Building your own airplane can be a very fulfilling experience. It can also be very challenging and consuming.
Don’t let promises of it being a “quick build kit” and “less expensive than a factory-built aircraft” fool you. No matter what kind of aircraft you choose, understand that you will be investing a lot of time and money in that dream machine. For that reason, choose your kit carefully.
Some things to take into consideration before opening your wallet:
What do you want to do with this airplane? Is it going to be your flying hot rod that you take out on the weekends to play in the local aerobatics box? Have you always admired the early aviators and have an urge to fly a replica of a vintage fighter to local air shows and fly-ins? Or is this the airplane that will take you and your significant other across country to visit your grandchildren? Pick the kit that fits the mission.
Where will the aircraft be built? Is there a hangar at the airport you can use or will the construction zone be your garage or barn?
Don’t forget to consider the climate. If you live in a snow zone and the construction area is an unheated garage or hangar, chances are not much work will get done in the winter.
Also, don’t forget you will need space to store the components of the kit before and after assembly.
“PART A” GOES WHERE?
Remember that bicycle you struggled to put together on Christmas Eve? Make sure the kit comes with good instructions. Videos and DVDs are the norm these days. Most manufacturers also have websites that allow you to download information.
TOOLS AND SKILLS
Do you have the tools for this project? Can you borrow them or do you need to buy them?
Will you need to learn how to rib-stitch, weld or rivet? Do you want to learn how to do these things? Will this be a two-person job or can you do the work on your own? Is there someone within driving distance who has the expertise to help you should you get stuck or have a question?
Are the construction materials “time-sensitive”? Can you walk away from the airplane at a moment’s notice if one of the kids misses the school bus? Or do you have physical limitations that will play a factor in the building process?
An airplane made from composites requires a defined time commitment because you have just a certain number of minutes to do the lay up before the materials set.
The investment of time required when building your own airplane can be compared to having another child or taking a part-time job. Consider this carefully if you already have many obligations.
Going the factory quick build center route does shave a substantial amount off the total construction process, but it is not a magic wand. You’ll still have to invest a significant amount of time as the regulations state that you must build 51% of the aircraft yourself.
If you are of generous carriage you probably are not going to want to build a single-place aircraft with a small cockpit. Do not kid yourself with the notion you can lose weight to fit into it.
Likewise if you are very tall or on the short side, try to find a kit that has an adjustable cockpit.
TAKE IT FOR A SPIN
Before you commit to a kit, find someone who owns the type of aircraft you are interested in and arrange for a demonstration flight. Go online to do research. Try to find people in the process of building to get their opinions of the design and the kit. Although the manufacturers may tell you the parts fit right out of the box and it’s easy to assemble, the builders may have different opinions.
After you build the plane, you will have to learn to fly it. Does the manufacturer provide training? Some have contract instructor pilots who will help you learn your airplane. They often come to you and the training is done in your very own aircraft. Others offer programs at the factory.
What is the cost of insuring this airplane, given your aviation record and skill set? In some cases the insurance could price you out of that particular model.
What about factory support? If the factory goes out of business, will you be able to get parts? Is there ready access to technical advice? Is there a type club for this aircraft?