The series, which already has about a dozen videos posted, is the realization of a dream come true for Simon, who says he never imagined he’d have the time, energy or financial ability to build an airplane.
“When my boys were younger, I thought this isn’t something that I’m likely to be able to do,” he says.
“Then last year at AirVenture, it all just came together,” he says.
Making it happen
The idea to document a build grew out of SocialFlight, a website created to encourage more pilots to fly — and pilots to fly more.
It started as a free app with a calendar of events of all the fly-ins, pancake breakfasts, Wings seminars and other aviation get togethers across the country. It has since grown to include a forum area and webinars on a variety of topics, from flight training to avionics to great places to travel.
“We were getting more and more feedback from pilots who said they wanted to see more content like this,” Simon says. “Then we started to talk to our partners. We had a sit-down at AirVenture and told them about what we wanted to build and every company said ‘we’re in.’”
Partners include Titan Aircraft, which manufactures the kit for the T-51 Mustang replica, to Aircraft Tool Supply, Aspen Avionics, Avidyne, L3 Aviation Products, Lightspeed Aviation, Whelen Lighting, ACR/Artex, EarthX Batteries, and more.
“Everyone benefits from it,” he says. “Everyone in the companies that are supporting the project love seeing how it energizes people who are already in the experimental market or want to be.”
“The web series not only takes viewers inside the process of building an aircraft at home, but we will also be teaching about avionics, aircraft lighting, tools and much more,” he continues. “Viewers will have input into our aircraft build and some may even win a flight in an actual T-51 Mustang, courtesy of Titan Aircraft.”
The Titan Aircraft T-51D Mustang is a ¾-scale replica of the legendary North American P-51D Mustang, produced as an Experimental Amateur Build aircraft kit by Titan Aircraft of Austinburg, Ohio. The all-metal aircraft boasts tandem seating for two.
The SocialFlight T-51 Mustang will be powered by a GM LS3 V8 engine producing 310 hp that moves the T-51 Mustang along at close to 200 mph with a climb rate of 3,000 fpm.
While his partners are helping with donations for the build, Simon notes that he also is putting money into the project.
He and his sons, Jake, 15, and Ben 14, are doing the majority of the build, with help from Jeff’s fiancee Heidi and her daughters Lily and Jo, as well as a host of special guest builders.
The aircraft is being built in the dining room of Simon’s house.
“One of my partners at SocialFlight is Paul Morel, who lives on an air park in Atlanta. He is completing his second Kitfox, and the one lesson he shared was ‘if you’re really going to make a kit plane happen and finish it, you need to touch it every day.’ We knew we couldn’t have it sit in a hangar or garage somewhere.”
It helps that the Simons have a “boy house,” he adds.
“We weren’t using our dining room and living room of the house we moved into,” he explains. “It was this big empty space and we said, “Oh my god, this fits.”
As viewers watch the plane take shape in the dining room, one question gets asked again and again: “How are you going to get it out?”
“That’s the question we get from everybody, and it’s the only question that you’re going to have to watch to see,” he says with a grin. “It will be a very interesting answer. We do have a plan…let’s just say that something’s gotta give.”
He notes there are three stages to the build. The first phase is the fuselage. Once that’s complete and out of the house, the next stage is the center section, which includes the landing gear and wings. Once those are each complete, they’ll move out of the house.
“The mating of the different components, like the center section getting the gear and the engine getting all set up, will still be at our house, but in the garage and driveway,” he reports. “The final assembly will be at Minute Man Airport (6B6) in Stow, Massachusetts.”
He hopes to have the T-51 flying in about two years.
Meanwhile the build continues, with Jeff and his sons heading soon after we talked to the Titan factory in Ohio to pick up the next kit.
“It’s turned into this wonderful family experience,” he notes. “We’re all flying out there and getting a van and loading it up and driving the nine hours home together.”
The family plans to post a new video on the build every other week. So far, 12 have been posted.
Sharing the videos is just part of the mission to get as many people involved in the build as possible.
“This is really about much more than us,” he says. “We have a lot of guests who come by and help. The idea is that it becomes an open house. People come over, they help build, they learn about the project, and they get to learn a lot more about what all of this means, which really opens people up to aviation. We’ve already seen, actually, how some of that happens.
“After the project started, Jake started dating a girl, and her dad used to fly years ago,” he reports. “After he came over and spent some time with us, he’s going to get back into flying.”
“That’s kind of the mission,” he continues. “If we can get as many people as possible hands on and that changes the trajectory of their involvement in aviation, that’s a wonderful thing for everyone.”
Win a flight
As part of the build process, SocialFlight and its partners are giving away flights in the factory’s T-51 at AirVenture. You can enter to win a flight at SocialFlight.com/Drawing. Winners can take their flights at Oshkosh or at the company’s factory in Austinburg, Ohio.