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Taking the Homebuilt Path to the Sky

Building your own airplane is easier than ever

By James Wynbrandt

July 25, 2016 - If you don’t believe you can build your own airplane, a visit to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh will change your mind — and maybe your life. Here you can see, after their arrival from all corners of the world, literally thousands of airplanes people have built themselves. And the fleet is growing all the time.

“It’s more doable today than it’s ever been,” said Charlie Becker, EAA director of chapters, communities, and homebuilt community manager. And there’s no better place to learn how than here at the fly-in.

“We have more resources available for the homebuilder than ever,” said Becker. “The educational forums that go on during the week cover virtually every topic on homebuilding,” from sheet metal and fabric work, to composite and wood construction, and more. You don’t have to be a natural with your hands, either, as Becker himself proves.

“I had absolutely no experience when I came to Oshkosh in ’94,” Becker said. “I thought it was the craziest idea to build your own aircraft, and then I saw some of the aircraft on the flightline and realized this was a really viable way to get an affordable aircraft.” That inspired Becker’s decision to build his own airplane, and he’s since completed several projects.

AirVenture also provides an unparalleled opportunity to meet manufacturers of homebuilt aircraft, to see, touch, and sit in their products, and meet pilots who’ve built and flown the aircraft.

“Pretty much a model of anything that’s ever been built is here, from Pietenpols with Model A engines to aircraft with 750-hp turbines,” said Paul Thackaberry, EAA co-chairman, Homebuilt Headquarters Registration.

Kits for a simple homebuilt aircraft can cost as little as $10,000 (engine and instruments are additional), while more sophisticated homebuilt models for aviators seeking maximum performance are also available. “Lancairs and Glasairs will outperform pretty much any factory-built aircraft,” Becker noted, citing two such high performers. “That’s one of the great parts of homebuilding — you have the option of coming in at any price point.”

The benefits clearly excite many current and prospective aviators. At Homebuilders Headquarters, “We get people in every day coming to the counter” asking about how to get started, Thackaberry said. When choosing an aircraft, ask yourself, “What are you looking for the plane to do,” he advised. “Do you want to go cross-country, or fly around 50 feet off the ground?”

EAA helps homebuilders the other 51 weeks of the year, as well. More than 900 EAA chapters around the world support and assist builders with their projects, lending technical expertise, tools, and other aid. “I can’t tell you the amount of help I’ve gotten from my technical counselors on something that had me completely stumped,” said Becker, who’s also president of EAA Chapter 252 here in Oshkosh. “You can’t put a price on those relationships.” The EAA also has a library of hundreds of how-to videos on aircraft construction.

Kit aircraft generally require 500 to 1,000 hours to build, “depending on complexity of the kit and experience you bring to it,” said Becker. Moreover, rigorous inspections from approved experts throughout the build process ensure these aircraft meet all safety standards. About 700 to 1,000 new homebuilts are registered here in the United States by the FAA every year, according to Becker.

If you want more inspiration, past Grand Champion homebuilt award winners — AirVenture’s highest honor — are parked in front of Homebuilders Headquarters, and today at 4 p.m., the annual Homebuilt Review fly-by features an aerial parade of unique amateur-built aircraft, this year including everything from single-seat ultralights to jet-powered aircraft.

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