Soaring October 1980 pages 42-43



(Or, I Get Letters .. )

During my early teenage years I used to support my glider building activities by delivering newspapers, mowing lawns, and painting "today's specials" signs on the windows of our neighborhood mom-and-pop grocery.

Handling a paper route and mowing lawns didn't call for any particular skill, but I was really a rotten sign painter and I knew it better than anybody. The kindly lady who contracted for my services would hear none of my self-criticism. She'd say, "Stan, people's attention is drawn by two things, the elegant and the unsightly. Take it from me, your signs are getting plenty of attention."

So here it is several decades later and, after seven years or so of writing for SOARING, I've finally written a Homebuilders' Hall that got somebody's attention. I'm not sure I like the kind of attention I'm getting, but then again I wasn’t all that sure about the kind my signs were getting, either.

I refer to the July/August 1980 Homebuilders' Hall, which reported that a limited number of HP-18 builders were experiencing wing skins separating from the foam ribs in some places. The article postulated some possible causes of this problem and described "fixes" that builders I know and respect had developed. Nothing to get excited about. In fact, I thought the article was pretty tame and that at best it would cause builders to go out and inspect their wings. A good precaution, even if only a few cases of separation had been reported.

But that's not the way some of my readers saw it, notable among them being Dick Schreder, designer of the HP-18. Here's what Dick had to say. I truly envy his way with words:



(Homebuilders' Hall, July-August 1980)

Publication in this column (Soaring July/August '80) of an article titled "Separation in Metal-Skin/Foam-Rib Bonding, Parts 1 and 2" has caused consternation among the hundreds of HP builders, owners, and potential buyers. I have been deluged by angry telephone calls from people claiming that the articles are misleading, untrue, destructive, and that they have lowered the value of their ships, caused losses of sales, etc. The general reaction is that the column which is supposed to be promoting sailplane homebuilding has dealt the movement a death blow.

We did not have a bonding problem before - but we really do have a problem now trying to undo all the damage that the subject articles have done.

Development of a high-performance sailplane kit suitable for assembly by homebuilders has taken 25 years of designing, experimenting, and building using all kinds of materials and methods of fabrication with a few successes and a lot of failures. It is so easy for people who have not suffered through such trials and tribulations with the materials involved to come up with quick solutions they haven't actually tested and tried. I know all about the troubles that Steve duPont had and have been in communication with him since the ship was delivered by the operator who built it. There has never been another incident like this one and we can only assume that it resulted from not following instructions during assembly. The fact that the duPont trailer, assembled by the same operator, came apart on its first road trip indicates that both units suffered from a common cause. An unglued rib is easy to detect and correct by injecting epoxy through the skin. There have not been enough reports to warrant issuing an instruction sheet to make such touch ups.

If I had been given a chance to comment on the articles before they went to print, the following information-could have been provided:

If any foam-and-metal builder has any gluing problem, please contact me for information on the best method to cure it. If there are enough people interested, I will write an article on how to repair foam-and-metal structures.

The best interests of Soaring will be better served in the future if all articles that contain adverse comments or recommend alterations affecting any specific sailplane are for warded to the designer of the model(s) concerned for comment before such articles are printed.-Dick SCHREDER

I am (almost) glad Dick and the others wrote; it gives me an opportunity to comment on a recurring readership problem I have, a problem I daresay everybody who writes for popular consumption has on occasion. Let me illustrate:

I received a phone call from a builder who chided me for "Scotching the sale" of his HP-18 by describing the problem a few builders were having with their foam/metal bonds. (Like most HP-18 builders, he didn’t.) I followed up on this by talking on the telephone to the recalcitrant customer. It was his impression from reading the article that the debonding problem was endemic with the HP-18, that it was widespread, and that most if not all HP-18's were so afflicted.

Obviously, this man didn't read the article. It said nothing of the kind. Apparently, he skimmed the article once, saw the terms "HP-18" and "debonding" used in the same sentence - and became completely debonded himself.

I don't blame the potential seller for being annoyed, but his annoyance should have been directed to the person who, because he was a careless reader, badly misinterpreted the article.

I'm sure most of us on occasion have had difficulty reading and comprehending at the same time, particularly when we read something about which we have a deep emotional involvement - like a sailplane. But I think most of us would at least review the material so as to give the words a chance to jell into the desired or intended meaning before firing off a letter to whoever is responsible for them.

Another reader chided me for "redesigning" the HP-18 by recommending a change in the side-stick U-joint (February 1980 SOARING). I made no such recommendation. Again, the reader didn't read the article.

As to recommending a "fix" for foam/metal debonds in the July/August SOARING, I made no recommendations here, either. A more careful rereading will confirm. I simply reported on the fixes other builders had developed. Again, it is the messenger who takes the blame for the bad news. Obviously, this is a situation no author relishes, particularly since there are so many other interesting and productive things one can do besides write for SOARING.

I find myself constantly walking a tight wire in writing Homebuilders' Hall. If I find something in a particular sailplane that I consider marginal or deserving of attention, where does my responsibility lie? Should I bring it to the attention of. the builders so that they might follow through? Or should I bring it to the attention of only the designer or the manufacturer and hope he will take action? Or should I take the easy, hassle-free way out and simply ignore the whole affair?

In the first instance, by publishing in SOARING I know the builder will take action - NOW. Schreder's "hundreds of phone calls" gives ample evidence of this.

As to contacting the designer, or the manufacturer, on everything that crosses my desk, and having full confidence that he will follow through promptly and positively, let me note that the mail and other communications I receive reveal (with some encouraging exceptions) the track record of the principals involved isn't all that great.

As to simply ignoring problems when they are brought to my attention (I don't go looking for them, by the way) well, my crusading days are over. But at the same time I still have a conscience, and nobody is going to bust his ship or something more important simply because I choose not to get "involved."

The one place in I'affaire HP-18 debonding where more sober reflection on my part allows for the possibility that I blew it, was in not driving the article past Schreder before going to press. That would have, been the gentlemanly thing to do. I have great and long-standing respect and admiration for Dick, his talents, and his products - and he knows it. But no amount of personal interchange can negate the fact that some (as the article clearly states) debonds were occurring, and that people were reporting them to me, of all people.

Dick has offered to send anyone having a debond problem the instructions necessary for repair. I would be delighted to have them published right here in Homebuilders' Hall.

As to my future conduct in situations like this, I will try to be more "gentlemanly," even if it hurts. But let it be known that I consider myself one of those hardnoses who prefers to do his own thinking. If my one or two polite shots across the designer's or manufacturer's bow doesn't get timely and positive results, my next cannonball comes out smoking from my typewriter. As a Builder's Man, I can do no less.

On the other hand, if I could find a kindly and tolerant customer, maybe I could go back to painting signs on grocery windows. But let's not vote on this, okay?