Lord Of The Bolts

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The Citabria’s annual inspection was so close to completion I became giddy with irrational exuberance that after a month of slathering new parts on the old machine, I might fly again. But not to be. The delay was two miscreant bolts that hold the tailwheel rudder horn to the rudder. The rudder horn connects the tailwheel springs to the rudder so you can steer on the ground. It’s simple. Ikea makes more complicated devices.

Here’s the layout: The horn’s vertical arm has a smaller outer diameter (OD) than the rudder’s vertical tube ID (inner diameter); ya poke one into the other and snug them in place with two AN3-13 bolts, available online for 89 cents each. Done. FAA/PMA-approved, paperwork to follow, go fly and have a nice day. And they’re not super critical bolts, either, such as the bigger ones holding the wings on. If both of these rudder horn bolts failed in flight, you wouldn’t know until landing when you’d experience crappy ground steering. Not likely and who cares? Oh, yeah, the mechanic signing off the annual who said, “These are slightly loose. Let’s replace them with over-sized bolts (1/32-inch thicker shank).”

I’m not new to airplane ownership, so I know that aviation parts are made by Black Forest elves for a limited market of airplane junkies, so we can expect to pay more for an odd-sized aircraft bolt than a for slightly used Tesla. I got it. No complaints. But, c’mon, man, I’m Jonesin’ here! Haven’t flown the Citabria in a month. All I want is to replace the two standard AN bolts with two ever-so-slightly oversized NAS ones that would take up the slack caused by the old bolts hogging out the holes in the rudder tube. And, there, the search for the unobtainable began.

When Frodo inherited a stupid magical ring, his local wizard—Gandalf-the-Mechanic—said it had to go, and he couldn’t simply toss it into any dumpster in the Shire and go about happily being a leprechaun or whatever the hell he was. No, he had to walk halfway across New Zealand, barefoot, thwarting dragons, dorks and other FAA-unapproved monsters, before disposing of the ring in Mount Doom, the Middle Earth equivalent of FAA headquarters in Oklahoma City.

My Tolkienesque quest for two bolts would seem to pale in comparison but consider the results. None of my usual suppliers—Aircraft Spruce, the Champion factory, Wal-Mart—stocked the bolts, so the search expanded to the internet, where any search turns truly fantastic. Of my several requests for prices from companies that specialize in weird-sized hardware, I received three replies, each more vexing than the previous. Most requests were met with silence when I said that I only wanted two bolts from companies that normally ship bolts on massive oceangoing vessels.

The first response, from Bolts R Us But Not 4 U in Piscataway, New Jersey, said they’d sell them for $15 each. A bit pricey but not to a seasoned aircraft owner, so I bit. “I’ll take two; hold the nuts.” It is possible to detect giggling in an otherwise all-business email from a humorless company, which replied: “MOQ 100.” I had to ask what MOQ meant and learned it means Minimum Order Quantity, apparently something everyone but me knows. You’ve done the math and see that to procure my two bolts I would pay $1500 for 100 of them, plus shipping, leaving me with 98 spares to pass along to Trick or Treaters. They did say I would get a free catalogue when I placed my order and be automatically enrolled to receive their e-newsletter, Bolt Upright.

The second bolt supplier to reply wouldn’t give me a price until I successfully answered two riddles. First, it asked, “What is your price range?” Second (you really should read these in Monty Python’s Knights Who Say Ni voices), “What is your fax number?” I could more easily have provided a shrubbery, because, as I explained, I’d left my fax machine beside my pager in 1992.

As for the price range, I said that I was requesting a quote, not playing The Price Is Not Right, a favorite aviation game show, where there are no winners. I gave a false fax number (Domino’s Pizza in Billings, Montana) and said that my price range was $1 and up. I mean, why would they ask my range other than to see how much they could squeeze out of a pilot desperate for a couple of fat bolts? Yeah, well, sound tactic, since I was willing to pay just about anything at this point.

