Tag Archives: GPS

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…


Colonial SurveyorMaps and charts of all kinds have fascinated me as far back as I can remember. Some of my fondest memories are of time spent using or making maps. I have had numerous occasions where my skills with maps and charts have allowed me the pleasure of teaching others the art and science of navigation; on land, sea, and in the air.

As a Boy Scout I used topographical maps frequently in a wide variety of environments. As a Search and Rescue team member I used them almost daily and was an instructor for land navigation from time to time. As a pilot and ground instructor I have worked with students on chart reading and all aspects of aviation navigation. Throughout my life I have used maps and charts in my day to day work. Being a navigator with all of these experiences I have noticed a trend over the years (much like the societal trend) to rely on electronics. In this case, reliance on electronic navigation aids.

GPS is an awesome tool! I have been working with GPS systems since the 80s and I love using them with all of their advanced tracking, trip calculating, and time/distance features. They can help navigation by taking on the simple and tedious calculations and displaying the results in an easy-to-use format. As a pilot I use other radio navigational aids as well as GPS. All of them are fantastic tools, but they do share a common down side; they breed laziness, complacency, and a degradation of basic navigation skills.

It would be fair to say that well over half of the people using GPS in recreational navigation, if forced by circumstances to use a map or chart, a compass, and having an initial bearing and heading, would find it very difficult to get from point A to point B, let alone points C, D, E, and F. Even in aviation where navigation and situational awareness are critical, the advances in safety through electronic navigation have come at a potential cost: the disuse and thereby degradation of basic navigation skills.

A disheartening indicator of this complacency and loss of basic skills comes from an unlikely source, the USGS. Due to budget constraints, rapidly changing technologies and rapidly changing topography, topographical maps have gone out of use at an alarming rate. As a USGS Earth Science Corps volunteer, I supported the USGS efforts as a map annotator for many years. Several years ago the ESC was disbanded and a new organization put in its place with a new task for its volunteers; providing GPS coordinates for prominent structures. This change happened at about the same time Google Earth hit the open market, making the new USGS project seem a bit superfluous.

Even before the technological and organizational changes at USGS came the changes in product cycle. It seems that the only topos being updated were ones needed for special projects. The rest of the catalog was ignored entirely, despite vast amounts of changes taking place in the Quads. A prime example of the neglect in the new cycle is the San Jose West quadrangle. The current version is dated 1 JAN 1980. This map is now almost 30 years old. I live near this quad, I can assure you that a few things have changed, including the addition of a six-lane freeway.

I firmly believe that terrestrial navigation should be a regular subject in primary education. It leads to proficiency in so many other areas that it should be considered a foundation skill set, but with the tools available, one has to ask… Has the USGS completely lost it’s focus? Should it be retasked? Or has it become so useless, like the Census Bureau, that it should just be eliminated all together. I would hate to see the service abandon, but I think the service should be seriously reevaluated. It has become a clearing house for demographics and basic geodetic data with little real unique value due to the proliferation of GIS services offered by private companies like ESRI; a task I might add that is duplicated by the GIA and other TLA agencies. However, an increase in topographic map consumers to meet the needs of basic navigation education might drive a better product response from the USGS and generate a revitalized commercial market for there topographical products.

My apologies for the soap box here. Government waste has been piling up, and I get frustrated seeing services like the USGS destroyed with scaled-back funds rather than retasking and developing a new fiscal plan. It makes no sense to reduce budgets and staff, then expect the same workload and quality. Something has to give, and it’s usually the product. It would be better to disband the organization all together. Ether elimination or retasking would produce a better budget reduction.

But back on the subject of navigation basics. A good understanding of the basic principals of navigation can be a strong character building skill. The tasks in navigation quickly and easily become analogues to the skills in navigating life.

So what does all of this posturing mean? I guess it is thinking out loud. I have been developing projects for so long that I have gotten into the habit of thinking of projects first from the cloud perspective, then deconstructing to the smallest elements then reconstructing from the ground up.

While putting together plans for some short adventures I began working on a Basic Survival Kit (a story in and of itself) but it got me thinking – more important than the basic kit, is the foundation knowledge behind it. The tools are of little benefit unless you know how to use them. In some cases the tools will do more harm than good without proper background knowledge. The same is true for navigation, and navigation is in the top five of primary skills in a survival situation: fire, shelter, water/food, navigation, communication.

From the adventure perspective, I am looking at the basic skills needed for a successful adventure where navigation moves to the top of the list in the planing phase. You need to know your route before you can asses the equipment and materials you will need. Even the Basic Survival Kit is determined to some extent by the navigation/planning.

From a navigation sense, it is back to the basics; a topo, compass, straightedge and a pencil. Time for some back to basics thinking.

Until next time,
Trek Safe