One day in life, you may wake up with the idea : 'wouldn't it be great to build my own airplane ?'.
As time goes by, the idea will persist and lock itself in your brain for many more months or years to come.
Some people you will talk to in your surroundings may suggest you start finding some professional help and have your mental health checked over.
But in fact, it's not that much of a strange idea. There are many aviation enthusiasts around the world that have done it before and who are doing it multiple times (the so called 'repeat offenders'). Even in your local community you may find people who are building their own airplane right now.
Only if - as in my case - half a year later, the will, dedication and courage still exists to take this to the next level, you should continue reading.
The building process is pretty demanding on your person. The following experiences are pretty normal for each building project : disappointment, desperation, anger, rage, extreme happiness, pride, giving up, fortitude, disputes, ignorance, fear, persistence.
If you doubt you can handle all that in continuous cycles : buy yourself a second hand plane, rent a plane from a nearby aeroclub.
It will be cheaper (for sure!) and you will be flying your own plane in no time.
Be prepared for changes in your life ! The average builder changes home, employment and some even wife during the course of a project.
Don't think you can just one day get out of your bed and decide to start cutting some aluminum plates you buy in the local handyman shop.It's nothing like that.
First of all, you need of a plan and start working on a re-organisation of your home. Don't misunderstand me on the plan remark. I'm not thinking about the construction plans on paper, because at this point, you are months away from that.
I mean a real plan on what, where, why, who, can I, should I ?
You can build a plane in a one car garage (I'm proving it) but you will need some additional space for completed parts and stock of un-assembled parts.
Will I build from plan or go for a kit supplier ?
The plans are often cheap and I assume the total metal price will be less if you build from plan. But consider the time it takes to make all parts by yourself ? You'll have to make forming blocks and such and buy more expensive tooling equipment. If this is your first build, I would highly recommend to go with a kit supplier.
There are many kit suppliers around. Visit Sun and fun in Lakeland in Spring or Oshkosh air venture in summer and you'll be blown away with the amount of kit suppliers present.
Do I want to build all metal airframe ? a composite ? wood ? a mix af them ?
This mainly is based on what skills you have. But it shouldn't really be a factor for decission. All of these constructions require knowledge on some specific techniques which you can (and will have to) learn regardless of the type of airframe you choose. There are many builder classes around where you can master those techniques at reasonable prices.
As I decided to go for all metal the next question is: which supplier. In my decision process, I really likes the Titan P-51 replica a lot, but in the end it was just too expensive, not many kit planes like that have been already build (so support from other builders is limited) and I'm sure it's not yet approved by the Belgian authorities which means you need to file a full technical case which is almost impossible for an individual to do). I look at sonex and liked it at first until I found out about Vans aircraft. I found a local RV owner, got a test flight and decides on the spot to go with Van's (because it's simply the best quality aircraft kit around, because the plane is unbelievable in handling and performance capabilities and because there is a huge builder and flying owner community behind it so support is guaranteed (see also vansairforce.net),
Next question, what type or model will I build within the Vans family ? there are mutiple models you can build and each one has pro's and cons that you should consider.
Knowing what I know today, I would be probably better of with an RV9.
An RV8 is definitly the most sexy design, but you will be sitting constantly behind eachother. No really appealing for the Mrs who joins you on a 3 hour leg across the continent. You may find yourself alone in the cockpit more than you wished. An RV9 is nice, but the aerobatic manoeuvers you are allowed to make officially are non-existent and in practice are very limited. The RV10 is nice -as it is a four seater- but it is very expensive compared to any of the two seaters. Heavier and more expensive engine, more fuel consumption, higher priced kit... The RV-7 is an aerobatic plane and in fact should only be choosen if you want to fly aerobatics. The airfoil is made for that and less fuel efficient as the RV-9.
The RV-12 E-LSA licensed is probably the easiest to build, certainly if you have to work alone a lot of the time. Poprivetting can be done by yourself. For rivetting solid rivets, you often need a partner to help you.
Ok, so you decided just like me to go for the RV-7, if you think your crusade is over,
it's not... it has only seriously started.
Do you choose for the RV-7 taildragger version or the RV7-A tri-gear configuration
Do you prefer a sliding canopy or a tilting up canopy.
