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ChapterGram: February 2013

EAA Chapter 506 Builds a Sonex





We recently talked to Norman Smit, webmaster for EAA Chapter 506 in Smithfield, North Carolina, about his chapter's Sonex project. By keeping track of their progress via an online builder's log, Norman said the chapter has seen an increase in participation, interest, and knowledge of homebuilding among its members.

Why did your chapter start building a Sonex?

Longtime member Jerry Stein donated the Sonex to the chapter in August 2012 after deciding he wasn't going to be able to finish it himself. We took the project on because we have the space in our chapter clubhouse located at Johnson County Airport (JNX). And we felt that it was a valuable educational opportunity for our members to participate in.

How has the project benefited your chapter?

Shiny aircraft parts in various stages of assembly and preparation have certainly proved to be a wonderful talking point at our regular monthly meetings. Friday build sessions are attended by about four to six members each week. We attract even more attention through our Sonex project - log on our chapter website. The sale of the airframe, once completed, will also benefit chapter finances.

Tell us a little more about your chapter's website and the Sonex project log.

The Chapter 506 website attracts a disproportionate amount of traffic for a small chapter of fewer than 40 members. It averages 4,000-plus page views a month, with Mondays being the most popular day to visit. Part of that high traffic is because our website has a range of useful features, such as a listing of activities within a 200-mile radius from JNX, $100 hamburger spots, the Pirep Blog, and the chapter calendar, which includes our events as well as EAA webinars. We'll also be adding a section for Eagles flights in the near future. The weather widget, which has NOAH data for JNX and RDU, is popular and attracts about 800 visitors a month to that page alone.

The Sonex project log attracts steady interest from people interested in seeing how the project is evolving. Since building started on the project in earnest about nine weeks ago, the project log alone has attracted more than 600 unique visits, which is not bad considering there is a relatively small pool of people who will consistently return to look at how this project is evolving.

Have you utilized EAA technical counselors for the project?

Chapter 506 has a technical counselor, Bob Scott, who has been keeping an eye on the build. As valuable as Bob's insights are, having a group working together and examining the plans and cross-checking each other along the way is certainly the belt to his braces in ensuring that this project is built according to plans and proper safety standards.

Have you seen any interest in the Sonex project outside the chapter?

Chapter President Joe Mancusi has had several calls as he's the primary point of contact, but Young Eagles and other activities all contribute to the chapter's visibility in the area. We are in the process of re-examining how we can attract younger members and hope the Sonex project will assist with this. This month we reached out to Johnston Community College instructors to share with technical students the unique opportunity of being able to be part of building an aircraft.

Do you have a timetable for completion?

Our chapter treasurer, Wayne Milbauer, is leading the building group. He's built a Sportsman and is going to build a Highlander probably starting around April, so we've been joking that we have to have it done by then before he stops coming to work on the Sonex in favor of his own aircraft. Jokes aside, we are not rushing to complete the Sonex for the sake of an arbitrary deadline, but are taking the time to be careful and methodical about the process. It'll take as long as it needs to take to do the job right.

Any tips or advice for other chapters considering a project like this?

Go for it! It's been enormously enjoyable and has generated a lot of interest. Having the project come alive online - and members see progress month to month in the clubhouse - has injected excitement into our monthly meetings. But perhaps more importantly, it has stimulated conversation about the mechanics of aircraft structures, as people have had the opportunity to peer into the innards of this kit as it is assembled and learned more about their own aircraft along the way.

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