That's probably what my wife was thinking when I first talked to her about this idea of building my own airplane.
For me, flying offers the feeling that resembles an orgasm in the closest possible way. That is mentally, I mean... What other fellow pilots observe on other body parts below the belt is out of my knowledge and domain of expertise. But if you are a pilot already, you probably understand what I mean.
That being said, I think it is quite obvious and commonly accepted in my surroundings to say that I am an addicted when it comes to flying and aviation in general. I admit it...
I am actually convinced that I am the first of a new breed of 'mankind' that feel better in the air than on the ground.
Shakespeare once wrote : "My Soul is in the Sky". Although they didn't fly in the sixteenth century, he got pretty close to describing the emotional aspects of recreational flight.
As a young kid I was already fascinated by flying and airplanes. As a teenager, I went through all the different versions of Flight Simulator, with each new version, choking my personal computer and begging my parent to buy a new one in order to keep the framerates up there.
I still remember very well the first CGA versions in 4 colors of flight simulator 2.0. At that time it was not much more then a line drawing the horizon and some rectangles on the ground representing runways. With todays version FSX, you almost feel like being in the cockpit. Isn't it impressive how things have evolved in such a short time.
Lately I am playing with X-plane 11 and the realism there is just stunning. Both visually as flight model wise. Only the future will tell where we go from here but I'm pretty convinced VR glasses will be part of it.
My experience in flight simulation actually made up for a lot of instruction hours when I started doing the real training in my local flight academy. I can only encourage future pilots to practice on PC and flight simulator as much as possible. Real flying is of course much more difficult, intense and expensive, but the flight sim experience will get you acquainted with important procedures such as instrument scanning, listening to atc radio while flying, navigation, etc etc etc... Just make sure you learn the right procedure as you practice on the simulator. It is hard to change bad habits later.
I joined the IVAO organisation for online flying and soon got involved in online ATC controlling and flying. At some point, I even became a staff member. The IVAO experience is an absolute must and will help you master your radio skills. It all will seem much easier once you do the real thing. Just make sure to use the right phraesology from the start. And believe me, on IVAO and VATSIM, they are freaks. The phraseology on the virtual ATC networks is often much more correct then it is in real life.
For a long time, I had been thinking of studying and practicing for the ATPL pilot license. Cost, time and especially "balls" kept me away from doing it in the first place. But there is only as much delay as one can tollerate when it comes to flying.
For some reason, my friend and former work collegue (Michael Defeyter) always used to have very similar ideas at the same time as I had them.
We shared an office at our company and used to talk about flying and flight simulation all day long. In 2004, after convincing eachother, we went to Grimbergen (EBGB) to find out about the flight school they organise for obtaining the private pilot license.
Ever since we put our foot on that small domestic recreational airport, we knew things would never be the same again and that soon, we would be pilots ourselves and would fire up the horses under the hood while calling out 'Jihaaaas' on takeoff roll.
We subscribed to the Vliegclub-Grimbergen and started the local theory lessons. At the same time, after completing a medical exam, we started doing the practical flight training with some local instructors. I don't think we already had the theory classes on air law finished when we already did our first solo's.
Yes, that definitly was a 'Jihaaaaa' feeling. The feeling was less 'Jihaaa' on the first solo approach and exuberance soon turned into sweat and realism... Boy this isn't as easy as it seemed on the flight sim once some stress gets involved.
We got our licenses not long time apart from each other and reached out for the clouds as much as we could during our spare time.
Flying was fun ! But soon we had some mutually shared ideas again on constructing our own airplane. It actually started by watching an episode of "an airplane is born" by Mark Evans on Discovery Channel. In 15 episodes, Mark showed how you - as an amateur builder - can construct your own composite 'Europa' airplane.
Wow !!!Is this really possible ????
That's where we first fell in love with the idea of building our own plane. The discovery of the existance of the sonex aircraft. "We're gonna do this", "yeah sure we are gonna do this"... I still hear it like it was yesterday but I can assure you that we had no idea at that time what we were getting into.
Unfortunatly the Sonex was not yet technically approved at that time for flying in the European airspace and it would have required a very time consuming and technically challenging task to deliver a technical file for the Belgium Aviation Authorities to be able to get approval to start building a Sonex on Belgian territory. So we abandoned the idea for some time.
Some time later, Michael moved to Australia. Not long after that he started construction of his Sonex airplane. He is building from scratch (meaning: cut, bend, form and drill all parts yourseft from the plans). You can follow his progress on his builders website here.
I started investigating again for the possibility in Belgium of building the Sonex in Belgium but very soon got frustrated again as I found out nothing evolved since the last time we checked.
In Australia, you start building, that's it. In Belgium you first have to ask if the type you will build is approved already within the EU.
