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Building your own aircraft – factors to consider

The benefits of homebuilding your aircraft and what to take into account in order to succeed.

Undertaking the challenge of building your own aircraft can be a satisfying, rewarding and enjoyable learning experience.

Specific benefits include: 

  • The ability to closely match the aircraft to your own requirements
  • Homebuilding may be less expensive than buying a factory built aircraft
  • The cost can be spread over a period of time
  • Operating costs may be lower than renting an aircraft
  • More choice of available types 

 

Choosing the right aircraft for you

Consider the sort of flying you want to do and who you want to do it with.

  • Aerobatics
  • Short airfield operations
  • Long range cruising
  • Short hops

Consider whether you will be content to fly solo and want a single-seater, or prefer a two-seater (or more) to give you the option of taking passengers.

 

Homebuilt aircraft building techniques and project options

Aircraft building techniques are best considered in terms of what suits your skill base and comfort zone.

Kevin Paulsen explains metal aircraft construction at the SAA "prebuild" training courseKevin Paulsen explains metal aircraft construction at the SAA "prebuild" training course

Your options include:

  • Wood
  • Tube
  • Metal
  • Composite 

Homebuilt aircraft project options encompass a range of levels:

  • Kit built
  • Materials kit
  • Plans built
  • Own design

Other design considerations:

  • Decide what type of engine best suits your requirements - factory built or an automotive conversion.
  • If there is a choice of undercarriage for your aircraft, choose what will work best for your needs - options include tricycle, taildragger or even monowheel. 

 

The THREE Fs' Checklist for homebuilding an aircraft

Finance, Facilities and Family – three essential components of achieving success

Finance

Money, or the lack of it, is a big factor in whether a project gets finished or not.

  • Cost out your project thoroughly
  • Make allowances for unforeseen costs, certification, training and tooling
  • Determine whether you will be buying everything at once with a lump sum payment or spreading costs over a period of time (both work, but drip feeding tends to be slower)
  • Take into account any other financial commitments you are likely to have during the life of the project

 

Facilities

To achieve the completion of your project with the required building standards you need have the right environment, tools and equipment, and expertise.

  • Environment - workshop space
    It doesn't need to be big enough to hold the whole assembled aircraft - but it does need to be big enough to hold a completed section of fuselage or wing, with working space around it.
    Bruce Cooke applying the fabric covering to the Fuselage frame of Avian Adenturer ZK-CKE
    Bruce Cooke applying the fabric covering to the Fuselage frame of Avian Adenturer ZK-CKE
    Bruce Cooke applying the fabric covering to the Fuselage frame of Avian Adenturer ZK-CKE

    You will need a solid, smooth level floor, good lighting and a comfortable temperature. Having it beside the house means you can work on the project more often, but be aware of dust, noise and fumes getting through the house. Some people have even built their aircraft in their living rooms.

  • Tools and equipment
    Some methods of construction require special tools (some of which are expensive) such as sheetmetal folders, drill presses, milling machines, welders etc. The exact requirements depend upon the type of aircraft you intend to build. Aircraft construction demands high quality, accurate tooling. Buying good quality tools will make your work much easier as well as creating a better result.
  • Murray Belfield (right) explains the Plans for his Aircraft to Andrew ParsonsMurray Belfield (right) explains the Plans for his Aircraft to Andrew Parsons (who is also building an aircraft)

  • Expertise - make an honest assessment of your skill level and experience Building an aircraft is a learning exercise, so don't worry if you haven't had much experience or exposure to this craft. Instead, enlist the help of someone who does have experience.

  • SAANZ Mentoring Scheme
    This is where SAA can help - get a mentor who will give honest and knowledgeable appraisals of your work.
    For aircraft construction, all work needs to be of the highest quality.

 

 

Family

Building an aircraft takes time – family support and understanding can hugely increase both your enjoyment and success.

  • Discuss the project with your spouse/partner, family and friends
    Building an aircraft can at times create stresses for you all and good communication and mutual support eases the process. Be aware that families often have to make compromises during the course of a project. Encouraging your partner and children to get involved can be a great way to spend time together.

  • Be realistic about the time you can spend on your project
    Regular work, a little each week, is the best way to keep a project going. Try not to go too long without doing something on it, however small - be sure this is feasible with your other commitments. 

  • Set a realistic completion goal
    Kit manufacturers are known for under-estimating construction time. Always allow a significant amount of extra time to avoid being pressured to rush your project. Do what you can to minimise any external pressures (e.g. needing to vacate the workshop) that could affect your work.

 



Get in touch with Sport Aircraft Association NZ Inc

Adrienne Fillery
Administrator
Phone (09) 4050553

E-mail admin@saa.org.nz, or visit
www.saa.org.nz