Building an aircraft kit is a complicated undertaking and few builders succeed entirely by themselves. A builder’s primary guidance is to follow the plans and documentation from the kit maker. These two documents supplied with the kit can range widely in quality and completeness from one manufacturer to another. Having great documentation makes a difference in the amount of effort that is needed to complete a kit. Plenty of kits are permanently abandoned in mid build because the builder was unable to complete a task that was not clear. For this reason prospective aircraft kit builders should consider the availability of quality documentation as part of their kit evaluation process.
Aside from the manufacturer’s supplied materials, what is the next line of action for obtaining help while building something as complicated as an aircraft?
The first choice for obtaining assistance when stuck with a problem or question on building should be to contact the manufacturer. This is your best source for answers. Some kit manufacturers have wonderful builder support channels, which range from a phone call to sending a detailed email. While we all want our answers ASAP so there is no delay in our building progress, the amount of time spent waiting depends on how well the kit manufacturer is staffed to support this service. Your mileage will vary—but this may be another factor to consider if you are shopping for a kit. With some kit companies factory support is proudly advertised and delivered. With others it can seem non-existent.
The next choice for assistance has practically become the gold standard for helping builders. It comes as a double edged sword, however. All of your answers are available 24 hours a day. The caveat: You need to decide if the information you obtain using this method is good. I am referring to the internet and all of the wonderful forums that have been set up to address the needs of builders. These forums are geared toward specific kit models as well as general technologies used by all kits (panels, engines, electrical, etc.).
The scope and usefulness of an internet forum is derived from the harnessing of experience and skills of talented builders that have managed to complete the very kit you are building. The rich media presentation of pictures, diagrams and videos makes sharing and understanding complex problems easy. The accumulation of questions and answers from years of prior experience in a searchable medium means that challenges you have yet to experience are already addressed and await your inquiry!
The other edge of the sword I previously mentioned relates to the fact that not every piece of knowledge stored in these forums has been fact checked. You are dealing with the experiences of the entire population of builders. This will surely mean that not all material you read in these forums will be valid. The responsibility is yours to examine, analyze and consider carefully all material for accuracy. If you can learn to be careful and even be a little cynical, you have an amazing resource at your fingertips!
The first step in taking advantage of forums is to locate them online. I have yet to see an aircraft model that did not have an online forum dedicated to its builders. Above is a sample listing of forums for popular kit models. Some forums require a sign-up procedure so they can identify who is using and posting to the forum. If you skip the sign-up process, you may still be able to read the posts, but you won’t be able to write to them. It’s a great way to utilize these forums even if you are not building—and it’s an easy way to learn from builders who have already accomplished the task you may be struggling with.
For aircraft kits not listed above, use Google to search for available forums—or check with the kit manufacturer. Many of these forums are moderated by volunteers who are building and flying these aircraft themselves. As with any public arena, be respectful with your content and questions that you post. Being banned from a forum for inappropriate language or content is a sure way to lose an important tool that can make building a complicated aircraft kit so much easier. Plane and simple!