“Oh, I could never build an airplane,” they say. And you know who they are.
Almost anyone who ever overheard a homebuilder or an owner engaged in a restoration project could easily qualify. They rule out their participation before they even consider what the actual skills and requirements might be. They assume failure, then reinforce that belief with a plethora of negative thoughts and fears.
This basic human tendency to short-circuit our own hopes and dreams is a tremendously effective method of holding most of us back from ever trying to do something big, something amazing, something we can be truly proud of.
The process of building your own airplane, or restoring an existing airplane, falls squarely in this group of self-sabotaging activities. Most of us will never even attempt it. Not for ourselves. Not even as a short-term volunteer on a project we’ve been welcomed to participate in.
That’s a shame. But the situation is not hopeless. Not nearly so.
A few years ago I flew down to Naples, Florida, for a pancake breakfast at EAA Chapter 1067’s home hangar. They put on a good spread and having the random and throughly enjoyable chance to run into a luminary of Atlanta radio named Neil Boortz in the process was a nice little perk of the morning out.
That wasn’t the best part, however. Not by a long shot. For quite a few visitors, the big take-away from that breakfast outing was the knowledge that they could indeed build an airplane. At least they could give it a good shot.
The hangar next to the breakfast area held a project that was well underway. Before leaving for home everyone who visited was encouraged to pull a rivet. Just one. Take a whack at it, they said. It’s not so hard.
After pulling the rivet, a smiling participant was encouraged to sign a page listing them as a contributor to the build. Each of us became part of the permanent record of that airplane’s birth. That’s pretty heady stuff.
Some go even further in their attempts to encourage us to step outside our comfort zone and experience something new.
Sebastien Heintz of the Zenith Aircraft Company is one such upstanding dude. Sebastien’s company produces kit aircraft based on the designs of his dad, and a fine aeronautical engineer, Chris Heintz. One of those aircraft is the slab-sided, high-performance, STOL superstar known as the CH750 Super Duty.
During select aviation events, the good folks at Zenith have been known to set up a work area in their display space to encourage and assist potential builders as they participate in the process of assembling the pieces of an actual aircraft. They’ve even gotten so bold as to work with volunteers to build a complete airplane, and test fly it, in a seven day period.
It’s a lot of work to take on a task like that. But they’ve done it, and they’ve done it with great success.
The recent US Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, Florida, was just such a setting. On opening day of the show, when my work was done and the opportunity presented itself, I jumped at the chance to get involved on a personal level.
Along with a handful of other similarly motivated individuals I found myself at a basic wooden workbench, staring at an assembly manual, a smattering of simple hand tools, and the various parts and pieces that would, if assembled correctly, serve as the rudder on an actual CH750 Super Duty.
I was hooked.
To their eternal credit, Sebastien and the Zenith crew were available to answer questions, fetch tools, identify parts, and generally lend a hand when the builders needed it.
Although to be honest, I’m not sure anyone really needed all that much help. The parts are pre-drilled to the correct size and placement of all the required holes. Everything is clearly labeled, and because of the extreme precision of the provided parts, the whole unit is essentially self-jigging. If you simply do what needs to be done, the finished project comes out square, straight, and ready to fly.
Now, lest you mistake me for a genius, let me set you straight. I’m totally human and screwed up a couple times. In one instance I didn’t realize a tab was not symmetrical, causing me to rivet it into place with the incorrect orientation. A quick zip of the air-powered drill took care of that problem. The rivet was gone, the piece was reoriented, and a new rivet was pulled.
Everything’s good. Very good, indeed.
All in, I spent two and a half hours working on the rudder and I had a blast doing it. Starting with a table full of parts and finishing with a very attractive aluminum structure, I felt pretty good about myself and the project.
I still felt good that night with a large hunk of aluminum that looked very out of place taking up space in my hotel room. And I felt particularly proud when I walked into my flying club hangar the other day, carrying my prize, as my club-mate Steve called out, “The tin knocker is here.”
Yes, you probably can build an airplane if you want to. Or restore an existing airplane if you get the itch. You just have to believe in yourself, read the instructions, and accept the likelihood that you won’t be perfect every step of the way.
There may be emotional moments. You’ll scratch your head in wonder, you’ll puff out your chest with pride, but in the end, you’ll have the airplane you want, built to your standard. You can do it. You really can.
Now, I have an extra rudder in the hangar and an increasing sense of curiosity about whether I should take the plunge and build the rest of the airplane. I mean, I can always use another airplane, right?