Fabric Covering Wing 1 of 8

Fabric bottom wing

The photos above show the top view of the left wing as it stands vertical to make it easier to work on. The long piece of wing fabric is temporarily attached from the trailing edge and was for the moment  just draped down. The Northstar plans called for two 2 inch strips of fabric tape to be stretched over the top of the fuel tank area to reinforce the ribs so they won’t deform when fabric is attached and shrunk over the the whole wing. I also did this to the bottom of the wing fuel tank area since I decided to have a removable cover there too.  This was also the time to add the Inter Rib Bracing material which is basically a preshrunk ribbon-like material.  Poly Fiber instructs you how to zig zag this between the ribs and how to knot them at each crossover point. The bracing is designed to keep the ribs from deforming during the fabric shrinking process.

The left wing also had an Angle of Attack Probe which was located  12 feet out from the root. This device had a plumbing line in the form of a tube that brings ram air pressure to a reporting module behind the instrument panel.  Location of the probe on the leading edge of the wing is critical to it’s reliability so I was not sure if the location I decided on was the best. In view of possibly having to change it during flight testing, I chose to use a conduit that I could access to retrieve and re-route the air line.  I used a very light weight fluorescent bulb tube sleeve as the conduit for this purpose. One last thing was attaching Anti-Chafe Tape to any sharp or protruding item that could puncture or fray the fabric. There were very few places where this was necessary.

It was now time to turn the wing upside down and start the wing fabric attachment on the bottom of the wing.

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Finishing the Wing Tip


The Northstar wing has a very elegant wing tip shape.  Instead of the popsicle stick end found on the Piper wing,  the Northstar wing tapers down and back into a graceful rake. The wing tip extends the leading edge and maximizes the aspect ratio by  increasing the effective wing span, this according to it’s designer. The kit includes a custom shaped fiberglass leading edge element, a tip rib, a wing bow, and a preformed trailing edge sheet metal piece. The fiberglass part is firmly attached with Avex rivets to the end of the leading edge sheet metal and along the top and bottom sides of the wing bow.  The trailing edge metal is preformed and temporarily held in place with strapping tape to keep it positioned for drilling rivet holes.  The holes are then cleco’d down and a stiffener channel that runs diagonally is placed on top for locating rivet holes.  The stiffener channel is then placed inside the trailing edge piece and attached using  flush Avex rivets. Northstar also welded the mount on the wing bow for the attaching the standard Whelen nav/strobes light fixture.  The design of the wing tip is especially appreciated when fabric is attached making the finished tip an extraordinarily beautiful shape.

Assembly Details


 The wing spar brackets on the fuselage must be 30″ on center to agree with the spar attachment points on the wings.  This has to be a precise fit.  Unfortunately my welding experience or lack thereof caused me to not compensate for all the distortion that can happen during a weld and thus I ended up with a fractional difference between the spar brackets.  Fortunately Morgan Williams had an easy solution using a series of thin precision made aluminum plates stacked between the aluminum spars and the steel attach brackets accommodated the measurement difference to thus make a precise fit.  

The Northstar wing like the standard Super Cub wing uses the forward wing strut to carry the aileron cable up to the wing. I wanted the aileron cable concealed and run inside the leading edge zone of the wing.  The lower right photo shows a preliminary rigging set-up of the proposed forward pulley location and it’s necessary alignment of the pulley behind the spar. The carry through hole in the spar had to be kept  small and avoid interfering with the adjacent hard riveted reinforcement plate.

The lower left photo shows the aileron hinge bracket located at the rear wing strut attach point and it’s alignment with the aluminum wing compression strut. Also note that there is an additional steel tube strut providing additional triangulation strength where the wing struts will be attached. The hinge bracket, compression struts and the rear wing strut bracket all come together in a collective assembly of precision made aluminum and steel plates all held firmly together with AN stop nut hardware. 


Wing Assembly Begins


 The Northstar Wing uses the same airfoil shape as the Piper USA 35B as used on a Super Cub but the similarity ends there. For the design of the Northstar wing, Morgan Williams used the heavy duty features of the Piper Pawnee PA-25 Agplane with a higher gross weight. From there he made several more improvements including the alignment of all wing compression struts with the aileron and flap hinges thus directing the airloads in a straight line from the aft spar instead of zig-zagging through the spars.  There is also a new raked wing tip to maximize the wing aspect ratio and increasing the effective wing span that allows side-slips even with full flaps. Four sets of stainless steel drag wires including one set that runs through the gas tank extend through the spars and are tightened using a simple nut and block attachment system. Morgan also designed the control cables to stay inside the wing including the upper aileron cable thus maintaining a more aerodynamic and water resistant enclosure.

What was most impressive is the high quality of the parts. The spars came predrilled with reinforcements hard riveted at the factory. The aluminum ribs were preformed and predrilled and when any drilling was required Morgan provided a very detailed video explanation of how to make the set-up, what clamps to use, measurements needed and what type of rivets or AN hardware to complete the assembly with.  Also if I ever had a question he was always available to help me work through it.

The ribs were also predrilled for attaching the fabric with fabric rivets which I found to really speed up the fabric covering process.  The old method of sewing and tying knots to attach the fabric to the ribs is not needed on the Northstar wings.