In my case, it's safety over all ! So I decided to go for the sliding canopy as it has a nice roll bar in front of the pilots and it offers more escape possibilities in case of tilt-over accident. Let's hope that never happens, but in case it will, I don't want to spend the last minutes of my life wondering why I absolutly wanted that sexy tilt up canopy.
The choice of the taildragger vs trigear was more difficult. I have never been flying taildraggers before and from what I hear, some of those can be real bitchy to land. Paul Paeleman convinced me on the demo flight that the RV-7 is a very forgiving plane with a lot of stability hardly any break-out behaviour. That in combination with the statement 'real pilots fly taildraggers' kind of convinced me. Also, from the esthetic point of view, a taildragger RV-7 is much much nicer then the trigear. Also, looking at safety, I believe that the landing safety is higher with a taildragger RV-7. Multiple accidents with planes tumbling and resulting in total loss have happened already on the tri-gears and I definitly want to avoid that.
So now we have an RV-7 taildragger with a sliding canopy.
Ready to start building right ?
Forget it... now start thinking about type of primer (anti corrosion protection) you will be using? Spies Hecker, Akzo Nobel, PreKote, Zinc Chromate, Sherman Williams, anodizing ?On the VansAirforce.net site, these discussions are known as 'the primer wars'. Don't expect for someone to have the magic answers. Many of these products are good enough and most of will almost never fly in high corrosive circumstances (high humidity, salty conditions near the coast). Most of us will keep the plane in a hangar so all of these discussion are rather theoretical as 2024-T3 aluminum that Vans uses already has a protective layer on it called Alclad. So in principle, many parts don't even need extra corrosion protection. Only the steel parts MUST to be primed. Most of those come with a powdercoated protection already in the kit.
On the other hand, you will slightly create scratches on your material as you work and handle it. I found it usefull to give the inside of the plane a small layer of corrosion protection. I can still decide on the outside later when the plane is finished. For now, my mind is still set on a polished aluminum frame so that's why I'm not yet priming the outside.
Do you have the place spray paint without dying in fumes ? Many of these products are highly toxic when spray painted ! Take the warnings seriously. Zinc Chromate uses the Chromate 6 element which is one of the highest cancer invoking dusts around.
Hmmm, we are gone have to convert that garden house.
You need tools... many tools. Have a look at my tools pages to have an idea of what you will need. There are some suppliers for aircraft mechanic tools and some of them have a 'new builders toolkit'. Check out Avery Tools, Cleveland Tools, Aircraft spruce, Wicks. I bought the avery tools new builders toolkit for RV's. If I would have to do it again, I would probably do the same but replace some parts by items from Cleveland.(hand squeezer, edge rolling tool, AN470 rivet dies)
Can I now please please start building ?
no, not yet... In Belgium, you first need to ask permission to the aviation authorities (DGLV) to start building, they need to inspect your workshop and they will inspect whether the tools you want to use are according to the requirements that the plane manufacturer describes in the manual. You are also better of asking for a special customs permission to avoid import taxes (see formalities page).
The authorities want to know what engine and propellore you will use.
Oh my God, here we go again... Do I want a 160HP Lycoming or a 180HP, do I want a certified or experimental one. Should I go go for a well known branch like Lycoming or go with a clone like the Superior or newer ULPower from the Belgian manufacturers Do I want a fixed pitch propeller or a constant speed. A constant speed off course. But can I afford it ?
Since it's an RV-7, I could make it full acro. Decision on normal or inverted oil system, installing flop tubes... decisions, decisions...
Another significant decision point is the choice of the cockpit instruments system. Major manufacturers today are AFS, Dynon Skyview, GRT Avionics and Garmin G3X system. Prices vary but are in a similar range.
With all these options in mine, we better start making a cost estimation of the project. Van's has a nice cost estimator on the website, but remember this is for a very basic configuration. You will spent much more if you are really serious about building a plane that satisfies your needs. Use an excel sheet and start adding items you will want. You'll be surprised how fast you exceed the number Van's provides. I use this excel sheet, it's simple and straightforward. Don't forget to take into account the shipping costs and on top of that the 8% import tax and 21% added value tax on your purchase prices in the US.
A realistic figure for a completed RV-7 is about 100 K€ if you build in Belgium.