Shortcuts in Composites

Chuck Firth

Originally published September 1996

Steve Locey of Scaled Composites was our featured speaker. Steve is an A&P and a ten year employee of SC. His presentation concerned some of the techniques he learned for working with composite materials. He's also a homebuilder with a Cozy project underway.

Scaled Composites is a busy shop according to Steve with four major programs going presently. They include the Raptor RPV for NASA; the Vision, a sixplace business jet; a part of the X-35 program which will be a lifting body reentry vehicle for space station use; and the wings for the Pegasus launch vehicle. The business is mostly in building prototypes, although some repetitive production like the Pegasus wings is done. All in all, an interesting place to work.

Steve went through various techniques for contouring, cutting foam, using vacuum bags for layups, and even how to form cowlings or ducts over installed equipment. He described the appropriate use of guide coats to help in shaping, sanding using coarse and fine grits, resin application with long blocks and spline boards, and how he prefers to fill pin holes. He also described the importance of stable, level work surfaces, particularly when cutting foarn.

Although his descriptions were clear enough and I suspect a demonstration would have been great, in looking over my notes I realized I'd probably not do him justice trying to write it out. Sort of like reading drawing notes for relaxation. We did, however, video tape the presentation and you can find it in the chapter library at TPS. If you're presently building with composites or contemplating a project, this might be a good checkpoint.

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Revised -- 27 April 1997