Engineering a 1-Man 1-26 Assembly

Photos and text by Harry Senn, July 1979

Photo 1. Fuselage and both wing dollies.
There are obviously things in this life that are not meant to be done alone, while others, such as flying a 1-26, were meant to be done strictly solo. Ordinarily three or more people assemble a 1-26; actually, it is more easily done with only two (with the aid of a sawed-off broomstick or other prop for one wingtip). Having done it essentially that way for the better part of 1000 times, on rare occasions my ground crew and I would have been happier if each had been free to do his own thing. This is the story of my answer to the challenge of doing it all by myself.

Fuselage dolly and left side wing dolly.
Photo 2. Fuselage dolly and left side wing dolly.
About 10 years ago I bought 1-26 #320 with a partner. We immediately decided that since our pretty bird had never been stored outside either at a tiedown or on the trailer, we ought to build her a private "hangar," and so a huge slabsided aluminum shed on wheels came into being. It took some planning to make sure things could fit or roll in and out of it. Because the 1-26 is not the smallest of birds, we soon found that we needed three dollies - one for the fuselage, and one for each wing. These helped to get the pieces in and out without damage, yet fast and efficiently.

Using wing dolly to remove the wing from the trailer.
Photo 3. Using wing dolly to remove the wing from the trailer.
The result is that two people can normally assemble or disassemble and box #320 in 15 minutes without rushing, or take 11 to 12 minutes in more pressing situations. That includes installing the horizontal stabilizer each time (and keeping extra hands out of the process as well, for we quickly found that each person in excess of two added confusion and an extra 5 minutes to the assembly).

The dollies are pretty simple: two wheels each and a few aluminum bars and tubes, shown in Photos 1, 2 and 3.

The important thing is that one person can easily and safely box or unbox the pieces, including both proper placement in the field on the grass or back in the box. The next logical step is to find a simple way to complete the assembly without the second crewperson.

Helper 'U'.
Photo 4. Helper "U" on left wing tip.
Why? There are times when I wanted to get airborne early, yet no one was available to help assemble. Other times, everyone but the tow pilot was airborne and help was not at hand (or those available are complete strangers to soaring or have "bad backs," etc.). Finally, there have been times when everyone else wanted to go home early when I was having a great time and would have enjoyed another hour or so aloft if I hadn't needed extra hands to disassemble and pack it away for the day.

Attatching the left wing.
Photo 5. Attatching the left wing.
So the lone-pilot-assembly project began to take shape.

I decided it was not worth very many hours of construction time, nor would I want to load an already overloaded trailer assembly with bulky ladders, rolling carts, collapsible stands etc., and I certainly didn't want to spend a bundle on new custom material. So it had to be simple, light, yet safe and easy to use.

An analysis of what the second man does at the wingtip convinced me that all I needed was something to hold that end up at the proper angle while I worked at the fuselage end. The solution was provided by a single 10-ft. piece of three-quarter inch electrical conduit with just two bends made with a conventional bender. The end product is an inverted U with two pieces of one-eighth inch parachute cord from which to hang the wing. (Photo 4 shows how it works.) If that's not completely enlightening, the following step-by-step details may help.

  • Wings are on grass next to fuselage on its dolly; tiedown eye bolt is installed upside down in one wing.

  • Helper U is placed over tiedown eye of one wing with legs on ground about an inch farther out than the eye. (This prevents the wing from pulling away from the fuselage when the root end is lifted.)

  • Clip spar sling to eye by lifting wingtip, or tie line to eye, pull tip up, tie line on U.

  • Install bent aluminum clip to trailing edge of wing and tie off on U so as to establish proper wing tilt fore and aft. (See Photo 4.)

  • Grasp highest fuselage frame behind cockpit with inboard hand. Reach down and pick up spar as shown in Photo 5. Since it is only a few inches from fuselage, and Helper U is already slanted slightly inward, wing will want to move toward fuselage more forcefully the closer it gets. Move entire ship fore and aft, or rock gently sideways to get spar in pocket. Drag-spar end will hold its proper set or tilt if attach bolt has it under design tension.

  • Return to outboard end to push the last inch or so home, possibly readjusting sling height a bit. (Photo 5A)

  • Return to ship. Grasp high frame and rock fuselage as necessary side-to-side to slide spar bolts in with other hand. (If you are still using a hammer on yours, forget the whole thing. Though #320 has been assembled/disassembled about 100 times per year for the past 11 years, we proved the hammer unnecessary for slightly greased pins by our second or third assembly back in 1968.) Pull ship fore and aft to align drag-spar pin for insertion.

  • Do not do these things blindly. Instead, adjust the spar in its pocket so the holes line up by eye before trying to force pins and bolts home. (An extra few seconds of care doing that can facilitate assembly by three or four people, as well as with only one, while preventing unnecessary wear to attachment points.)

  • Return to tip and hold wing up while removing tiedown eye bolt. In same hole, install broomstick with bolt to hold wing up while installing the other one.

  • The installation of the second wing is like the first except a bit harder because the fuselage and assembled first wing are harder to move fore and aft and provide almost no side-to-side rocking ability. Consequently, most alignment adjustments must be made at the Helper U end by changing sling length or actually moving the U a bit fore and aft to fine things up, resulting in a few more trips back and forth.

  • Photos 6 and 7 show the left wing stand and the assembly of the right wing.

  • My quickie pins help speed things a bit. The first time, I required about 30 minutes to assemble and about 20 minutes to disassemble. Since then, I installed two small homemade jam cleats on top of the U to greatly facilitate changes in sling-length tip-height adjustments.

Left Wing Attached.
Photo 5a. Attatching the left wing.
Attaching right wing.
Photo 6. Attaching right wing.
Attaching right wing.
Photo 7. Attatching the righ wing.

Despite the "Crazy Harry" comments from club buddies, I don't plan to use the Helper U when another suitable crewperson is available. But the two or three dollars and two or three hours I have invested in it mean that I will get a bit more fun out of #320 sometime or other (if that's possible).

Attaching right wing.
Attaching right wing.
Fuselage dolly and right side wing dolly.
Fuselage dolly and right side wing dolly.
Fuselage dolly and right side wing dolly.
Fuselage dolly and right side wing dolly.
Rear canopy hanging from trailer.
Rear canopy hanging from trailer.
Attaching the left wing.
Attaching the left wing.