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Another PA-12 rebuild-my Phoenix story


20 years ago this summer I bought a PA-12. I had wanted one since I'd learn to fly in an PA-18 10 years earlier. Finally I found one and when I arrived to pick it up I realized that pictures made it look better than the light of day did, oh well I was there so I figured I might as well buy it, the price was right despite the appearance that it had been painted with a mop.

I flew it for 13 years til one annual my A&P quietly informed me it was time, she needed recovered. So I bit the bullet, pulled out my pocket knife and cut her N number off, and off I went on a recover job. 2 years and 1400 man hours later it was stripped to the bird cage and then recovered and had flaps added as well as a bunch of other new parts. Man did I learn a lot. So much in fact that I decided I wanted to find a project and put all of those new talents (hah) to work again.

As luck would have it I found a pa-12 project on my home airport. In 2001 this plane was in a tragic accident that destroyed everything about it except the tail feathers and the paper work. An old fella locally bought the remains from the estate and commenced to collecting parts to make it an airplane again. In his late 80's he lost steam and and I was able to buy it from him for a reasonable price about the time I was finishing the recover of my flying plane. I took about a year off from the rebuild hobby and started in 4 years ago knowing I would not get this one done in 2 years, I hoped for 4 years and should have it flying early next summer which will be 5 years. I have not posted as I went along because that for me would be just too painful to show such slow progress, I hate having to pound a stake in the ground to see if I am moving and that is what it would be like for me if I tried to do regular posts. But with the plane nearing completion I hope to layout a short timeline of my work in the hope that some of the photos my help someone else as much as the members here and my local A&P's have helped me.

I am not a Bill Rusk, so don't expect to see any great detail on my rebuild in the following posts. At times I feel like having me work on a project is like losing two good hired hands but here I go just the same. Here goes:
Upon examination of the fuselage that came with the project, and after sending to away to a guy who claimed to not only have a jig but to be able to fix it for a 'reasonable sum'; it became evident that it was not cost effective to repair my existing fuselage. Univair was great to work with. They added all of the mod's I had paper work for to the new fuselage and put on a few new ones as well including: gross weight increase,float fittings, extended baggage and I'm sure more I can't recall right now. To save crating and shipping I took a road trip to Colorado to pick up the fuselage with an old canoe trailer.



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While at Univair it only made sense to save a bunch more on freight and pick up all of the parts that are a pain to ship, including windshield, lift struts, stringers, new hydrasorbs, plus other bits and pieces. Wow that was a hard check to write but it was cost effective. Once home I just had to compare old with new and of course start bolting on parts that would bolt on so I could see how it might look someday. The original project came with new Atlee Dodge 3" extended 18 gear; Dakota Cub 24 gallon tanks, new cleveland wheels and brakes, wings, the bad fuselage and other bits and pieces.



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A few of these photos will be a bit out of order, sorry 'bout that but its all about how I am trying to tell the story, I notice that as the leading edges are on the wings in these photos which ain't quite right but ....poetic license ok?

I borrowed a friend's furnace jack to help put the wings on, a great invention by the way, and then I just couldn't help myself with a side by side comparison of my earlier work.



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Feeling a need to see some actual visible progress the first thing I did was to cover the 9 control surfaces and the gear legs. I took them all through the first Poly-Tone layer. I figured that would protect them, and no sense finished them totally as 4+ years of storage would create some wear and tear on them. I was right. After 4 years they did get a couple of dings and for sure they all needed a bit of refreshing. I was quite satisfying to make real progress.



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Good progress so far. I am debating on either rebuilding my 12 and adding a bunch of 18 parts or selling it and buying a 18.
On to the wings. When I bought the project one wing was done, kind of. I installed the Dakota Cub 24 gallon tanks, new leading edges, and flaps; and ended up re-doing the done wing. The wings came with square wing tips which I do not prefer-(the extra lift is nice but not at the expense of the roll rate), although they did also come with Dakota Cub tips which are very nice. The only way I would keep the square wing tips is if I could have extended the ailerons out to the wing tips. I talked with Ron Sullivan who holds the STC for such a mod. He said on an 18 I could lengthen the ailerons but on a 12 I would have to move the ailerons out and lengthen the flaps. Too much work involved for me for a mod I didn't want anyway. So I re-modified the wing tips to accept the original style wooden wing bow; which entailed splicing the last few inches of the spar where it was cut to square off the wings. Lots of work, and in the end, after selling the square wing tips, buying bows and attachment fittings I think the un-modding cost me a few hundred bucks.

Before covering the wings I did fit the flaps and ailerons and built new cables and wiring to ensure all fit before it was covered. Don't ask me how I learned to do it in that order.

