Since we bought ‘YC a few years ago, J and I have become increasingly ambitious with the trips we’ve undertaken, and indeed in our imagination of those we’d like to be able to do in the future.

The Faroe Islands trip was the high point for us so far in terms of distance, planning and sophistication, but we both hope one day to be able to go much further afield with our flying.

‘YC is a fabulous aircraft and does everything we could ever have hoped for and more. She is perfect for what we do now, and indeed could serve us well for our whole ‘flying lives’ if we hadn’t had the somewhat insane idea that we’d like to fly up and down Africa and all the way around the world.

Inevitably these lofty (no pun intended) ambitions meant there was an expectation that at some point in the future we’d need to upgrade to an aircraft with longer range. At the moment, ‘YC will get us anywhere in Europe, but to go around the world would entail water crossings that would be pushing or exceeding her boundaries, and necessitate overflights and/or fuel stops in some areas where that might be considered inadvisable (probably a bit of an understatement…).

So we’ve had in mind for the last year or so that some serious saving up needs to happen to enable the purchase of a slightly higher performance aircraft at some point in the future – basically one that is a bit faster and can get a bit further in one hop.

I have been well aware for some time that the aircraft purchase sits considerably higher on J’s priority list than a house, or indeed pretty much anything else, so it has always been the focus of his saving. Planes are not inexpensive, so this wasn’t a goal we expected to be able to realise in the short- to medium-term.

That is, until J started reading about kit-built aircraft.

I was at work one day in July 2015 when I looked over at my phone to see a series of unread messages from J. He’s normally fairly tied up himself during the working day and it’s unusual for him to message me repeatedly, so I reached over and opened them hoping that nothing was wrong.

The chain of messages documented his increasing excitement as he read about building your own aircraft from a kit, and ended with one that I suspect I will never forget: “I’m actually semi-serious. Would you like to build a plane with me?!” 

Well, how do you respond to that? Being with J for almost 10 years and married to him for two means I was perhaps less shocked by this proposition than others might have been. I have learned to be more open to ideas that might at first assessment seem completely unfeasible, and to share in excitement at the new and unknown. These are probably not natural tendencies of mine, but they are ways of thinking that enrich my life immeasurably.

In fact in spite of myself (I tend to be the sensible / boring one who keeps both of our pairs of feet on the ground…), I thought it sounded quite fun.

I wouldn’t have said either of us has a natural aptitude for such a project: I really was rubbish at Design Tech at school. I broke my plastic ‘wiggly worm’ in year 7 and made a wooden car of dubious structural integrity in year 9. In year 11, I created a fimo stage for a Destiny’s Child concert which earned me an A* but fell apart with light prodding by curious fingers at Open Evening. Thus end my credentials, thank goodness. Whilst J has a healthy grounding in various artistic disciplines due to his Steiner schooling, he is also not someone who does a great deal of work with his hands these days. When he does, it tends to be with the goal of getting it done as quickly as possible and not caring too much about how it looks.

It’s safe to say we are not the people that would get picked out of a crowd if someone said “I need someone to build me an aeroplane!”

But we are both willing and able to learn. And we are both enthusiastic. Those things count for a lot, and in the world of kit-built planes, there are people who have succeeded mainly on the strength of just these two attributes. Not everyone does – unsurprisingly perhaps, many kit builds are started but never finished – but it gives us some chance.

So back to the text: “I’m actually semi-serious. Would you like to build a plane with me?!” 

I said yes. And now we’re coming closer and closer to making that a reality.

We have moved house for (pretty much) the sole purpose of having a space we can use as a workshop. We have finished clearing out and redecorating said workshop. We have acquired a ridiculous number of tools that neither of us yet fully understand how to use. We’re doing a metalwork course, voluntarily (honest!). And – terrifyingly – we have ordered and received our first set of kit parts, which has already overflowed from the garage and is partially residing in our spare room.

A warning to anyone planning to come and stay in the next few months (actually, make that years…) – you may find yourself sharing a room with bits of plane.

Absolutely bonkers? Probably!

But how incredible would it be if we actually pulled it off?! 

I am a complete newcomer to this concept and still more than a little terrified by it, but basically building an aircraft from a kit yourself represents an enormous saving vs buying one outright.

