Tag Archives: FAA

Pilots Rejoice!

A great start to the new year, the 2016 FAA reauthorization has gone through and the new aeromedical rules have been announced! The new CFR Title 14, Part 68, BasicMed will become effective May 1, 2017.

While the changes may sound like they are a reduction of safety to non-pilots, they are in fact going to improve safety AND make flying more accessible. It should also be a boon to general aviation overall, which includes the largest segment of aviation in airmen and the number of aircraft.

2017 is already shaping up to be an epic year for GA; or at least the beginning of some major shifts in the industry. With the new rules for part 23, changing the certification process for small GA aircraft and parts, and the new aeromedical rules, it should open things up for manufacturers, experimenters, and pilots. These changes should make both pilots and the aircraft we fly considerably safer and less expensive to achieve that safety.

I don’t think these things will affect flight training, or significantly reduce regular operating expenses like fuel, consumables, annuals, or insurance, but there should be a reduction in the cost of upgrading aircraft to newer avionics and radios. What may affect regular operating expenses are the possibilities that the new part 23 rules will make it easier for fuel system, engine, and battery developers to bring more efficient products to market.

As a pilot, A&P, and experimenter, I am hopeful that these and other changes in my personal situation will make it less expensive for me to get back to flying and get back to building an experimental aircraft. I am looking forward to seeing how these changes affect the industry.

This post was brought to you by the sheer excitement that my last medical falls within the time limits of the new rules and makes me eligible under the new rules without having to go to an Aviation Medical Examiner before flying again! This also includes getting my CFI/II and instructing in the aircraft as well as in the classroom without a visit to an AME or needing a Third Class Medical!

Here’s looking forward to a new year, and flying again soon,

Biennial Vision Exam

FAA Medical CertificateI recently had my once-every-two-year-just-for-the-sake-of-it eye exam. As with most people over fourty my vision has diminished a little. Fortunatly for me, I started out with really good vision so that even though I am getting to that age, I still have better than 20/20 vision (knock on wood). That doesn’t mean that I don’t get a little nerved up for the eye exam which by the way seems to dry my eyes a bit. Since this exam is not with an AME it doesn’t really count for anything as far as the FAA is concerned, but it is always good to know where you stand in the vision department.

Over the years I have met a few people who are still flying, and for the life of me I can’t figure out how they are passing the vision part of there aviation medical exams. My best guess is that they are like Donald Sutherland‘s character Jerry O-Neill in Space Cowboys, memorizing the eye charts.

Next up for me in the aeromedical department is getting a current annual medical with my local AME, Dr. Kriegbaum. My medical has lapsed so its time for the full scale poke and prod. I don’t think I will be flying before the first of the year so I am going to wait until after the holidays before scheduling it. In the mean time, it’s time to get in some exercise and work on the cardio.


Before getting my official medical with an AME I am going to schedule a full physical with my GP for an advance heads up if necessary, which I doubt will be a problem. One thing I learned form starting my aviation career in an academy program was that taking your medical seriously is really important. Because the relationship between the FAA and AMEs requires AME’s to report any negative finding it makes sense to not have an AME as your regular doctor. It also makes a lot of sense to have a complete physical before you schedule an appointment for FAA medical, just for the heads up. There are a number of things that can be cleared up before going to the AME that could cause a problem in getting a medical certificate. One thing you can do before hand is to get your vision checked and be sure you have your corrective lenses, if needed, before your FAA medical.

I am not suggesting hiding anything from your AME, what I am talking about is paying close attention to things that could present a problem and treating them or getting them under control before they become a problem. Things like low level hypertension can be dealt with without medication if it is caught and treated early. A visit with your regular doctor can alert you to potential problems and get you in top shape before that FAA medical.

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.