Cabin top/doors – finally DONE! [320.0 hours]

I’ve been on a mission since April to get the fiberglass work on the Cabin Top and Doors behind me rather than in front of me. It’s been a bit of a marathon, the cabin top molding is not famous for its accuracy and everything has to be hand crafted to fit. Here’s the finished product:

I had planned to roll the thing in and out of the workshop to help with this work, but the weather’s been too cold to safely work with the plexi or cure fiberglass, so it’s all been done inside. I’ve had a pair of heaters going in the workshop 24/7 for the past month, and was finally able to turn them off last night. The shop vacuum copped a beating during this time, and I had to regularly clean out the filter.

Here’s all the steps I went through to get this job done. Skip to the end for the pictures.

1. Fit the rear windows

I used Lord Adhesive (available from Aerosport Products) for all windows. The forward surface of the rear windows needs to line up with the aft surface of the doors, which means spacing the windows up from the fuselage molding. I then built up the rear door pillar with a few layers of fiberglass cloth and flox until it matched. There is a flat spot on the left hand door pillar of all RV-10 cabin top moldings, this was the worst place and had to be built up about 5mm – too much for just micro/filler.

I used West Systems G/Flex with some microballoons to fill in any voids not filled with the Lord Adhesive, and trimmed any excess Lord Adhesive with a scalpel. I then taped and scuffed the window (and fuse), and applied 3 layers of fiberglass cloth on the outside. After sanding any high spots, and scuffing, I used regular West Systems epoxy with microballoons and Cabosil to fill and blend the outside surfaces into the cabin top.

2. Paint the inside door sills and cabin top pillars

The lower cabin top pillars had to be blended in, and painted, along with the door sills, to match the rest of the interior. This painting is best done before the front window is installed. Unfortunately, the inside of the cabin top and overhead is already finished, so I had to mask it all off with cardboard and tape. I didn’t want to have a yellow polyurethane primer leak splattered across the ceiling. This all took a fair bit of time, and I wound up spraying each side in sequence rather than together, because I didn’t trust myself leaning across wet paint to get to the other side.

The job took time but went OK, and you can’t tell where the paint transitioned into the existing painted part of the pillars.

3. Install the windscreen

Once again I used Lord Adhesive. It helps to have a second person helping, cleaning up any excess adhesive squeezed out on the inside using Q-tips and white spirit. I used a combination of clecos and weights to hold the plexi in position while the adhesive cured.

3.1 Extend/fill lower edge and prepare for fairing

I scuffed the upper forward fuselage area, acid etched it, and wiped some Alodine over it to prevent the oxide re-forming. I then filled the lower edge of the windscreen using Micro-balloons, with black dye to prevent it being seen from the inside. After the micro cured, I sanded it to align with the outer surface of the windscreen, taped off and scuffed the windscreen. All I used to figure the tape position was a cardboard cutout section with a 7 inch radius.

3.2 Construct the windscreen fairing

Once again using black dye. Preparation is the key to this layup, I cut all of the glass cloth strips, and allowed several hours to do this in one operation. It worked out quite well and a day later I sanded it into the correct shape, using a wooden block cut with a 7″ radius (using the band saw). I used a stick-on flexible perma-grit strip for this operation, which surprised me by staying in place. Gotta be very careful though, not to encroach onto the tape because the coarse perma-grit is a weapon.

After this I switched to 80 grit sandpaper, and finally 120 grit to carefully sand down to the top layer of tape. I used micro to fill low spots. It took a few iterations to get the entire fairing correct, and blend it into the fuselage at each side.

3.3 Glass in windscreen over the top

Fiberglass cloth across the top and down each side, once again fairing it with micro, matching it with the front edge of the door. To do this, I used packing tape on the door as a release agent, slathered micro through a section of the pillar, and closed the door onto it. The following day, a hard yank on the door would release it, and I can sand down any excess.

4 Door edges and cabin top alignment

Whenever I use packing tape as a release agent, I apply it over a layer of masking tape. It is easier to get off, and then any goo left behind simply comes off with the masking tape.