Canadian Wings


 This was a little over ten years ago (2003) when we took the family truckster up to Georgian bay in Ontario Canada to pick up our newly made wing kit.  I was assured by Morgan Williams of Custom Flight Limited that it would all fit in our van except for the four 16 foot wing spars that had to ride in a huge tube on the roof. At the time there was a currency exchange rate that worked in our favor and for some unknown reason there was no duty or tariffs for aircraft parts.  While going through Customs, they were more concerned whether Tony sitting in the back seat was really our son.   Another advantage on the trip was visiting the “Beer Store” where Tony had his picture taken! He was 15 at the time – too young to be a customer at the Beer Store!

I could hardly wait to get home and start the assembly which required viewing over 12 hours of video tape instructions which I was a bit skeptical of.  I later found out that the video tapes were a very efficient way to learn the proper methods and practices for assembling such a project. Morgan estimated it would take 50 hours to assemble both wings (not including fabric).  It ended up taking me twice as long but I had no complaints. I wanted to take my time!

Preparing the Wing Build


 Unlike other Experimental Aircraft Plans I had a choice on what wings to build.  I could build the Wag Aero 2+2 Sportsman Wings per the plans or select other wing options.  The Wag Aero Wings  are wood construction with square tips and wing spoilers instead of flaps. At the time I did not have a high confidence level for fabricating wood parts and I really wanted flaps so my attention turned to a wing kit made in Canada and available for use on the Sportsman 2+2.  

The Northstar Wings are made by Custom Flight Limited of Perkinsfield Ontario. The Northstars airfoil is the same as the Proven Piper USA 35B and is totally adaptable to fitting my Wag Aero Fuse.  Morgan Williams is the owner and Chief Engineer for Custom Flight Limited and is the brightest and most knowledgable person in Aviation that I have ever met.  His company (http://www.customflightltd.com) makes the Northstar Bush Plane Kit which is a Super Cub type airframe and they sell the same wings for Sportsman builders like me.  In the next several posts I will describe a lot more about this fantastic wing kit and what a joy it was to build such an extraordinary piece of engineering.

However before proceeding I always like to point out misguided ideas I had as a novice homebuilder.  Early in the process I read somewhere the need to build an absolutely flat wing table needed to fabricate the wings.  That seemed so logical to me that I did not hesitate to build a huge 4 foot wide by 16 foot long wing table.  Later on, after purchasing the Northstar wing kit I discovered that they are assembled on a simple pair of saw horses. The Northstar instructions provide all the necessary methods for keeping things square and true.  The wing table I built would actually have been a hindrance but it was a nice work bench for other things including the installation of Micro Vortex Generators on the wings during the time of flight testing.


On the Gear


The project made a dramatic change when it came off the rotisserie and sat for the first time on it's own gear.  It took six years to get it this far and it looked about half done.  The wings would be the next goal along with the engine, instrument panel, cowl, windshield, wiring, rigging and hundreds of smaller projects that took another seven years to complete!

I assembled everything to the fuselage that was completed including the tail, bubble doors, and the turtle deck and it started to actually look like an airplane. It was now time to start the wings!  

Spraying Metal


 The most important finish of a fabric covered airplane is the sprayed on silver finish. These multiple coats of silver are basically aluminum particles suspended in the vinyl chemistry  to protect the fabric from the harmful effects of the Sun.  There is usually a minimum of three coats of the Poly Spray material needed to bury the fabric in metal.  A work light is placed behind the fabric to inspect if enough silver has been applied to totally eliminate any light penetration through  the fabric.  The silver/fabric material is carefully sanded with 320 / 400 grit sandpaper between coats.  

The next spray coats will be a White Poly Tone Color that is used as a base finish prior to spraying the final classic 146 J3 Yellow.  The White is needed to cancel the gray tone of the silver otherwise the Yellow color would be a greenish and hideous color. 


Covering The Fuse & Turtle Deck


 Attaching large sheets of sticky medium weight Polyester fabric to the sticky Poly Tak edges of the fuselage frame became a two person job.  The objective is to attach the fabric before the Poly Tak glue starts to set up and dry while also leaving enough time to get the right amount of slack in the fabric for shrinking allowance. Too little slack could deform the metal frame during shrinking and too much slack could result in a saggy skin.

Side walls of the fuse were covered first, then shrunk and trimmed. The Belly panel was attached next and overlapped the side walls. The roof panel was attached last.  Fabric tapes were attached on the edges and over the stringers using Poly Brush as the glue.  Poly brush coats were then brushed on next over the entire fabric surface.  Poly Brush coats were then sprayed on as seen in the photos above.

The Turtle deck had its own spray booth and is shown with tapes attached.  There is no “Red Tint” on the fabric finish since the “Untinted Poly Brush was used.

The next step will be the Silver Coats using  Poly Spray for UV Protection.

Test Fitting the Turtle Deck


 The Poly Fiber Instruction manual warns about over tensioning the fabric during the three stage Ironing process as it can deform metal parts. I was deeply concerned that this may occur on the Turtle Deck since it is an open ended frame so a Test Fit was in order to check for proper fit on the Fuselage. Luckily there was no deformity and as I gained expierence I found that it was next to impossible to deform parts, even light weight aluminum parts.  The only caveat is, if you glue the fabric too tightly around the part to begin with then it is entirely possible to deform it as the fabric pulls itself together.  The best practice is to leave a little slack in the fabric when it is first glued to the frame, then as it shrinks it will not deform the part it is covering.