Are you ready to see something incredible?
Sling 4-4-40 - Saturday done and engine runs complete - TOMORROW WE FLY!!!!
Wednesday 10 September
The team briefing is done, the kits are packed and we are almost ready to go! Well the kits are almost ready to go... There is still a mountain of paperwork to complete and logistics around transport, food, shifts, publicity and interviews not to mention the planning around exactly who will work on what section at what time to make sure it all comes together at exactly the right time. The plan is to have the fuselage 80% built within the first 24 hours, then the wings completely done by the end of day two. The engine, wiring, plumbing and controls will all be installed on Friday and Saturday leaving Saturday night for final inspections and testing. The test flight is set for Sunday afternoon, but watch this space. If we get it all done and ready sooner we will try to fly on Saturday afternoon.
Tuesday 16 September - T minus one day and counting
The final day of preparations started early this morning at the Factory with a final briefing on who will be working on what shifts and how and why things must be done when they must be done. Sounds complicated…. Because it is…. Absolutely everything must be done according to plan. Each sub assembly, each section and each kit needs to built at exactly the right time to ensure they come together flawlessly and are transformed into a Sling 4 that meets the standards of quality and safety that our aircraft being built in the factory do. Building it fast is no reason to build it badly.
The last of the kits, tools, catering equipment and marketing material was loaded onto the truck and taken to Waterkloof Airbase. All the staff working on the first shift accompanied the truck to get their exhibitor passes in advance and see the location and set up of the build. This turned out to be invaluable as the level of disorganization and lagging computer systems lead to half the staff standing in the 32'C (87'F) heat for 4 hours while the event organizers tried to work out why so many exhibitors had no profiles loaded onto their system. With more than half the day wasted they finally let us in and sent us on our way to finalize the set up for our 8am start tomorrow.
By 5pm the tents were up, the security fence erected (note this fence is not to keep us safe, but rather to stop us from popping out during the night and acquiring some military grade plutonium or high tech weapons that might have been left lying around during the day - this is a military base after all, it's not like any old Gupta could just roll in here unannounced…), the tools all laid out and checked and the static display planes parked in their spot for the rest of the week.
It seems everyone is in good spirits, and judging by the efficiency with which the set-up went we think we are on good track to get the majority of the build done by early Sunday morning, with plenty of time for engine runs, electrics tests, final inspection and then the Sunday afternoon test flight.
More to follow tomorrow!
Wednesday 17 September - day one morning shift - 12h00
The day got off to a bit of a slow start with traffic coming into the Air Force Base being much worse than we expected. Instead of kicking off the build at 07h30 sharp we only got in at 08h30, and started building at 09h00. Not a major amount of time lost but when you consider it is 12 people physically working on the airframe you realise its 18 hours we have lost. Apart from that all is going smoothly. The fuselage is taking shape nicely, the engine wiring is coming along at a steady pace and the panel has already got switches and some instruments installed.
Support has been fantastic so far with lots of people coming to wish us luck. Including the Chief of the Senegalese Air Force..... So anybody coming past AAD this year please come past and say hi!
Wednesday 17 September - afternoon update 20h00
Day one afternoon has gone very well to say the least. We are either on schedule or even (dare I say it) ahead of schedule. The rear and centre fuselage were married to each other just before the night shift arrived and the wing kit boxes were opened and priming begun. The engine is completely wired and will be fitted to the firewall overnight. The wheels have been assembled, the rudder cables and pedals are in place and the undercarriage is prepped and ready to slide in a soon as the engine frame is fitted. Its been as hot as hell but there has been a good breeze to cool us and everyone is in great spirits. The handover to the night shift went seamlessly with a half hour handover period meaning that 32 people were working on the plane at once. It looked like a time lapse video. The plane just took shape and rose out of the table right in front of my eyes!
Now, its up to the night shift to bolt the engine on, have the undercarriage fitted and start plumbing the tanks. Most of tomorrow will be spend on building the wings, completing the empennage and plumbing and wiring the fuselage. The panel is about half wired so should be slotted into the dash by mid afternoon. In fact I am hoping that there is only a pre-closure inspection to do on the wings in the morning and that the night shift get them all done!
Well earned breaks for hearty meals and cold drinks have been welcomed but everyone seems so revved up to get this pane built that nobody spends much time relaxing. Its mind blowing how fast these guys are working!
Thursday 18 September full update
Wow what a day! Another 04h30 start to pick up the day shift from the factory but it was more than worth it. Arriving at the build tent I was blown away but what I saw. The fuselage on wheels, the engine bolted on and the wings three quarters done! The night shift had worked furiously through the night and had got much further than we anticipated (I suspect a little competition brewing between the day and night shifts...). After a quick walk around and inspection Mike called the staff together and promptly announced that not only were we on track, but we were in fact so far ahead of schedule that there was no need for a night shift tonight!