In the case of Sonex, it was not and all the technical documentation they required are quite complex. You need to be more then just an engineer to only understand the questions that are in the technical file, let stand answer them.
On top of that, the US suppliers are not really jumpy to give you all of that information that's required. I even looked upon registering in a neighbouring country. But, without moving there, it would not be possible to get the approval.
I got demotivated and abandoned the idea for several years.
However, we have a saying in Dutch : 'het bloed kruipt waar het niet gaan kan', 'The blood crawls where it can't run' and the idea of construction never left my mind.
In the summer of 2010, I had to do a maintenance visit in Australia where Michael now works for one of our customers. He invited me over on the weekend to go and check out his builders garage. Fortunately -and most probably on purpose- he was just about ready to finalize his first completed part: the horizontal stabilizer. He was ready to cleco and rivet the skins. It felt so cool to pull that rivet gun and actually work on a real aircraft part. We finished it completely that day and yes, there was that 'Jihaaaa' feeling again and the idea that this is a fantastic thing to do as a hobby. (some pictures, yes that is me in the bottom picture here and here)
During my visit, we started looking up alternatives again and also found some people in Belgium who were amateur aircraft builders and there was actually one that had already build an RV. That meant that that plane was already on the allowed list for our aviation authorities. I contacted the owner Paul Paeleman - who had finished his RV7 some years before - with some silly questions and got an answer right back (ah yes that RV community is so great). He invited me to come over to Leopoldsburg EBLE to go and see his plane and offered me a ride.
Before we took off, Paul warned me that this was going to be the most expensive flight I'd ever take. After the flight was over, I instantly understood what he meant by that.
I was immediately impressed by the performance of this plane and it's responsiveness to small control changes. I was sold on the spot (for as much as is was still necessary). The sensitivity on the stick is just unbelieveable, the power that pushes you in that seat is incredible. For someone who is used to fly C172, the RV is like a Porche compared to a tractor.
I ordered the preview plans of the RV-7 the same evening as I came back from the airport and that's where the adventure started (and the expense counter started ticking).
In October 2010, ready to start converting my garage into an aircraft construction hangar, preview plans ordered, 'RV first builders' in the DVD. Soon I will be sending my 'request to build' to the Belgian authorities and will be ready to enter the "builders bubble".
In the meanwhile, it's 2017 and Michael actually finished his Sonex VH-MND and we go fly it everytime I visit him in Wollongong. It's one of the only business trips I really enjoy and look forward to. Here is a picture of his finished plane which he calls himself 'mijn madam" which in dutch literally translated means "my missis" or "my lady". I kind of understand what he means by that. In case you need some more motivation to start building your plane, check out one of Michaels aerobatic youtube video's here. He also put up a nice movie on his construction experience.
So long story short... if you ask me : why am I building an airplane ?
For the challenge I guess,
To proof to myself that I can handle and finish an immense multi-year high complexity project,
For the love of airplanes and aviation in general,
For the dream and the freedom of flying,
For the feeling that I'm flying something I built with my bare hands.
or just because I CAN ! and because that's the kind of thing I would like to do in the little time I will be around
because as Shakespeare once wrote : "my Soul is in the Sky"
A word of caution though. Whatever you may think. If you need an airplane fast, buy a second hand one. If you think it will be cheaper to build than to buy, you are wrong. Buy a second hand one. If you are not a patient person or if you get the creeps from spray painting, repetitive tasks or working with sheet metal like deburring and sanding : buy a second hand one. A high percentage of these kit planes gets sold but lot's of them never make it further than the wings or even the empenage.
If you are still convinced you want to build: find some local builders around you and pay them a visit (usually will cost you a couple of beers). The RV builder community is a very open and helpfull community. Look at the EAA video's online that explain building techniques. Start planning how to (re)organise your home.
Talk to the Mrs... Wait, let me repeat that. Talk to the Mrs and get her involved in the project.
A lot of builders go through the project and change their job, their home and their wife. I wish I shouldn't but unfortunatly I can tell you this is true. I have the "job" left on the to do list but the other two came true already.
Make sure you have a look at this video from Wally Anderson who is a EAA tech counselor and has a nice motivational video on how to plan and stay motivated on the immense project of building your own airplane. Wally has built 3 RVs so he definitly has the right to talk here.
Once you started. Try to find someone who is a couple of steps ahead of you but not too far, it will help a lot to visualize the tasks ahead and get some hints and tips on certain tasks. Visit local EAA chapters or whatever amateur build communities you have near you. You will find that time flies when you go to those meetings and talk about your favorite subject.
If you got to this point, chances are that one day you will start your own project. If you ever do so, send me a message when the time has come. It's always nice meeting new builders and you will find that 99% of the builders thinks like that. It's a wonderfull community and you will learn an incredible amount of new skills and make lots of new friends.