Our landscape is changing. From a time when all homebuilts required myriad skills-working with fabric, welding your own tube, to name just two-the industry has progressed into something, er completely different. Pilots tend to arrive on the doorstep of aircraft building without significant fabrication skills. The clever avail themselves of those who do know, either through electronic means-the online “type club” forum has become an invaluable resource for many builders-or by attending material-specific courses before (and, sometimes, during) the build process. Better educated builders create better airplanes, as a rule, and form one leg of our amazingly sure-footed safety stool: Homebuilt aircraft, considering the nature of the beast, are amazingly safe and durable. And, for that matter, the airplanes themselves have changed, with computer-controlled manufacturing helping to ensure accuracy of the so-called raw components. For those who remember the beginnings, its almost too easy now.
Its with this context that I imagine the world of John Shipler. As chronicled elsewhere (“Sequoia Falco: Wings of Desire,” Page 8), his second project, after a modified Skybolt, was the Falco F.8L on this months cover. During the interview with his daughter, Kris, I had the privilege of leafing through the comprehensive photo album of the build. Pages upon pages of gradual progress are offered there, pieces of the Falcos now-sleek wing taking shape as hundreds, possibly thousands, of sections of spruce, cut by hand to the blueprints available at the time. I can almost smell sawdust in the air, hear the bandsaw chuff-chuffing through wood. I imagine Shiplers race-hardened hands-he raced and wrenched on “modifieds,” wickedly fast cars that look sorta-kinda like something youd buy in a dealership, only far meaner-gracefully holding a small piece against a sanders whizzing belt or knocking the edge off with a thumb-sized slip of sandpaper. Each new piece is placed, checked for fit, sanded a bit here and there, checked again, and worked until it slips among its brethren with a near-interference fit. Then jig, glue, clamp and let dry.
Shiplers airplane took a decade to build. You can see the landscape change in the photos, his neighbors adding onto the house, cars come and go. For him, Im fairly sure, the journey, rather than the result, was the thing.
Appropriately, this months issue contains our annual plansbuilt buyers guide. Every so often, when talking to vendors at airshows or shooting the breeze with builders out at the airport, the subject of plansbuilding comes up. Among the more likely questions: Does anyone still do this? In fact, yes. And while there’s no doubt that the center of gravity of our sport resides among those who build from kits, the plans segment survives. Consider the possibilities!
Want to build a Danieli Piuma or a Wittman Buttercup? Don’t go looking for hyper-prefabbed kits. Youll be undertaking these or any of the 162 other plansbuilt designs in this years directory from the ground up. And, no doubt, learning a wide range of skills in the process.