These days almost every aircraft project begins with research on the Internet. That’s the first place that Rob Riggen of Essex Junction, Vermont, went in 2001 when he and his wife Paula decided to build a Van’s RV-7.
There was a lot of information there, he recalls, but he had to go all over the place to find it. After clicking on numerous builder websites — some better arranged than others — Riggen was hit by an inspiration: create a website that acts as a blog for homebuilders.
“I am a computer person,” he explains, “and I spent lots of time researching the project on the computer. That led me to a lot of other builders’ websites out there. It was natural for me to do something that combined computers and the homebuilding of aircraft.”
Like many other aircraft homebuilders, Riggen would rather spend his time on the construction of his project than on the record keeping required by the FAA. There had to be a way to do it easily on the computer, thought Riggen. “So I created the application as a way for me to keep track of my project. I realized once the website was working that I could adapt it. I focused my energy on making it usable for multiple users so they could keep track of their projects too.”
Riggen launched ExperCraft Simple Log at ExperCraft.com in November 2004.
“It’s free,” says Riggen. “Builders can browse other projects, look up vendors and the like. It is kind of like WordPress for airplanes. Users can create their own blogs and document the aircraft restoration process and building methods. They also can keep track of the time and money they spend on their projects. The web application creates a website for each user so they can share their work with their family and other builders. It takes very little time to add log entries, photos and expenses. I can add entries from home or while I am at work and the website is always kept up-to-date automatically for me.”
Sign up is easy, says Riggen. “All you have to do is visit ExperCraft.com.”
As this issue was going to press about 780 people had signed up.
“We like to think of them as members of our community,” Riggen says.
Another benefit of the website is that the computerized documentation helps when it comes time to show your work to the FAA for the sign off.
“The FAA requires you to document your work,” Riggen explains. “We’ve gone past documentation in the form of the notes on scraps of notebook paper and Polaroid photos. The system was designed so that it satisfies the FAA requirements. Builders have presented the log pages to inspectors with favorable results. The inspectors have been impressed with the detail and the completeness of the logs.”
Just recently, ExperCraft acquired a weekly news publication called the RV Builder’s Hotline.
“This publication is distributed Saturday mornings each week via email and is available free for anyone interested in building or flying homebuilt aircraft,” Riggen says. “As the name indicates, some of the content is geared toward the Van’s Aircraft community, but it also includes many general news items.”
The Hotline is similar to a news aggregation service, he explains. “There are usually one or two original articles published each week, but the rest of the material is gathered from dozens of other Internet news sources, forums and mailing lists. For those stories and threads, links take you from the newsletter directly to the original source on the web.
“Readers seem to like the timely nature of the Builder’s Hotline and the fact that it makes it easy to get a quick update on the week’s aviation happenings at a glance in their inboxes,” he continues.