Have you ever found yourself in over your head when it comes to taking on a big project? It happens more often than you might think with homebuilt kit aircraft projects. Sometimes we overestimate our capabilities and knowledge regarding a topic. Sometimes there are gaps in documentation or directions from a kit manufacturer. Some kits use complex materials or require techniques beyond the ability of most first-time builders. Regardless of the source of frustration and confusion, the end result is that the building progress comes to a screeching halt when the builder hits a knowledge wall. If you don’t understand how something goes together after reaching out to all support channels, the project often sits in this uncompleted stage and you then lose interest. Uncompleted “kit-for-sale” ads are evidence of this situation.
For example, two areas of a kit build endeavor that seem to attract the most frustration are the electrical wiring (including the instrument panel) and the engine installation. There is a good reason—both are generally not covered by the kit manufacturer’s documentation or plans. In their defense, they do not know what type of panel you want nor which engine you have chosen. As a result, you are left to your own wits to finish construction of these important areas. And if this is your very first aircraft kit project, you have a challenging road ahead. How does anyone become an expert in electrical panels and engine installation?
Do not be afraid to ask for help. There are businesses that cater to the needs of the builder that is stuck and desires a hand to complete their project. Known as builder assist centers, these small enterprises are run by individuals that have experience with the kit you are building and can get you through difficult challenges.
You may find that you will have to trailer your project to their shop. Typically, you might work alongside their technicians to finish your project—which is the best way to learn! Or it might be the case that they complete the work by themselves. For example, they might install the engine or wire your panel. The specific method of working with you is always negotiable. Their time is going to cost you, so it is in your best interest to use their help in focused, specific ways. Having them build the majority of your kit would be expensive and against the FAA rules for an amateur-built aircraft.
So how do you find these builder assist centers? The best way is to ask your kit manufacturer or dealer. They know which businesses specialize in working on their particular kit aircraft and should be able to vouch for their quality. Sometimes the dealer themselves offer this service in house. Also, internet forums that serve your kit model will know what services are available out there. Be sure to ask for references and be prepared to travel unless you are lucky enough to live nearby their facilities. The distance needed to travel may help determine if you are able to participate in the effort in cases where your assistance is going to take some time to complete.
While seeking and obtaining external help to finish your aircraft project may be expensive and inconvenient, the alternative to leaving the project stalled is much worse. Interest will be lost, and the aircraft may never be completed at all. Building an aircraft is a learning process and getting help may be part of the journey. The end goal is to complete the plane and go flying. Plane and Simple!