CHAPTER 4 - Riveting in an Apartment

Putting on the skins was the next task. I marked the skins in place on the skeletons and drilled the holes from the back side, just as in the Orndorff tapes. Next, I used the tie down straps I bought for my Harley and strapped the skins on, then drilled and clecoed them to the skeleton. Lastly, they went off to be primed. Now it was time for the big step - riveting!

I should say a few words about where I live, at this point. The apartment complex consists of several relatively modern buildings and, off to the side, a single concrete structure. This last building, a former government housing complex, is five stories of block and concrete, and looks forbidding from the outside. From the inside, it is a different matter. The apartments are surprisingly large and well finished. Since I have a ground floor apartment, partially sunken underground, the temperature remains relatively constant in any season, and the cats can come and go as they please. More importantly, the combination of block walls faced with wood frame and sheetrock between apartments acts as an effective soundproofing.

On a Saturday in January, Steve Mahrle, an A&P working in reliability at American International Airways, showed up to help me learn to rivet. After inspecting my work to date, he fired up the air compressor. While it was running, I went into the common hallway for our building and was pleased to discover that the noise was inaudible from about ten feet from the door. On the patio, it was somewhat louder, but no one was out in the snow to be disturbed by it. Later, the neighbor on the other side of the living room wall would report that he had been unaware of our activities. Even later, in the summer, I would find that the noise level on the patio would be drowned out by the central air systems.

With me wielding the bucking bar, Steve tested my rivet gun and began setting rivets. The noise was not nearly what I had expected, and was so intermittent that I soon relaxed and stopped worrying about disturbing my neighbors. Instead, I began worrying about my ability to drive rivets. Already I had caused Steve a few problems by not keeping the bar in place, but I soon got the hang of it and Steve managed to avoid any major dings.

After finishing the first side, Steve handed me the gun. I began with great trepidation, but got that first rivet driven without mishap. In fact, I had driven several rivets before I goofed and dinged my skin. Steve examined my mistake and assured me that it would not affect the structure. I would like to say it was the only mistake I made, but I can't. As I progressed, though, I did become more confident, especially as I realized that my minor 'oops' would not cause me to have to rebuild the entire structure.

In the photo, you can see Steve handling the bar as I run the rivet gun. The TV has been temporarily moved so that I can get behind the jig, and all the clutter is gone so that the jig can be moved around. Shortly after this photo was taken, we persuaded Judi to do some bucking. She encountered the same problems I did, resulting in a few more errors, but quickly became more confident. In fact, she gained some actual enthusiasm for the project now that an assembly looked to be almost complete. It's amazing how a tangible result can convert a skeptic.

With all but the edges riveted, Steve departed. It had taken most of the day, but my first major milestone was behind me, leaving me more confident that I would someday be flying in an aircraft of my manufacture.