Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles on homebuilders who track their projects at ExperCraft.com.
For Steve Harmon of Filer, Idaho, building a Cozy IV from plans is more than just a hobby. It’s been his salvation.
He had a job he didn’t like and all of his kids were out of the house except his severely disabled daughter, Heidi, who requires full-time care from his wife, Jenny. “I was lonely and unhappy,” Harmon said. “I needed something to give me a reason to get up in the morning to go to work. The plane project filled that bill. It gave me something to think about and get excited about. It challenges me everyday. Building my plane is like taking anti-depressants for me. I really think I am addicted to it.”
The Cozy isn’t Harmon’s first venture in homebuilding. About 20 years ago he built a Longeze over a five-year period. “My family and I were young and the plane got expensive, so I decided to sell it,” he said. “Twenty years went by and my children grew up and moved out except for my youngest, who has a rare disease called Battens disease, which is slowly killing her. When she was 5, she was a normal kid. By the time she was 6, she was blind. At age 11 she started having grand mal seizures. She is now 20 and is almost a vegetable. She will probably only live a year or two longer but, who knows? She is already two years past the age most kids live with this disease. We love her and will take care of her to the bitter end.”
The idea to build another plane came to Harmon one day when he saw a canard fly over his house. “I thought how cool it would be to have another one,” he said. “I knew that Burt (Rutan) had quit selling plans for the Longeze and no longer supported the design, so I went on the Internet and found Marc Zeitlen’s site about the Cozy IV (CozyBuilders.org.) I was fascinated and decided then and there it was time to build another airplane.”
He choose to go plans built for a couple of reasons. Topping the list was money. “With a plans built, you can build as your money comes in,” he said. “You don’t have to save up $40,000 before you can start. I also like the pay as you go because when I am done, the plane will be paid for.
“I also like the challenge of building everything myself,” he continued. “Not only does it save me money, but I feel my parts are better than what I could buy and the tolerances for the metal parts are closer.”
Harmon started building the first part for his plane Nov. 11, 2006, and has about 1,700 hours into the project so far. “All the large parts are built except the strakes, which I will start on after the first of the year,” he said. “My plans for this year are to finish the strakes and get the motor mounted. I will be building my own engine cowls and I will probably have that done by the end of summer. Then it is the long job of filling and sanding to get that super shiny glass finish. While doing this, I will be saving money and working on small parts so I can do the panel and all the wiring.”
Besides his full-time job, Harmon has a side business doing welding and machine work, fixing farm machinery and building custom roll-up awnings for dairy cow hoof trim trucks. He also does some machine work for other airplane builders. It’s this business that funds his project. The 24-foot by 60-foot shop is also where he’s building his plane.
“When I am busy in the shop, the plane starts getting done pretty fast,” he said. “When I am slow in the shop, the plane really slows down.”
According to his ExperCraft website, Harmon has spent $18,106.46 so far.
Part of that is for the Lycoming O-360 engine he’s already bought. He estimates that by the time he’s done, he’ll have spent between $31,000 to $35,000 — “about the price a new diesel 4X4 truck.”
Harmon has made a few modifications to the plans: “I designed a forward hinging canopy. I have my own design for rudder pedals. My nose gear is 1 inch longer than stock. My nose is 7 inches longer than stock. I have an electric actuator for my speed brake.”
As he looks ahead, he said he might make his own prop and prop extension. He also estimates he’ll spend between $5,000 and $7,000 on the instrument panel. “I could get it cheaper, but I won’t be happy if I do,” he said.
While Harmon would like to be done with his plane by the summer of 2012, that timetable may have to be pushed back as the side jobs that pay for the project have slowed with the recent economic downturn.
“Money slows me down more than anything,” he said. “I do not want to build a second-rate plane, so to stay busy I have built around a lot of the expensive areas.”
Besides finishing the plane, Harmon, a 200-hour pilot, also will have to get a medical and a check ride before his first flight. “I plan on doing a few hours of dual to get back in the saddle again,” he said.
Harmon is the only pilot in his family — for now. His two sons, Christopher and Nephi, want to learn, he said. “I will teach them some in the Cozy, but they will have to get an instructor and a spam can to get their license in,” he said. He also has two other daughters, Suzanne and Holly, as well as four grandchildren.
While his wife doesn’t fly, she has been “fully” supportive of Harmon’s project. What’s his secret?
“It helps to have your wife love you enough that she will let you do something that is good for you but very time consuming,” he said. “I make sure I spend time with my family. They still come first over the plane.”
Another plus? “The plane does keep me at home and out of trouble,” he said. “My wife always knows where I am.”
For more information: Websites.Expercraft.com/bigsteve.