I’ll start with a conclusion: We don’t like fibreglass. It’s probably good that we’re building a mostly-metal plane.
Thankfully, it seems the worst may be behind us, although those working on the cowling will probably beg to differ.
We’ve spent the last ~3 months working on the layup, sanding and filling of the canopy fairing. We’re pretty happy with the end result but it was a long slog to get there. I think it’s one of those things you can never truly finish – you could always do another coat of primer and get it a little more perfect.
Our friend who has completed a beautiful Europa-XS (a fibreglass aircraft) said ours was “OK”, which is a major compliment as far as we’re concerned! We also have a new level of appreciation for what he achieved.
What we’ve learned:
- The Van’s instructions are pretty good – this is not the first time we’ve started a completely new process with no clue and ended it without a complete disaster, largely thanks to very clear step-by-step guidance.
- We also found these videos invaluable.
- Definitely cut out a decent stash of glass cloth before mixing any resin, but don’t stress too much about cutting out the shapes to match the templates exactly. The templates are well-designed but you’ll end up winging it eventually when you’ve got wet epoxy dripping everywhere, and as long as you keep the bigger picture in mind, it’ll be obvious after a while what additional shapes you need to cut.
- Leave at least four clear hours to do the layup – you’ll probably be quicker than this (apart from anything else, the epoxy will set) but you definitely don’t want to rush it. It will take a lot more time at the sanding stage and the finish will be less good if you haven’t got the layup right.
- You will never regret adding an extra layer of tape, maybe two. Definitely do two at a bare minimum, as the instructions say.
- Always put on more filler than you think you need – it’s designed to sand down easily so you won’t waste time and you’ll have to do an extra round if you haven’t added enough.
- Plastic sheeting is your friend – do yourself a favour and protect the rest of your build, especially if you are going to be doing the fibreglass work with the canopy in place on the fuselage. Personally, I preferred doing it this way for space reasons and also because it meant I was sure I was setting the canopy in a shape that would fit perfectly on the final structure.
- Get yourself most of the way to a perfect finish with the coarser body filler – we made the mistake of switching to filler primer too quickly which massively lengthened our sanding process.
- You have to STOP eventually! You’ll always feel you could have added another layer of filler, done another round of sanding…of course you could, but you also want to finish a plane! Step back, see if the overall impression is OK, ask yourself if the fairing will be strong and the canopy will be secure, and if the answer is yes then consider moving on, as otherwise you may find yourself perpetually sanding fibreglass.
- Don’t expect to be able to use fingertip unlocking on your phone for a while. Actually, don’t expect to feel or use your fingertips for anything…
- You will eventually stop itching.
Here is a short summary of months of work. Now we are deep into the wiring phase…I’m not sure that will be any less frustrating but at least it’s different!!