We’ve all done it. That one dumb thumb move, the very brief moment when our brain wanted to go right and our thumb decided to go left. There’s nothing you can do but pick up the pieces and take them back to the shop. Some professional aircraft impact testers even have a trash bag in their flight box for damage retrieval. The first rule of crash repair is to pick up all the pieces, but once you have all the parts home, what’s next? Let’s look at one of the more common impacts, wing damage. This type of damage can happen anywhere and is perhaps one of the more common repairs. Let’s see how we can repair this wing and get back into the air by the next weekend.
Here are some of the tools and repair supplies you may need for your repair. You won’t use all of these every day, but you’ll need many of them every time. Supplies include CA glue, accelerator, epoxy, heat-shrink film, scissors, mixing sticks, tape, iron, trim iron, #11 hobby blade, pliers, reinforcement material (fiberglass) and extra balsa.
Here is the damage to the wing that needs to be repaired. Fortunately, most all of the parts are still inside the wing because the covering held together.
Cut around the damaged area and leave the covering attached to any rib that can still support it. Inspect the damage inside and remove the broken parts to use as templates. Here the center rib is damaged beyond repair, but the adjacent ribs can be used as a base part to which I can glue the new ribs.
3 MAKING THE TEMPLATE
By piecing the part together, I was able to make enough of a rib to make my first template. After checking the fit, I needed to make another template until I got one that was just about the right size. The right size is one that is just a tiny bit large, so it can be reduced in the next step.
4 FINISHING THE TEMPLATE
After getting a piece that is slightly larger, I sanded to fit. I am looking to make this part so that it fits snugly in place between the spar and the leading edge. Once I have the perfect fit, I’m ready to make my repair pieces. I will label this template with the name of the plane, just in case I need to use it again.
5 CUTTING THE PARTS
Now I can use this template to cut out my three ribs. Use a sharp hobby blade and keep the knife vertical to make a straight edge with a clean cut on the ribs.
Don’t put away that sanding block just yet. Use it to fine-tune the part for an exact fit. I like to sand all the parts together; this way I can make sure I have the same size ribs going across the wing.
7 PARTS INSTALLED
All three ribs are now glued in place and ready for covering. I used CA glue to place them so I don’t have to wait to move on to the next step. The stubs for the broken ribs are used as a glue surface to give the new ribs more “bite.” If you use epoxy or resin glue, just give it time to dry before adding the covering.
8 CUTTING THE COVERING
Cut the covering to extend beyond the undamaged rib; now you can tack it all around the damaged area. Finding covering that matches the base can sometimes be impossible and you have two choices. You can either use the covering that is close and live with the slight deference in color cast or choose another color with a design in it and duplicate it on the other side of the plane. I am fine with my repair piece being a slightly different hue.
9 APPLYING THE COVERING
Tack down the covering to all the solid wood around the damaged area and then use the heat gun to shrink it down. If you can’t find the same brand of covering that was used on the aircraft, make sure that your patch piece is of a material that uses a lower heat setting. This way, you will not melt the original covering.
10 FINISHED REPAIR
Here’s my finished, repaired wing all ready for its next flight. Total time for the repair: just a little over an hour. That’s less time then it would take for me to assemble another plane and a heck of a lot less money pulled from my wallet.
You can apply these steps to any damaged area and save that crashed aircraft. Remember: the money you save by repairing that crash can be used to get that great high-end radio you’ve been drooling over. That’s worth an hour of your time, isn’t it? Enjoy!
TEXT BY JOHN REID; PHOTOS BY HOPE MCCALL