Getting Started with Kit Aircraft: Deciding Whether to Build


If you are considering building a new homebuilt aircraft from a kit—or are thinking of buying someone’s completed homebuilt—this series maybe the most valuable hobby-related information you will ever read. That is because the hobby of building and flying your own full-size aircraft is likely to be a highlight of your life. Thousands of builder/pilots report that the process ranges from exhilarating to daunting, and at times from exciting to discouraging. But those who finish and fly their own aircraft know a satisfaction impossible to describe in words.

The commitment of time, money and workspace dictates a dedication seen in few hobbies. Yet if the only goal is ownership of a custom aircraft, building will be drudgery and the chance of completion is reduced. Most homebuilders, however, know before they begin that they like building things, and others discover it early in the process. For most, working with their hands on a fascinating project is at least half of the fun. And some find to their amazement that they like building even more than they like flying. Members of this group find themselves flying the new creation for a while, then selling it to finance another build-it-yourself aircraft.

Our objective in this series, however, is to tackle some of the issues that should be addressed before investing serious time or money. Here is the list of topics:

Deciding whether to build.

To be successful you will need:

TIME. The simplest single-seat airplanes and gyroplanes require several hundred hours to build, but more typical build times exceed 1,000 hours for airplanes you would be proud to fly cross-country with a family member or friend. Some kit makers advertise an “average completion time,” but only their customers can provide accurate numbers. Many companies now offer builder-assist programs that can dramatically reduce the time for a price. Most projects take longer than builders anticipate, and if you feel compelled to set a completion deadline, you would probably be happier buying an aircraft that is ready to fly.

MONEY. A few of the kit projects can be built for less than $10,000, but for a two-seat airplane the project cost is more typically $20,000 and up. The lower figure would dictate installing a used engine in most aircraft. Kit prices usually exclude some of the essentials like the engine, propeller, instruments, aircraft radios, paint, and upholstery. Checking with builders often reveals the real cost of these projects.

SPACE. People, including us, have completed aircraft projects in single-car garages—and for that matter in basements and living rooms. (Finding workspace at home helps the process, but don’t overdo it.) A two-car garage or a hanger is usually considered minimum building space.

TOOLS. The construction method will determine which tools are required. Many people have basic woodworking tools, but few will already have extensive sheet metal or composite-working tools. Kit makers often list the special tools required. The downside of tools is that you have to buy or borrow them. The upside is that you have a really good excuse to acquire tools you wanted anyway.

SUPPORT. This is a biggie. If your spouse positively hates the idea of your building an aircraft, you’d better find a different hobby or else … On the other hand, family members often contribute significantly to the fun of building. Many wives and girlfriends have quickly exceeded their partner’s skill at riveting and other homebuilding skills.

MOTIVATION. This factor links to the last one. Building in a family, partnership or builder-assist setting goes a long way toward maintaining momentum and enthusiasm. The internet has facilitated virtual, instant builder support by the factory and groups. Motivation also relates to the builder’s objective, which goes back to earlier comments: The drive to own a hot new custom-built airplane helps, but the process of building has its own reward—regardless of how long it takes—is a key to success in this hobby.

To read more about deciding if a homebuilt plane is for you, go to Kitplanes.

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