Hummel Aircraft Company recently hosted their first ever Kit Builder’s Weekend in an effort to help new builders gain familiarity with their UltraCruiser kits and provide hands-on training. The weekend was lead by Matt and Laurie Higgins, who acquired Hummel Aviation in 2021 and converted it into Hummel Aircraft Company, a title change used specifically for the acquisition. The weekend course created an opportunity for builders to ask questions, make mistakes and ultimately gain confidence.
Hummel isn’t new to the scene. Their first aircraft, the Hummel Bird, was designed in 1980 by James “Morry” Hummel. In 2000, their one and only FAR Part 103 compliant aircraft, the UltraCruiser, was developed to appease aviation enthusiasts who don’t hold a pilot license or medical certificate. In 2003 the H5 was produced. This aircraft is similar to the UltraCruiser, but was modified to have a roomier airframe. Kits for both the UltraCruiser and H5 are available, but the Hummel Bird is a plans-only aircraft, so no kit is available for that one and no Builder’s Weekend will be offered for it since it’s an entirely different animal.
This first Kit Builder’s Weekend was created specifically for the UltraCruiser. Since the H5 and UltraCruiser are so similar, Matt and Laurie plan to keep the respective educational weekends separate so as not to confuse people. They’re also mindful that H5 builders will need to hit their required 51% so the curriculum will be slightly different as well. As a side, there is a “Lightning Build” option for the UltraCruiser, for those who are eager to fly but not so eager to drive rivets.
Four builders attended, none of which had laid a finger on their kits, prior to this event. Hummel Aircraft Company is located in Dexter, Michigan. To my surprise three of the four were from out of state (California, Indiana and Iowa), but Laurie quickly pointed out you can either pay X amount for crating and shipping or X amount to drive there, gain a wealth of knowledge and leave with completed tail and rudder assemblies.
After introductions and a quick Hummel history lesson Matt got into the nitty gritty, covering everything from tools to tolerances. Four rudders were completed by lunch time on Saturday, raising the confidence of their makers. From there, they went on build the furthest aft portion of the fuselage.
“The aft part of the fuselage has a fair amount of complexity so once they understand that, that’s kind of the basis for how the rest of the airplane is put together,” Matt said.
“If you can walk away with the skills to finish that part of the aircraft you can finish the rest at home no problem,” Laurie added.
The builders finished their tail assemblies by noon on Sunday and before they knew it, it was time to hit the road. They packed up their newly assembled Ultralight parts, grabbed a sack lunch from Laurie and bid farewell to a weekend they will never forget.
Laurie noted that Matt did a good job of basing the course around the question: What does Part 103 mean and how does it apply to this project? This set the foundation for the event. Matt also said he wanted to cover the areas they get the most phone calls about. Plus, the completed assemblies will fit in a car or van and can easily be carted home.
The builders ranged in skill sets. Some appeared to know their way around a tool box, whereas others were a little more green. One of the builders had done woodworking and sewing, but had never taken on a project like this. She saw parallels between sewing patterns and aluminum patterns, however. Personally, I find that as long as I can find similarities between a new skill and one I’ve previously mastered, a new challenge becomes far less painful.
The build took place in Hummel’s warehouse. As soon as Matt noticed the builders getting tired during their first day there he knew it was time to take them on a field trip to Hummel’s Research and Development facility, where they house a handful of completed aircraft. The guests were able to take pictures and ask additional questions. They were thrilled to recognize the parts they’d been holding in their hands all day and even more excited to see Hummel’s new V-twin engine that they designed and now offer for the UltraCruiser. Matt has been working on this engine project since he first took over.
Laurie provided a full breakfast and lunch both days. The builders had a chance to go to dinner with Matt & Laurie on Saturday after they visited the R&D area, but they were too tuckered out.
“I was hoping to go to dinner with everybody, but they were so exhausted,” Matt laughed.
“Yes, they were a little sluggish the next morning as well,” Laurie chimed in.
One of the main things the Higgins’ were hoping to accomplish was that their guests would all become friends with each other and reach out to one another if they had questions throughout the remainder of their builds. Matt saw them exchanging phone numbers at the end of the weekend and knew he and Laurie had gotten them one step closer to this goal.
Matt is going to change the curriculum slightly for the next event. He planned on having them accomplish more than they were able to get done, so he’s going to reduce the workload to better suit their builders needs, based on what he saw. Matt has built 15 or more airplanes. He said all experienced builders underestimate how long these projects will take. It’s easy to forget about the time and energy that’s been expelled and instead, fixate on the completed shiny metal object in front of us.
Two of the builders told the Higgins’ they thought this weekend course should be a prerequisite when buying a kit. It truly made a difference in their attitude toward this project that once seemed daunting. They strongly feel that other builders should take advantage of it.
Once the whirlwind that is AirVenture is behind us, Hummel hopes to offer this event every other month. Matt and Laurie pushed to get this done before AirVenture so that they can get the word out that the trial run was a success. Building airplane parts, making new friends and enjoying home cooked meals? Sounds like a perfect weekend.