DIY Aircraft Kits

Thinking About Building Your Own Amateur Airplane – Homebuilts?

Thinking about building your own amateur airplane? Read on. We all know that flying has become more expensive over the last few decades, and today a brand new factory-built airplane is too costly of an option for many potential airplane owners. Although purchasing a used plane is an option, original factory-built aircraft have many hidden costs. The new owner inherits someone else’s problems, regardless of how thorough the pre-buy inspection was.

There is another option to research. Homebuilts are licensed in the FAA’s Experimental amateur-built category. They are a common sight on airport ramps. Velocities, RVs, Sonexes, and many other designs have allowed pilots to access performance and prices that aren’t available in the certified plane world for a significant investment in time.

There is also a dark side to this story: Every experimental plane completed and flown has many partially-built skeletons that end up in the cemetery.

Several factors can differentiate between a successful project and one with many parts.

1. Be Realistic

The most essential factor in determining the success of an aircraft project is before the first piece is manufactured.

It is a big decision to start an airplane project. It should be taken with the clarity of mind and thought.

Many potential builders choose a particular airplane because they are emotionally drawn to it. A prospective builder is fueled by the beauty of a Falco or the radial-powered adrenaline of a Pitts 12, or the go-anywhere fun offered by a Glastar, all of which can fuel their desire to own something so unique. This is similar to pulling the trigger on a rifle with one’s toe. The true decision is not about which airplane. The real decision about which airplane to fly is not the one that you make. That decision is the mission.

It is not easy to decide what mission you want. It takes a lot of honest and sometimes painful self-examination to decide on the mission. We all wish to fly like Bud Anderson, Don Sheldon, or Patty Wagstaff. But we don’t. Everybody has a flying personality, a pattern, and no one gets a personality transplant when they buy or build a new plane.

You can build a cross-country cruiser that travels 2,000 miles, but what if your greatest joy in flying is taking 50-mile trips across spring-green fields with someone you love and landing at a grass strip 1,500 feet high where they make delicious sandwiches. It is essential to look beyond the opinions, shoulds, and musts and see how an airplane can help you improve your life and do what you love.

The choice of an airplane is almost automatic once the dream has been realized. Once chosen, it’s time for some due diligence. It’s quite shocking to see a Kitplanes magazine issue from 10 years ago. There are probably many more world-beater airplane designs or engines featured in it.

There is a lot of snake oil in the home-built world. However, it is difficult to run a business even with the best intentions. Economic realities also play a role. Call the people behind the plane, research the company that designed it, and looks at accident reports. It is demoralizing and costly to be stuck with an abandoned design that doesn’t have parts or support.

2. Budget Your Time

A project like building an airplane requires so much effort, dedication, and time that few people will ever attempt it. This is not for the faint-hearted. It takes a consistent, steady input of hours over a long time.

The project will continue to grow if there isn’t enough time spent in the shop. This is why some plane projects take decades. Without constant progress, the sight of the receding goal posts proves too unfavorable, and the project dies.

It is best to take a piece at a given time and break it down into smaller pieces that are more manageable. Then, you can enjoy the small steps and let the big picture take care of itself. A builder will need to work for 15 to 20 hours per week to see even a simple plane from conception to completion.

Most airplane projects are completed in two to four years for dedicated builders. This is the top of the bell curve. However, there are many builders at the other end. It could take up to five years or ten years. Even if they are constantly pestered by family and friends, skilled aircraft builders won’t commit to a first flight date. The popular answer is “Tuesday.”

3. Make Peace With Setbacks

It is not as simple as most people think. It’s not a social activity — it can be lonely. It may be more challenging than the gregarious might imagine. Anyone building an airplane will spend a lot of time alone and should feel at ease with his company.

The next one will be the first airplane to be built without making many heartbreaking mistakes. Robert Pirsig discusses “gumption traps” in his book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

These mistakes and mishaps can deprive a builder of the will to keep going and send him to bed with the “how did I do so stupid?” feeling. The airplane project is full of gumption traps, and the builder will eventually die if he doesn’t have the personality to bounce back emotionally.

Perfectionism is a curse that can only be overcome by those obsessed with perfection. The skies would be empty if all planes had to be flawless to fly. Although perfection is often confused with craftsmanship, they are very different things.

It doesn’t matter how well an airplane is built. There are always ways to make it better, prettier, or shinier. It is not about having a perfect plane. The goal is to have practical, well-built airplanes that the builder enjoys flying and isn’t afraid to fly.

4. Pick The Best Workspace

Many potential builders worry about the issue of workspace. They imagine it will take something similar to what they see in Vultee’s World War II factory to build an airplane. However, this is not the case. Convenience is more important than size.

You can build an airplane in a basement, a garden shed, trailer, shipping container, or mud hut. A two-car garage will suffice in most cases. However, a one-car garage is also possible if you need to store large finished parts like wings.

Many people think of airplanes being built at nearby airport hangars. Hangars are the most difficult places to build an airplane project. Hangars are often hotter than the outside in summer and colder in winter (if this phenomenon is ever explained, the energy crisis is over) and are universally underpowered and inadequately lit. And they are almost never nearby.

It doesn’t matter how small the space is. It should be comfortable. Comfort investments include good lighting, climate control, good lighting, a bench at the right height, and rubber mats on concrete floors. (Back, leg, and foot pain are no joke! — provide insurance against failure.

Martin and Claudia Sutter created their RV-6 from their living room. Martin states that Texas is always too hot unless it gets too cold. An air-conditioned hangar would be more expensive than the plane we’d build inside it. Although we thought about our garage, the sun would kill our cars if they were left outside. There was a breakfast bar, a family room, and a living room. We ate and lived there, and the plane project was in the living room. The room had heat, air conditioning, and a sliding patio door that let us get it out when we were done. It saved us hundreds of hours by being able to work on it at any time we wanted, without having to travel or be uncomfortable.

