Tag Archives: aircraft builders budget

Another GREAT shop day

Two great shop days in a row, how awesome is that?

Another five hours today; that makes ten hours for the weekend. A fantastic way to wrap things up for the week, I think.

I started out the day by sanding the stern post core and preparing it for bonding the ⅛” skins to it. The T-88 did a great job bonding the edges of the core pieces together, and waxed paper works fantastic as a barrier and release paper. I hadn’t worked with T-88 before so this was a trial run for me. T-88 measures out and mixes up easily. The change from two components, clear and honey, mixing to a cream color when stirred together makes it really easy to tell when it is thoroughly mixed. The best part is the smell, or lack there of. I have been doing some work with polyester resins in my day job, and that stuff is really noxious. The T-88 is so easy to work with and so far I am really happy with its performance.

With the stern post core bonding to the skins and clamped up, it was time to move on to the firewall. First I had to remove the strengtheners from the original firewall which took a little longer than I had hoped for. Once all of the hardware was removed and the strengtheners separated it was time to mark out the new firewall. After marking out the cut lines I set up the table saw and did the rip and cross cut for the basic shape. The new firewall matched up perfectly with the old one.

I decided to clamp them together and used the old firewall as a drilling jig for the new firewall which worked out very well. The holes are really snug on the bolts so any misalignment would make life difficult at this point. Fortunately everything lined up spot on and bolted up cleanly. The counter-sink worked much better this time around. With everything torqued up, the bolt heads are just a couple of thousandths below the surface and they look great.



With the shape cut and the strengtheners attached I started setting up some test boards for the bevels. Both side edges of the firewall have an 8.5º bevel and the top has a 5º bevel. I was concerned about the set up and I wanted to make sure I didn’t hose the second firewall. After a few sample passes through the table saw I had the angle and distance from the fence set up just right. Time for the bevel cuts.


After the bevels where cut it was time to cut the parallel notches in the bottom for the firewall that will eventually accommodate the longerons. There are still several things to do on the firewall but it is well under way.


If next weekend comes even remotely close to this weekend in productivity I should be able to finish the firewall and maybe even get a good head start on the stern post, at least get the rough blank cut for the stern post. Looks like I need to get my ducks in a row as far as materials go for the spar bulkheads.

Until next time, blue skies and tail winds.

10 days since my last confession

Ack! I had hoped to get something posted by now. Well here we go, this post will cover a lot of ground, aviation and otherwise.

In the other category… A lot of stuff has been going in my world over the last few years. I started an AS in Aviation Operations degree program at Mountain State University in 2006. With my aviation experience credit and classes completed, I have 50 units out of 60 for my degree. Before I could finish the program my mother passed away. I had to drop out in the middle of the semester so my grades took a nose drive. All of my aviation credits are pass/no pass so thy don’t affect my GPA. My Presidents List earning 4.0 was now a pathetic 1.8. To keep my financial aid I need to maintain a minimum of 2.0 which presents a problem for me.

To get my GPA back in order I decided to go to San Jose City College and take some classes. I made this decision a while ago but recently I had a bit of an epiphany. It became clear that I needed to do more than I had planed back in 2006. I decided to pursue an Aeronautical Engineering Degree which means I need to cover all of my GEs. Very few units at MSU are transferable to San Jose State so I need to fulfill them at SJCC, hence a complete over-haul of my education plan. I still want to finish my AS at MSU, but that will have to be part time while I work on my AA at SJCC. I’m guessing you can see why I have been busy. I start classes again on Monday.

Now for some of that airplane stuff. Today I worked on the firewall bulkhead and the stern post. I started by marking out everything I wanted to cut. The Doug Fir I am using for the core of the stern post was laid out on a piece of 1″ x 6″ board and the skins for the stern post were laid out on a piece ⅛” ply. With the wood for the stern post cut out I turned my attention to the firewall bulkhead.


The work operations for the firewall bulkhead included cutting out the block shape and drilling the holes to attach the stiffeners. Once the stiffeners are in place the beveled edges on the sides and top can be cut as well the curves in the upper corners and drilling all of the holes. I cut the rough shape and drilled the stiffeners. Then I bolted it all up.


