Catch up with build progress with the TLAC Build Blog


First Flight

04/08/2009 | Paul Hendry-Smith


Friday the 31st July 09, the day the factory built Sherwood Ranger broke it's earthly bonds!


Six flights, 6 take off's and the same amount of landings (always a good sign), piloted by James Milne for this flight test stage the aircraft flew without fault, no adjustments were necessary apart from slight engine enrichment. Initial take off's ran to about 100mtrs but by the time the 6th flight took place take off rolls had shrunk to approx. 50 mtrs (in still air) with landing roll's just amazingly short. Francis Donaldson commented on a recent visit to our facility that the Sherwood Ranger had amazing controls, having flown P2 for 20 minutes I have to say they are sublime, you couldn't want for better.


These flights were a culmination of all the hard work by all at The Light Aircraft Company Ltd. Production of kits has now been fully sorted with significant changes made to production processes to reduce the time needed to build a Sherwood Ranger, and it was also the first flight in the UK of an aircraft completely covered in Oratex UL600, an outstanding performance aircraft covering that enabled our factory demonstrator to achieve an empty weight of 214kgs, a saving of some 12 to 14 kgs over conventional coverings.


Blue sky's







Wing Time - Time to take the bull by the horns

01/10/2008 | Paul Hendry-Smith


Well it is wings on time, a fair bit of hesitation and a lot of pontificating I finally took the bull by the horns, jigged up, drilled and reamed the forward wing mounts (which turned out to be a much easier job than I had imagined). With newfound confidence and an adaption to an old engine hoist getting all the wings on single-handed was a breeze. Getting all the angles right as well was fairly straight forward, with a bit of shimming and a couple of saw horse’s everything cam together fairly quickly, one thing that really helps is the digital spirit level, worth it’s weight in gold.



With the lower wings in position and one of the uppers located the time came to fit the interplane struts, bit at a time. There is a fair chunk of work in the struts and care has to be taken when making the sub assemblies, however if the instructions have been followed to the letter then assembly should be a doddle. There are a few strange (initially) instructions but as everything goes together you can understand why Russ designed it like that. Now with the struts in position the time came to remove the engine hoist and, well, everything just fell into place. We have now manufactured all of the cables, not an insignificant task, landing and flying wires, aileron cables, rudder and elevator cables plus all of the smaller cables harnesses etc. Making them is one thing testing them is another and after getting a dynamometer tested and calibrated we can now make and test. This can be a bit nerve-racking due to the pressures involved but our Nicopress crimping has proven good and all the cables have breezed through the testing cycle, we have even taken 2 cables to the maximum of our testing equipment 2800psi and soaked them at that pressure for 16 hours checking for any deformation, stretch, crimp slippage etc none being found. To the left you can see an AN4 bolt buckling under the strain.


The fuel capacity has always been a bit of a challenge with the Sherwood Ranger, Russ’s original design was for wing tanks, made from composite and requiring a fair bit of hacking of the inner wing ribs and those who have them do say leakage is a problem as is the lack of touring capacity. The “over the P2 legs tank” has been on the burner for a while now and Kevin Crumplin who is an experienced build of aircraft to say the least has successfully completed the new tank install. The key was for decent capacity, safe mounting and good aesthetics, we much to my surprise and quite a few others the tank capacity comes out at a gross 45 litres which is pretty good, the mounting is being sorted out but the fit and finish will be spot on. The tank incorporates a good size sump and the next series of challenges include fuel valve system, fuel piping, filler cap and flange and a few other things that I am sure to have forgotten




The Engine and Mount

07/08/2008 | Paul Hendry-Smith


Just to show we have not been out defying the laws of gravity (flying that is) here is the latest update.The Instrument panel for P1 is now designed CAD/CAM’d and machined, compared with the more traditional methods of construction this really is the dream method of construction. Load the metal, run the program and get ready to fit the instruments, spot on holes all the way around. With this instrument panel we have utilised rubber mounts to eliminate any vibrational issues.


