The Battle of Big Easy
And the joy of knowing why
I WAS MAKING MY way innocently through Hangar D at Sun ’n Fun
International Fly-In and Expo last spring, when the sight of a simple
gadget stopped me in my tracks.
Mittler Bros. Machine & Tool was displaying a booth full of tools I
couldn’t have cared less for six months earlier, but now I was drooling
over them and causing a traffic jam behind me.
I apologized to the man on my heels for my sudden lack of situational awareness. His response was simple and as kind as his aged face.
“I understand,” he said as he smiled and kept walking. The bag full of
goodies in his hand was proof of his words.
I hadn’t realized it until he spoke those two words, but I had
changed. I had now joined an unspoken fraternity of kind souls who
“understand.” These are folks who find themselves unexplainably
excited over simple pieces of metal, hardware, and gadgets most our
friends consider meaningless.
Why was I now so excited about this simple gadget in front of me?
LIGHTENING HOLES IN A FLASH
The representatives at that booth were demonstrating and selling
machined dies that cut and flanged lightening holes. Again, six months
earlier I couldn’t have cared less, but now I was in awe watching this
man do in three seconds what had taken me more than six months to do
by hand. In one magical pull of the lever, this simple
device not only cut the hole, but also flanged the lip of it.
A flood of thoughts and emotions filled me.
At first there was amazement, then soon came signs
of grief and regret as I thought back to how I had spent
the last six months in the basement making lightening
holes one by one. I didn’t want to believe what I was seeing because it meant all my hours of labor might have
been a giant waste of time.
I suppressed the battle raging inside me, at least
momentarily, so one of the company’s reps, Jason
Besselman, could demonstrate his tools to me.
These tools were just as amazing as I first feared. With
one simple pull, the metal popped and immediately there
was a perfectly cut and flanged lightening hole.
The Bearhawk I’m building has 170 wing ribs containing 406 lightening holes. One by one, my building
partner Caleb Ihrig and I used a fly cutter to cut each
hole, deburred the holes with hand tools, made a
dozen or so different dies out of oak, chamfered the
edges of the dies, then created another set of female
jigs to hold the ribs in place while we pressed the
flanges on a shop press. Some of the holes we flanged