The aft side of the bulkhead looks good, the forward side however, didn’t come out the way I was hoping it would. The countersinks are a little too deep, so the screw heads that are supposed to be flush are a bit deeper that they should be. The only solution for this predicament is to cut out a new firewall. While I’m not happy about it, I would rather hold myself to a higher standard than let something slide.

I didn’t feel like pulling out the table saw again so I decided to wait until tomorrow to redo the firewall. I still had some time to keep working so I bonded the Doug Fir lumber for the stern post core. Another to-do for tomorrow will be to bond the skins to the core.


Since I don’t have any bar-clamps *hint, hint* I had to come up with another solution to keeping the wood firmly in place. This is where my improvised cord clamp comes it. It is just some nylon cord with the ends tied together. Take a piece of scrap wood, put in between the work piece and the cord and start twisting. Simple but effective. The T-88 structural adhesive does not need a lot of pressure to hold the joint together, in fact you need to be sure not to apply too much pressure or the adhesive will squeeze out of the joint, so the cord clamp works well.

That wraps it up for today. Tomorrow is another day in the shop so we’ll see how much gets done.

Until next time, blue skies and tail winds,

Something about lumber

We Can Do ItIv’e spent some time sourcing materials the last two months and I found out a few things; the most important of which is that it is good to look for local suppliers of wood products. Having said that, I am going to be buying my lumber from Aircraft Spruce. “What the what?” you may be thinking, well here’s the thing, I have been poking around for spruce and doug fir as well as marine plywood. The 1/16″ plywood is a flat out no-go any where else locally. The 1/4″ and 1/8″ plywood can be found locally but the quality varies widely as does the price. I thought I had a supplier for a really low price, turns out the quality matched the price.

I had much better results in the Lumber search in that I could find good quality doug fir. The price for it matched or in some cases exceeded the cost of spruce, which I could not find locally, at least not in quantity or quality. So I am back to Aircraft Spruce, not that this is a bad thing mind you. The main reason I was looking to buy locally is I try to do that with everything. Buying locally improves the local economy, and buying from small business helps revitalize the vanishing middle class. At least I can say in this case that I will be buying regionally from a small/mid-sized company. Aircraft Spruce has a store down in southern California, it’s a seven plus hour drive from San Jose, but paying for gas is considerably cheaper than the freight costs having it shipped up to me. I plan on buying stock sizes and milling myself to keep the costs down and ensure ready availability.

Now that I am back to were I was last month as far as the materials quest goes, I am more prepared and knowledgeable in the area of aircraft lumber. I know what I can get and where to get it, as well as what substitutions I can make for specific applications. It looks like the plywood is going to come in just shy of $1,000 (materials and tax). I need to calculate the lumber requirements, that is this weeks project, but I am estimating that to be about $500. I will need a few odds and ends to have on hand, basic airframe materials, so I am planning on a $2,000 trip including the round trip fuel for the van and me. It’ll be a long day but a fun one I am sure.

The only tool I need to look into at this stage is a plainer which I am sure I can find at Harbor Freight in Newark. I also need to make a router table top and several jigs for cutting precisely duplicated wing ribs, all of the materials for this stuff I ether have or can find locally on the cheap. All-in-all I think I am getting really close to making a lot of saw dust.

Until next time, blue skies and tailwinds,

VP-1 or VP-2?

Decisions decisions… I purchased the VP-1 plans set last week and acquired a set of VP-2 plans this weekend, now I have to make a decision between the designs. Which one should I build? I am estimating the VP-2 would cost between 5% and 7% more for the materials. I don’t think there would be much of a difference in the build time. The gross-weight bump and the extra seat are certainly good reasons to lean in the direction of the VP-2, but ultimately the decision needs to be a combination of practicality, mission, and my own comprehension of the plans. If one set of plans proves to be significantly more difficult than the other for some reason, that will affect the decision as well.

Evans Volksplane VP-1The idea of building a scale model before starting construction of the full scale plane had come up in a previous post. Now it looks like that might be the best way to decide between the two designs. If I build both of the aircraft as scale models first, that should give me a better parts list and I could evaluate the difference in material costs more accurately. It will also give me more insight in the build process for both airplanes.