Not only did we get the panel and panel mount sorted out (that is hardly a big job).We also finalised and built the engine mount, manufactured interplane strut components, finished 2 pack sealing the wings and ailerons and started the aileron mounting process, Oh almost forgot the wing walk-way has been designed, made and installed.



Firstly I have to send out a big vote of thanks to Phil Wiltshire and Kevin Crumplin. These guys have helped out no end when we have encountered problems. Without the ability to call the designer we have to rely on commonsense, logic and the help of existing builders to fill in some of the blanks and Phil and Kevin have helped stepped up to the plate and put themselves out on a number of occasions, gentlemen thank you.


As you can see this aircraft is being set up for the Rotax 582 engine, we have a mock up 532 engine that we are using to give us the physical dimensions and to enable us to sort out clearances in particular the carburetors. Well after much hacking and the occasional expletive we now have the engine mount sorted out, drawings created and another major piece of the jigsaw in place. It is a very well designed and lightweight mount, simply constructed , once you know what you are doing, and easily installed.



A Long time no see - Progress a Plenty

20/07/2008 | Paul Hendry-Smith


It has been a while since the last update, but there has been a fair amount of work take place in the meantime.

The rear empennage has come together quite nicely, the support arches and the stringers have been cut out, fitted and coated with 2 coats of 2 pack polyurethane. Like wise the side stringers have been cut machined, fitted and polyurethaned. The stringer supports proved a little interesting to both make and fit to ensure the finished aircraft kept it’s aesthetic appearance, there is no doubt that time needs to be taken in this “fleshing out “ procedure to ensure graceful lines.




To coincide with the fitting of the side stringers the firewall, firewall side cheeks, turtledeck, the exhaust tunnel and belly stringers and the front cowls also need to be trial fitted to ensure a good fit. All of these components intersect at the firewall and care has to be taken to ensure the best possible fit and finish. But before the firewall could be fitted the engine mount bolts had to be installed and the engine mount constructed had to be constructed. As our demonstrator will have the Rotax 582 motor we have been sorting out the very sparse instructions and build information relating to the engine mount, as this is a fabricated mount we wanted to be sure that we had an accurate cutting list of materials and engineering drawings to make construction easier


We are now at a point where we have to start manufacturing the control cables, seat harness cables, flying and landing wires. This process is not just a matter of squeezing a few crimps on some cables, the correct breaking strain cables have to be sourced along with strange sounding items such as thimbles, ferrules and turnbuckles. Once the items have been gathered together they can be assembled with a device similar to a large pair of bolt croppers, once the crimping process has taken place the cable then has to be proof loaded to half its minimum breaking strain and then held there for a nail biting 3 minute soak time.



Work is almost complete on the brake front now, most of the bugs and component sourcing done along with all of the manufacturing processes, we now have a really sweet set of drum brakes that are very light weight and efficient, well not too efficient for a tail dragger (they would suit almost any 450kg MTOW aircraft), we don’t want to stand the Sherwood Ranger on it’s nose. The time is now rapidly approaching to sort out the ancillary items, throttle, instrument panels, instruments and the list goes on. We have replicated Russ Lights original throttle assembly for both front and rear cockpit with a few modifications and we have ended up with an extremely light throttle set up with an incredibly smooth action, when it finally went in I was very impressed with it’s slick action. Work is moving forward with the fuel tank over the P2 leg’s, the initial thought was to construct it in aluminium but following an initial mock up it was decided that a composite version would lend itself to this application in more ways than one. So far a foam core has been made and the soul destroying process of building the tank profile up with plaster and sanding it down to fit is now taking place, it seems that you put 1” of plaster on and sand an 1 1/8” off. Well after this process has taken place and a super smooth finish achieved it is then painted and polished and a female mould taken from it, well that is the theory anyway. Thanks to a previous builder we are also in the process of mocking up and aluminium overhead tank, this is located between the two top wing’s a’la Tiger Moth, this will be constructed from aluminium, we just need a 36 hour day.




