The Hypocrisy of Homebuilders

Builders:

After hours at Oshkosh 2014, I was speaking with a  small group of friends, and mentioned that I had now worked in homebuilding for 25 years.  One person offered that it must have held many of the rewards I hoped for, if I had stuck with it, and I acknowledged that it did. But a very insightful friend asked if there was an element that I never expected. He was thinking in positive terms, but my answer wasn’t.  The answer I gave him,  “The Hypocrisy of Homebuilders” is  a very important factor, and every homebuilder deserves a plain discussion of it so they can be better prepared when they meet it.

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Above, a photo of legendary Florida aviator Ed Hoffman and one of his many creations. The photo is from an old Sport Aviation. I find it inspirational; it is laminated and it hangs on the wall of my workshop.  One of the best parts of my 2014 flying season was a chance meeting of Ed’s son flying this plane at the Fantasy of Flight splash in. I made a special effort to explain to him how much the work his father, a man I had never met, meant to me as a homebuilder. Ed’s son smiled and shared a few stories of his father, a much admired homebuilder. 25 years earlier, when I was just starting in experimental aviation, this is how I pictured homebuilding, something of a brotherhood, people who would certainly respect all forms of creativity and the human freedom expressed in the act of building one’s own flying machine.

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Anyone who is involved in light aviation understands that you will encounter an endless stream of people who will compulsively make unsolicited negative comments to you.  If you decide that your path in aviation is homebuilding, these comments will surely double in both frequency and intensity. Homebuilders, even relatively late arrivals, expect and understand this. 

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However, few homebuilders expect or are prepared for this: The many of their most vocal and venomous critics will be other homebuilders. While there are a great number of homebuilders who understand that claiming their own right as an individual to choose what they will do in aviation, requires they respect the right of others to make different choices without criticism, my 27 years in homebuilding says these people are perhaps just 20% of the people who call themselves ‘homebuilders.’ 

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When a new company has a press release that says their yet to fly ‘design’ will be the greatest aircraft ever, because it is made by the Chinese government and made of a composite of asbestos and a residue of political prisoners. It is perfectly OK to tell your friend with his checkbook in hand to slow down before writing a deposit. What is not OK, is to criticize the private choice of another homebuilder, a decision they have made for themselves.  If a person wishes to be able to make their own choice for themselves, than it is absolutely required they respect the same decision made by another person, even if the choice is different.

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In my evaluation, anyone who expects the right to build a plane of his choosing, but criticizes the design, appearance, mission or materials of  the choices of others, is the very definition of the word hypocrite. In my time in homebuilding, with the rise of the internet and societies acceptance of negativity as a somehow admirable trait, this has only gotten worse. Since I can do nothing about these people, The most effective way to support homebuilders, especially new ones, is to frankly tell them to expect that the majority of people they encounter who claim to be ‘homebuilders’ are hypocrites, and will demonstrate this with little or no provocation. You should not let your choices as an individual be affected by them.

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The golden rule is this: Do your homework, listen to successful builders (who made the same plane, you can’t ask RV-4 builders if a Pietenpol is a good idea) and then build the plane you want to, not the one that the majority of people tell you to.

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If you build the Plane that the majority of people tell you to, they 1) It might make them happy. 2) It probably will not make you happy. 3) You will belatedly learn that following the unsolicited free advice of strangers is rarely the route to fulfilling your own personal goals and dreams.

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On an FAA accident report, perhaps the most vital question asks how many hours “time in type” did the pilot have. If we applied the same standard to advice on Experimentals, you would find that 90% of the people offering an opinion or advice have 0.0 hours as PIC in the plane they are commenting on. If their advice was based on having even 5 hours in the type, they would say so.  On the FAA forms, you are not allowed to enter “My buddy had one”, “I flew in one as a passenger” or “I read about it on a website” to the time in type figure. They all count for 0.0, and that is pretty much their value as advice on your Experimental project. 

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If a guy at a typical EAA meeting asks you which engine you are going  to use, and you respond  “An alternative engine” there is an 80% chance he will express a negative opinion, even before he asks what kind. Mind you there is only about a 2% chance he has any personal time flying behind any alternative engine, and chances are he has never personally built any flight engine. Mention on line you are going to use an alternative engine, and you get the same 80% negative response from guys with names like “Flyboy26@hotmale” except most of these guys will claim to have several hundred hours behind any engine you mention. Notice the discrepancy between 2% having and 75% on line claiming to have first hand experience. People with actual experience use real names and have websites with their picture and planes with N-numbers on them.

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If you go a typical EAA meeting and say you are going to build a Fly baby, several people will tell you to forget fabric planes and build a metal one. The next month you tell the same guys you are building a Zenith 601, and they tell you forget pulled rivets. The next month you come back with an RV-7 tail kit, and they tell you Experimentals are dangerous, better get a certified plane. The next month you come back with a Cessna 172, and they tell you Skyhawks are terrible because they are underpowered. The next month you trade the 172 in on a Cessna 180, and they tell you how bad tail wheel planes are, and you are only going to get hurt. You find a guy willing to trade your 180 and $18K for his Cessna 185. You bring it to the next meeting, and all the guys who told you what to do, all sing a chorus about how much fuel it is going to use. This is the first moment that you realize you have been attending this chapter for a year, changed your path seven times on the counsel of people you never seen fly anything. You ask another guy about this and he tells you he has been in the chapter since 1986, and he has never seen any of them fly anything, not even a paper airplane.

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I can offer no explanation for this behavior, but since you know it is out there, perhaps it will do your blood pressure some good if you follow my expectation that 80% of the people who claim to be ‘homebuilders’ will be absolute hypocrites, and that way you can be pleasantly surprised with find out I was wrong, it is only 70%.

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This is a link to Jim Tomaszewski’s Corvair Twin: JAG-2 Corvair Twin, running on film. When I posted the story about it, a Canadian ‘homebuilder’ wrote a long derogatory comment about how it was criminal to advocate a twin with fixed props (in spite of the fact planes like Grumman Widgeons were certified with them). I deleted the comments, and the person wrote and said he was suing me for slander against his character, because deleting his comment made it look like he retracted it. He mentioned having his right to free speech. I simply asked him how from Canada he planned to exercise an American right on a private website.  It actually made me feel good to know that the US doesn’t have a monopoly on the manufacture of d-bags.

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Also, get a look at this story about your local airport: A visit to the insane asylum

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-ww.

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