There are a number of reasons why it makes financial sense for many people:

  • You do the labour – so you pay for the parts, tools and materials but do the work, which as you might imagine costs a lot less than buying a whole aeroplane that someone else has spent thousands of hours building for you!
  • You can buy it in stages. Buying a new aircraft tends to entail buying the whole thing. Strangely enough, manufacturers are mostly reluctant to chop their shiny new planes up and wait until you can afford the next bit. For kit planes, however, this is exactly what happens. You can buy, say, the empennage (tail, essentially) and build it, then when you’ve saved up enough you can buy a wing, then probably another one (tends to be a good plan to have two of those!), later on the fuselage, etc etc. There are also some wonderfully talented individuals who build planes entirely from scratch and literally just purchase the raw materials. Neither of us feels capable of this (maybe one day?!), but kit planes come with certain things already prepared (shapes cut, holes drilled) and they just (HAHAHA, ‘just’) require finishing and assembly.
  • Once you’ve completed your kit-build plane (there’s a very big assumption here that you actually WILL complete it, by no means a given!!), you can probably carry out a lot of the maintenance yourself and save money that way – after all, if you put it together, you probably have a fair idea of how it’s meant to look and work, and also how to fix it if something goes wrong. I do hope so!

In the UK there is an organisation called the Light Aircraft Association, which encourages recreational aviation in all its forms, but is particularly focused on the regulation, inspection and maintaining safety standards of kit- and homebuilt aircraft. When planning on undertaking a kit build you need to register it with the LAA before commencing, and enlist the services of an inspector who will assess the project at various stages to ensure it’s well-constructed, and once you’re finished there are a number of stringent safety checks that have to be passed before it’s given a permit and you can take to the skies.

After a lot of thought, we have decided to build a Vans RV-14 for a variety of reasons (abridged version as follows):

  • The finished product ticks a lot of boxes for us in terms of performance and range
  • Vans is a well-known manufacturer of kit built planes and many of their other models are already signed off for builds in the UK
  • There is great support from Vans and from other builders
  • Good for beginners – a ‘safe’ option (relatively speaking – we have just decided to build our own plane, after all!!), and if we manage it we will have a really good plane at the end of it
Vans RV-14. Image credit: www.vansaircraft.com
Vans RV-14. Image credit: www.vansaircraft.com

Despite the fact that this idea might seem insane, there are many others who have done and are doing it as we speak! We’ve been following progress of some other RV-14 builders through their blogs and have been in touch to compare notes. We’d be very interested to hear from anyone else who is going through or thinking about undertaking a kit build 🙂

Quite clearly, what you gain in cost saving through doing a kit build, you lose (possibly multiple times over!) in time and effort required on your own part to get the plane built, inspected and certified.

If we weren’t interested in the fun and the personal challenge of doing a build, it would definitely be an entirely stupid idea. It might still turn out to be an entirely stupid idea. But we shall see where this crazy journey takes us – watch this space, and perhaps one day something resembling a plane will appear in it!

Some highlights of the reactions we’ve had so far:

“That is not a question I normally get asked.” (the Estate Agent for our new rental property responding to our enquiry about using the garage as a workshop in which to build a plane)

“Sounds very impressive.” (my Dad…I’ve advised him to save any feelings of that sort for the event that we actually complete one and manage to get it certified and into the air!)

“Have you ever built anything that worked?” (my brother, who has a point)

“That’s amazing. But I’m not going to go in it. Just saying.” (a good friend who shall remain nameless, and whom we very much hope will reconsider if we do manage to produce a working aircraft at the end of it all!)

“What fun!” (J’s Mum, whose sense of adventure and blind faith in us knows no bounds – I hope she’s right)

“Right.” (my lovely Nana. What else can you say?!)

“You’re nuts. Why on earth would you want to do that?!” (many people, all of them completely justified…)

I’ll be documenting progress with the build on this blog and sharing some of the highs and lows as they happen. Let’s see if we actually end up with a plane at the end of all this, and then let’s see if we can fly her!

In the meantime, I need to keep trundling along and finish my PPL so I can join in the fun properly if and when we manage this.

Happy flying!

Em x

Do you wanna build an aeroplane…?

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7 thoughts on “Do you wanna build an aeroplane…?

  1. Yes, empennage kit arrived about 3 weeks ago. Came by air freight and took me 3 days to extract it from customs! Workshop about finished, just waiting for new secure bike storage for our 8 bikes before I start the inventory. Applied for a 4 week extension from Vans.

  2. I have been working on an RV-7A for quite a long time now, but I’m nearly finished! And I have no regrets. It has truly been one of the most rewarding endeavors I have ever taken on, in my life. Feel free to visit my web pages. Much of the same techniques will apply to the RV-14 and I would welcome you as a visitor.

    1. Thank you Bruce, great site! Our build has taken longer than we initially thought, but we are still enjoying the process and the end is gradually coming into sight – it’s been a long time since I updated the blog but we are onto the finishing kit now and there’s ‘just’ the wings + engine to go after that. Probably 70% done, 95% to go 🙂

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