|For as long as I can remember I've had
a desire to fly and soar like the birds. ...
Maybe it was coincidence that Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier a few days before I was born, perhaps that sent sonic waves into my brain that instilled in me a passion for leaving the ground and exploring the skies.
It wasn't until my late teens when I first experienced the thrill of floating through the air in a Schweitzer 2-22 glider that my flying days would begin. Gliding was a fun pastime for a few summers, but as an aspiring pilot I needed more air time so I switched to power flying and obtained my Private Pilot Licence which I still keep current.
The years of aircraft rental and a brief period of joint ownership have taken their toll. Always watching the clock to ensure you are back to base on time became frustrating as did not having exclusive rights to the keys of the machine.
As the family grew and time became more available I broached the subject of buying and building my own airplane. This task to the uninitiated is monumental and is sometimes met with great resistance from the family. The thought of a significant construction effort that has to be undertaken after laying out considerable cash has a tendency to scare away even the most supportive spouse. Perseverance does pay off!
What to buy? In my case I looked at what turned me on the most about slipping the surly bonds of earth and came to the conclusion that what I needed was an all season aircraft capable of wheels, skis and floats as well as having a second seat. The biggest kick I get is taking someone with me and explaining everything there is about flying and then having the ability to demonstrate the freedom that flight offers.
That settled I had a pretty good idea of the airplane I really wanted. I had seen Bryan Quickmire's Challenger C-FXSL in full glory on amphibious floats at the Toronto Aviation show some years ago and immediately fell in love with the lines and the functionality. I felt the Quad City Challenger II would accomplish everything on my wish list and then some.
After attending the Challenger Owners Association Winter Rendezvous at Montebello I was hooked. Montebello is worth the experience for any wannabe. My trip there by car in February 2000 set the path even though I didn't realize it at the time. Wandering around on the snow covered river among a buzz of 24 Challengers and countless owners I got the sense of a real close group. Everyone shared information willingly and was proud as punch to show you their airplane. Oh how I longed for the day that this would be me showing off my Challenger!
I bumped into another drive-in participant who told me he had just purchased his kit. Low and behold he lived close to my place in Stittsville! Little did I know this would be the beginning of a great friendship with Gord Ekstrom and a sharing of our passion for flying. Through Gord I met Pierre Brunet who would participate in assembling Gord's and my Challenger and who would later get a kit himself. Needless to say once you enter this network the list of friends just keeps on growing. This is a tremendous benefit to all that participate and it's unique to the Challenger.
It took a few months of convincing at home but I finally ordered a complete kit in June 2000 and began the journey of fulfilling my lifelong dream to build and own my own airplane. Negotiations on the home front continued with construction space now the topic of the day. My wife said she had given in enough already and refused to part with her half of the two car garage. OK then, time to organize the building project around my half of the garage!
Numerous hooks in the walls and ceiling created storage space and a work table 4 x 8 feet with shelving underneath would be a good place to start. Investment in a few solid sawhorses also came in handy. After adding some good lighting I felt I was ready. Bring on the boxes and lets get started!
The kit arrived at the end of August as promised. After unloading all the boxes, the unpacking and inventory process began. All parts were accounted for and arrived in perfect condition. At this stage you are totally intimidated by all of the bits and pieces. You start to doubt your ability to get even the simplest things done. After all this is an aircraft you are constructing and its purpose in life is to carry your behind into the skies!
It's natural to have these doubts if you consider the entire project as one big elephant you have to eat at a single sitting. The nervousness settles once you realize that the elephant should only be eaten one bite at a time and that lots of others have done this before you.
A thorough read of the assembly manual was in order to help get my mind prepared for the road ahead and to lay out the progression of events. The process is quite logical. Prepare the vertical fin, rudder, horizontal stabilizers and elevators for cover. Sounds easy enough and in reality it is. These smaller pieces taken through to covering build a great deal of confidence in getting ready to tackle the larger wing surfaces. The first time you place that hot iron on the loosely fit fabric and it doesn't end up in a puddle of molten polyester you "high five" yourself with delight!
Construction of the wings calls for the proper placement and alignment of the ribs. The old adage of measure twice then drill couldn't be truer as you align each rib with its proper spacing front and back. Alignment of the aileron attach points to ensure proper upward and downward travel of the control surface is critical. In my case I'm sure I measured fifty times before I drilled the first hole!
As you work through the wings there emerges a great feeling of satisfaction in what you have accomplished so far. You begin to develop a confidence and a "can do" attitude toward this project.
One of the greatest benefits of taking on this project has been the friends I have gained and the network of support that is available for the asking. As an example, the wiring was causing me sleepless nights because I just didn't know where to begin. I knew what I wanted my panel to do, but didn't have a clue how to go about it.
At this stage the network of friends stepped in. Gord had discovered that Pierre's knowledge of electronics and electrical circuits was a tremendous help in his wiring details. A quick phone call and after all was said and done, I had a wiring design created by Pierre, who upon completion of the drawing gave me a one hour tutorial on how to simplify and go about wiring the panel. Armed with this confidence I set out running wires one circuit at a time and low and behold when the power was connected the clock in the panel started to tick. Another "high five" moment. Bring in the expert to test everything out and with one minor adjustment I had an electrical system complete with master, ignition, accessories, strobe and radio switches all doing what they were supposed to when turned on.