Cost estimates for a 1:4 scale model of the VP-1 came out to about $45. Building two 1:4 scale models should come in less that $60. A question more important than cost is 1:4 or 1:8 scale. The 1:8 scale becomes problematic as the smaller plywood sizes in that scale would have to be balsa wood, which would increase the cost significantly, or be laminated paper stock, adding a lot of time in material fabrication. The idea with doing the models is to decrease the overall time and address problems with fabrication, not create materials and a whole new set of issues. Another problem with the 1:8 scale is hardware. In 1:4 scale I shouldn’t have a problem locating scale hardware.

Evans Volksplane VP-2With 1:4 scale the only real problem is that the product is on the large side. For the VP-1 we are talking about a 6′ wingspan, 4’6″ long, and a 1’3″ wide tail. The tail being the widest part of the structure with the wings detached. The VP-2 has a 6’9″ wingspan, is 4’9¾” long, with a 2′ wide tail. These are some big model airplanes and the only thing they are missing is the engine and maybe the rigging.

In the end I know that building the scale models is going to help save me a lot of time in the long run. I also know that the 1:4 scale makes more sense for dealing with potential build problems. With the models I don’t have to worry about Aircraft Grade materials and I can devote my time to building rather than sourcing. I also think that the models will give me a better estimate of the build process, and allow me to modify my build order and schedule.

It’s hard to say what direction things will take. I have my own ideas about the build process, when things will happen, how they will happen and all of that. No matter how much I plan, since I haven’t done this before, I just don’t know the path things will take.

Till next time, blue skies and tail winds,

Plans in Hands

The workshopThursday was a pretty good day. First off, I managed to get down to the workshop and finish cleaning up. I remodeled the shop about a month a go and have been moving everything back in ever since. Because it is such a small space it has taken a lot longer than I had hoped it would to get everything organized and stowed. There are still a few containers that need some sorting, and I need to add a couple more of those small-parts bins, but all-in-all it is a usable space once again.

When I did the remodel I included an internet connection for parts look-ups, ordering, reference materials, and to have some audio visual stuff available. One thing I haven’t gotten around to just yet has been the installation of ventilation fans. It is a really small space and it gets hot in there really fast. Besides, if I am going to use any resins, do any soldering, blah blah blah, it would be a good idea if I had some air-flow.

A package? For me?On Tuesday I placed an order with Aircraft Spruce for some stickers, a patch, and… my set of Volksplane VP-I plans. My wife and I had something going on Thursday night which just happened to be when I was expecting Mr. UPS Man to come by with my package containing the plans. I was hoping that he would come early so I could take the plans with me, but time was growing short and we were about to head out. I was writing a note to authorize my son to accept the package for me when low and behold, who should appear? Mr. UPS Man! Package in hand, we were out the door in a couple of minutes.

My wife and I run a group called Grave Mistake. The group participates in the annual “Thrill The World” world-wide simultaneous Thriller dance event. My wife teaches the Thriller dance and I take care of the audio as well as manage the web and back office stuff for the group. So while she was teaching Thursday’s dance workshop, I was reading; well flipping through. I perused my way through the “VP-I Volksplane Plans and Pilot’s Handbook” and the “Evans Lightplane Designer’s Handbook” before the workshop ended.

VP-I plans and HandbookThe plans are on 8.5″ x 11″ sheets in a comb-bound volume. Everything is there but a lot of it is crowded on to the sheets and doesn’t seem to be organized in what I would consider a logical order. Looking at the plans a little closer now that I am home, I am thinking I need to make some copies and lay everything out so I can look at it all with my Big Picture eyes. I might need to do some blow-up prints too. I will definitely need a couple of working copies to make notes on.

While my wife and I were driving to the dance workshop I was talking with her about possibly building a 1:4 or 1:8 scale model using veneer sheets and pine. At 1:4 scale I might be able to build it from one (1) or two (2) sheets, and two (2) or three (3) pine 2″ x 4″s. Looking at the plans, I’m thinking it might be a really good idea. If nothing else it will be a good way get really familiar with the plans, and if I screw something up it wont cost me hundreds of dollars. Another good thing about building the model is that it will give me a better idea what materials will be needed for jigs, fixtures, and tooling. By building a model I should be able to prevent time and money consuming problems, and I will have a better understanding of the airplane over all. I will also end up with a really cool scale model to boot!

