Mail Sack, Affordable Aircraft…..


Below is a collection of mail we took in covering the three articles on Affordable Aircraft. A wide range of perspectives on the subject. Anyone could read the thoughts and find something to object to, but I like to look at it from the point of view of how much the views of diverse homebuilders have in common.  I truly think that builders with thought out perspectives should have a place where they can be heard.  We can do this here without it dissolving to typical Internet drama. All perspectives welcomed.


Blast from the past: In the Zenith booth at Oshkosh 2003. Between Grace and I is the 601XL kit that we purchased that week that became our aircraft seen at the right side of this page. We had just finished speaking to Burt Rutan, who stopped when he saw Grace’s shirt that said “My ex wanted me to quit flying.” He liked the shirt, but he specifically made a joke about rivets. I pointed out that rivets cure to full strength a lot faster than epoxy cures. Burt laughed. In the center of the photo is Arnold Holmes, our guest editorial writer. The photo was taken by John Warren.

Jackson Ordean writes:

Absolutely right on. Although, at age 69, I’ll probably go for a ‘lazy’ kit. Thank you!

Piet builder Dave Aldrich writes:

Arnold hit the nail on the head when he talks about “instant gratification”. The Farcebook and Twitter generation have no clue about what pride in craftsmanship is, nor are they apt to find out. Our school systems put so much value on “self-esteem” that pride and a feeling of individual accomplishment are pushed to the fringe, if not devalued completely. I would love to have some local high school kid come out to the hangar and help me build my Pietenpol but I’ll win the Megaball Super Dooper Jumbo Lottery before that happens.

On a slightly different topic, affordable planes do exist, just not “new”. I’ve got an almost 50-year-old Piper Cherokee that has been well maintained, marginally IFR, and is worth about what you’d pay for a new mid-sized car. Solid, simple airplane and built in the USA.

Stepping down off soap box….

Zenith builder Brian Manlove writes:

Would you consider a Zenith CH650B (not quick-build) to be a “fancy kit”? At the current price of around 18K for the complete airframe and finishing package, (less FWF) I guess it’s relative to one’s viewpoint. In my case, I’m 59 years old, only now getting into the “arena” and unfortunately have an unknown life expectancy. After including the costs of the Corvair conversion, propeller, and “steam” gauges, it’s still around the cost of a mid-priced new car. It’s not only totally affordable, but I will still get a lot of satisfaction and learn a lot about aircraft construction by putting it together, and I will probably actually live to fly it. If my only choice is to look forward to an unknown number of years of trial, error, and very likely close to that much expense anyway (who knows how much wood and aluminum will keep going up in cost) then I should just hang it up now. While I’m at it, why not make my own tires, brake pads, propeller… heck, I could even turn my own nuts and bolts with a nice lathe… I’ll get my daughter to start weaving linen… Seriously though, aren’t Zenith and Sonex at least trying to produce a truly affordable product for the “common man?”

Brian, both Arnold, myself and most other people I know consider both Zenith and Sonex kits a good value, and part of the solution and not the problem. In 2005 I wrote an article published by the EAA called “The P/K LSA” and the subject was these two aircraft, and how both outfits were glad to offer them as kits, plans, or even by the individual part, addressing many people’s needs. Keep in mind that Grace and I thought the 601 kit was a good enough value to buy one ourselves at Oshkosh 2003 for $15K, which was a giant amount of dough to us at the time. Our main beef is stories about real builders like yourself being displaced by stuff about $150K LSAs from China and million dollar turboprops. Keep building, looking forward to you flying your creation into a College soon.-ww

Larry Bird in Virginia writes:

Bravo — I’m sure this was just a bit of a rant – it was penned with too much passion to be anything else; however, it is also painfully true as most of us who still harbor flying dreams, but must live paycheck to paycheck, know… (Please pardon the turgid parentheticals, that’s the way I think).