I worked sections of the doors at a time, applying micro to the pillar edges or anywhere that required building up, closing the door with packing tape in place, letting it cure, and then opening the door to release it. This is a good reason to leave the door windows out and fit them last – you’ve got the entire window opening to use rather than the door handle, and in some cases it requires quite a yank to release the door.

4.1 Door gaps, fairing across the top of the door

At this point, the doors closed properly but with basically no gap. Starting at the very top, I used a small piece of 120 grit sandpaper, and worked it from side to side through the gap, closing the door until it jammed, then lifting the door a fraction so I could keep sanding. I mostly sanded the cabin top – since it was micro and easy to sand, but also since the doors already had a nicely formed flat angle which I didn’t want to distort.

Once I could move the sandpaper side to side with the door closed and locked, I moved onto the front and back curves and did the same thing, working my way down each side in turn. Finally I sanded across the bottom and around the bottom corners, getting to the point where I could insert the 120 grit paper, and with a bit of friction still there, slide it all the way around the door.

I measured the 120 grit paper at about 0.01″ thickness. The gap will need to be wider prior to painting, but at this point I left it as is – as long as there is a gap the door is hanging freely, attached by the hinges and the door pins only. Setting up this gap allows the door to drop slightly, maybe a fraction of a mm. This required a bit more fairing work around the top of the doors, to match the door level with the cabin top.

4.2 Bottom of the doors

The bottom of the doors was a close match to the outside of the fuselage, aligned within perhaps 0.5mm across the entire length, but it is a simple matter to match it precisely. Once again, using packing tape as a release agent, I built up the door where required, and the surrounding fuselage area(s) where required, with a thin layer of micro, and then sanded it back to get an exact matchup. This introduces lots of pin-holes which of course have to be filled later.

4.3 Check the seal gap

Since the doors adjusted position a “bit” with the initial gap set, it’s important to go back and ensure that the “seal” gap for the McMaster seal is still correct – between 1/4″ and 5/16″ in my case. I made a few adjustments across the top on each side.

5 Fit the door windows

With the doors an exact match and a 0.01″ gap all the way around the doors, it was finally time to fit the door windows. These are the easiest windows to fit, you can take the doors off and use gravity to your advantage.

6 Optional – prime and fill pin-holes

I elected to spray on some primer and surfacer to seal everything up and fill almost all of the pin holes. I only sprayed two layers of surfacer, sanding most of it off each time. There are still some low spots, it’ll need more work prior to painting, but it’s good enough for now.

All of these operations took two months to complete, and it was with some relief that I took all the masking and protective film off, and wound up with a good result.


  • f44a
    Fixing in rear window with Lord Adhesive
  • f44b
    Window spaced up to align with door
  • f44c
    Fiberglass cloth overlaid across window
  • f44d
    Micro-balloons fairing filler
  • f44g
    Priming the door sill
  • f44e
    Topcoat on door sill
  • f44f
    Topcoat on door sill
  • f44h
    Front window ready for installation
  • f44i
    Lord Adhesive applied to rear/top edge
  • f44j
    Inside view of front window installation
  • f44k
    Metal scuffed, etched and Alodined
  • f44l
    Ready for window edge filler
  • f44m
    Micro-balloons (with black dye) applied
  • f44n
    Window edge filler sanded, window scuffed
  • f44o
    Windscreen fairing - some assembly required
  • f44p
    Completed windscreen fairing layup
  • f44q
    Fairing sanded to shape
  • f44r
    Applied micro (with black dye)
  • f44s
    Sides/Top glassed in, more filling/shaping
  • f44t
    Fairing transition to match the door
  • f44u
    Filling low spots
  • f44v
    Sanding the door gap
  • f44w
    Fairing door/fuse alignment
  • f44x
    Fairing door/fuse alignment, some low spots left
  • f44y
    Left side door/fuse alignment fairing
  • f44z
    Fitting door windows
  • f44za
    Fitting door windows
  • f44zb
    Glass cloth for door windows
  • f44zc
    Door windows glassed in
  • f44zd
    Preparing to spray primer and surfacer
  • f44ze
    Preparing to spray primer and surfacer
  • f44zg
    Light coat of polyurethane primer
  • f44zh
    First coat of surfacer
  • f44zi
    Filling pin holes
  • f44zj
    Tearing down after spraying
  • f44zk
    Removing window tape, protection
  • f44zl
    Cabin top and doors - finished!
  • f44zm
    Cabin top and doors - finished!
  • f44zn
    Door gap
  • f44zo
    Front view

