Antenna installation is not easy

Oct 28

It seems like a simple task. Install a WiFiRanger Sky and an NMO mount antenna so we can get better access to internet both via campground WiFi and our Verizon MiFi receiver in a Wilson Sleek cellular booster. Unfortunately, Airstreams don’t have any default options for running cables into the trailer from the roof so the real trick in this process is drilling holes both inside and outside and running the wires into our wiring cabinet through those holes. The other tricky part is that the roof lockers, where we have our other internet equipment, do not quite go up to the top of the roofline and the area just above the locker is not on the flattest part of the roof which is pretty important for mounting both devices.

In preparation for the install, I ordered the devices themselves as well as assorted related tools needed for the installation.

  • A UniBit drill bit for cutting precisely sized holes through aluminum.  Both items needed different sized holes so the UniBit works well for both situations.
  • Metal fish tape to help run the wires between the holes
  • Adhesive caulk to attach the WiFiRanger Sky to the roof and to seal up the holes

Yesterday I started the process by looking at a few options.  One suggestion from Rich was to use the speaker as a way to access the ceiling without drilling a hole but after removing the speaker from the roof and poking around with the fish tape, there was no path to the roof locker because there is a rib used to rivet the inner and outer aluminum skin to the frame and it is solid so there’s no easy way to get through there.  So it looked like I would need to drill both an interior and exterior hole but I was hoping that I could have both wires going through the same interior hole. It wasn’t until I was getting ready to drill the first hole that I realized that I had the wrong drill – my bit is a 1/2″ bit and I had the 3/8″ drill. I found my bigger drill but it’s batteries needed charging so that was the end of the first attempt.  Strike one.

Today, I had all of the pieces in place with the right drill and charged batteries so I gave it a second go.  I started drilling the interior hole and started running the fish tape up to the spot where I thought it would be good to mount the WiFiRanger Sky. Judging by the angle that the tape went in and the length of tape I could get in, it looked like it would work well so I went outside and climbed up to the roof and drilled the outside hole which is about 2 feet from the interior hole. This is the point where it’s very difficult to do the wire fishing between and inside and outside hole without some help so I called Leslie to help me figure out how to get from point A to point B. After a lot of tapping and poking, it looks like there is another structural rib right at the top of the roof locker and while I was fishing the tape up and it looked like it was getting up past that spot, it was probably just bending and running along the edge of that rib. There doesn’t seem to be a direct way from the roof locker to the roof. Ugh. Strike two.

So now I’m in a bit of a pickle. I have 2 holes but no easy way to connect the two spots. I might be able to run the wire from the roof all of the way down to the pantry cabinet that goes a little farther in, past the rib that is blocking me, then get it from there down in to the cabinets from the side and run it all the way back up to the one with the other gear but it is unclear if there is a clear line all the way down there (or if the cable is long enough to make it back). Alternatively, I could drill a visible hole in the ceiling and then run the wire into the cabinet through another hole but I’d really like to avoid that.

We’d love to hear any suggestions for how to get this worked out.

This is in the second roof locker, where the power points are which are where we plug in the routers and other gear.

This is in the second roof locker, where the power points are which are where we plug in the routers and other gear.

Leslie is pointing at the spot where the exterior hole is to give an idea of how far the wire needs to go.

Leslie is pointing at the spot where the exterior hole is to give an idea of how far the wire needs to go.

At the bottom you can see what is probably the location of the blocking rib. It's a windy Fall day so lots of pine needles are falling on the trailer.

At the bottom you can see what is probably the location of the blocking rib. It’s a windy Fall day so lots of pine needles are falling on the trailer.

 

Update: I found a great video on YouTube that shows how the wires are run and you can see the inside of an Airstream with just the wiring harnesses in place.  The image below shows what we’re up against, which is quite a bit. Still, it’s good to see how it is structured. Note that there are holes to run wiring through, but you need to remove parts of the ceiling to access them.

The inside structure of an Airstream trailer as seen on this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2yznf5kKaI

The inside structure of an Airstream trailer as seen on this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2yznf5kKaI

 

 

4 comments

  1. Chris,

    Unfortunately the bet way to fix this is to take more of the trailer apart.

    If you remove the roof locker, you can then remove the rivets that hold the interior sheet on. Thus allowing you to see where you can run the wire. The ribs do have some holes in them for wire routing.

    I doubt that was the answer you wanted, but if I was in your shoes (and I recently was) I would go this route to allow the wire to be completely hidden.

    Brett

  2. Thanks Brett. That is starting to sound like a job for a professional though I would love to watch to see how it is done.

  3. OK, so here’s a trick an old timer showed me. Get some “steel” flexible chain, like used on pull lamps. Get several feet of it. Acquire two welding magnets, and cover them in some thin felt to keep them from scratching anything. Put the chain in the hole and “grab” it with the magnet from the outside of the aluminum skin and pull it along on the inside where you want it to go. The nice part is that you can literally move it up, down, etc. Just as long as the magnets pull can grab it, its like invisible fingers that go through the skins. You can even “jump” over things inside (use a borescope to find an existing hole…} using a magnet outside and inside, and some elaborate discussion with the helper. Try to find fine steel chain, that wont catch on sharp edges, and you should be able to get a pull wire through if an existing hole exists.

    Another option is to remove the fantastic fan shroud and use it as a visible access to the skins.

    A final option is to sacrifice an existing wire that makes the route as a pull wire. Cut on each end, attach its replacement, and the new wire, and pull it through the route. Test by a tug on each end of the slack to confirm it will pull through.

    We’ve done several Corporate Airstreams, so if you want a conversation, let support@wifiranger.com know and schedule a call. They will get me to handle the call as I’ve done those installs.

  4. Thanks for the suggestion Kelly that’s a really clever solution. You mention a bunch of gear that I don’t have and would add a fair amount to the cost of installing this but I did come up with a pretty simple work around which I detailed in our next post.

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