You’ve spent a lifetime longing to build an airplane and probably years window-shopping and daydreaming about what it might be. You’ve been to Oshkosh, to Lakeland, to Arlington—poking and prodding and talking to kit companies, builders, and pilots alike. You got serious in the final year, collecting brochures and internet links, saving countless spec sheets in a stack on your desk (and a virtual stack on your computer desktop). You sorted out your finances, as well as your workshop and tools—and convinced yourself that “yes, I can make this happen!” You finally signed the check or put in your credit card number, and your airplane kit/plans/parts shipment is on its way. Your life is about to change!
Building an airplane is not just a project—it truly is a life-changer. It takes so many hours that it becomes a way of life—at least for those that will eventually be successful at it. You can try to do it a few hours a week…but you’ll never get done. Even the most modest of kits will take most of your thoughts and spare time for a year or more, so put a cover over the golf clubs, preserve the boat motor, and hire someone to mow the lawn; you are about to immerse yourself in the joy of aviation!
The day that your new kit arrives is special—cardboard boxes, wooden crates, and tons and tons of wrapping paper will fill the workshop. Whether you buy in stages or get the whole thing at once, you’ll have to become good at inventorying—finding all of the little bits and pieces listed in endless parts lists, making sure that everything you are supposed to have arrived as promised. Airplane kits are pretty massive—they aren’t like that super-deluxe barbeque/swing set/wading pool you put together in the backyard last year.
As you unpack your kit, you’re going to have plenty of packing material to get rid of! Unwrap each part, inspect it for damage, and check it off on your parts list.
Oh sure, you found that you were missing a couple of nuts and bolts for that, but you were able to run over to the big box store and get what you needed. Aviation parts are going to be different. Fire up a browser on your computer and save a direct link to Aircraft Spruce, Wicks, Wag-Aero, and most of the popular tool suppliers. Even the most complete kit is going to have you ordering a part now and then, and tools come in endless variations—most of which you’re going to need (want?) before you’re done.
Sometimes you’ll find that the company that packed and shipped your kit is also dependent on these sources for hardware. It’s possible some obscure cable is backordered across the entire industry, so the shipping list will have an IOU. Keep track of those—you’re eventually going to need everything. But most kits are remarkably complete these days, and unpacking is a wonderful Christmas-morning affair.
“Ooh, look, here are the control sticks!” No one can avoid the fun of unpacking the stick grips, holding them in their hands, and pushing buttons…can they? It’s also hard to resist pulling the wheels out of the box and going straight to the workbench to mount the tires—it’s a concrete accomplishment that you can check off the to-do list, even though you don’t need them for two more years.
Then there will be stacks and stacks of aluminum angle, steel tubing, or piano hinge. They give you what appears to be miles of these things, but eventually you’ll have used all of these long supplies up—here and there, all about the airplane. You’ll have other raw stock as well: sheets of aluminum or plywood, chunks of foam to be embedded in fiberglass, and lots of wire just waiting for electrons to flow from positive to negative (or actually—the other way around!).
Finding places for all the parts, hardware, and raw materials is something that can take a while—repeat builders figured that out the first time, and started stocking up on shelves, bins, and butter tubs long before they wrote the deposit check for the kit they knew was coming. If you’re a first-timer, take a page from their playbook and get ready early. You’re going to be knee-deep in airplane and suddenly have to go looking for that AN823-2D 45-degree elbow that you remember inventorying two years before, but just can’t lay your fingers on right now. Get organized up front, or you’ll pay for it in search time later.
Oh, and be sure to make friends with the trash man before that new kit arrives—you’re going to have lots of cardboard, wooden packing crate material, bubble wrap, and miscellaneous plastic and paper to get rid of. If you’re limited to the contents of a single municipal trash container, you’re going to have to pay someone to haul all of that wonderful packing material away.
Unpacking that new kit is something you have anticipated for years; it is an exciting time in the life of any airplane builder. I’ve gone through it four times for my own projects and have helped many others do the same thing. I have a new one coming of my own in just a couple of weeks—and no matter the piles of parts and packing material—I look forward to it every time!