Welcome, welcome—come right in! We’ve been waiting for you to join us. Whether you are currently a pilot or thinking of becoming one, whether you have owned an airplane before or are thinking of buying your first set of wings, or if you have built or not—or are thinking of building again—the community of Experimental aviation welcomes you aboard.
This is the annual KITPLANES Buyer’s Guide—a sort of candy store for those who dream of soaring above it all. We’ve got high wings, low wings, fast wings, and slow wings. We’ve got machines that carry one and craft that carry six (or more). If you want to drop into an unreachable fishing hole in the wilderness, we’ve got seaplanes that do that. If you want to test your metal (or composites) around the pylons at Reno, we can help you find one of those. And if you just want to join your friends in flying to a neighboring airport for breakfast, we’ve got lots of those aircraft as well.
The December issue is where we put our directory in print, but the truth is, the guide is a living virtual database that resides on the web. We make a push to get all of the various kit and plans sellers to update their listings every autumn, but we get changes throughout the year and try to keep the database up to date for those who want the latest news of what’s available and what’s not. But there is nothing like sitting in comfort and flipping through a paper copy of the Guide, dreaming about what you might want to fly, buy, or build next.
The best place to see a wide variety of homebuilt aircraft is, of course, EAA AirVenture. But AirVenture isn’t until July. Until then, the next-best-thing is to flip through the pages of our Buyer’s Guide.
For those of you joining us from the general aviation ranks of certified aircraft, a special howdy-doo. It was more than 40 years ago when I started working on airplanes as a kid, and there was always this ramshackle hangar down at the weedy end of the field where rumor had it that people were building their own airplane. It was a low, slow, cranky machine, and once in a while they rolled it out to test the engine or even take it around the patch. Then they’d roll it back in the hangar and work on it some more. Those folks were called “homebuilders,” and we were never sure if their world was good or bad.
Well, if that’s your image of Experimental/Amateur-Built, it’s time to bring you into the modern world! On any given weekend at your local municipal field, you are likely to see more takeoffs and landings in homebuilt aircraft than in Cessnas or Pipers—or maybe both combined. E/A-B aircraft are a dominant force in the personal flying world because of their speed, economy, and low cost. We know that “low cost” and “aviation” go together like oil and water—but in comparison to owning and maintaining a certified aircraft, Experimentals win hands down when it comes to opening up your wallet. A certified rudder spring for a certified airplane recently cost a friend of mine more than $150; the same spring could be sourced for an Experimental for a buck or two.
Performance? There are Experimental aircraft that will knock your socks off when it comes to performance! Want to cruise at 170 knots on seven gallons an hour with two people and luggage? These pages list dozens of airplanes that can do that. Want to get in and out of that backcountry strip that only a few people know about? Take a look at the STOL airplanes that can use a football field—with the goalposts in place! And yes, if you just want to putter around low and slow, looking straight down out of your ethereal cockpit…lots of those as well. And all of them reliable, robust, and ready to go—far different from those early Experimentals from the ramshackle hangar down the way.
Today’s Experimental aircraft are well designed and reliable, using standard and well-developed aircraft hardware and powerplants for reliability, but also going far beyond the certified world when it comes to avionics and capabilities. Experimental avionics are so good, with so much capability, that they are now beginning to breach the barriers into the certified world. You’ll still need a licensed mechanic or repair station to install them, however, whereas if you are in the Experimental world, you can wire them up and go. And when the latest goo-gaw comes out, you can buy it and install it all by yourself, too.
Building airplanes today is a lot different from the old days as well. Back then, you bought a set of plans and sourced the raw materials (and thousands of bits and pieces) on your own. You cut, fit, drilled, and filed for years on end. Today’s kits come with many components preformed, premolded, and prepunched. Sure, you can still buy a set of plans and all of the raw materials and build that way as well, but modern kits allow for rapid assembly and quicker satisfaction. Your project can “look like an airplane” in no time! Modern homebuilding has also benefitted immeasurably from the advent of the internet—no longer are you building alone in isolation from those who might have answers. Answers to questions and problems are no further away than your computer. And, of course, many of those answers will even be correct. A joke, of course—but reliable sources are many and easily checked, so “I don’t know what I am doing” is no longer an excuse for not building an airplane.
So welcome once again to the Experimental world. It’s not what it used to be. It is far better, bigger, and with greater rewards! Sit back, enjoy the Guide, and let us know what airplanes we have missed and need to add. We are, after all, a community of builders and pilots helping other builders and pilots—and it’s a big world out there.
Paul Dye, Kitplanes Editor in Chief, retired as a Lead Flight Director for NASA’s Human Space Flight program, with 40 years of aerospace experience on everything from Cubs to the space shuttle. An avid homebuilder, he began flying and working on airplanes as a teen, and has experience with a wide range of construction techniques and materials. He flies an RV-8 that he built, an RV-3 that he built with his pilot wife, as well as a Dream Tundra they completed. Currently, they are building a Xenos motorglider. A commercially licensed pilot, he has logged over 5000 hours in many different types of aircraft and is an A&P, EAA Tech Counselor, and Flight Advisor, as well as a member of the Homebuilder’s Council. He consults and collaborates in aerospace operations and flight-testing projects across the country.