AirVenture 2020 – Catching up with Stephen Leverett


Here is a note from Stephen Leverett.

My name is Stephen Leverett. I live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and I’m building Panther SN063.

I’m building a tri-gear since 95% of my hours are in tri-gears, and I chose the long-wing “LS” variant since the longer wing should allow for slower approaches and a lower stall speed, which are things I appreciate in terms of safety.

Here are some reasons I chose a Panther:

– The chromoly steel tube fuselage provides safety in the event of an incident, has critical mounting points already in place for things such as the wings, landing gear, and engine mount, and simplifies building.

– Being a single seater results in a smaller, quicker build, and not requiring a bigger, more expensive engine as a 2+ seater may need to achieve similar performance. For the occasional times I want to take friends and family flying, there are plenty of rentals available with 2+ seats.

– Aerobatic capable, excellent all around performance.

– Uses blind rivets, much easier than having to buck solid rivets, in my humble opinion.

– Multiple engine options, including support for the Corvair.

– Excellent folding wing design, allowing for more storage and transport options.

– Great looking, stylish design – it just looks like a fun, sporty plane.

– The kit is an excellent value.

When I first started in 2015, I lived in a condo, so I rented a 10′ x 10′ area shared workshop to build the tail kit.

My first completed part, the right elevator – November 2015:

 

My then-girlfriend, now-wife helping button up the horizontal tail – September 2016:

 

Here’s a random picture, a visit to the SPA factory – December 2016:

 

Just had to throw that pic in there… back to the build..

I also completed the rudder, right elevator, and trim tab in my rented space. While starting on the vertical tail, I figured I’d soon outgrow the 10’x10′ work area, so I moved into a garage which I rented from someone I found on Craigslist.

Here is one of the wing spars being riveted – June 2017

After getting married in Aug. 2017, I knew a cross country move was soon in my future, so I decided not to build up the full wings and worked on the control surfaces instead.

Buttoning up an aileron – March 2017:

I moved back to Michigan in August of 2018, and my first born daughter arrived in Oct. 2018. I love my little family and they’re my number one priority. So the build went from slow to a crawl. But with a very loving and supportive wife, and a lot of short work sessions late at night, a few more parts have been completed. I finished the other aileron. And I built the flaps.

The wing flaps enjoying each other’s company – May 2020:

I just started working on the fuel tanks. Oh, and I picked up a Corvair core!

Someday I would love to build a 3.3L. There are several great engines out there, but the tipping point for me is learning how to build my own engine! I’m a few years out from really needing an engine, so I may change my mind, but I couldn’t sit on the sideline any longer. I plan to start disassembly on the core and continue to learn about the engine over time.

My second daughter arrived in May, so building has slowed down again. But it’s not a race. It will fly someday. Maybe when the girls are off to college? hahahhahah. Well hopefully not that long.. even if I deburr only one part or drill just a handful of holes, I try to get something done every day, and parts slowly finish.

I haven’t really built anything like this before. I remember when I started the tail kit, I was confused when the directions said to drill holes in a hinge half, but I didn’t know how to take the hinge apart! Of course I figured out how to tap the pin out, but that just goes to show how green I was. I’m more confident in building now, yet I try to maintain a good sense of cautiousness and ask for help when needed.

My favorite thing about building is learning about the design and construction of an airplane. The late nights in the garage are sort of a quiet cool down time for me to study and build. For example, I had little knowledge of how a fuel system works beyond a few scrappy pictures I had to draw for my private pilot license. But when I watch the resistance change on a multimeter as I swing the arm up and down on the fuel sender, I gain a more complete understanding of how things work.

I hope everyone is staying safe and sound during COVID-19.

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