Looks like I have some planning and shop-office stuff to get done. I need to come up with a task list and sub-budget for the model. I think I might need to build a bench-top frame for my RotoZip tool to use it as a router/cutter for the model. I have some 1/4 and 1/2 particle board, some cheap 1/4 plywood, and some Masonite available, and lots miscellaneous hardware. That should get me started. The next two weeks are really full, but I will find some time to get some work done and report back to you.

Until next time, blue skies and tail winds.

The first weekend

For several years now I have been thinking about how and when to start a home-built airplane project. Recently I realized that what I was waiting for was the perfect time to start a project. I am guessing that in many ways it’s like having kids; you can do all of the research and make as many preparations as you like, but in the end you’re never really prepared for what comes next.

After letting this realization sink in, I made the decision leap of faith to start a Volksplane project. I have been reading up on the process of starting a build project for quite some time, long enough for a few of the FAA documents about the subject to have been revised, making me print new copies of them. All of the Getting Started hints and documents, including the ones from the FAA, tell you to start by contacting the FAA and talk to an examiner to discuss the project and get paperwork, ACs, and any other information you may need to get started. This also give you a chance to ask any questions about the process.

Due Diligence

I started by calling my local FSDO like a good little builder. I have to admit, I was kind of expecting to schedule an appointment to go down to the FSDO and actually meet with someone, but it was not to be. I talked with Michael at the San Jose FSDO over the phone for about 20 minutes. For the most part it was a very casual chat, hanger flying by phone, he gave me a URL to the FAA’s Amateur-Built resource page and said pretty much everything I needed to know was there, and that was it.

There are a couple of thing I mentioned during the conversation that may have contributed to its brevity. First off I mentioned that I was an EAA member, and during our chat I mentioned several relevant ACs, and a few other things like planing on using a Technical Counselor* and a Flight Advisor* during and after the build. When Michael asked what I was going to build, I said I was going to build a Volksplane, his only trepidation seemed to be about the use of the VW engine. Apparently he had been a part of a couple of investigations that involved VW engine conversions.

*Notes: A Technical Counselor is an experienced aircraft builder or mechanic that provides inspections and advise to builders throughout the build process.

A Flight Advisor is an experienced pilot that offers advise to builders early on about flight skills that will be needed with their choice of aircraft and will suggest any additional flight training the builder may need before flying their new airplane. The Flight Advisor will also go over the flight testing process and make recommendations about that phase of the project.

The sage wisdom of both is invaluable and can be a huge benefit to the builder who avails themselves of these services. Both are volunteers and offer these services to EAA members at no charge through the EAA chapters. This alone is a great reason to become an EAA member. (plug, plug)

Another reason my contact with the FAA may have been so short might be the decision to build a Volksplane. It really isn’t a Kit-Built kind of airplane. Unless you hired someone to do all of the woodwork for you, there is little chance your project would not qualify as an Amateur-Built. The big thing these days is Commercial Assistance. That is when you pay someone else to do some of the building for you, thus decreasing your portion of the work which has to be more than 50%. The status of Amateur-Built revolves around the following 27 words of CFR Title 14 21.191(g)

“Operating an aircraft the major portion of which has been fabricated and assembled by persons who undertook the construction project solely for their own education or recreation.”

Some of the kits available have brought the builders major portion part of the equation into question. How much did the builder actually build? Since the Volksplane is constructed almost entirely of wood & fabric, unless I paid someone to cut everything out and put it together I won’t have a problem here. This would be reasonably obvious to the FAA so Michael didn’t have to spend a lot of time on this issue with me.


Once I have finished building the Volksplane I have to have an Airworthiness Inspection before an Airworthiness Certificate will be issued. I will need one of those if I want to fly my new airplane. There are two options for having the airplane inspected. One is to have an FAA inspector come out to the airport, number two would be to have a DAR, or Designated Airworthiness Representative come out and do it.

The FAA, as a federal agency, does not charge for inspections. The DAR is a private citizen who has been authorized to do airworthiness inspections, they can charge for their services, usually $300-$400.

