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.
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.
FAA or DAR
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.
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…