Doors! [75.0 hours]

Fiberglass hell continues (apart from two weeks off while I did an awesome flying trip) in the form of the two doors – an infamous part of the RV10 build. Each door comes as an inner and outer shell. You epoxy the two halves together, using the cabin top as a mold. Then you trim and sand each door until it fits. Sounds simple enough, but after installing the door, checking the fit, and taking it off for the umpteenth time it all gets a bit tiring.

There have been many incidents of RV-10 doors coming off in flight. Van’s released a supplement to the design, a “safety catch”, after the first few incidents. An aftermarket design from Planearound is generally regarded as the best solution. It provides a central gearbox with a CAM that “pulls the door in”, and 180 degree handle travel that provides longer pin penetration than the standard kit’s 90 degree travel. In addition, I’m fitting an external handle made by Aerosport Products along with a lock which is keyed the same as the baggage door lock.

I reviewed the information available about doors coming off in flight. The exterior of the door is a low pressure area, which tends to suck the door outward. The bottom of the door can flex and bow outward. If the door is poorly constructed, or if one of the pins is inadvertently not engaged properly, the door can disengage from the bottom and once that happens in flight, it is guaranteed to tear off around the hinges. Many RV-10 pilots never allow passengers to close the doors, electing to always do it themselves to ensure the door is correctly closed. Here is a list of what I’m doing during construction to avoid future door problems:

  • Install the Planearound safety lock (180 degree), instead of the Van’s safety lock. It seems overall a better design, there is greater pin travel and the centre cam lock doubles as a means to draw the door in so that the front and back pins cannot go anywhere but into their respective pin blocks.
  • Install four door pin proximity switches, which will act in series to switch a panel mounted annunciation light from “red” to “green” indicating all four door pins are correctly seated.
  • Adding some supplemental “stiffening” to the bottom edge of the door. To the extent the bottom of the door resists any tendency to “bow outwards” in flight, it is less likely to put stress on the door locking mechanisms.
  • Adding backing plates to the hinge mounting points for both the door and cabin hinge mounts. These came as a kit from Air Ward a long time ago. Not sure if I’ll use the exterior cabin support parts (since the standard screw heads are directly applied to the steel hinges), but for the cabin interior, which winds up hidden by the overhead, and the door interior, the support plates distribute the load across a larger area of fiberglass than four individual washers and nuts. Same for the door exterior mounting plates.

In addition to the above, I’m using an aftermarket bulb seal sourced from McMaster Carr. This seal is applied to the cabin side, and provides a more professional automotive style finish than the standard kit seal, which is applied to the door itself. There’s a bit more work though in that the cabin needs to be sanded down to a 1/4″ gap all around the door, and in turn built up to a 1/4″ edge all the way around to support the McMaster seal.

For the “additional structure” along the bottom of the door, I simply laid some 12mm conduit along the bottom edges in the inner shell, and secured it in a few spots with epoxy. In addition, I cut a handful of conduit sections, just under 3/4″ in length, and epoxy’d one end in place distributed around the large open areas of the lower door, as shown in the picture. When it came time to glue the two door halves together, I put down a couple of layers of glass across the conduits that ran across the bottom of the door, and then filled around it as normal with extra epoxy/flox/cabosil. When the two door halves were brought together, this created a “box section” along most of the bottom of the door. For the other open areas, I simply deposited a clump of flox on top of each short conduit, filling up the inside of each small conduit, and then securing onto the outside surface of the door once the halves were brought together.