Sub Assembly - A Major Milestone

17/05/2008 | Paul Hendry-Smith


Major milestone today, all of the sub assemblies relating to the main fuselage have come together and we now have a rolling chassis so to speak. It has taken a lot of time to check and double check some work previously done, also to remove temporary fasteners and do the final assembly. The tail feathers are ready to put on with just a minor bit of fiddling on the hinges.



Work continues on the controls components, the main torque tube has been done all bar the actual control columns and the interconnecting rod, so once those are done we are looking at a day or so to put the control system in. There are some delays in getting particular AN components in from the US manufacturers, this should be resolved in the next week or so. The next major step will be the construction of bracing wires for the forward fuselage, flying and landing wires for the tail and control cables for the elevator and rudder system



Well that is about it at this time, just out of interest our ability to supply AN fasteners, aluminium components and stock and GL1 Finish Birch ply is already proving interesting to a number of home builders.




Moving Forward - Undercarriage Coating

05/05/2008 | Paul Hendry-Smith


Well a fair bit has happened recently, many thanks go to Bill Cleyndert of Bill Cleyndert and Company Ltd for the use of his new spray booths, this has enabled us to spray the undercarriage, the seat mounting rails, the foot trays, both elevators and tailplane and all the attendant small fixtures and fittings. Following this we have been able to final drill, debur and assemble, a nice feeling I would have to add.


The manufacture of components goes on a pace and if all things are equal you should be able to watch a movie clip of aileron horns and aileron control horns being produced by pressing the button to the left. Every step forward being a step nearer completion. Most of the necessary jigs for all the plate components have been made although there might be the odd one that needs making or modifying.


Work has started on an E Commerce site, this will, when it is up and running allow us to offer a wide range of AN fastenings, 4130 steel, drawn aluminium tube, GL1 ply in a wide variety of ply’s and thicknesses, Duralac, epoxies, chromate 2 pack etch wash primers etc. etc These products are available now so just call for pricing or to place an order.


The next report should see the landing gear on, the control system installed and the seat rails fitted, I will have to get busy with the camera.




Dropping In - Landing Gear Update

14/04/2008 | Paul Hendry-Smith


Another quick update, the landing gear on the demonstrator is beginning to take shape nicely, the newly machined components are dropping into place as sweetly as you could wish for, confirmation that the design, drawings and CNC programming is working in harmony. The assembly has been fairly painless with the longest time taken to get the legs and axles in accurately line, at the end of the day once you have drilled the holes for rivets it is a bit too late, better and hour now rather than a day rebuilding. We have now started on the suspension struts and we expect gear completion by mid next week.





Satisfaction - CAM Components

29/02/2008 | Paul Hendry-Smith


Just a quick update, this week has been most satisfying as it has seen the final CAM programming for a number of components including the brake back plates and the most complex component in the aircraft the lower undercarriage leg joint. The lower joint has proven the most challenging due to the depth of the bore and the radius necessary at the bottom of that bore, selection of the necessary specialist tooling was critical to ensure both accuracy and finish


The area of jigs and fixtures have also made some serious progress, we have made the commitment to increase the amount of pre-finished components than has been previously supplied and to that end the volumes of tooling has increased 4 fold. All of this tooling has to be designed, made and proven all time consuming stuff. The benefit to the builder is going to be significant in terms of reduced build time, quality of finished product and overall accuracy.



Progress is occurring but it is slow and steady. When we acquired the business we knew that some work had been done but lot more was necessary, maybe a bit more than we initially thought. So whilst building the demonstrator we also have to produce components, and to produce components we also have to stop and make jigs and fixtures, so that is being done.



The Haas CNC machine is now spitting out very useable, high quality precision components, we just need to make more work holding fixtures to push through the component stock holding. Welding training has been undertaken and it is a matter now of spending a bit of time getting the CAA test pieces produced, there is no doubt that the latest TIG welder with triple wave, pulsed and stepped output technology far exceeds my capabilities, but produces a blindingly good results. We are currently machining the lower Suspension joint and axle mount, milling fixtures are being prepared for the tailwheel components, brake backplates and a few more components. Next update in a couple of weeks.




