Helicopter Construction Project

Rotorway 162F Construction

Assembling the RotorWay 162F was a team effort. My wife and I teamed up to provide the labor, tools, and supplies such as bench stock and non-kit materials. Professional advise came from experts like Homer Bell and Al Behuncik. This construction project proved to be one of the most interesting undertakings attempted by us. The decision to purchase and build an aircraft requires careful consideration. Constructing an aircraft from plans or a factory kit is a complex undertaking full of pragmatic and emotional considerations.

The RotorWay is shipped as four separate kits. The pictures on this web page show various stages of construction starting with the arrival of the numerous crates.

Group One

Group 1 included the basic 4130 chromemoly steel airframe, skids, ground-handling wheels, all documentation, construction manuals and videos, tail boom, engine mount, vertical and horizontal fins, cyclic and collective controls, fuel tanks, and various hardware. Luckily, I had a workshop in which to assemble the helicopter.

After assembling the airframe and landing gear, I located a paint shop that could powder coat and bake the entire airframe. According to the FAA, the purpose for building an experimental class kit is to learn and innovate. Well, lesson one, powder coating is expensive and the heat treatment to cure the powder warps the metal tubing. RotorWay states that the entire construction process should take about 400 hours. Lesson two, it took 400 hours just to assemble the first two groups. Most kit manufacturers state that you can build their kit with just the normal tools found in your garage. Lesson three, you can't. I had to purchase or fabricate a number of specialized tools in order to correctly prepare, install, align, measure, rig, and balance many components. Lesson four was my fault. The folding door on the workshop opens up to 7-1/2 feet high. The top of the mast on the helicopter was 9 feet. I had to disassemble the mast and engine sections in order to reposition the helicopter outside the workshop.

Group Two

Group 2 included the elastomeric rotor system, main shaft assembly, several hardware packages, battery, body components, cog belt system, seats, instrument panel, and instruments. I set aside the instruments and cog belt system and assembled the remaining components included in this kit. I fabricated the instrument panel and installed the wiring along with the rest of the electrical system. I also made a decision on the avionics package, which included a Garmin GPS. I quickly learned that I had to make a number of modifications such as splitting the undercarriage tub, installing landing lights, and assembling and installing a beefed up secondary cog belt system in place of the factory chain drive. All these modifications added substantial time to the construction process.

Group Three

Group 3 included the main drive assemblies, secondary drive, fan drive, oil cooling system, water cooling system, and tail rotor drive. I assembled the tail rotor drive, which took two attempts and over fifty hours to complete. The tail rotor drive system is one of three systems that must be precisely constructed to close tolerances. The other two being the alignment of the engine-secondary drive-main rotor shaft and the main rotor system. Spending appropriate time attending to these three areas will increase the safety and reduce maintenance requirements down the road.

Group Four

Group 4 included the main rotor blades, R1 600N 162 h.p. engine, and FADEC engine control system. Prior to completing kit 4, I had to do extensive fiberglassing on the exterior body of the aircraft. Air scoops had to be put in, access doors cut out, and exterior battery connectors had to be fabricated and installed. Additionally, I was persuaded into doing the aircraft painting myself, which would have added an additional $7k to $10k to the cost of the helicopter if I had hired a commercial aircraft paint shop do it. So, we built a makeshift paint booth inside the workshop using a roll of plastic, old fans, and air conditioning filters. We installed a fan driven filtration system, purchased the correct low-pressure paint sprayers, and bought aircraft paint from Loehle Aircraft Corporation in Oklahoma. This presented another lesson; aircraft paint is extremely toxic and very expensive, over $100 per gallon. Before painting, every metal component had to be sanded, etched, and under-coated with zinc-chromate. Working the main rotor blades took some doing too.

Building this aircraft became a passion and if I had it to do over again, I would. More to come...