So after a hearty breakfast the night shift headed for home and a well earned rest. The day shift jumped right back into action and got back to wiring the engine and the panel and continued with the wings and empennage. Vince took control of installing the parachute while directing and managing the rest of the team. Everyone seemed to know exactly what they were doing and what needed to be done next. Truly a well oiled machine. The pace continued right through till 14h00 when we all stopped for a lunch break and another stock take of where we were.
As the afternoon wore on we came across a minor snag on one of the wing stringers that put a hold on building the left wing further, but a new part will be taken with in the morning. I tried my hand at building the seats and the slider mechanism, under the watchful eye of Mike Blyth. Hoards of people passed by and wished us luck and expressed their approval and surprise at how far we had got and how quickly we were progressing. Finally we were treated to a beautiful sunset followed by a relaxing supper while we laughed and chatted about next year's Challenge.
All in all everybody involved is having a great time and we are really proud of the progress. I personally am hugely impressed with every single member of staff that is working so tirelessly at achieving this goal. Under sometimes the toughest of condition and under intense stress there is always a helping hand and a friendly smile to edge me on. I feel incredibly lucky to work with such an amazing team of people. The people who all contribute to making the Sling the incredibly airplane that its is.
Test flight is still on Sunday afternoon, although we think we will be ready well before. We are not going to tempt fate, the longer we have to inspect and engine run and inspect again, the better.
Friday 19 September
What can I say? Day three was a breeze. Despite having worked long hours on the first days everyone was elated to be back and set to work doing a quick tidy and clean up before getting stuck in. The final parts of the wings came together effortlessly with the replacement stringer and work continued on the center fuselage and wiring.
Friday was much busier in terms of traffic flow. There were constantly crowds of people standing at the fences watching in awe and offering support and congratulations. Those who had seen the build on previous days were blown away by how far we have come.During the day a number of interesting and important people visited us including the Regional Director of the Boeing Company for Africa and the Middle East. He was so complimentary of our staff that he asked if he could bring some of his staff to our factory to get tips of building planes.......It seems a recurring theme and comment I hear from spectators is how fantastic all the people who work for The Airplane Factory are. Its clear that we are incredibly fortunate to have a team like this, and one that we have managed to build after only 4 years of building Slings. Walking around the tent filming and taking photos one just sees smiles and hears laughter. Not once have I had to ask someone to get back to work or seen anyone slacking. Everyone has the time to stop and answer questions and pose for a photo.
After lunch it was clear that things were really coming together so Gareth had the fuselage moved out of the tent and the wings were prepped to go on. The cowling was fitted and the spats screwed snugly around the wheels.
Just before sunset Mr T filled the engine with oil and water and started to spin the prop. The lights and strobes were tested and the panel fired up.
As we wheeled her out for a celebratory team photo James gave some words of encouragement and pointed out that it took him and Mike four years to build the first Sling. Now today, the TAF family have done it in 4 days. Something surely to be proud of.
Although we are ahead of schedule the plan is still to test fly on Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately though there appears to have been a breakdown in communication somewhere. After having filled out reams of paperwork, written countless motivational letters, submitting test flight action plans and flight plans and actually receiving confirmation that the initiative is fully supported, it seems that this has not been communicated to the Safety Officer, and we have not been put into the programme. I will be doing my best today to change that, and with the right help I still think its possible.
If not, well we still built a Sling 4 in 4 days and that was our challenge. We are incredibly proud and nobody is going to ruin our fun!
Saturday 20 September
Day 4 of The Sling 4-4-40 Challenge was full of excitement and fun. Queues to get in were ridiculous though with some of us taking two hours to get in, even with exhibitor passes. Once in we got to work on filling the tanks with fuel, putting in the leather interior and sticking the registration letters and decals on.
Mike and Gareth completed a dual inspection and filled in the final bits of paperwork. Support from the crowds was fantastic and from 8am until the end of the day there were hoards of people crowded around the plane. Mostly people showed disbelief that we had actually built this plane from scratch since Wednesday morning, but luckily we have the photo progress boards to prove it....
Press and camera crews were in and out one after each other all vying for a five minute interview with the team. The publicity and support we have received from local and international press has been fantastic and a special thanks goes out to the guys in charge of PR and publicity at AAD this year.After a bunch of meetings I managed to secure us a slot in the programmme to wheel the airplane out of the tent and through the masses of crowds right up in front of the flight line to conduct the engine ground runs. Brian Emmenis explained to the crowds who we were are what we were doing, Athol Franz from African Pilot drummed up some excitement by organising a photo shoot right out in front of the crowds and generally there was a sense of excitement and anticipation and Mike and James climbed in to start up.
Fire extinguisher at hand, final checks done, Mike turned the key and the Sling burst to life! With cheers and applaud from the crowds Mike slowly increased the RPM to full power and the Rotax 914UL gave the crowd a taste of an aviation engine at full horses.
All in all a fantastic day for The Airplane Factory and the Sling and a great day for the spectators.Tomorrow????? Well as soon as we know what time the test flight we will be sure to post.