At this point the cold weather had set in and working in an unheated garage became a bad idea. I took my instrument panel project to the basement and proceeded to spend the month of January building and fitting the instruments and switches into my own panel design. I did this piece three times and when done it looked like a professional job that I was more than happy with. A full panel on a wood grain background with Turbulence Aviation's glare shield exceeded my wildest dreams. Now to get on with the fuselage.
Not too much happened until the weather warmed up in the latter part of March. I installed the panel and electrical system and began covering the fuselage. All of this including the building of the doorframes and mounting of the Lexan took me to the middle of April. Coincidentally I was also advised that a hangar had come available at Carleton Place, so I grabbed it and began the preparation for moving the plane parts there for painting and final assembly.
With the help of my good friend Gord and his huge truck we moved the wings and flying surfaces to the hangar which I had shrouded in plastic as a make shift paint booth. Gord had done an outstanding job painting and finishing his Challenger, so rather than try to teach me to spray he offered to do it for me. This on the condition that he does the fine work and I do all of the grunt stuff. I was thrilled to get the offer since I'd seen the quality of his work and up until this point had only dreamed mine would turn out as well.
We set up a schedule that started as early as 6 a.m. to get the benefit of the cooler temperatures, an ideal condition for the Polytone paint. I delighted in watching the master at work as one coat after another was applied with the High Volume, Low Pressure (HVLP) nozzle I had bought. My role was to hold the lights, move the compressor hose, relocate the ladder and wet sand the Polyspray to prepare for final color.
After the overall white was completed I had the task of masking for the second color and covering the remainder with masking paper. Quite a job that took me into the wee hours of the morning but worth the effort. As we progressed through the second color I asked Gord's vinyl graphics expert to give me an estimate for the accent colors of yellow and red. What a bargain, so away he went to get the supplies.
There is a great excitement as this stage of the project. You stand back in awe of what has been crafted so far and can't wait to get to the final assembly stage.
I actually begin to think I'm nearing the completion once the fuselage is painted. This is a good time for a wake up call when you realize that the critical parts like engine mounting and wiring all come together. As an example, the plumbing for the fuel system took me over six hours to get to the point where I was happy with it. I had added a boost pump in parallel with the main feed so it took a bit of thinking to ensure the proper configuration as well as having it look neat and tidy.
Work had progressed well and we were now nearing the end of June, time to call in the reserves again (Gord and Pierre) for the final mating of the wings to the rest of the structure. Tail feathers had been mounted and rigged, so this step was going to make the assorted pieces come together and finally look like a real airplane. The entire assembly including the struts takes about half an hour or so per wing. What a rush as you wheel the plane out of the hangar to bask in the evening sun. It really leaves you speechless.
I had decided to take the following two weeks off work so I could focus on the completion of the details. The next ten days turn out to be the busiest and most tiring time of the whole project. Placement and fitting of the jury struts took a whole day. Engine break in, another thrilling moment when the Rotax springs to life on the turn of the key and the engine instruments actually read what they are supposed to.
I can't recall all of the things that kept me busy but it was like you were 90% done and had 100% to go with all of the attention to the little details. After all there are no compromises when you build an airplane. This is serious business all throughout the project and as you get through to the last few items on the list you go over each and every step in your mind again and again to ensure you have done it all correctly. The inspection day is fast approaching and you want to be absolutely sure all is in order.
Inspection took place near the end of July and after some tweaking of the control pressures, and replacing a couple of rivets, C-IGUG was signed off as ready for flight. After all the paper work was in order Bruce Brown did the honours and lifted off for the first flight. This moment was of course captured on video to be saved for all time. Together we logged almost three hours that day as I ventured into the front seat for the first time. Final checkout a week later by Claude Roy signed me off for solo and I haven't looked back since.
Over the remainder of this first summer I have accumulated over 50 hours on wheels and have reached out and explored many new airports in the Ottawa region. I have had the pleasure of doing some buddy flying with Gord and others and shared many a fly-in breakfast on the weekends. I am anticipating another great moment as the winter sets in and I convert to skis. Floats are a ways off but that too will come.
For me so far this airplane has met or exceeded all of my expectations. I have realized my dream and am having a ball sharing it with flyers and non-flyers alike. My 80-year-old mother has been up for a ride and loved the experience. I'm told the senior's home hasn't been the same since she shopped the video experience around to all of her friends.
For anyone interested in taking on an airplane project my suggestion is to get at it and don't procrastinate any longer. I completed mine over the course of one year and now have an airplane that satisfies my flying passion and allows me to explore even more of this beautiful country from the air.
My special thanks for the support of my family for giving me the time and resources to complete my dream. To Gord Ekstrom and Pierre Brunet a round of applause for your help with the painting, wiring and counselling along the way. And last but not least to Quad City for producing a fine aircraft kit in the Challenger II.
Webmaster's Update: Since writing his article in the fall of 2001 John has continued upward to an even fuller realization of his dreams.
Recall in the article that he says about his visit by car to Montebello and the Challenger Owners Rendezvous: "Oh how I longed for the day that this would be me showing off my Challenger!" Well that day has come and not just once - John has proudly showed off his Challenger at Montebello in 2002 and the years since!
Last summer John wrote in another COPA article: "The emotional high you feel when your steed becomes airborne cannot be duplicated. Your mind races with thoughts of romance and adventure as you visualize what's to come. Well folks, let me assure you there's been no letdown in expectations being met or exceeded!"
Very recently John's Challenger was outfitted with Puddlejumper amphibious floats - yet another wonderful dimension to explore and enjoy! Have a look at John's entry in the Challenger Gallery: "Sea of Green".
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