Then it was on to covering. I covered the wings and went through the first brush coat of Poly-Brush before putting the wings in the cradle to await completion of the fuselage. I wanted to wait for any spraying until I had built a spray booth in the back end of the hangar. More on that later. Father Jim and brother Stan came by to help with the lacing.

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On to the fuselage. If there is ever a time on a project where day after day it appears you are making no visible progress that stage would be the fuselage. And since I had already done the fun of covering the flying surfaces I had no choice but to continue to grind through.

When I recovered my first project I estimate that I had 400 hours in it cleanings, scraping, sand blasting, scraping some more and endlessly cleaning with MEK. On this project, while the fuselage was all neat and clean and primed from Univair I bet I spent the same 400 hours just scratching my head trying to figure out what to do next or what to do in what order so that I didn't have to 'undo' something I had just done.

On my first project I painted the 4 tubes in front of the pilot the same gray I painted the rest of the interior and inside panels. They reflect in the windshield under certain kinds of light. So I decided those tubes would be flat black on this build. Well if I'm doing those 4 tubes why not do all the front tubes black, and the rest of the fuselage gray (a personal preference color). NOW I know the reason you don't do that is because I had to mask all of those tubes when it came time spray the gray color. Something I won't do if I ever do another.



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After the fuselage was epoxy painted (on the tarmac in front of my hangar if you have to know) It was onto the wood work. 1/4" Baltic birch for the floor board and 1/8" for the Borer extended baggage since it can only hold light weights anyway. Again lots of time cutting out paper templates to get a good fit, and lots of time with the dremmel sander to custom fit some tight places. Because the borer extended baggage changes the rear floor levels the pa-12 bell crank needs to be eliminated and an pa-18 torque tube system needs to be installed. My paper work was good on that one from an old 337 so that's how it went in. But frankly with the amount of work and the little amount of weight that baggage can carry if I were to do it again I would only install the upper extended baggage aft and go with a bit more lower behind the rear seat.

Then it was more head scratching on how to access the lower baggage from the baggage door that only accesses the upper baggage. A lower baggage door was not possible because of all of the cross tubes added that were part of the gross weight increase mod. Thanks Mike S for your suggestion on how to accomplish this.

In both of my projects now one of the biggest P.I.T.A. was installing the rudder pedal springs. Lots of old posts here on how to do that, I figure it takes at least 4 bleeding cuts on your hands then they'll fall right into place. Be sure to have the springs spring the right way or you'll get to do it all over again, or so they tell me :).

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Tail feathers: Next step pre-fitting and rigging the tail feathers while you have good access and building and installing all new cables and wiring. This include getting all of the pulleys set and rigged as well. It was about this time that I installed a tray hard mounted to the fuselage tubing for a 406 ELT in front of the vertical stabilizer and aft of the rear of the upper baggage compartment. My logic here is that if the plane burns, as this one did once, that is about as far away from the gas tanks as you can get and if the plane flips over the tail will help the ELT antenna from getting crushed.

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And while I still had the skin off my baby, now is the time for new trim system, new fuel lines and fuel selector. So now while I am on my high horse here are a couple of strongly held opinions I have come to about recovering the immense number of 12's that I have worked on (2).
Thou Shall not recover a pa-12 without installing a pa-18 style double pulley trim system.
Thou Shall not recover a pa-12 without installing an 'x' brace over the pilots head.
Thou Shall not recover a pa-12 without installing a pa-14 baggage cathedral behind the rear seat.
whew thanks, just had to get that off my chest.

Here's a couple shots of the trim system, the Dakota Cub fuel selector (left-right-both-off), double pulley trim system (idler pulley tabs compliments of Univairs welding team). The fuel selector is shown after the interior panels went in for better back ground, but honest they went in before the panels.The second 2 photos are from my first project but do show some trim routing.



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Somewhere along this time the interior panels went in (after much poster board was sacrificed to ensure proper fit) as did the stits covering of the area behind the passenger seat. A door was built for the baggage per Borer's drawings; and and inspection panel for the ELT access was created, my FAA friend was adement it was an inspection panel not a door -OK if you say so. I used a adhesive backed black foam TSO'd from Wagaero or Spruce as slight insulation and sound and vibration dampening on the larger front panels.



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Thanks for the fuselage pics. Those are the clearest ones I've seen that show the 1935lb gw increase.

I found a supply of aluminum flashing 2'x50' to use for patterns of the interior pieces. It lays better than the tagboard and I was able to get it for $20/ roll.

With the interior complete it was time to paint the interior metal panels as well as the interior fabric, again on the tarmac, early in the morning on calm days (as I didn't want to cut into my hangar space yet by constructing an inside paint booth). Then came: moving the battery to under the rear seat and converting to an Odyssey battery -I didn't want to put it under the front seat for W&B issues; installing flap handle; fabricating 36" rear metal belly panel; fabricating a fabric/light canvas bag for behind the rear seat(similar to original style; and install parking brake.