I also pre-installed the Planearound gearbox and supports before the doors were glued together. I haven’t seen this done before. It means you don’t have to cut the bottom of the door open after the fact, and fill it back in. I simply drilled a hole in the right place on the inner shell, until the shaft just fitted inside the hole, then used the gearbox itself to match drill the four mounting holes, in turn countersinking these from the inside surface of the door. I pre-lubricated the inside of the gearbox with some Boelube, and then wrapped up the gearbox in packing tape, except for (a) some plain plastic on the rear under the packing tape so that the back of the shaft wouldn’t bind with the packing tape, and (b) the two rectangular holes in the sides of the gearbox where the racks go.

One concern is epoxy from the Parabeam draining down onto the gearbox, into the rack holes, and in turn into the gearbox – that would be a disaster. To ensure this couldn’t happen, I made up a thin Alclad plate which ran along the top of the gearbox, with a flange on each end. I epoxy’d this along the bottom edge prior to bringing the two door halves together. This means any epoxy that ran down after the door halves were brought together would drip down well away from the rack holes. I applied some thick epoxy/flox/cabosil mix along the top of this flange prior to bringing the door halves together, so that any (runny) epoxy from the Parabeam would tend to run away to each side rather than down the outer door shell. This all might be overkill, but it worked out OK because after the doors were cured, neither gearbox was seized up!

Gluing the two door halves together is definitely a two person operation. I had “Rosie” mixing up epoxy/flox/cabosil while I applied it. We both carefully placed the two halves together, and then onto the cabin/mold. I previously drilled #40 cleco holes through the door halves into the cabin. These are easily filled with (structural) epoxy later, and they allow uniform pressure to be applied while the door cures. Clamps can easily be over tightened, causing flat spots around the natural curve of the doors. After the doors were epoxy’d and placed on the cabin, I left for a two week flying trip, so there was plenty of time for the epoxy to cure!

The cleco’s came out OK, some requiring a bit of twisting and force to remove them due to the epoxy running down into the cleco/holes. It took around eight hours per door to trim off the excess and sand down the edges to match the cabin top. I used duplicator straps to keep the door alignment left/right during this step, and one on each top corner. I highly recommend the latter – four straps in total – because the top edge of the door is where you start the final fitment, this is where the hinges get drilled. Once the door is on the hinges, it hangs slightly differently because there’s more weight towards the front of the door than the rear (the hinges are not in the door’s C of G), so you can’t trim the lower parts of the door until the hinges are fitted. It’s all a bit of a chicken and egg problem, but after having each door on and off about 20 times the doors are a good fit. I only took enough off the doors to have them fit into place, more sanding will be required after the cabin top is properly fitted to the fuselage in order to set up the gap all around each door.

After all that, I have each door now hinged to the cabin, and quite an accurate fit, the bottom edge of each door is less than 0.5 mm proud on the front and back edges, and perhaps 0.5 mm under in the middle. Ultimately the transition from the door to the fuselage will have to be filled and sanded all around, along with the transition into the cabin top, so +/- 0.5 mm is good enough for now.

The doors (and cabin top) are a long part of the project. I have quite a way yet to go with them, but the weather’s been good so almost all of the sanding I’ve been able to do outside.

Notes from the future for builders:

  1. Don’t drill the bolt holes around the lower doorway from the cabin top into the fuselage, just drill #30 holes on the side and #40 holes on the bottom. You’ll want to remove and reinstall the cabin top on multiple occasions while you work on the doors and overhead/interior, and it’s much easier to use cleco’s than bolts. Enlarge these to the required bolt holes once you’re ready to final install the cabin top.
  2. If you’re going to use the Planearound kit, definitely install the gearbox onto the inner door shell before gluing the two door halves together. For the 3/8″ access hole required – use their measurement for the distance forward from the gearbox, but for the up/down distance, don’t measure it – insert a rack into top side of the gearbox, roll it forward until it intersects the “vertical” line you just drew for the forward distance, and use the hole in the rack as a drill guide to drill a #40 hole through the door. That makes a pilot hole in exactly the correct position, now enlarge the hole to 3/8″. Later on, place some masking tape over this hole while sanding the door, you’ll be creating clouds of fiberglass dust and there’s no need to have that accumulate inside the door or gearbox.
  3. If you’re going to use the Aerosport exterior handle, pre-drill #40 the three holes using the stainless steel striker plate as a template, through both the inner and outer door shells, while the two door halves are all cleco’d together for initial preparation. This is the first step in the Aerosport instructions. Why? Because when you glue the doors together, you can install three #40 cleco’s (could use #30’s) through these holes and that brings together the two surfaces where the door latch mechanism goes. The instructions tell you to coat these surfaces with regular epoxy, but that is fairly runny and once the door is placed on the cabin for the epoxy to cure, the epoxy can run and a poor bond can occur in this area. This happened to one of my doors, I had to use a syringe to squirt more epoxy into it while installing the latch, and this shouldn’t happen. In fact I’d put a thin layer of the thickened flox on this area in the first place, slathered on top of the thin straight epoxy which will run.
  4. Use plenty of the thickened epoxy, and remember on the aft side and the bottom that the final trim is quite close to where the two shells part. Be generous with the amount applied, you need to work fast and there’s no point in trying to economize on the amount of epoxy (it weighs next to nothing) or focusing on making the application pretty.
  5. My formula for the thickened epoxy was 4 pumps of epoxy, 4 pumps of slow hardener, 2 scoops of flox, and 2-3 scoops of cabosil. Mix the epoxy and hardener thoroughly first, then mix in the flox, then mix in the cabosil, until the mixture does not slump if held vertically. We made up 3 of these per door (in addition to the regular epoxy used for the Parabeam). Might have been a 4th on one side, can’t quite remember.

Next job is to install the door latches, which means rationalizing three sets of instructions – from Van’s, Planearound and Aerosport. Fortunately, plenty have gone down the same path before me, so between these instructions and some online reading I should be able to work it out.

  • f24a
    Starting initial trim of door shell halves
  • f24b
    Drilling door shells for cleco's, using cabin top as a mold.
  • f24c
    Drilling door shells for cleco's, using cabin top as a mold.
  • f24d
    Installing internal support for gas strut
  • f24e
    Pre-installing the Planearound gearbox
  • f24f
    Wrapped in plastic + packing tape, with shroud
  • f24g
    Additional supporting material
  • f24h
    Epoxy applied, door halves cleco'd to fuselage "mold"
  • f24i
    Epoxy applied, door halves cleco'd to fuselage "mold"
  • f24j
    After initial trim, and addition of duplicator straps
  • f24k
    Initial clearance
  • f24l
    Sanding initial (upper) door fit
  • f24m
    Sanding initial (upper) door fit
  • f24n
    Sanding initial (upper) door fit
  • f24o
    Drilling door hinges into cabin top
  • f24p
    Fitting Airward cabin top hinge reinforcements
  • f24q
    Fitting Airward cabin top hinge reinforcements
  • f24r
    Airward cabin top hinge reinforcements
  • f24s
    Initial door fit, after a lot of sanding
  • f24t
    Initial door fit, after a lot of sanding
  • f24u
    Broomstick will eventually be replaced by a gas strut!
  • f24v
    RH door initial fit, after a lot of sanding
  • f24w
    Initial trim of 1/4" gap for McMaster seal
  • f24x
    Initial trim of 1/4" gap for McMaster seal
  • f24y
    Door trim debris
  • f24z
    Now to figure out the latch mechanism...


Forced break from building, and new toys [4.0 hours]

Due to other commitments, I’ve had to take a few months off from building, from April through June, but as of July I’m back at it again. Apart from doing the MPC course there was one notable event during this time, with the arrival of the finish kit, propeller and spinner from Van’s, the cowling from Showplanes, and the engine from Barrett Precision Engines. Finish kit inventory didn’t take long. Now I’ve really got to get on with it…

  • freight1
  • freight2
  • freight3
  • freight4
  • freight5
    Propeller crate
  • freight6
    Extra Alclad with finish kit
  • barrett1
    Barrett IO-540
  • barrett2
    Barrett IO-540
  • barrett3
    Barrett IO-540
  • prop1
    Propeller in crate
  • prop2
    Propeller blade
  • spinner1
    Hartzell spinner