As a Pocket Change Builder, I am going to have to coin that phrase… pun intended, I am inclined to get the free inspection. There are some hoops and caveats here though. For one, the FAA is trying to stay out of doing those kinds of inspections. Budgets what they are, there are fewer inspectors and they have a lot to do, and there is an alternative for the public. Scheduling requires letters, responses, tighter schedules and the usual red-tape in getting that appointment made within a month.

With a DAR, I make a phone call and meet them at the airport in a few days or maybe a week. It’s a lot like getting a check ride for a pilot certificate. Who actually has a check ride with an FAA examiner anymore? I am still thinking this one over. I have quite a while to go before I will need an Airworthiness Inspection so I am not in a rush on this one.

Completed To-Date

I have a Planning Phase ✔ List over to the side of this page for a quick look at project progress. As the project moves on things will change, the list will reflect those changes and things will inevitably get shifted around. I suspect it will get quite long too.

Obviously I have contacted the FAA, and since this blog is where the Builders Log will come from, that has been started. I did order my EAA Amateur-Built Certification Kit. I also spent a significant way to much amount of time on the Volksplane Yahoo Group reading posts and looking at ALL of the pictures posted to the group. Let’s call it research, ya… research… Some decisions were reached from all that research.

I defiantly want to build as much of the airplane as possible myself. Anything that could be ether store-bought and modified, or hand-crafted, I will opt for hand-crafted. Along those lines, I think I will make the laminated wood landing gear instead of the aluminum or steel.

Another direction is that I am not going to install an electrical system. I have a hand-held radio and GPS for use as needed, but I am not going to install anything electrical in this build (there will need to be some provision for an ELT). That may change later on, but I want this airplane to be old-school. Along the same lines, I am not planning to install any gyros. All of the instrumentation will be pitot-static, gravity, magnetic-field, or systems pressure. No hydrolics ether.

As nuts as this may seem…

I am thinking about it already, I want my next project to be a scratch built. I figure if I build this one as basic as possible and by plans only, I will be more prepared for the next project. I love the idea of open cockpit flying and I am a good dead reconing navigator that really enjoys cross-country navigation.

The thought of traversing the country, coast-to-coast, in an open cockpit, navigating by sight and the seat of my pants like the early air-mail pilots makes me want to jump in a plane and go.

To dream, perchance to fly…

Let The Project Begin!

Today is an important day for me. Today I am actually starting my first aircraft build project. Now I know you are bouncing in your seats “Show me the airplane, show me the airplane” but that’s going to be a while. First off I have to get this huge bolder rolling.

Building an airplane has been on my list of things to do for a long time. One of the things you have to do when you build an airplane is keep a Builders Log showing all of the processes you have gone through in completing your project. The FAA uses the Builders Log, in part, to demonstrate compliance with the federal regulations that say a builder must complete a “majority” of the work. This is known as the 51% Rule in Amateur-Built aviation circles.

A quick terminology note here for the non-initiated: Amateur-Built, Home-Built, and Experimental are all terms used for aircraft that are built by individuals or groups that do not build airplanes as a manufacturer. I will be using all three terms interchangeably throughout this post, and the entire blog for that matter.

There are a number of Builders Logs on line and the better ones cover not just the technical details of the building process but the spool-up of the project, the planning phase. This is an area I want to spend more time on than most other builders. There will of course be lots of coverage of the actual building process and after the airplane is built I will extensively cover the flight testing phase as well. My goal for this blog is to cover the entire project from start to finish.

In the beginning…

I have been searching for the right airplane to build for a couple of years now. I really liked the idea of building a WWI bi-plane like the Neuport 17/24 the airplane flown by the famous Lafayette Escadrille. I also considered the Curtis JN-4D or Jenny as they are more commonly known. Both projects would be tons of fun but the cost would be prohibitive and they would take at least 3 years to build, in part because the engines are very expensive and hard to come by.

As you might have guessed, the engine of an experimental aircraft is usually the most expensive component part. This became one of the deciding factors for me in choosing what airplane to build. Probably the least expensive engine to use in an airplane that has a good history for conversion as an aircraft engine is the Volkswagen Type 1. Pretty much any VW engine can be converted for aviation use. There are a few companies that make their living doing VW conversions. One company that does this is AeroConversions.

