with my company, I shall gladly take a paid subscription to their software.

So as you will have noted from the featured image the Instrument Panel is complete! It has turned a thing of true beauty, every bit as wonderful as the rendered image posted what seems like ages ago (August last year I see!). I hope you will agree.

Things are now really moving. I have received all of the laser cut sheetmetal, many of the fittings, the routed plywood covering and the waterjet cut Lexan or clear polycarbonate. I must say the later is the only order that disappointed somewhat. The cuts are pretty rough and very little care was taken in preventing the material from getting scratched. You live and learn. Next time I will try with Plexiglass which is more scratch resistant and I will have it CNC routed with a trusted supplier instead.

Progress on the windscreen

So back to the coaming casting… On the real Spitfire this was cast aluminium, designed to provide a streamlined connection between the Windscreen assembly and the fuselage. I routed it on my small CNC router after having stuck two layers of 22mm MFD together. It took 8 hours, demanding my full time attention as I was the vacuum hose operator. Hmm…got to get one of those extraction shoes before I try that again! Anyway, the intent was to use that as a vacuum forming mould with 3mm ABS plastic. I took it to a company to pull as many copies as they could from the mould. They indicated that given the finish and design, it was likely to only last one pull. Their forecast was correct. It does look nice though! I already have a modified design in mind for future use which will allow multiple pulls. After I have obtained a dust extraction shoe for the router..!

After finishing the instrument panel I packed away all the bits I had put together so far in order to protect them from the dust to come. I started the covering of the fuselage! After much thought on the sequence of the installation of the cover panels, I marked the edges of the 3mm flexi-plywood back by 24mm for scarfing. This is to thin the edges down at an angle so that the thickness of overlapping panels remains constant at the join. The things you learn from YouTube!

I have also been stapling the panels where it is not possible to clamp it to the frame. Seems to work ok, just need a small sliver of wood to prevent the staple crossbar from disfiguring the panel.

What else… Oh, been bending things and received the 2mm aluminium sheetmetal bits. Thats great because they were the last batch required and contain many of the brackets required to assemble the cockpit.

And so, back to work! So much to do, so little time….!!!

Prototype Build Volume 2 Part 3 – Making Chips

Watching our CNC router cutting out the Spitfire Mk.IX labels is a mesmerising experience. First the lettering appears as if by magic, gently carved out of the Romark Matte 2-Ply Black/White plastic laminate. Then suddenly little white chips are flying everywhere as the label contours are cut out. The end result looks fantastic and the labels add hugely to the realism and accuracy of the build. The G-Code file and laser engraved pdf format will be made available as part of the plan set, allowing you to cut these yourself or provide it to a local service provider for processing.

Label sheet

Having the labels allowed us to progress further with some of the items such as the Reflector Gunsight and various switches.

We also installed the Hall proximity sensors and magnets in the covered switches. These clip into place really neatly. They will signal the simulator when the cover is opened or closed.

Hall magnetic
sensor in switch base

We are still waiting for quotes on the machine drawings but did manage to place orders on the fasteners and various fittings such as bearings, electronics sensors, plexiglass waterjet cutouts and the plywood cover panels. We should be receiving them this week.

Various bits and pieces are starting to arrive at the HFS workshop, most notably the Aluminium 4.5mm and 3mm Plate.

Bag of 4.5mm aluminium parts

The laser engraving of the component numbers on each piece have come out nicely and will be hugely helpful in identifying their position in the build.

Component number laser engraved

We are still waiting for the bulk of the sheetmetal components, mainly made up of 0.9mm and 2mm aluminium sheet. We were however able to start some of the assembly with what arrived, like parts of the Chassis Control, Wobble Pump and Spade Grip Clevis joint.

With most of the drawings complete and with many of the components arriving we will be able to focus on the build process. Hectic!

 

Getting a grip..

Another week and more important milestones achieved. We managed to complete machine drawings for the mild steel and aluminium components and sent them out on enquiry. Hopefully we will receive quotes during this coming week. We also placed orders for the sheetmetal laser cutting and marking and for most of the fittings. These include component such as clevis forks and the likes.

In between all of this we have completed the painting of all the SLS Nylon 3D printed components. We have also started assembling these as far as we can.

I am very pleased with the way the spade grip has turned out. The areas which represent metal were painted with standard fibreglass resin to provide the necessary smoothness. The Dunlop Crackle, the pattern of which has been beautifully crafted into the print, was coated with a paint on rubber insulation. This provides a wonderfully tactile feel and looks great.

The firing buttons have had their internal pushbuttons installed and while the central spring is still required, work very well. Pressure on the top gives machine guns, bottom the cannon and centre you can feel both are activated.

The gunsight is shaping up nicely too. I installed the mini potentiometers and the movement of the Range and Base dials are very smooth. The safety pad has also been coated with the liquid rubber insulation. There is still quite a bit of work remaining on this, including the glass components and engraving.

Gunsight WIP

The wobble pump is coming together and was also first given a coating of resin. After painting in black some silver wear highlights were added and it is difficult to distinguish it from a real metal pump.

Wobble Pump WIP