No pictures on any of that.
With the interior done it was time to cover the fuselage.

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Now time for more head scratching: how to mount the seaplane door, but more difficult for me was how to install the gas shocks to hold it up. Its not that difficult, it just took way too much thought. Then of course was the door handle issue. I ended up just using a pickup topper back door handle mounted at the very bottom of the door. Simple, cheap and it works great.



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With the interior effectively done, less the instrument panel, it was time for the paint booth to go up. A friend gave me a 24" squirrel fan I wired into the corner and then boxed in so that I could put filters in to keep from pumping paint over-spray out into the world. I then built a paint booth using 2x2x8 studs for framing and draped it with plastic, it was about 8'x10'x24'. I hung the outside wall from the ceiling rafters as I had to move that wall to get the fuselage and wings in such a tight space.

I borrowed a remote air breathing system, it worked great.

Wings first. I sprayed one entire wing from poly-brush through final color before I switched to finish the second wing. The big ring attached to the strut attach points and rode on a roller system made of harbor freight like wheels. IMG_3502.JPGIMG_3503.JPGIMG_3504.JPGIMG_3505.JPGIMG_3506.JPGIMG_3507.JPGIMG_3508.JPG


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Wing color: IMG_3509.JPGIMG_3510.JPGIMG_3512.JPGIMG_3515.JPG


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Onto the fuselage paint. I wish I liked the paint scheme of the original 12's but I don't, so I went with the scheme I like which is basically a 1978 pa-18 scheme without the 'drop-out' angle on the bottom stripe. I did all of the spraying. But before I sprayed the red stripes on the fuselage I had a friend of a friend who is a body shop guy come in and help me lay out the red lines. Hours well spent. Darrel Star was a real help to me as well as I basically copied his paint scheme on the beautiful bird he just sent off to Iceland. Darrell was kind enough to send me pictures of a ruler taped to his design so I could get his dimensions. Thanks again Darrell.



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Somewhere through all of this with the help of a buddy who had built an RV-6 and was good at sheet metal we built a boot cowl and side panels out of .025 Al stock. It got a base coat of white as did the nose bowl and engine cowl. The boot cowl was installed and then I had to mount the engine to get the nose bowl positioned correctly, to get the engine panels mounted correctly, to get red line aligned correctly. Then came the disassembly process to get it back in the paint booth to shoot the red.

Speaking of the engine; well I didn't have an engine for this project until about the time it was time to mount it to get the painting done. To make a long story endless, the old guy who sold me this project years ago passed away and in his estate was a 1959 pa-18a project that had a 0 SMOH 0-320. You guessed it, just about when I have this project seeing day light I bought another project to get the engine....go figure.

Anyway, like the Karate Kid, this part of the project got to be 'parts on'... parts off; parts on...parts off.....repeat....IMG_3516.JPGIMG_3550 - Copy.JPGIMG_3536.JPGIMG_3551.JPGIMG_3552.JPGIMG_3554.JPGIMG_3567.JPGIMG_3572.JPGIMG_3576.JPG


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As I was fitting the boot cowl I was also fitting the instrument panel. I purchase a blank panel from Clyde Smith (along with new engine panels). I had amassed a collection of instruments but did not yet have a radio, gps, intercom or txp.

As I was trying decide about building the panel cut outs myself or hiring it out I had a push to talk ground wire intermittently shorting out, or not grounding in my flying 12. I spent 7 hours on my back under the panel trying to find that short, finally having to find and rewire a 10 pin plug on the back of my SL40. That fixed my problem but also fixed my desire to have to do that again. I hired Aerotraunics out of Billings MT to build my panel for me, they do great work, the price was as expected and I am happy with the way it turned out.



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So that's the end of the story so far. I tucked this project away for the winter while I ski. I will return to the hangar around the end of April and hopefully have it flying by early summer. I know this is probably the 90% done, 50% yet to do state of the project.

Spring will find me installing engine accessories; installing engine baffling; hooking up the brakes; mounting the wings; building wing root panels and hopefully breaking in a new engine. Here's how she sits right now.....more reports come MayIMG_3577.JPG


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Looks wonderful. I admire all you folks who make the time to build your own birds. The rest of us struggle to find time to fly. It must be rewarding to break ground on the first flight. Well done

Looks Great Doug.
Spent a couple days in Helena Last fall waiting for my daughter while she attended the Teacher Conference. Wish I knew this was going on !!
Looks Great Doug.
Spent a couple days in Helena Last fall waiting for my daughter while she attended the Teacher Conference. Wish I knew this was going on !!

Sorry to have missed you, next time swing by Gordons or Vetters-they usually know where I am so I can't get into too much trouble
Looks familiar Doug. If you didn't have to ski 100+ days per season and travel to Iceland and Bhutan, you would be flying it by now.