Moldless Composite Construction, Plans-Built
By Scott A. VanderVeen, EAA 677456
This month’s Mystery Plane is the two-place Vision, a side-by-side, plans-built experimental aircraft that may be configured to qualify and be flown by a sport pilot. The Vision uses the popular Lycoming O-320 engine, though various powerplants from a converted 100-hp Subaru EA-81 through the aforementioned Lycoming have been flown.
Unique to the airframe is that its all-composite construction uses a “moldless” composite sandwich construction method. The method of construction results in a structure that is similar internally to molded kits such as ones by Lancair and Glasair. No hot-wire cutting of foam is used in this method.
The 200-mph-plus aircraft features a cantilever box spar rated at +6g/-4g flight and a NACA 63-415 airfoil. Methods of structural testing are provided in the plans. This particular Vision had additional testing as required by South Africa’s FAA equivalent.
The Vision plans are designed for the first-time homebuilder. A step-by-step process explains and teaches the builder the basics of moldless composite construction. Plans are thoughtfully arranged so that less critical structural subassemblies are completed first.
The Vision can be built with conventional landing gear or tri-gear. The cockpit can be built as spacious as needed from 40 to 46 inches wide, and the canopy is built either flip-up or side-hinged for easy access. Built-in crush-zone bench seats are designed to 19g. As with all plans-built aircraft, they become an outlet for creativity and display the craftsmanship and individual style of the builder. This is clearly evident in the workmanship shown with the modern leather-clad interior and glass instrument panel below:
A little bit about the builder of ZU-FIV featured in this article. Pieter Botha lives in Secunda, South Africa, where he has a medical orthotics and prosthetics practice. His family has been very supportive of his flying and aircraft building. Getting supplies is challenging, but with some searching and replacing some materials with locally available material (Divinycell PVC foam instead of Last-A-Foam urethane), he was able to complete the airframe in 2 ½ years.
Why Pieter chose the Vision in his words:
A question that I get a lot of times is why did I start building the Vision, and the answer is quite simple. I don’t have money to buy a production aircraft, and if I want to build a kit aircraft, I would still have to fork out the money for the kit, which in most cases is not cheap. If I wanted to go that route, I had to go see the bank manager to get a loan. I am sure he would not give me money for a plane in a box that can’t fly. And if I get a loan I would have to pay interest. So I decided to build the Vision using the money that I would have used as a down payment on buying a plane to buy plans and materials. This was the financial reason for building the Vision.
The emotional reasons I chose the Vision were mostly that, even though I don’t like the rivets of composite aircraft, I do enjoy the flowing lines. The Lancair was what I wanted, but I knew it would always be just a dream that will never come true. The others in the class also didn’t make it because of price and/or looks. I was unaware of the Vision until I stumbled over it on the Internet. When I saw it I immediately knew this was my dream. It had the speed, it had the looks, and it’s affordable. A bonus was the +6g/-4g’s.
Many people say that because we use composites in the manufacturing of prosthetics my background made it easier for me to build, but the only way that it helped me was that I knew of the materials. Otherwise I had no hands-on experience prior to building my plane. The process of building prosthetics uses different techniques that are not practical with the Vision. However, if you are handy enough to do maintenance on your home and you can read a plan, you can build the Vision. And if you can do that, you most probably will have all the tools that you will need to build it.
What I like about the Vision and what still amazes me is how each thing leads to another. You spend time building, and then one day she’s there, in front of you, more beautiful than any of the photos you’ve seen (and I had never seen one in person). Photos don’t do her justice; her toughness and stiffness do not show when you look at her. Only when you build her will you appreciate the extraordinary plane. She is sleek, smooth, and fast.
To build a Vision is to commit yourself to a personal growing process. You will learn patience, you will discover perseverance, and you will learn time management. In the process, you make friends with those you’ve never even thought of. The best of all, people will respect you for the guts to scratch-build an aircraft. But what they don’t know is how simply and logically the plans are laid out.
To finish a Vision is to commit yourself for two hours every day to building. I built in the morning before work and spent time at night with the family. On weekends I put more time in. Build even if you don’t feel like it today. Everybody has time to build – just don’t watch TV.
Horsepower: 100 to 160 (Subaru EA-81 to Lycoming O-320)
Fuel capacity: 22 to 40 gallons
Range: 850 miles
Cruise: 155 to 200 mph
Stall: 55 mph
Climb: 1,400 to 2,300 feet/minute
Takeoff distance: 600 feet
Landing distance: 900 feet
Gross weight: 1,350 to 1,600 pounds
Empty weight: 850 to 950 pounds
Useful load: 500 to 750 pounds
Wingspan: 21.5or 25.5 feet (SPort or EXtended versions)
Length: 19 feet
Height: 6 feet