Office Chair Makes A Great Aircraft Seat by Andy Hawes
AirPlay Second Quarter 2012
An inexpensive office chair can serve as the starting point for an aircraft seat. Here's how I did it to create seats for my Radial Rocket project. If anyone would like information on the details for build purposes, contact me and I'll be glad to walk you through the specific steps.
Basically you are taking a very nice fake leather office chair (currently $89.00 per chair at Office Depot) and cutting everything away, preserving the leather pieces (arm rests, seat backs, and seat bottoms) only.
The basic office arm chair is a castored platform that via some very heavy steel, marries itself to a seat bottom that is “L” bracketed to a seat back. After removing all the steel components and tossing the platform with castors (or saving that for something else), and cutting away the plastic arms, you are left with very light, good quality, very cheap leather airplane seats with matching arm rests. ** Tip ** If doing an aft second seat where the back of the seat back is not visible, or even a pilot seat as well where the back is not exposed, you can cut away the existing uneeded leather and use for accents around the cockpit interior, making your entire interior look well planned and professionally done. I will use my extra leather for the aft head rest and some side fuselage wall accents, or whatever is desired.
Swapping Out the Steel “L” Bracket for a More Weight Savvy and Aviation Grade Bracket
You still have to rejoin the seat back and bottom, so you will take the giant 13 lb. steal bracket, release the inside of this curved “L” with release tape and throw in 20 bid 9 oz cloth. Let cure. And before releasing, use the attach bolt holes off the steel bracket that is still stuck to the cured glass as guides and drill through with appropriate bit size. Then release your new, stronger, 2.5 lb brackets.
Seat Bottom and Back Modifications
You might need to cut the existing plywood/leather pieces to accommodate control sticks and airframe structure. This is very simple. The chair I used had staples holding the leather taught around the plywood and foam. Simply use a needle nose plier and carefully pull out staples to the point a few inches past where you need to cut. Secure the pulled back leather/foam with tape away from the area. Mark the line along the wood. Cut with a dremel using a miniature wood blade. Cut away any excess leather and foam so that you have plenty to pull over the cut area and still be able to re-staple. This took me no more than .5 hour for one seat.
Depending on the airframe, you now get to fashion attach brackets to the frame. I used my fuse. sidewalls. I placed the seat bottom in place, cut away at the existing seat back bulkhead to make room (.25 inch was taken off at the top only and approved before hand by the airframe engineer) for the seat back and bottom. Once correctly positioned, fashion mounting brackets as appropriate using the seat bottom and seat back existing nutplates where the arm rests used to mount to. I drilled and attached an additional set of nutplates on the seat back in order to “grab” and support the back via two additional sidewall mounted gussets in the aft baggage area. ** The “L” bracket is not enough to hold the seat back. Consider not only the pilot/passenger’s weight, but any gravity force as a multiplier and you should understand the importance of a solid, engineer-approved seat support system.
This is where some folks might balk at the idea. This is not a steel framed or high tech expensive aluminum or carbon fiber a builder might use for the airframe but rather a wet formed, fairly strong, plywood for the seat back and bottom that is joined and supported by “Rutan” fiberglass via A. S. & S. Run everything by your T.A. and/or kit manufacturer first if you have doubts and are planning on pulling a lot of g’s. I ended up using my existing seat bottom structure with additional bracket support. I went a little overboard with the seat back gussets because I removed my seat back support “board” -- not the bulkhead for the seat back, but the board that was intended for upholstery and back rest, replacing it with the chair seat back / gusset supports. The gusset bid count was actually more than the firewall engine mount gussets just in case a larger passenger/co-pilot is back there while under additional g forces. Again, a bit over-kill, but I can sleep with that.
The hard plastic casing that surrounds the arm rest foam/leather can be removed (needle nose pliers to pry staples) so that only the leather and cushion is left. This will enable the builder to hot glue or re-staple onto existing arm rests or custom built arm rests. Again, the goal being a uniform, preplanned, professional look.
Weight and Balance
No change is taking place in either pilot or copilot stations for me, but for other kits, the builder might want to see if and where any modifications might change the passenger and pilot positions for/aft and note accordingly.
Have fun with your new “Office” and don’t forget to use those arm rest pads and extra leather to finish your cockpit in style and put those saved dollars towards a FatBoy flight or throttle grip!
EAA 710092, Chapter 162