Thinking of building a plane? Well, there are a lot more things to consider than just what design it will be. Myriad questions come to mind: Do you think you can spend all your waking hours working on your project and studying your manuals? What consideration have you given to splitting your time between your job and the plane? How many hours each day do you expect to work on your project? And, finally, perhaps the most important one: Have you wondered about the strength of your marriage and whether it will survive your decision to build an airplane?
In recent discussions with numerous builders (those interviewed were men), it was interesting to learn that the main decision discussed between the builder and his spouse was whether to build the plane. Once the wife gave her approval, begrudgingly or not, the builder felt he had free reign to spend as many hours working on his airplane as he wanted. In fact, the spouses interviewed frequently referred to the aircraft as “his mistress.” Builders acknowledged that once given approval, they often forgot that they had to spend time with the wife and family to nurture those relationships.
Based on a survey of builders who had completed projects, and the wives who supported them, it was clear that communicating was extremely important in making the process smoother for the benefit of the relationship. Each step in the decision-making process should be clearly discussed so that both parties understand the commitment each of them will have to make to reach the goal of a flying aircraft.
There seems to be a consistent thread from both the builder and his spouse on three main areas of concern: One, there must be a realistic time commitment regarding the building process (i.e., how many hours will be set aside each day or week to devote to the project). Two, there must be a flexible financial budget for both the plane and the family. And third, there must be a proper balance of time and energy between the family and the project.
Time: It Can Consume You
The time commitment may seem like an obvious issue, but what builders have stated is that the project seems to be all consuming. The goal of completing the airplane and turning a bunch of parts into an airworthy craft weighed heavily on their minds. Are you going to spend two days each week working on your project? Are you going to work on it after you get off work each day? Are you going to spend your weekends building? You need to set goals and stick to them. Before you set goals, you should take the time to make sure your partner agrees with your ideas. Mark Beattie and his wife, Liz, are building an RV-6. They planned on completing their plane in five years, working mostly on weekends, and are now in their seventh year of building. “I try to remember its the journey, not the destination,” Liz said.
The time spent studying manuals and shopping for parts should be included in your budget for building. Does the manual say it will take 2000 hours to complete the project? Regardless of what the manual or the company says about the time required to build, it will vary with every individual. Do you have previous experience in building, or are you a novice with a learning curve to include in your time budget? Every single builder queried said it took more time to build the project than the kit companies advertised. In some cases, they stated it took nearly twice what was advertised. Others said it took nearly three times the company’s estimate. That will make a huge difference when you are setting your goal for completing your plane. Ed Smith of Chesapeake, Virginia, is building a Lancair IV-P. His advice is to “not look at the project as a whole but instead as many small, incremental steps. That way, you feel a sense of accomplishment along the way.” To save yourself time and effort while working on your plane, use the knowledge of others such as forums for your particular type of aircraft, other builders in your area, and the company’s technical support to make your build progress more smoothly. By virtue of their experience, these resources can significantly reduce the number of hours that you spend building.
Setting a budget is another issue that needs to be addressed with your spouse. How much money are you planning to set aside for the project each month? Have you factored in hangar rent, builders insurance, tools necessary to complete the project, avionics, interior work and paint? What about the engine and propeller? Will you have enough funds in the household coffers if you experience a family emergency? Every builder stated that it was more expensive to build their plane than they originally believed it would be. During the years required to complete the plane, costs on nearly everything required will undoubtedly rise, and avionics will have changed considerably (both in technology and expense). Janie and Ed Smith of Chesapeake, Virginia, said that “In the past six years, technology has made major strides in avionics and glass panels, and we feel that such an airplane as we were building deserved the latest and greatest technology.”
Tom Gourley, whos building a Lancair Legacy, reported that while working on his panel, he purchased wire, wire terminals, connectors, connector pins, circuit breakers, switches, coax, coax connectors, indicator lights, laser-cut aluminum, powder-coating and silk screening, which topped $2000. This did not include any of the instrumentation, nor did it include the wiring and other electrical items mounted in the airframe, such as solenoids, trim servos, stick grips, taxi and landing lights, nav lights, strobe lights and a heated pitot tube. When you are in the midst of building a specific section of your plane you will have to pick up parts or obtain tools necessary to continue your work. Estimate these expenses when contemplating your budget.
Speaking of your family, how much time do you plan to spend with your wife and children? Several builders said they got so focused on finishing their airplane that they sometimes forgot they were married! Of course, there were others who remembered they were married and expected support from their wives during the build process. What type of support are you going to ask of your spouse? Do you expect her to take over all the household and garden tasks, bill paying, child rearing and holiday preparations? Or do you expect her to be more hands-on and spend weekends alongside you in the garage or hangar?
One builder, who is also an astute engineer, said that he thought his children would “wait” to grow up until he finished his work. Unfortunately, they did not. Time marches on, your project gets further down the road to completion, and before you know it, your children are grown and gone. Don’t forget them along way, and try to include them in your project. Have the little ones use magnets to pick up dropped nuts and bolts and put them in cups. Invite your childs Cub Scout or Girl Scout troop to your work area and introduce them to the aircraft and the build process. They may even earn a badge!
A good way to manage your time commitment to both your project and your family is to talk with your spouse about commitments such as birthday parties and holidays. Set aside the time in your build process to attend these functions, and do not start an area of work that will run over into the family obligation.
Most importantly, be sure to spend some quality time with your wife. This may help to assure that she will still be by your side when you complete your life goal of building a beautiful aircraft. Talk about the trips you plan on taking together when the plane is airworthy. Post pictures of the places you want to go in the hangar. Let her plan vacations so that she has something to look forward to with you if she is the keeper of the house during your build process.
Take the time to enjoy a date night each week. While you are on your date, talk about other things besides the airplane. Save that for the other six days. Let her choose what she wants to do on date night, and go with no complaints! Make that evening all about her, and remind yourself why you married her and why you want to share your dreams with this wonderful woman. She is there to support you in reaching your goals, so be supportive and encourage her dreams. She will be the one taking up the slack at home, which will allow you more time to work. Appreciate her for all she is doing for you while you are building, and verbalize your thanks.
Share the build process with your spouse in whatever manner works best for your relationship. Revisit your agreements several times during the years it takes to complete your plane to ensure you are still on track. With these plans laid out before you begin building, you should have no problem coming out of this journey with an airworthy aircraft for your whole family to enjoy, a sense of great accomplishment for what you have achieved, and your wife both proud and happy by your side.