By Willie Bodenstein

All photos © The Airplane Factory

Building an aircraft in four days and flying it on the fifth was never going to easy. Building it away from your factory at the AAD 2014 the biggest exhibition of defence and aviation products in the southern hemisphere under the scrutiny of thousands of inquisitive eyes was well impossible some said. That probably is one of the reasons why The Airplane Factory decided to do it. They seem to have the knack to make the impossible possible.

Preparations started well before the opening of the exhibition on 17 September. Building and flying an aircraft involves more than just putting pieces together. There are reams and reams of paperwork to complete, the parts to be transported, teams to be selected, work schedules had to be compiled, catering had to arranged for the teams and much more.

The plan was to have 80% of the fuselage completed within the first 24 hours and the wings done by day two. The engine, wiring, plumbing, and controls installed by end of day three leaving day four free for final inspections and testing.

By late Tuesday afternoon the tent that was to serve as the assembly area was up, the fence around it erected and the relevant tools and parts laid out at the various assembly stations. If they were to achieve their goal each sub assembly, each section and each kit would have to be built at exactly the right time to ensure they come together flawlessly and are transformed into a Sling. There could be no compromise on quality, building it fast is no reason to build it badly.

Wednesday 17 September the start of the build and the morning shift arrived at 07h30. The traffic was horrendous, the parking chaotic and it was only an hour later when they finally got to the tent. It was not a good start. Although only an hour late they lost 18 man hours of precious time. The team was fired up thought and by 20h00 that evening they were slightly ahead of schedule.

The seemingly chaotic scattered parts of the morning by then could not be mistaken for anything but an aircraft. The rear and centre fuselage were married and the wing kit boxes were opened and primed. The engine was completely wired and was ready for fitting by the nightshift. The wheels have been assembled and the undercarriage was ready to be fitted.

A constant stream of visitors during the day stood by the fence, the aircraft seemingly taking shape before their eyes. Even the Chief of the Senegalese Air Force paid a visit.

When the morning shift arrived on Thursday morning the fuselage was on its wheels and the engine was bolted on with the wings almost completed. The amount of work done by the night was amazing; in fact they were so far ahead that it was decided to only work the day shift, dispensing with the night shift.

The day shift jumped right in, working like a well-oiled machine. Work on the empennage and wings continued. The ballistic chute was installed and the wiring of the engine and panel continued. Work continued until sunset and they retired for much earned break

Friday traditionally is the busiest of the three trade days at AAD and this year was no different. There was a constant flow of people. Those that had visited earlier during the week were astounded by the progress. It was not only the average man in the street that came to see they were even paid a visit by the Regional Director of Boeing for Africa and the Middle East.

After breakfast and a quick clean-up they got stuck in. The wings came together effortlessly despite the slight snag with a stringer they had picked up the previous day. After lunch the fuselage was wheeled out of the tent. The cowling and spats were fitted and the wings were prepped, ready to be installed. Just before sunset the engine was filled with oil and water and the lights and strobes were tested and the panel fired up.

They were still on schedule to fly on Sunday but then another snag cropped up. Despite getting approval for the test flight somebody forgot to notify the airshow safety officer and no slot during the show was allocated. They were positive though that they could overcome the problem. If not the challenge was to build a Sling 4 in four days and in that they have already succeeded.

Day four was the first of the public days and the crowds flocked in to tour the exhibits and watch the airshow. They have managed to secure a slot and everything was track to fly on the Sunday. Word has spread and the tent and aircraft was mobbed as they went thought the final checks. Then she was wheeled through the crowd and Mike and James climbed in and with fire extinguishers ready turned the key and the Rotax sprang into life. The crowd spontaneously applauded and cheered. Some just shook their heads, still finding it hard to believe that she was built in four day.

Back home after the show.

On Sunday she took to the sky watched by more than 30,000 people who had flocked to the second day of the show. The Airplane Factory is slowly running out of records to break. There can be no doubt though that they will come up with something just as or even more amazing in 2016.

Events 2014

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