The third quote came from a company with an unpronounceable name, possibly Russian, that said the bolts could be mine at $500 each … plus shipping, allow six to eight weeks; credit card number, “pozhaluysta.”* On the bright side, I could order two and not a crateful. Shipping from Vladivostok, though, killed any savings.

The quest continues. I’m likely to find the Holy Grail or Nirvana before procuring these Holy Bolts for a simple old taildragger. At the quoted prices you’d think they were for a Bonanza. I may have to face reality and resort to JB Weld and spring for a couple of 50-cent AN bolts. Although, I should probably check Ikea first.

*Meaning “please,” according to online translator … or “fool."

Comments (13)

The fun of limited production ownership.

Are the bolts truly unavailable? Or are they just unavailable with a PMA?

How much larger can the hole be drilled, to fit something you can find at Home Depot? The owner-produced part fallback is always there for you, if you can convince an A&P to sign off on it.

Posted by: Joshua Levinson | May 15, 2018 2:02 PM    Report this comment

If only it was E-AB, maybe you could have added bushings, or could you remove it, rosette weld it, and re-drill the holes? In a similar vein, Tri-Pacers are known for wobbly nosewheels when all it needs is a set of bushings in the scissor links.

Posted by: A Richie | May 15, 2018 2:53 PM    Report this comment

These are used by flight schools. Find out what they do. Or better yet find an old IA.

Posted by: John Randall | May 15, 2018 3:54 PM    Report this comment

Try Monroe Aerospace, 
Distribution Center
399 East Drive
Melbourne, FL 32904

Posted by: Robert Regan | May 15, 2018 4:12 PM    Report this comment

Monroe aerospace, Distribution Center, 399 East Drive, Melbourne, FL 32904

Posted by: Robert Regan | May 15, 2018 4:14 PM    Report this comment

Thanks for the entertaining story. Many of us can relate and feel your anguish.

Going back on the previous post: "find an old mechanic".

Read the service information written for loose elongated bolt holes. The dilemma is resolved without much cost or effort. There's a number of fixes for this common problem. Always start with A.C. 43-13., next, read through the American Champion (manufacturer's) recommendations. Those sources are approved for a Champ. An over-sized bolt may not be approved.

Sorry for knowing the FAA approved answer and not sharing it with you and thousands of other readers. I can't take the responsibility for pointing you in the right direction in a public forum no more than the rest of the folks you talked too. Thank your favorite ambulance chancing attorney. Monty Python could not write a better script.

A possible hint: "bushing"

Posted by: Klaus Marx | May 16, 2018 1:01 AM    Report this comment

Or use metric bolts.... done.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 16, 2018 6:31 AM    Report this comment

"Or use metric bolts.... done."

Show some real class, use BSW (Whitworth).

Posted by: Richard Montague | May 16, 2018 7:08 AM    Report this comment

BSW you are truly a sadist. I would not wish that on my worst enemy. Fought that too many times with British cars and bikes.

Posted by: Leo LeBoeuf | May 16, 2018 11:02 AM    Report this comment

Have you tried Genuine Aircraft Hardware Co., at www dot gen-aircraft-hardware dot com?

Posted by: SKYLOR PIPER | May 16, 2018 4:52 PM    Report this comment

To paraphrase a current insurance commercial:

"My mechanic said I got the wrong bolts."

"No, I said. I've got the wrong mechanic."

Posted by: Chip Davis | May 16, 2018 5:44 PM    Report this comment

Lots of comments offering you help with the bolts. I am going to assume that this piece is not written about an event that is occurring this week, but rather an event from your past. I just want to compliment the author on a very well-written article. Clever and funny. I enjoyed reading it very much.

Posted by: David Bunin | May 17, 2018 7:56 AM    Report this comment

Is it not possible to invest in a tap and dye and make one your self?
I know it is a skill / task which is beyond most mechanics, but I have done it on occasion.
The advantage is that you can source your own steel so you know it will not snap.
And I am sure that with a computer you can print enough certificates to satisfy the world...

Posted by: John Patson | May 17, 2018 8:05 AM    Report this comment

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