Do you have to be a rocket scientist to build a kit aircraft?

June 6, 2016

The good news is no, you definitely do not have to be a rocket scientist, mechanic or engineer to build your own aircraft!  How can this be, you may ask?  Let’s start out by examining some of the basics of this subject.

Firstly, there is a class of aircraft that is called Experimental or amateur built and aircraft in this class come to the buyer in the form of a kit. It’s also referred to as a kit plane. The kit is typically already majorly assembled (just less than half way completed) when it’s delivered to the buyer and the builder completes the assembly  in his garage, hangar or another space that can accommodate it. Unlike Certified aircraft, that come fully built and ready to fly off the lot, with a kit aircraft the builder is actually considered the manufacturer.

Experimental aircraft are where all the leading edge technology comes from. For example, the revolution of flat screen aviation instruments in the dash of aircraft began with experimental aircraft. For generations, most smaller planes have had old fashioned steam gauges.  These planes have certainly not kept up with the technological advances found in today’s cars. Additionally, the use of composite materials for sleek aircraft was introduced and perfected by the kit industry.

How do you actually learn how to build it? A kit aircraft comes with a detailed, step-by-step build manual, to guide you along. In the case of the Switchblade kit, the build manual will be on an iPad, with videos of the most challenging steps. The length of time it takes to complete a kit aircraft varies greatly, from as little as 500 hours up to 1,500 hours, for more complex aircraft. You will need certain basic tools but in most cases will not be building an engine from scratch, making carbon fiber parts or doing other highly technical things that require very specialized tools.

Can I get help building my plane? Yes, you can take classes and workshops – many of which are free through EAA, the Experimental Aircraft Association, home of the “home-built”.  There are hundreds of EAA Chapters all across the US and you may find some experienced builders in your local chapter who would like to help you build your plane. Per the Experimental Amateur-Built aircraft Sourcebook, “The skills necessary to build today’s state-of-the-art aircraft kits are simple to learn and well within the reach of almost everyone… All you really need is the desire to build and a willingness to learn.”

General Builder Assist: Taking ‘build help’ to an all new level, Samson Sky will have Builder Assist Centers, utilizing assembly lines, where an owner works along side experienced pros who help him assemble his Switchblade as he moves through separate stations. Working fulltime, people should be able to complete their flying car in as little as 3 weeks. While some people will enjoy building on their own, many are so eager to get on the road and in the air that they will do the fast route and use the Builder Assist program.

People often find it surprising that more Experimental aircraft are registered with the FAA each year than are Certified aircraft.  While building a kit certainly requires a dedicated effort of time and energy, the price savings and benefits of having a cutting edge aircraft tailored to your use, make this well worth it.

–  Frank Jones

Switchblade, Samson Sky, Skybrid, and Skybrid Technology are trademarks or registered marks, and are used with permission on these pages.

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