I found out about AeroConversions when I was looking at the Sonex as project airplane. After looking at the WWI fighters and deciding that the cost would be to high, I looked for the least expensive option I could find in a kit-built. A kit-built is just what it sounds like, you buy a kit, and build it. I liked Sonex for several reasons. One, the kit comes with the engine. That is not usually the case; the kit usually includes just about everything except the instruments and avionics but they do include a budget for them in their cost estimate, and the best part was the realistic cost for a completed basic Sonex comes out to about $25,000. Like most kit manufacturers, Sonex has a collection of sub-kits you can buy at various stages to help spread the cost out over time, but you still end up with a couple of big chunks-O-change having to be dropped all at once, like the engine kit coming in a bit over six grand.

My mind started twirling with ways to build the funds through sponsorships and the like, which I am still open to hint hint but it was just not coming about. I started down that road about a year before the economy turned to mud which put a big damper on the whole thing. Now, here I am, many moons down the road and still no air-O-plane. My 2010 edition of the Aircraft Spruce catalog showed up and as I was thumbing through it, I looked at a plans-built that I have looked at many times before, but this time I saw them with different eyes. Plans-built is like a kit-built only no parts, just the plans, you have to figure out what you need and then go get it. Plans-built is the least expensive way to build an airplane, but it usually takes considerably longer to get in the air.

The VP

The VolksPlane is not a pretty airplane, it is a very simple airplane. It is a wood and fabric built airplane that has proven to be quite sturdy. Here are some of the basics about the plane. With a 2000cc VW it will fly at a slow 75-95 mph with a maximum speed around 110 and a Do Not Exceed speed of 120. It is designed for the Utility category which means it can handle a few Gs. Here is where it becomes a real winner, it burns about 3 gallons of fuel per hour, unlike a Cessna 172 that burns about 11 to 15. Last but certainly not least… it has a realistic build budget of $12,300.

Now I know I can do better than $12,300. I beefed up my budget in all directions so this is actually a very conservative number. The only place it could get out of hand is with the… you guessed it, the engine. I have heard some reports of builds of the VP in the “less than $5,000” range. I am going to stick to my guns on this one at $12,300. This gives me a generous tool budget, includes sales tax of 10%, an “extras” budget, a shipping and handling budget, and a 10% of total cost PCO budget. Knock on wood… I think I’m covered.

This budgeting is based on a collection of sub-kits from Aircraft Spruce, most of which are $500 or less, the most expensivesub-kit is the highest cost landing gear option at a little less than $1,200, the least expensive option for landing gear is $700, so I think I have a good amount of wiggle room built-in to the budget. I can also look at buying materials in smaller assembly-based chunks from local suppliers.

What’s next?

Now I need to start the project with the Planning Phase.

  • Contact FAA for an “Amature Builders” information packet.
  • Begin Builders log This blog!
  • Purchase EAA Builders kit
  • Purchase Volksplane plans
  • Purchase Log books: Airframe, Engine, Prop
  • Purchase builders reference books There are several books that are very useful to have, I’ll list them later. Most of these can wait until I am ready to purchase materials
  • Request an N-Number send in “Affidavit of Ownership for Amateur-Built Aircraft” Form 8050-88. This is the identification number on the tail of the airplane. It’s official!!!!
  • Register the airplane After the N-Number confirmation comes by mail, send in “Aircraft Registration Application” Form 8050-1
  • Develop a build schedule including: **
    1. Construction Schedule
    2. Budget Schedule
  • Begin building

**So why is this after a bunch of other stuff? Good question. I already have a preliminary budget and a preliminary work schedule but you can’t really get down to solid numbers until you have had some time to go over the plans and break things down into sub assemblies with materials lists and all of that persnickety stuff. Because I am working on pocket-change-budget I have to take the extra time to schedule little bits of work at a time efficiently so I’m not sitting around on my butt not working on my airplane.

In conclusion

So there it is. I am building an airplane. It would be nice to fly to AirVenture Oshkosh 2011, but that is unlikely; 2012 however is doable with this project. We shall see.

Now I am off to call the FAA, item one… check.