Nate Kimball's Affordaplane
By Nate Kimball, for Experimenter
Nate Kimball in front of his freshly completed PART Part103 creation based on the Affordaplane.
When Nate Kimball decided to build a plane, he didn't feel the need to take it seriously. As a pilot of radio-controlled aircraft, he took on the challenge as more of a large-scale model project, but as time went on, he was overwhelmed by the desire to fly. But once he faced the reality of putting human life at risk, his attitude changed as did his outlook on life.
This is a story of an average guy with a dream to fly. Not a guy of great achievements or a guy with some impressive title. Just a guy, your average knucklehead with a wild and crazy dream.
Like most aviators, I began with flying radio-controlled (R/C) model aircraft. Never could I dream of building my own aircraft and actually flying it. Just the thought of doing so was crazy and absurd, when in reality if a guy can build a go-cart from scratch, he could build an aircraft from scratch. Yet because it was an aircraft, I was naturally intimidated.
My decision to build wasn't based on my own confidence, but rather it came from the confidence of others around me. They would ask, "Why don't you quit messing with the R/C toys and just build a real airplane?" Finally it began to sink in. Yeah, why not? Nothing says I have to fly it. I'll just build it just to see if I can.
My self-confidence assured me that I could indeed build a plane but not necessarily one that was safe for human flight - that's where I was lacking faith in my knowledge. I know I had the skill to build well, but maybe I didn't have enough learning to do it right. So I got started - just for the challenge of it. And I will admit I began, not with professionalism or safety as the most important feature, but more from the mind-set of building a big R/C model. I know that this may make some people cringe, but we don't all start out at the same place. It's the end result that matters.
As I began building my first full-scale airplane, I'd dream of one day flying it, but in my heart I felt that it could never happen. However, the more I built, the more my confidence grew. As time went on, my building performance would heighten my confidence, and my confidence would build my dream; thus, my dream would enhance my building performance. And through all of this, I made the realization that I could one day have a plane that I built and that I could actually fly.
Why the Affordaplane?
I chose the Affordaplane for many reasons. The main reason was that I knew I could build it; it didn't require any welding or special tools, and it was also (allegedly) Part 103 legal. The other reason was that it could be built sporadically. I built as I had the money. In my downtime, when I was broke, I would think of ways to modify it to fit my preference. Probably not the wisest decision for a first-time builder, but it's my story.
The first major change (during a money drought) was to convert it from a taildragger to a nosewheel. My excuse was that ground handling would be easier and would shorten the length of time it would take to learn to fly.
During the next cash-spending hiatus, I rethought my previous decision and changed it back to a taildragger again. My excuse this time: I was going to make sure it was Part 103 legal no matter what it took. That didn't go quite as planned, so it has a nose wheel again.
Then I wanted it to sit lower to the ground to make it easier to handle on the ground. Of course the prop would no longer clear the ground if I did that, so it meant I had to move the engine from the plans-specified location on the nose to a more ultralight type of location up high, in plane with the wing.
Since we're talking about the prop, I couldn't see spending several hundred dollars on a wooden propeller. So I built one - I shaped it, balanced it, put it on the plane, and revved it up. Rpm topped out at 6200 with no vibration. First-time luck, I guess.
During the process of ensuring compliance with the Part 103 legal weight limit of 254 pounds empty weight, I had the brilliant idea to put lighting holes in the square tubing. I know, I know, probably not the best idea I have ever had. Anyway, it was just a matter of time before someone tried it. Might as well have been me. Of course I'll have to go back and replace some of the tubing - not just because of the lighting holes but because there's more unused (improperly placed or currently obsolete) mounting holes in this thing than you can shake a stick at.
Well, I got the thing built to the point to where I was ready to taxi, so I did. Back and forth, up and down the runway, over and over. Finally I got tired of being chicken; this time, I wasn't shutting it down until I got some air under the tires. So there I was, in my homebuilt airplane with my homemade prop, strapped in with my homemade safety harness made from a tow strap, just as proud as I could be.
I licked my finger, stuck it up to check the wind, pushed the throttle forward, and began my rollout. Blood pumping, eyes watering from the cold air streaming around the new clear windscreen, I reached the point where I would normally shut it down, but not this time - I stayed in it. The grass strip under me became smoother and smoother until I couldn't feel it anymore. I thought, I'm flying! I'm flying!
Oh no! I'm flying! What should I do now?
I don't know how high I got (three or four feet maybe); I was too nervous to look down. I wasn't sure what it would do once it got airborne. However, as it gently rose up, it yawed slightly to the left. So I slowly pulled the throttle back, and she gently set back down. For so long I dreamed of flying my own airplane. And now here I was, and all I could think of was getting it back on the ground before I wadded it up.
Now for those of you who are concerned about me crow-hopping an airplane that's not quite airworthy, don't worry. I have no intentions of actually going flying - yet. I don't know how to fly. Flight lessons - an expense that's going to have to wait a little longer. But now that I have an airplane capable of flying, I'm much closer to flying; I'm also much closer to ending up upside down in the treetops with two broken legs. So I figure now would be a good time to take this safety issue with real concern. Next step is to get the airplane in safe flying condition, then of course get adequate flying lessons.
A Work in Progress
I know I have a long way to go and I'm not there yet. It's still a work in progress as am I, but I have learned a lot. And if I ever get to actually fly the plane around the pattern, I'll consider that I've successfully built a flying machine. I've enjoyed every minute I've put into it. It's boosted my confidence; I have no regrets, especially the regret of never having tried.
I strongly encourage anyone with the same dream of building your first aircraft, and to one day fly it just to get started where you're at. Bloom where you're planted. When the student is ready the teacher will appear. It's truly been a dream come true.
Thanks for letting me share my experience.