Do-It-Yourselfers seem to have sprouted up more quickly than ever in the past seven to ten years or so. The truth is, these folks (also called DIYers) have been around for decades indeed, as long as industrial manufacturing has been around, there have been people doing the exact same things on a miniscule scale.
Take beer (one of my favorite food groups) for example: everyone’s heard of “homebrewers, right? The word conjures up sweaty dudes with thick beards and/or beer bellies in their overheated kitchens and dank basements, poring over bubbling carboys of yeasty liquid, all to achieve a pure beer product. Well, now take “homebuilders the preferred term of the Experimental Aircraft Association for those guys that build (more accurately, assemble) their own airplanes.
Homebrewers and homebuilders have a lot in common: work ethic (overdrive), dispositions (laid back), and their workspaces (garages, most often), for starters. Seemingly the only difference: their “commodities de guerre: one slaves away with grains, hops and water, and the other with wood, composites and metal.
For instance, take Arnie Zimmerman, a homebuilder with lots of “sweat equity (as the hours put in to building the planes are called), who’s profiled in the Chicago Tribune video below. He’s been flying a Breezy N3AZ, built of aluminum tubing and poly fiber, for 13 years, logging nearly 1,100 hours in the process.
For Zimmerman and hundreds, perhaps thousands of others, a love of flying and hands-on work pushes them to be homebuilders, saving upwards of the $250,000 a factory-built airplane typically costs. Kits can be had for anywhere from $15,000 to $20,000, not including the engine. Those run, on average, between $20,000 and $25,000, according to the Tribune.
Full airplane kits are available from various companies all listed here on the EAA website — from Kitfox to Eracer to Van’s Aircraft. Generally, composites and plastics are most predominant, although aluminum, steel tube and even gold factor in heavily, depending on the design and the kit.
Safety has become an issue with these experimental, build-them-yourselves planes in the wake of a 73-year-old Illinoisan crashing to his death on July 31 even though the EAA site quotes the FAA and NTSB finding that “amateur-Built/Homebuilt aircraft have an accident rate less than one percentage point higher than the general aviation fleet.
Regardless, the numbers of homegrown pilots are growing significantly (the number of FAA-registered homebuilt aircraft is up to 33,000, the EAA says). If you’d like to join the ranks, follow these simple steps (and free up anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 hours), from homebuilding expert Ron Liebmann outlined in a Tribune article:
1. Find a basement, garage, hangar, auto repair shop, fire station or some other open space to work
2. When the parts arrive, start from the tail of the aircraft and work your way forward
3. Build the elevator, vertical and horizontal stabilizer fins and rudder first
4. Build the wings, which typically include fuel tanks
5. Assemble the fuselage
6. Move on to the “firewall forward” section of the plane (includes the engine, motor mount and electrical system)
7. Install the instrumentation, paint the aircraft, obtain FAA airworthiness certification and make a successful test flight.
If you’re even more ambitious with even more money to throw around hell, you could always build your own spaceship.