It is popular these days to insist that “someone” should do this or that to relieve me of my plight, but the truth is that if I can convince myself to be content with the product of my own hands, then I have few excuses and the solution is readily available. I’d love to be in the position to afford (and build) a Lancair IV, but even though I have Lancair’s first VHS promotional tape from way back when, that will never happen…

Thankfully there are still folks fully engaged at the unpretentious end of sport aviation to “help” geriatric neophytes with encouragement, advice and (dare I say it) parts/assemblies I can’t easily make myself. I’ve been involved/immersed in several sports; motorcycling, sailing, auto-racing and flying among them – in one fashion or another all have betrayed their populist roots and become more spectator sports built on ersatz pageantry than the participatory sport they once were…

Nonetheless, after years mildewing on the couch waiting for my “ship to come in,” it is good to be back in the shop attempting to learn those skills that would have afforded me my (air) ship, decades ago… plus, I get to take frivolous pleasure in the satisfaction that comes with having a fantastic excuse for all that low-cost dirt and grease under my finger-nails… All on the anticipation that I may yet get back in the air, and for less than many pay for a used car…It’s up to me…

Noted aviation journalist Pat Panzera writes:

Although you won’t find much in the way of homebuilding in the pages of EAA’s Sport Aviation (as compared to years past), I’ve spent the past 3.5 years bringing the type of homebuilt articles we’ve come to miss to the (virtual) pages of EAA’s Experimenter eNewsletter, AND for nearly a decade, I’ve filled the pages of CONTACT! magazine with articles from the trenches of experimental aviation, many of which are one-off designs. For Experimenter, I campaigned from the beginning to make it FREE to everyone, not just EAA members, and so far I’ve been able to keep it that way. Unfortunately, changes are being made outside of my control

Pat, People who follow your work understand that you are one of the very few journalists committed to publicizing the efforts of the common man, with a long portfolio that shows that you have always backed this concept. Thanks for the efforts to cover our Arena.-ww

Bruce Culver writes:

This and your previous essay are outstanding. I am among those who would love to fly, but hover at the lower end of the monetary threshold. Yet I never miss a chance to go outside when I hear a plane go overhead, wanting to see what it is. In a real sense, EAA has sold its soul to the march of commercial aviation. As you said, “Sport Aviation” looks more and more like “Flying”, and there are tens of thousands of us out here who would love to get up there, but can’t quite make it, yet. But with the proper attitude and some assistance in planning and more economical designs and materials, many of us can, and will… I was a logistician in the defense industry for 25 years, and I love the Corvair movement because you have no real competition, and have fought for so long to make this wonderful engine all it could be for light aviation. The watchword in military logistics is “life cycle costs,” and that means acquisition, operation, and maintenance and repair. This is where the Corvair is the engine for the DIY homebuilder on a budget, not only getting the engine but using it and repairing or upgrading it. You can replace the entire internals in a Corvair for less than just the valves in a Lycoming or Continental. Please keep up the fight to make flying accessible to all who desire to slip the surly bonds. What you are doing is incredibly important – there is NO other way to keep general aviation healthy without making flying more accessible. The pilots who got their training in the 1960s are retiring pretty quickly now, and the military services are not training the number of pilots they used to. Only by encouraging new pilots to join the decreasing crowd can the decline be slowed. When GA gets small enough, many of the services now available will disappear due to lack of sufficient demand. That will affect even the 5% catered to by EAA and AOPA. But by then it will be too late….

J.A. Oliver writes:

I agree wholeheartedly with your take on “Sport Aviation.” When the much-ballyhooed January 2010 issue hit my mailbox, the first thing I said (to myself) was, “They’re trying to make it look like ‘Flying.’ ” This was without knowing who was involved and where they had come from. There have been some good articles, but there is also a lot of stuff that I classify as “filler.” I hope they get back on track. I still haven’t recovered from the spin-off of “The Experimenter” from “Sport Aviation.” Don’t let this issue distract you from the Colleges and Oshkosh, etc. They have made some changes.

Zenith builder Rebecca Shipman writes:

The future of aviation among real people in the U.S. will depend on affordable access to GA aircraft. I like your analogy to sailing. My first sailing experience was in Berkeley on a sailboard. I got access through Cal Sailing Club, which was $20/month. Later, I had my first real sailing experience on a 16′ Hobie Cat owned by a co-worker. (I was invited because his wife thought it was too windy, but that’s another story). I was able to get a lot of experience with motorcycles, and currently ride a very nice one, and I never paid over $5k (my BMW R1100RT-P ). Reliable entry level used planes that cost about what a new SUV would cost would go a long way to ensuring the future of flying for real people. Right now that is possible if you build your own plane. But now you need to have the time, skills, and doggedness to build your own plane. Would I be a motorcycle rider if I had to build my bike?

