Why would anyone want to build an airplane?


What's a homebuilt aircraft? If you're not sure, I'd encourage you to read the EAA's FAQ about homebuilt aircraft.

What possesses some people to do something as weird as building an airplane in the garage? Several factors seem common to homebuilders, and so far as these can be explained by logic, I'll attempt to do that now.

Many homebuilders will start rattling off statistics and comparisons of the superior performance claims of homebuilts airplanes. Others will talk about how it's much less expensive for you to maintain an airplane for which you hold the repairman's certificate. Some homebuilders will tell you that they are just born tinkerers and just like to build things, and the airplane is the most exciting thing to build that they could find. These are all probably universally true, except the last which seems like it may have more to do with your personality than anything else. The main reason for me, though (and, I'm convinced, lots of other people) is that we just like messing around with airplanes. While everyone else was building little plastic Corvettes, I was always the kid that made and played with those balsa wood or styrofoam airplane models that were forever getting stuck in the gutter. I was always the one that thought that the airplane ride part of the family vacation was more fun than the part at Disney World, and ran around the backyard with arms straight out making airplane noises with my mouth. I suspect, in the company that I keep, I was not the only one with these odd characteristics during childhood. (Most of us, though, have learned to keep the urge to imitate airplane noises under control -- unless we're sitting in an unfinished airplane, in which case all bets are off.)

Obviously none of this will make any sense to you unless you learn to fly. There are many reasons - practicality, ease of travel, and just for enjoyment. Steven Coonts has a great article just explaining the sheer joy of getting to play with airplanes - in his case, a Stearman.

There are also practical applications for this hobby, but typically, the RV folks tend towards the "cuz it's fun" reasons of why they're flying. The RV is the aeronautical equivalent of a sports car, so perhaps this isn't all that unexpected. So why build one? Quite a few reasons, but other than the aformentioned (and mainly emotional one), the two most popular answers seem to be as follows:

Cost. New airplanes are just darn expensive. To see this illustrated, go to Cessna's Website or perhaps Cirrus Aircraft's Website and price out a new airplane. If your budget is anything like mine . . . well, I've come to the conclusion that the only way I would be able to afford a certified airplane is if it is older than I am. In addition to a lower initial cost, a kitbuilt airplane will be less expensive to maintain. The reason for this is if you build a kitplane, you're listed as the manufacturer - therefore, even if you aren't an A&P Mechanic, you can do work on it instead of paying someone else to do the work for you.

Performance. If I was going to buy a certified airplane, it would have to be an old and not very exciting one. A 25-year old Cessna 172 has the performance of, well, a 25-year old Cessna 172. They're nice and predictable, docile, exactly what you expect. On the other hand, they're not that exciting to fly. It just depends on what you want - if you're looking for an aeronautical minivan, that is probably the airplane for you. If you're looking for an airplane that reminds you of a sports car, then the RV is probably a better bet. (Though if you really feel the need for something that's insanely fast you may want to check out the Harmon Rocket, though you certainly won't catch me saying so on an RV website like this one.)

More specifics:

  • You've talked me into the concept of an airplane, but how did you settle on an RV? There are lots of other airplanes out there. Well, it was a long and complicated process that you can read about right here, if you so desire.
  • Budd Davisson's Pilot Report of flying an RV. This one is an RV-3 (arguably the best RV), but it was also in 1973 so perhaps there have been some improvements since then.
  • More reasons: Dan Checkoway has a good article on how he came to build an RV. Informative and a good read.

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