I Came Here to Build an Airplane

The 'E' in EAA stands for "experimental." Remembering this and despite all the "store-bought" airplanes and accessories on display at EAA AirVenture '99, one of the lesser-known but very popular offerings at the event is the opportunity for aspiring homebuilders to gain valuable "hands-on" experience in a series of workshops offered during the week. AVweb's Matt Paxton and Joe Godfrey talked with a few of this year's participants - here's the story of some fledgling homebuilders.


Of the hundreds of thousands of people who come to EAA AirVenture, a lot are here because they are interested in building an airplane, or are in the process of building one. EAA offers workshops and forums for builders and builder wannabes. Support of homebuilding was EAA’s original reason for being, and remains an integral part of the organization’s focus.

The workshops area, located northwest of the control tower in the central grounds, is the place for people to learn some basic skills and to see what’s really involved in building an aircraft. Experienced volunteers teach the skills and supervise EAA-ers as they get hands-on practice in woodworking, sheet-metal work, welding, composites and fabric covering.

Jim Quinn, a member of EAA Chapter 53 in Endicott, N.Y., teaches builders how to light a torch, run a bead and fit a tube. “We’re here to take the mystery out of the process and give people enough confidence to go home and start a project.” He’s been coming to Oshkosh since 1982. “No matter how big this airshow gets, when somebody’s here to learn, it’s just him and me.” One of Jim’s students for the day was Alan Macklem, from EAA Chapter 80 in Omaha, Neb. Alan recently retired and wants to build a couple of airplanes. “I had taken a welding course at the college, but I wanted to talk to some people who had actual experience building an airplane.”

Ed Lawrence plans to build an RV9. Since he’s 6 feet, 2 inches, his first assignment was to sit in the prototype to be sure he could fit in it. Ed lives in Wellington, Colo., about halfway between Fort Collins and Cheyenne. His home is on a 2,500 foot grass strip at 5,650 msl. He’s planning on taking about two years to finish the airplane. “First you have to build a shop, so that was step one. Now I can start on the airplane.”

Thursday morning in the woodworking shop, several groups were learning how to build wood ribs. One father and his kids were cutting, fitting and gluing gussets in place, under the supervision of EAA volunteer Tom Severson. They were building practice ribs – not for use in a finished airplane – but at the next table were some ribs that will eventually go into an Acro Sport biplane. In another part of the shop, a group was helping to assemble ribs onto spars for a Pober Junior Ace.

Builders can also get advice from EAA Technical Counselors on specific questions. Technical Counselors are experienced builders, and offer assistance in selecting an appropriate aircraft to build and answer technical questions on building techniques. EAA Flight Advisors provide guidance prior to the builder’s first flight in the aircraft. The EAA Adult Air Academy offers builders more in-depth instruction in intensive five-day sessions. EAA’s current schedule calls for eight Adult Air Academy sessions between October this year and November 2000.

The workshops area is open from 8:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. during the convention, and builders can come in anytime during those hours and work for as long as they want.