EAA Workshop – Building Skills

For many, the idea of building their own aircraft is just that — an idea. One of the major challenges facing the first-time homebuilder can be acquiring the skills necessary to assure timely completion of the project without wasting time, energy, materials or money.

Recognizing this, the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) recently established the EAA Sportair Workshops, one- and two-day sessions that teach the necessary skills to build or restore aircraft. AVweb’s Matt Paxton recently attended a workshop as part of the process of building his Pietenpol Air Camper. In this second article of an occasional series for AVweb on building his Pietenpol, Matt goes through one of the workshops and learns how to weld.

Ron Alexander, Director of the EAA Sportair Workshops, says one of the main reasons why builders fail to complete aircraft building projects is lack of confidence in their abilities. Recognizing this need among those “rolling their own,” Alexander created what has become the EAA Sportair Workshops.

The EAA Sportair Workshops are designed to provide aircraft homebuilders with certain basic skills necessary for constructing an airplane and to give the builder confidence that he or she can do the job. The workshops were started by Alexander’s former company, Alexander Aeroplane Co. in 1993, and were taken over by the EAA in January 2000. Alexander continues to run the program for EAA as a member service.

I had been seeing the ads in Sport Aviation for the workshops for a number of years, but after I started building a Pietenpol Air Camper, I really began to take notice of anything in Sport Aviation and other publications that might increase my knowledge and skills. I was particularly wary of the metalwork required for the airplane.

Many of the steel parts for the Piet can be bought; in fact, I purchased most of the steel fittings for the wing assemblies from a company called Replicraft. The quality of the parts is excellent, but they aren’t inexpensive. Buying the remaining metal parts is still an option, but I want to do as much as I can myself in the building process, and look on it as an opportunity to learn some new skills.

I checked out my local community college, but all they offered was arc welding. The course meeting time wasn’t convenient, either. Last December, I spotted an ad in Sport Aviation for the winter and spring Sportair Workshops and noticed that they were offering one on gas welding in Greensboro, N.C., only three hours away. I signed up immediately.

The workshops in Greensboro covered a variety of topics for the builder and those considering building. Introduction To Aircraft Building is designed for those unsure about beginning the aircraft building process and to assist those planning to build with selecting an appropriate project. The Fabric Covering workshop taught all one need to know about covering an airplane using the Polyfiber process. Gas Welding taught the basics of metallurgy and welding and allows for as much “hands-on” practice as possible. Other workshops offered the same weekend were Sheet Metal Basics, Composite Construction, and Engine Installation. All the workshops ran over two full days, a Saturday and Sunday.

EAA Sportair also offers classes in TIG Welding and type-specific workshops for particular kit-builts; the Vans RV series being the most popular. Workshops are held around the country, although some are only offered in certain locations. For example, Griffin, Ga., is the only location for the TIG Welding workshop. EAA Sportair is assisting in the development of new curricula for workshops at major air shows such as EAA Airventure.

EAA SportAir Workshops is offering advanced TIG welding courses across the nation. The course will cover advanced TIG (GTAW) welding procedures, including specialty power supplies, shielding gases, and filler materials, welding thin-wall 4130 tubing, titanium, aluminum, and custom accessories that can be used in homebuilt construction.

Nationally recognized welding expert Wyatt Swaim teaches the course, which is limited to 12 students. Each student will work in a professional welding booth and use the Lincoln Square Wave 175 TIG welding unit is used for instruction.

This advanced hands-on class is recommended only for people with previous TIG welding experience or extensive gas welding experience. If you’re interested in attending the advanced course but need to learn the fundamentals of TIG welding, SportAir will hold introductory courses across the country.