Quickstart Tail Assembly @ Alexander Tech Center


out of

This isn't really a normal review, as much of the class has already been documented in the empennage section in the builder's log, so you can follow our day-to-day progress, and look at the rather ridiculously large number of pictures.

A few background things, and then I'll start making editorial comments. The whole week was a good, but exhausting, experience. By all means go, but don't expect a vacation in the sense that you'll get to sleep a lot and not have to work. This was more exhausting than my normal job. Given my job, this is actually saying something fairly substantial. You'll be tired after standing a lot, make sure you have a good pair of tennis shoes.

A week before I was going to go to this workshop, my work schedule took an unanticipated turn, and I had to push the date back by two weeks. The Alexander people let me do this without any trouble at all, which probably bodes well for all you out there in readerland who are thinking about going but have unpredictable schedules. Just don't change the schedule five or six times.


Things that were good:

  • Good instruction - the main instructor for the class is Jacob Biang, who has been invovled in the construction of about 120 empennages of various RVs - mostly 7s, 8s, and 9s. Also as of now (June 04) they've done two RV-10 empennages. (These don't fit into the normal week schedule, though.) Jacob has more experience building RV empennages than anyone else you're likely to meet, and unless you're building a -3 or a -4, he's built multiple versions of whatever airplane you're working on.
  • Lots o' tools - the workshop has all sorts of tools, and this presents a great opportunity to figure out what your favorite (for example) hand squeezer is before you charge off and buy one. I bought the Avery Tools RV toolkit before I went to this, and although I'm happy with this, I think if I had spent a week with both the Avery and Cleveland hand squeezers before I bought one, I probably would have ended up with a different one. This is almost all personal preference - it's nice to have extended periods of time to try a bunch of different tools if you're not sure which one you want to buy.
  • Hospitality - rather than rent a hotel room in Griffin, we stayed at the Tech Center. This is really the best way to do this - you're right there, you save on driving time, and there's a kitchen right there so you don't really have to go out to eat if you don't want to. You can just walk into the kitchen and make a sandwich. The folks at ATC were really terrific about making us feel welcome and even turned on the internet access in our room when we asked. They went out of their way to make sure we had a great experience, and it was really appreciated.

Things that could have been better:

  • Nothing at all.
How you can prepare/what to expect:
  • Bring another person - attending this workshop with my dad made it an extremely different experience than what others have experienced while attending this workshop. If you have an opportunity to bring someone else along, you'll probably get done quicker, you'll both be less exhausted by the end of the week, and you have another set of eyes and another brain to help remember what the instructor is telling you. All of these are extremely nice to have. Besides, if you bring someone along, you've got a default shop helper when you get back home.
  • Attempt to go on a week when the class is not full - this is less important than bringing another person, but it can make a difference in how quickly you get done. It probably won't make a difference in how much you're able to talk to the instructor or how much attention you'll get, however, if there are four people in the class, you'll end up waiting to get tools and ask questions. You'll still get done, it will just take the maximum amount of time, and will probably take several late nights.

Conclusion: if you have not built a metal airplane before, and you do not have a large amount of shop experience, this workshop will be extremely helpful.

  • While this class may not be necessary for all RV builders, I think it was necessary for us. Everyone that I have talked to that has attended this program at Alexander has recommended it to other people. On the other hand, most people that have built an RV without going to a program like this have told me that it's not really necessary. I extrapolate from these two facts that it's necessary for those with less experience in the shop or who feel like they want to be jumpstarted when they begin construction. If you have a large group of RV builders in the area that are willing to help you get started, this program is probably less necessary than it would be if you are on your own. There are a large group of RV builders in the area, though, and I still attended this program.

    Update - 29 May - I'm extremely pleased with the quality of workmanship that came out of this workshop, and got confirmation of that from other RV builders, too. Today, I brought a few of the completed empennage parts to a TVRVBG meeting, and all the RV builders there agreed that the workmanship on these parts was excellent.

Contact Information and Cost:
  • Web address: http://www.buildtofly.com/
  • Location: Griffin-Spalding Airport (6A2), south of Atlanta, GA.
  • Cost (at time of review): approximately $1700, add $200 for a second person to attend.

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