Thursday, February 26, 2009

It's the Little Things

I really like the process of restoring aircraft. While flying airplanes is a more straightforward (if not more "normal") activity, restoring them is a blizzard of small details, little unique challenges not unlike working a jigsaw or crossword puzzle.

In converting the Mi-2 caution and warning panel, a couple of things have come up.

First is just figuring out how to convert the panel to English. This is greatly — but not completely — simplified by the English Mi-2 manual. The manual suffers a bit from transliteration artifacts, which occasionally leave one wondering exactly how, "before starting first engine is not completed, don't perform starting the second one."

Second is figuring the sizes of each of the inserts and how to get them back-lit in the right color. Usually this can be done — metric micrometer in hand — by taking the original panel parts, scanning them and editing the image or creating something (as was the case this time) from scratch in Inkscape. Then just send the whole lot off to the engravers. I like sending as much of the original panel as possible to the engravers because it gives them the ability to perfectly match all the drill holes and placements.

Then there were the screws. No problem, right? Well... not a big problem. Normally, aircraft mechanics are very meticulous about putting everything back exactly the way it came off. I was always taught that with aircraft, you don't "not worry about it" if you drop a screw or nut or washer... even with the little stuff, even if it's going to take an hour to fish it out of somewhere that's "not going to matter" — you do it, you recover the lost part lest Murphy magically transport it to somewhere really bad. So the fact that the screws holding down the caution and warning covers seemed to be of random lengths and types was rather odd. One imagines that there's some story behind this... perhaps it was pilots being less-than-meticulous when replacing burned-out light bulbs. Who knows? Another mystery the Mi-2 is keeping to itself.

So I counted 44 M3-0.5 screws of varying lengths. The ones that seemed to be the most "correct" were 12mm. The screws need to be black and since I've learned from experience that simply pushing screws into a piece of cardboard and hosing them down with black spray-paint doesn't exactly, uh, work... I had to find black screws. Fortunately, 12mm seems to be a common size in stainless, black oxide coated, M3-0.5, pan-head, machine screws. Two boxes of 100 was only a couple of clicks on the web.

Some of the screws I removed had tiny lock washers on them. Sigh. Ok, so that's the "right" way to do it. Where to find M3, stainless, black oxide coated, split lock washers? Turns out that ordering 20 thousand of them is pretty easy. And only $30, but quick shipping on six pounds is probably going to cost another $30. Nobody wants to sell just a handful of them. Fortunately, there are some sites where shops can list their excess parts. I found one that would sell me 300 to meet their minimum order of $20 (shipping included). Just the phone number was listed, no web site, not even an email address. I had to call them, and the guy boxed them up as we chatted on the phone. Credit card? Nah, he says he trusts people to send him a check when they get the parts. Who does that anymore?? He says that he talks to a couple of people a week like this with no problems so far. He says that half the reason he lists it like this is because he gets to talk to people working on all sorts of interesting stuff. I guess he likes the little things, too.

1 comment:

  1. For a small fee, I'll install this blue button to get you down. :P