Elevators - Elevators Completed

08/01/2008 | Paul Hendry-Smith


From November to the end of December saw the majority of the work take place on the demonstrator. The elevators where completed and disassembled ready for final debur and paint as where the tailplanes, the rudder was stripped, deburred, painted and assembled, so all in all the tail feathers are pretty much complete. At the end of December the braking pedals and Bowden cable restraints were completed and temporarily installed and the foot trays modified to suit.


Component programming of the CNC machine has taken place in the first week of the New Year with the first CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) software derived programs having been downloaded and trial run, all seems OK so far with just the jigs needing to be slightly modified to fit the machine and the component clamps finally sorting out. A (new to us) guillotine has been delivered to allow our sheet metal items to be cut in house, both as individual components and also as plates to be CNC machined.




The Office side of the operation run by Beryl and Ivor Smith have been busy creating computer records for each and every component, running stock checks and finding and negotiating with suppliers for each and every item. The amount of time that this consumes is quite amazing, but is essential to the smooth running of the business.


Next weeks work on the demonstrator will be to spray all of the finished components and where possible mount them to the airframe and to start construction of the landing gear. From the Admin side to continue sourcing and record creation and get a full BOM (Bill Of Materials) run.




Fabrication - Metal Bashing

06/11/2008 | Paul Hendry-Smith


  • Sorry for the silence, progress is being made on the actual metal bashing side, albeit at a moderate pace. There are a few photographs taken today that will give you and idea of what is happening. We view the construction of our demonstrator as critical as it is enabling us to create new jigs and fixtures, assess plan accuracy and it enables us to encounter the same problems and frustrations builders have, which, all combined will enable us to supply builders with hopefully a frustration free build.

    Plan sales continue, we have had enquiries in from the US of A, France, Spain, Canada, Denmark, with sales being made to the US, Canada and France.

    Work continues furiously on the Administrative side, the computer system for the boring stuff like book keeping, bill of materials, cost analysis, purchasing, sales etc has been chosen, installed and is in the process of having all the data loaded, this is not a simple job as mistakes at this stage can have serious implications further down the road. The system chosen also has many beneficial features that enable us to track things, people and products in many different ways to ensure we can meet the needs of customers in the future and not try to commit vital information to memory or scraps of paper. On the IT front work has continued on mastering the CNC machine and the CAM software we have chosen to create all of the information the machine needs to machine accurate components.

    On the actual building side (our ST demonstrator) we have manufactured and installed the following items:-

    Front and rear foot wells
    Front rudder pedal mounts and brackets
    Rear rudder pedal mounts
    Front and rear seat rails
    Intermediate control horn and mounts
    Seat rail support tubes and associated brackets
    Rudder and Elevator control horns
    Rudder and Elevator horn collars
    Control torque tube control horn and collar

    We have also sorted out the Master tube patterns, well we believe most of them anyway, we have also battled with the tube cutting system and had various  pieces of tube travel at increasing speeds past my right ear.

    We have spent a fair amount of time looking at a number of composite companies around the area, Norfolk does seem to have the “Mother Load” of them, all due to the proximity of Lotus Cars and Lotus Engineering, we feel we have found one that meets our needs and understands the aviation industry demands for performance and weight, we await their final proposal.




Milling it Over - CNC Machinery

26/02/2007 | Paul Hendry-Smith


There are a number of Sherwood Ranger parts that must for accuracy and safety be manufactured with the use of a CNC milling machine. The Light Aircraft Company has just purchased a Haas TM1CNC milling machine, the Haas TM1 is an incredibly advanced package and has full 3D milling capability, this combined with full linear and circular interpolation, advanced programming functions and full CAM compatibility. Conversion training is due in the next 2 to 3 weeks




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