Getting Started with Kit Aircraft: How to Pick a Design

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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 work space 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:

How to pick a design.

  • The first step is to analyze your realistic flying goals. Write a list. If your real object is solo pursuit of the illusive best local $100 hamburger, you save a lot of time and money by not building a four-seat, 250-knot fiberglass crosscountry machine. And if you will never fly in instrument conditions, you don’t need a $30,000 instrument panel.
  • Get to know other homebuilders via the design manufacturer, the Internet, or a type club. What are they building? Support from other builders of the same general type of aircraft may be as important as family support. Research shows that builder support is far more important than performance of the finished project.
  • Consider building materials and techniques. If you know you like to work with wood, the possibilities range from single-seat replicas of classic ’30s designs to the high-performance Sequoia Aircraft F.8L Falco. Weldedsteel-tube kit airplanes generally come with the fuselage and other welding completed, leaving wing and tail construction and covering to the builder. Thousands of sheet-metal homebuilts are flying, and factory-molded composite parts have reduced the time and effort to turn out one of those fast glass, plastic, fantastic marvels.
  • Study homebuilt aircraft directories. KITPLANES publishes an annually updated compilation of kit aircraft. The entire listing (free to the kit and plans company) is updated annually and verified by the person in authority at each company. The December issue includes kit airplanes of all sorts including a few jets. January contains the directory of plansbuilt projects and February includes rotorcraft, trikes and ’chutes. These three directories total almost 700 homebuilt aircraft designs. The KITPLANES online version can be used to search and save selections more systematically.
  • Order videos and info packs for your top candidates. These company-produced packages range from free to about $30, and many companies also offer the information online.
  • Get names and contact info of builders who have completed the design you choose and are flying. Contact them with a long list of questions: Did the kit and the company meet your expectations? Was the manual adequate? Was factory support available when you needed it? How long did it take to build? How is it equipped and how much did it cost? Does the performance match your expectations? Do you recommend this project? Companies that will not or cannot supply names and phone numbers of customers—possibly because no one has finished and is flying yet— raise the risk of dealing with them.
  • Volunteer to help on similar projects. Find out from the factory if you can visit during a builder-assist program or who is building nearby.
  • Attend fly-ins and talk with builder/pilots. There’s nothing else like talking with a group of experts all in the same place to help make a purchase decision. At the very least, you should get to sit in an aircraft like you are considering. Ask first! Don’t touch someone else’s aircraft without permission. But you don’t need permission to take all the pictures you want. A trip to a fly-in might also lead to this: –Arrange a demo flight in your favorite or watch it being flown. Kit companies often offer demo flights at airshows. Sometimes a deposit on the kit is required for flight. Even if you must travel to the kit manufacturer for a demo flight, we believe it is money well spent considering the thousands of dollars and many hundreds of hours you plan to invest.
  • Read everything available on your favorite design.
  • Even after all of this, don’t write a check for a kit without considering the next item.

To read more about homebuild designs, go to Kitplanes.