Dream Aircraft's Factory Assistance Program:
Last summer Dream Aircraft made a promotion for a free factory assistance program to the first three buyers of their quick build kits. Since I had been doing my “due diligence” on the Tundra for several months, this offer was very enticing.
In order to confirm what I'd been researching, I made an appointment for a test flight. The DreamAircraft Team was coming out West in early July for the EAA North West Fly-In at Arlington, WA. I had originally planned to see them at Oshkosh but the chance to test fly the Tundra at Arlington had several things going for it. First and probably most important, my mentor, Charlie Walker, would be there with his Subaru powered Glastar. Through the great resource of the Internet, I had met Charlie over three years ago and he had helped me with my first aircraft purchase, a Subaru powered Glastar, built by Bob Warfel, of Leesburg Florida. I was a brand new student pilot back then and my research on the Subaru's by Jan Eggenfellner (see eggenfellneraircraft.com) and the Glastar proved to be just what I wanted at that time. The Glastar w/ soob was dependable, low maintenance, economical, easy to fly and it could carry up to 200 lbs of baggage with two good size adults.
Now, two years later, I was interested in a rugged bush plane that would be capable of hauling elk out of the back country. The Tundra's stats along with several article in aviation journals were very good. However, I'm still very much a novice and I wanted reliable, experienced guidance before I sign the contract. Charlie Walker has just that experience. He has flown for 40 some years as a Navy fighter pilot, Commercial Airline Pilot, and private pilot. He has owned 20 different aircraft and built seven of them. With his wife, Verna, operating the laptop in the right seat, Charlie has compiled hours of stats on efficient fuel burn and various props on his Glastar. So, it was a no brainer to have Charlie check out the Tundra since both would be at Arlington. My test flight with Robert Blais, the company pilot, was very impressive. The plane handled well as we toured the WA countryside east of Arlington, landing at the small airport of Darrington. This flight was worth the trip to Arlington. The beauty of the area matched the flight of the Tundra. The only daunting part was the location of a cemetery as the west end of the Darrington airstrip.
While Charlie didn't take a test flight, his assessment of the construction and strength of the plane erased my final reservations. His words were, “Jim, This is a hauling machine and if I could afford it, I'd build one myself.” With that, he did the next best thing, he scooped up several brochures to take back to Lopez Island in hopes of talking one of his neighbors into building a Tundra. Ten minutes later I was signing up for a quick build kit and the free factory program. The Tundra crew was excited to have the sale and I was wondering if I needed my head examined.
Fortunately, this didn't last too long as thirty minutes later, I was at Jan Eggenfellner's booth and signing the papers for a firewall forward Subaru H-6 with turbo charger. Since my home field in Smith Valley, NV, is at 5,000 ft, and given the fact that Nevada is the most mountainous state in the union, a turbo charger was high on my list of requirements for the Tundra. This combination of a rugged airframe and a powerful and dependable modern engine should produce the airplane I have in mind.
Now, not only had I committed to buy a quick build kit and engine, I had signed on for a trip to Quebec, Canada. I'd be the first person to experience Dream Aircraft's factory assistance program.
There are lots of reasons and ways to experience experimental aviation. From scratch built to quick built, from 30 year projects to most recently 18 days to first flight. What prompted me to go for the fast track? Very simply, I'm at a stage in life where although I'm not a 'rich' man, I have more money than time. As I'm composing this article I read in the current issue of EAA's Sport Pilot of one builder who just completed his project of more than 30 years! He is now 74. I know I don't have that time left nor am I of the nature to take on such a log term project. As Lynn Sanderson (the second person to sign up for the factory program) put it; “This build program is going to get people who would never consider building their own plane into the market.” I'm one of those.
My trip started at the Reno, NV airport and after stops in Denver and Chicago, I landed at Burlington, VT. Luc Premont and Robert Blais from Dream Aircraft met me for the final leg and we drove across the border and were in Ganby within the hour.
This was Sunday night as I checked into my hotel and my internal clock was already way out of sorts. 'Work' started at 7 am the next day. I would have been better off if I had arrived on Saturday and had Sunday to adjust to the time change and rest.
Dream Aircraft is only a small portion of the steel and aluminum fabrication plant known as D & G. My quick built kit was waiting for me on the second floor along with my teacher, Patrick DeLa Durantaye. “Perfect” Patrick as I soon began calling him, is a well trained and experienced aviation technician. With over 8 years in the field and 3 years of tech 'college' prior to this. Patrick is well suited for this job. He has been with the company for 4 years and has been involved in every design change of the Tundra.
For the next two weeks, working 10 hour days, six days a week, Patrick became my man. He picked me up each day at 6:45 AM and we worked and ate lunch together until 5 PM when he dropped me back at the hotel.
Since my engine is being shipped to Nevada and I have yet to finalize my avionics panel, our entire focus was on the airframe. This plane is over 90 % aluminum and the rest is steel. Much of the fuselage was already 'skinned' as were the wings, flaps and ailerons. Riveting became the main focus of the training and work, with over 20,000 hard rivets and only a handful of pop rivets in the kit.
Any rivet that had the slightest hit of a 'smiley' (a rivet that was miss-struck) would not escape the close inspection of Perfect Pat and had to be drilled out and replaced. The FAA is slightly more tolerant. The holes on all the parts are perfectly aligned as only a CAD CAM process can produce. This makes the assembly of this plane very exact. All the parts with few exceptions like the Grove Gear, are manufactured right downstairs. This includes the aluminum fuel tanks. They have 2 baffles in each and hold 28 gallons. They are cut, welded and pressure tested on site. Front and rear ports allow the fuel to be drawned from the front and rear of the tanks so there is never a chance of running out due to a climb or a dive. Since my fuel injected Subaru needs a fuel return line that goes back to the tank to avoid a potential vapor-lock, we were able to address and resolve this readily. We had the shop welder add a port in the top of each tank.
During the second week we moved from riveting to assembly. We started with the empennage. First came the horizontal stabilizer. Eight bolts connecting the front end and another eight connecting the rear to the fuselage. Where one small bolts might suffice, they either put a larger one or have two bolts. While all the holes are perfectly lined up, about 35% need to be enlarged and with this, de-burred. No shorts cuts in quality or strength were taken. I doubt there is a stronger kit plane available.
We progressed with the vertical stabilizer, rudder, elevator and trim. As the pieces came together, the parts began to take shape. We gathered help for moving the wings into place and setup large stands to receive the wings. It amazed me how all these large parts, each consisting of many, many smaller parts, once assembled, all came together perfectly. The wings slipped into place snuggly, without much struggle. Bolt holes aligned perfectly and the bolts were inserted. The stands under the wings stayed in place while we went about installing the extruded aluminum struts. Because test flights with engines over 200 hp created a slight vibration in the struts, jury struts were added. All the control were connected and adjusted. Note: All of this was later disassembled for shipping, however, I received the training on just how it all went together with Perfect Pat explaining the why and wherefores of the process. He was extremely thorough and patient.
The entire Dream Aircraft Team made this process very educational and enjoyable.