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.