5. Contingency Money In Budget

The biggest question, other than time, is money. What is the realistic cost of building an airplane? Although there is no definitive answer, homebuilt planes can be built for as low as $60,000 to $75,000. Many are much cheaper than others, and there is no upper limit. It is a pay-as-you-go proposition to build an airplane. While it is essential to have all the resources necessary to complete the project, you don’t have to have them all upfront.

The same principle applies to cost control as to when you first choose an airplane: mission, mission, and more mission. The new aircraft manufacturers must sell their products to anyone who comes along, providing everything a buyer could need.

If he has done his research, an airplane builder will know exactly what he requires. IFR instrumentation is not required for missions that do not include IFR flight. If you look out of the window, altitude information is available. The instrument flight rules (IFR) govern how aircraft should be operated in cases where the pilot is unable or unable to use visual references.

The aircraft must be equipped with the required instrumentation and certified by the regulatory agency to fly in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC). A pilot must also hold an instrument rating.

The pilot must submit an IFR flight plan before an aircraft can fly under IFR. This permits aircraft to be separated within controlled airspace and allows traffic information to be given to uncontrolled aviation to allow the pilot to safely separate.

Are you not going to fly at night anyway? Then, you can get rid of the $1000 nav light set. Fixed-pitch props are about three times as expensive as constant-speed ones and perform just for many missions.

Another question to ask is where the money comes from. Rich Uncle Joe is relied upon to die just in time to fund an airplane project. The money must be taken from income or increased.

Doug Reeves is the founder of Van’s Air Force. He took the first course. His “Ten Steps to Buying an Airplane” include postponing the purchase of a new car, canceling cable TV, packing a healthy lunch, and switching to a no-frills, cheaper plan. These steps saved him $570 per month, he calculated. He faithfully put this amount in a dedicated account each month and now flies a beautiful RV-6.

Bob Collins, an RV builder from the Twin Cities, chose the opposite route. It just seems like everyone who builds an airplane also builds an RV. He was a writer for radio, but his day job didn’t provide enough money for an airplane.

So he became “the world’s oldest paperboy.” Seven days a week, from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m., he was on the road delivering newspapers. That, combined with his day job, family life, and airplane project, didn’t leave a lot of time for sleep, but in the end, he emerged intact, the proud owner of a flying RV-7A.

6. Build Skills

You object by saying, “But, but.” Someone was a Liberal Arts major. They had never riveted/welded/wired/painted anything in their life. How is it possible to build an airplane as complicated as that?

It’s really not difficult. At this point, planes are essentially mechanical devices. It is easy to understand and build simple mechanical control systems. Basic electrics are all that’s required. For example, a typical aircraft engine requires four hoses, three cables, and two wires to run. Although it may require some study, there isn’t much in a small plane that the average person doesn’t understand.

Similar techniques are used to build aircraft. You can learn riveting in just one day. Although welding takes longer to learn, it is easy and inexpensive. The tools and techniques for welding are easily accessible and well-understood. There is a lot of wood in the world. There are always tutorial videos on YouTube.

Classes in construction may be a good option if your learning style is structured. Kit manufacturers, a few private individuals, and, of course, the EAA all offer weekend workshops and sometimes longer classes.

7. Support Network

Shop hours can be lonely and long for both the shopkeepers and the customers. Family and spouse support are essential. A relationship that makes an airplane a problem is doomed. There are many divorce stories.

Mitch Lock uses a simple strategy. He says, “Before I start a new plane, I go to the wife and ask her for a list of everything she needs to make her life easy.” “Whether it be house, yard, or car, she can do whatever she needs. “Then I do them all before I go into my shop.” This must have worked because Mitch has completed six to seven planes.

Many airplanes were built by siblings, parents/children, or spousal groups. Everyone involved remembers it as bringing people together and having a joyful time doing important work together.

As important as family support is outside the family circle, external support is too. Consider the support that is available when you are choosing an airplane. Is the company behind this design available? Is the company responsive to phone calls and e-mails? Existed a group that could help newbies around the plane?

8. Pro Help and Kits – 51% Rule

The development of an airplane kit is the single factor that has fueled home-built planes. The first homebuilt planes were built from scratch. Builders bought a set of drawings and began to build the tools to make the parts that would make an airplane.

Those days are long gone. Nowadays, kits are the most common method of building an amateur-built plane. Kit makers can offer accurate and ready-to-use parts at a fraction of the cost of buying and manufacturing raw materials.

Assembly instructions are more efficient than engineering drawings and save you hours trying to figure out how the parts fit together. Higher-performance, complex airplanes are now possible with a significantly shorter build time. Kit airplanes offer a surprisingly broad performance range. They are built from wood/fabric designs that are difficult to match a Cub to composite heartthrobs that will give a Citation a run for their money.

What level of advanced kits are built and how professional assistance can be used is controlled by the “51 percent rule”.

It is not acceptable to hand over a kit plane to a professional builder and then write a check for its final product. The FAA has almost always approved kits manufactured by kit manufacturers. In this instance, approval does not reflect the merits or engineering of the product. This simply means that if the kit is built by amateur builders, it will comply with the 51 percent rule.

Will I Be Able To Build An Amateur Airplane?

Probably. You can build an airplane if you are a skilled worker, enjoy using your hands and brain, and have enough money to purchase a pickup truck and a parking space. Although it’s not something everyone can do, those who have built an airplane say it was one of their most memorable experiences.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.