Regarding the China thing, they are actively investing in developing high end aviation technology. In fact they are investing in all kinds of technology. And we just give it to them, because there is a tremendous short term monetary advantage for moving jobs and capital to China. Plus, it is a growing market because they are developing a middle class. China is huge on “buy China” – unlike the U.S. and “buy American”. So if you want to dominate the market, you have to produce there. In my engineering job, I am training Chinese engineers, and transferring all kinds of trade secret technology to China. We know we can’t protect it – China is lousy on IP law. But it doesn’t matter – there is a fast buck to be made.

Finally, what I train both Chinese and U.S. engineers in at work is a way of thinking that involves the combination of theoretical knowledge and practical mechanics and electronics. I think aviation is a great way to do this. There are many small airports around the country which have shops and planes and flight instructors. Bringing high school students to the local airport / FBO and training them in some basic mechanics, giving them an intro flight, and giving them a basic ground school experience could be a win-win-win. Students would get instruction in an interesting and fun environment, FBOs and small airports would get business and the GA industry would get exposure and new blood.

Tim Smart writes:

Great article, spot on by my thinking. 

Jerry McFerron writes:

Years ago I purchased an hour of dual instruction in a Navy N3N biplane with a P&W R-985. It was my first open cockpit – biplane – radial engine experience. The airport was small, with a road that passed next to the south end of the runway. As we taxied out to take off, a woman driving along the road stopped her car so that her young son could watch. It took me a while to realize that much of my life is spent being the guy looking over the fence instead of doing something that will cause people to stop their car and watch.

Looking back, it seems that the fence gets taller and further from the runway as time goes on. Even more years ago I had a Hobie 16 with blue hulls and Tequila Sunrise sails. . . Hummmm

Jerry, My Dad learned how to fly at Annapolis in N3Ns in 1946. You keep building and we will keep the fence as low as possible.-ww

Zenith 750 builder Mike Festa writes:

William, I can always count on you for eye opening account of the exact happening in my hangar in 2010. It was there that I felt like a spectator! My partner in the hangar was building an RV-6A, and my other friend was completing an AcroSport II. I was happy, or so I thought, being a wrench for these guys, basically doing what was needed. Then, along came the idea of the Corvair as the powerplant for an aircraft I had not chosen. Along came the new 750 from Zenith, and that’s when I was NO LONGER a spectator. As you explained, I could not afford some of these Sport Aircraft, so the 750 was clearly my choice. I experienced Corvair College #20 in Michigan and solidly was convinced I made the right choice. Thanks for the time and effort you have made for, not only me, but countless builders and dreamers who were able to make my “bucket list” reality. Thanks to Grace for being so important in your efforts, also. Peace you all! Hope to see you at Oshkosh. A grateful builder, Mike Festa CC #20 

Builder Rodney Wren writes:

That is one very well written and well thought out article. I recently called EAA and inquired as to plans that might be available for a motor glider. Surely, the premier homebuilt organization in the world should have a list of options available for “homebuilders.” I was referred to a book in their library that “might have some information in it.” They did not, and could not cite one airplane, or set of plans that could be purchased. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was; the individual I talked to was not even aware of the Xenos which is manufactured by Sonex and even located right there on the same airport as the EAA.

Last year, a friend I work with brought me several issues of the EAA magazine. In one was an article on the Cessna 182. WHAT?????? What the heck is a review of a 182 doing in a magazine for homebuilders? Since I plan on selling my 172 this year, and start the process of building a Xenos with a Corvair engine in it, my friend suggested I join EAA. I love all the EAA Webinars and short instructional videos that are available; but where is the organization headed long term? I don’t want to be too hard on them – just wanted to note that my experience with them has been less than what I expected. I’m not too sure that they deserve any of my $$ at this juncture. I appreciate the efforts of people like Mr. Monnett and William Wynne, who really are in the forefront of helping us “common folk” find affordable solutions to our desire to fly. You guys keep up the good work! Regards, RW.

Steve Kean writes:

My guess is it takes money and sponsorships to run EAA glitz, hence the focus on the unattainable French Turbo Prop. Perhaps seeing what EAA financial obligations are being proposed in the yearly budget, members could vote on how EAA spends our membership fees and where endorsement $’s must be used. I whole heartily agree we need more kit and home built coverage. EAA could separate (or sever) the money and glitz financial obligations side of their business from that 98% of the future of aviation, and FOCUS on attainable aircraft.…and I thought there was something wrong with me for not reading “Flying”…

Georgia H. Trehey writes:

William, You give me great hope. Kudos!



Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: