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Hands, Mind, and HeartWhat started as a handful of passionate enthusiasts has developed into a major force—and a significant component—of the aircraft industry.
An Introduction to Kits
By Tony Bingelis (originally published in EAA Sport Aviation, March 1987)
No sooner does a flashy new design taxi onto the Oshkosh tarmac than eager would-be builders descend on it with checks and credit cards clutched in their hot hands, desperately striving to be the first kid on their block with the plans and kit for the virgin design.
The attraction and the desire to possess such a sleek airplane is understandable. However, while an experienced builder with high time pilot skills could conceivably cope with the frustrations of building and flying a relatively unproven new design, such a calculated risk is not for the first-time builder or the low time pilot. A first-time builder should shy away from such temptations until a new design has been flying - and on the market - for three years.
Actually, until two or three homebuilders have completed and flown copies of the new aircraft, it should be looked on as an unproven design still undergoing development.
The evolution of a new design and the production of good kits for the same can, and often does, take several years.
The earlier builders are almost always certain to be subjected to numerous plans changes and corrections or modifications, as well as delays in receiving promised kit deliveries - frustrations most builders would rather not endure, I'm sure.
Over the years, unfortunately, there have been promising designs which, after a big propaganda splash, disappeared from the scene, quite often with sizable amounts of money put up by eager, trusting, would-be builders.
Then there were those designers (companies) who actually began to provide kits and services, only to fail and close their shop, leaving their builders high and dry and with no source for obtaining the necessary parts to complete their projects. Needless to say, too many builders have suffered lost deposits in the process.
And, we have seen kit manufacturers go bankrupt in the classical style so prevalent today, filing for protection under Chapter 11. Inevitably, it seems, it is always the eager, trusting, would-be builder who suffers.
Sometimes these unfortunate circumstances will occur even after we have done our best to investigate before buying. So, what can we do to help reduce our vulnerability? Here are some suggestions:
- Don't aspire to be among the first to build a new design. Wait until after three years have passed and other builders have flown and reported their experiences.
- Check with other builders to determine the reliability of the company selling the kits . . . are the plans and kits worth the price?
- How is the builder support? Can you get help when you need it?
- Try to do business with an older established company, if possible.
- Purchase the entire kit at one time, if you can. Even an older company can go out of business and leave you without essential component parts to finish your project. This also affords you protection against unexpected price increases.
- Be leery of putting up a large deposit, regardless of the promises offered. Promised kit delivery dates have a way of slipping.
BEFORE YOU BUY THE KIT . . .
If you are absolutely, positively sure that you MUST build that airplane-go ahead and purchase the plans first . . . before you order any kits.
If, on the other hand, you still have some minor reservations, arrange to review the plans that some other area builders might already have. This would be an excellent way to become familiar with the basic construction and complexity of the design before you expend any of your own heavy cash. Such a plans review will also give you a pretty good idea of which parts you could easily construct and which you would rather purchase in the form of prefabricated kits . . . provided, of course, that the kit sellers will permit purchasing individual components and kits.
Building from kits is very nice and is especially recommended for first-time builders. It is, however, a more expensive way to build an airplane. Naturally, the greater the number of kits, the greater the total cost will be. You can, of course, substitute labor for kits but only to a certain degree because you would still have to purchase the correct raw materials. Unfortunately, small quantities are often difficult to buy and are proportionately more expensive.
I find that many builders (make that most builders) do not have a good grasp on the projected cost for their project. Maybe they would rather not know.
Anyway, you should be aware that the most complete kit sold will ordinarily require additional purchases to complete the aircraft. For example, the advertising usually states that everything is furnished but the engine, propeller, instruments and avionics. Those "few" unfurnished items can easily equal or exceed the total cost of the complete kit plane.
Since almost nobody provides an upholstery kit, and certainly nobody provides a paint kit, that should be indicative that there must be dozens of other "small items" not provided-like electrical parts, sandpaper, engine compartment components, battery, etc., etc. Be realistic and double that complete kit price to get a better idea of the total projected cost for your project.
Well, presuming you have read this far and you are convinced that ordering the complete kit is the way to go - are there any surprises forthcoming because of that? Maybe not surprises, but there will be quite a bit to do before you will be ready to begin your construction.
SHIPPING AND DELIVERY
Shipping costs are high, very high, and when added to the crating charges, will amount to several hundred dollars for a complete airplane kit.
Because of the high shipping costs you might find it attractive to pick up your own kit and save the shipping costs. This is quite feasible if you live within 500 miles of the supply source. Furthermore, you would have the opportunity to meet the people you will be dealing with during the construction of your project. I would advise, however, that you call in advance and make arrangements for such a pick-up so that they can get your kit together and ready for you.
When you see that big truck pull up to your driveway with several huge heavy crates to be unloaded, you might question your wisdom in ordering the complete kit at one time.
Where in the world can you put all that stuff and still save some space for building the plane? Don't panic. First things first.
Before you accept the delivery, check the crates over carefully to see that there is no obvious external damage. If any damage is found, note the same on the delivery sheet and point it out to the driver. The carrier is ordinarily considered liable for such damages. If no external damage to the crates is apparent, but later during your inventory, some of the contents are found to be damaged or unsatisfactory, the kit supplier is the one who would be expected to make good the necessary adjustments.
UNPACK AND INVENTORY ASAP
Physically inventory the contents of the crates as soon as possible to verify that the parts received tally with the check list of the parts shipped. Ordinarily, you will be allowed a reasonable period of time within which you must report shortages or damages.
If you thought your garage or shop was crowded with the crated kits, wait until you open them and begin to inventory everything.
Most of the parts will be individually wrapped in packing materials or crumpled newspapers which will create large piles of trash.
Be very careful to toss the discarded packing off to one side - far from the stacks of goodies that you intend to build your airplane with. Don't accidentally throw a kit part out with the trash. Double check.
Ordinarily the kit parts will be marked, or otherwise identified, and can be easily and quickly checked off. Some parts, particularly aluminum angles, tubing lengths and pieces of sheet steel, are not always marked and could give you some difficulty in matching them against the inventory list.
That means, usually, that you will have to refer to the plans and try to identify the items that way. Although this can be annoying, it is not as bad a situation as you might believe. After all, it is one sure way of becoming more familiar with the construction details.
Small hardware items, such as nuts, bolts, washers, rivets and the like, will be found packed in small individual paper or clear plastic envelopes. The clear plastic envelopes are better because you can see what is in each little bag without tearing it open.
I would recommend that you acquire a couple of 60-drawer plastic storage cabinets (K-Mart, etc.) and empty the contents of each envelope into its own individual drawer. Use a SHARPIE extra fine point pen and mark the contents as identified on its envelope. Self-adhesive labels cut to fit are excellent for this purpose.
You won't fully appreciate the convenience and ready access this arrangement provides until you have actually started construction. For example, in working on a particular assembly you can simply pull the appropriate drawer and take it to your work area. When you are finished, return the drawer to its proper place in the cabinet and you won't have a lot of spilled rivets (or whatever) all over the place to recover.
COPING WITH THE KIT PARTS
The most important thing you can do before you begin construction is to take time to protect all the parts from corrosion and/or damage. You should also safeguard and store all those valuable parts that you don't immediately need, someplace where you can later find them.
Steel parts: You can assume that your project will take two or more years to complete. In this period of time, steel parts and welded components will certainly rust unless they are already cadmium plated or otherwise protected.
Steel parts that are unprotected should, at least, be coated heavily with oil or sprayed with WD40. Even better, clean and prime the parts with zinc chromate primer or a primer of your choice. Wrap them in clear plastic and store them all together, away from your work area in a place where they can be inspected occasionally.
Fiberglass Parts: Fiberglass components are fragile, especially while they are in an uninstalled state. Store these fiberglass parts some place at room temperature (not in a Texas attic), out of harms way.
You could, for example, construct a large storage shelf (about 4' x 8') for this purpose in one corner of your shop where it will not take up valuable floor space. It need not be a massive structure as the fiberglass parts are light. Why not use some of that wood and plywood salvaged from the shipping crate?
Actually, storing the fiberglass parts for several months can be beneficial because newly made fiberglass parts, particularly polyester parts, will continue to shrink somewhat for a period of time. Later, when you do install them, they will have stabilized dimensionally and your fairings, for one, will not shrink after installation and pucker up like some you see so often on factory jobs.
If a fiberglass part warps while in storage, it can usually be softened somewhat with a heat lamp and gently recontoured.
Aluminum Sheet: Aluminum skins will be found packed with a sheet of paper on each side to protect them from scratches. While this protects them from becoming scratched, it also introduces the risk of corrosion. Paper is very sensitive to humidity changes and will absorb considerable moisture when the humidity is high. Needless to say, over a period of time, your nice shiny aluminum could begin to corrode in the presence of the moist paper sheet in contact with it. Yes, this can affect Alclad sheets also.
To guard against corrosion, you could spray each metal sheet with WD40 to enhance its resistance to corrosion.
Finally, try to recapture as much workspace as you can by carefully disassembling all the emptied crates but one. Remember, you paid good money for those crates, so pull out all the nails and staples and save the wood and plywood sheets for use in constructing jigs, or for other purposes as the need arises. Save one crate and put all the extra kit materials in it for their protection. Install the top plywood cover on the crate and you will have a handy work surface. Even though it might take up more space than you like, you won't be needing too much at first, anyway.
By having the entire kit at your disposal, you will enjoy considerable construction flexibility and be able to work on any part of the project that suits your whim. This is especially important when you become bored with one particular component. Switching to working on something else can do much to eliminate the "burn-out" that often afflicts builders when progress seems to have slowed or stopped.
Anxious to get started?