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Piece by Piece TM
Home Kit Aircraft Building and Flying
Building and Flying a Texas Sport Cub
In the United States, homebuilt aircraft may be licensed
Experimental under FAA or similar local regulations. With some limitations, the
builder(s) of the aircraft must have done it for their own education and
recreation rather than for profit. In the US, the primary builder can also apply
for a repairman's certificate for that airframe. The repairman's certificate
allows the holder to perform and sign off on most of the maintenance, repairs,
and inspections themselves.
A composite construction Cirrus VK-30
From a historical perspective, Alberto Santos-Dumont was the first to offer for
free construction plans, publishing drawings of its Demoiselle in the June 1910
edition of Popular Mechanics. The first aircraft to be offered for sale as
plans, rather than a completed airframe, was the Baby Ace in the late 1920s.
A Rutan Long-EZ homebuilt in 1984 (UK)
Homebuilt aircraft are generally small, one to four-seat sportsplanes which
employ simple methods of construction. Fabric-covered wood or metal frames and
plywood are common in the aircraft structure, but increasingly, fiberglass and
other composites as well as full aluminum construction techniques are being
used, first pioneered by Hugo Junkers as far back as the late World War I era.
Engines are most often the same as, or similar to, the engines used in certified
aircraft (such as Lycoming, Continental, Rotax, and Jabiru). A minority of
homebuilts use converted automobile engines, with Volkswagen air-cooled flat-4s,
Subaru-based liquid-cooled engines, Mazda Wankel and Chevrolet Corvair
six-cylinder engines being common. The use of automotive engines helps to reduce
costs, but many builders prefer dedicated aircraft engines, which are perceived
to have better performance and reliability. Other engines that have been used
include chainsaw and motorcycle engines.
In 2003, the number of homebuilts produced in the USA exceeded
the number produced by any single certified manufacturer.
In an article written by Dave Martin for KITPLANES
Magazine, titled: "Here's how to maximize your chance of success", he listed the
following ten points:
A type of aircraft being built by others in your area. EAA
chapters and other builder groups offer a chance to see work in progress and to
participate before committing to a kit purchase. Doing this in advance also
reveals the drawings and manuals, the quality of materials, and how well the
2. An aircraft that can be built at home. If you lack a garage or a large
workshop, consider building a temporary structure at home for the project. The
time saved commuting and the motivation of a home project can be critical to
achieving the goal.
Construction techniques you already know or want to learn. If you have
woodworking tools and skills, seriously consider building a wood airplane.
Modern glues and wood-preserving techniques allow wood aircraft to be as durable
as those built of metal or composites. Or maybe you've always wanted to learn
welding. Take a junior college or technical school welding course before
committing to tackle an aircraft that will require welding skills.
4. An excellent construction manual. These days, most kit manuals are adequate,
but it's best to review a set or at least sample pages before buying the kit.
Construction photos are often helpful, but exploded-view drawings are usually
even better. Construction videos may also be of interest, but they should not
substitute for clear drawings, blueprints or text in a manual.
5. A reputation for good factory support. The kit manufacturer should be willing
and able to provide names and phone numbers of current builders and customers
who have completed the company's aircraft. Among the many questions that should
be asked of builders, an assessment of factory support should be near the top.
A non-typical wood construction amateur-built, the IBIS
6. An aircraft you have flown. Considering the investment that homebuilders have
in their aircraft, a fly-before-buy policy is close to essential before writing
the big check. Budget enough time and money to go where you can at least watch
an example being flown. If the aircraft has two or more seats, arrange with the
kit factory for a demo flight. Most companies find a way to charge for these
flights but many count the cost toward kit purchase.
7. A project you can afford without straining. Make a realistic budget including
tools that you will need. Some builders are surprised to find that an engine
often costs as much as the airframe kit. And some builders?even
first-timers?spend as much on instruments and avionics as they do on the
airframe or the engine. There is nothing wrong with that as long as it doesn't
create personal or family tension.
8. Family support including help with construction. Sports and hobby widows are
common in our society where husbands and fathers (and in some cases, wives and
mothers) too often sacrifice family time to pursue other passions. Some
first-time homebuilders have anticipated the problem and have countered it with
a specific pact with the family. Example: "I'll work on my plane no more than
four weekday evenings and one weekend day each week." Many have enlisted the
family's help in building the aircraft. These techniques help preclude the
well-known AIDS hazard: aviation-induced divorce syndrome.
9. An aircraft in which you are physically comfortable. Complying with Item 6
should preclude building an aircraft in which you don't fit...providing you pay
careful attention. The excitement of sampling a gorgeous airplane has clouded
the vision of more than one potential kit buyer who?when making engine noises in
the cockpit of his partially complete dream?found that there was too little
space for cross-country comfort. Especially if you can't fly an example (maybe
because it's a single-seater), find one somewhere and ask permission to sit in
it a while. Can you stretch out, open a chart, and avoid touching the canopy
with your headset or hat?
10. One you will be pleased to fly. This summary category is more subjective
than the others and relates to all of them. If your aircraft looks good and you
are happy to be identified with it, that is a positive indicator. A few
builders, however, have found that they chose the wrong airplane. It's too slow
to keep up with friends in the Saturday $100 hamburger fly-out. Or more likely,
it is too fast or too slippery for the builder's comfort as a pilot, especially
in challenging wind or weather. If the owner enjoyed the building experience,
the solution is to sell the aircraft and pick another project more carefully.
There is an incomparable joy and reward that results from
building and then flying your own aircraft. If you believe that you have what it
takes, you should really consider this option. If you need help in locating
information that may help you, do not hesitate to contact
us here at The Texas Pilots Association, and we will do our darnedest to be
there for you, including at your maiden flight!
An American Legend Aircraft Cub built from a kit
Sources of images:
American Legend Aircraft. Wikipedia.
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us hints, trivia, and other kit aircraft building information that may
interest our visitors, including about your own experiences!