Parts Is Parts

Out of the blue.

Inside the Aircraft Spruce facility in Chandler, Arizona. The warehouse is well stocked with pallets of tires and many other products.

A major part of any Experimental kit will be hundreds of products that the kit supplier didn’t manufacture or fabricate but simply sourced from the open market to supply with their custom kit components. The level of completeness of the “hardware” and accessories supplied with the kit will depend upon the company’s commitment to the completeness of the kit and the builder’s design plan for outfitting, equipping and customization. Electrical design and fabrication and the requisite wire and components thereof are not usually part of a basic kit and are either sold as optional sub-kits or left to the builder and/or the aftermarket vendors to design and source.

How to outfit and individualize your individual SkyScreamer 2000 and the tremendous freedom allowed for that effort are both part of the allure of an Experimental build and a source of headache for all the myriad choices a builder must make for things like powerplants, avionics, features, accoutrements, interior dressings and the like and all the associated “parts” that will be required to bring the dream machine to fruition.

In addition, kit aircraft often get completed, inspected and flown while still never really being “done” unless parked in a museum. There will always be upgrades to new technology, routine maintenance and repairs along with steady replacement of consumable items.


There are myriad sources for all the ancillary parts and supplies a builder/owner will ever need and a library of such catalogs is handy for any builder/owner’s shop. The 800-pound gorilla (catalog) in the market arguably belongs to Aircraft Spruce and Specialty Company, which most everyone shortens to Spruce. The company was born from humble beginnings in the mid-50s when Flo and Bob Irwin started as a niche supplier of specialty wood products (spruce) to the then-nascent homebuilt aircraft hobbyists. In their wildest dreams, I doubt they ever envisioned the international market giant that they have become. Jim and Nanci Irwin, along with their sons Mike, Jeff and Rob, manage all Aircraft Spruce branches from company headquarters in Corona, California.

Their product offerings are so substantial that their paper catalog picked up at OSH and slipped into a backpack can induce back sprain after a few hours. Been there and done that.

Bad News

Sometimes there’s plenty of time to order parts online. Other times—so to speak—time is of the essence. Sources of parts and accessories include parts departments of kit suppliers, online resources like Spruce and even secondary resources like Amazon and even eBay (I’ve used them all in my build journey). Another source for many builders is using local airport parts purveyors, usually at FBOs. They are perfect for that one bolt or Adel clamp you need in a hurry at your home airport or for an AOG situation when visiting somewhere else. However, the market itself seems to be in a constant state of change.

My home base of Mesa Falcon Field (KFFZ) is a large tower-controlled non-commercial field and is home base to several corporate fleets and one of the largest flight schools in the world. In the 20-plus years that I have had an aircraft based there, there have been three different options for purchasing parts and supplies on the field and they were very handy at certain times. Today, however, there is not a single parts department that will sell directly to the public. That is bad news.

Spruce’s Chandler location (left) helps take some logistical load off the California location and can shorten shipping times for some customers. George McGuire (right) could be looking for your part in the warehouse. (Oh, yay, he found it!)

Good News

The good news is that Spruce has built up the critical mass to be able to sustain eight (so far) regional warehouses including its Corona base. (Nine if you count the massive operation that Spruce brings each year to AirVenture and other airshows around the country.) It doesn’t take an MBA to realize that having the girth to warrant regional expansion can boost efficiency and profitability through things like lower shipping costs in and out, proximity to large customers and suppliers and even, I’m sure, strategic tax advantages.

The good news for us tanned and rested denizens of the “Valley of the Sun” (greater Phoenix, Arizona, area) is that one of the regional warehouses, specifically “Aircraft Spruce Southwest,” is right in our own backyard adjacent to Chandler Municipal Airport (KCHD), and I have been a steady customer of late. Over the past few years, I have made several shipping orders like I always had without even realizing that I could have taken advantage of local will-call or even walk-in service. With prior arrangements, they will even deliver parts to the GA terminal for fly-in customers. Realizing that I wasn’t alone in being ignorant of all the available benefits to living close to a Spruce warehouse, I decided to make a site visit and help spread the word.

Spruce does a huge amount of business on consumables, such as batteries and oil (left). Hose Shop manager David “DJ” Johnson demonstrating the crimping process (right).

Spruce’s Southwest warehouse is actually an amalgamation of three different entities, incorporating a long history in the area. Roots include components of Varga Enterprises, which has a long history of providing various aviation services, and Aero Performance, a large aviation parts supplier originally out of Texas. The front of the approximately 12,000-square-foot facility has logo signage for both Aero Performance and Aircraft Spruce. This particular facility also incorporates an FAA repair station hose shop featuring custom aircraft hoses built from Eaton Aeroquip components, which are produced through the Aero Performance side of the house. The fact that my RV-10 was coming up on its 10th birthday, which happens to be a highly recommended time to replace the FWF hoses, contributed to my arranging a site visit for an article.

The Southwest branch manager, Ryan Reichmuth, and his staff have always been attentive to customer service and support and have a strong reputation for such in the local community. After a tour, the entire facility evokes an aura of a well-run machine. I’m sure that is a direct reflection of the solid management of the parent company.

While most builders and aircraft owners probably use the Spruce website for ordering (, you can still ask for a paper catalog and place orders by phone. If you intend to pick up at your nearest warehouse, just tell the operator or select will call as the delivery method. Their system takes care of the rest.


I’m still a big fan of the convenience of having local parts and supplies available at FBOs at home base airports. Those who have such access are fortunate. If one returns to my home base, I will try and support them. However, the market reality is that there isn’t much profit in selling Adel clamps or AN hardware by onesies and twosies. Most pilots I know are pretty cheap and will often drive 20 minutes or even wait a couple of days to save $20 on a case of oil. It is what it is. Convenience has a cost. The entire aviation community is blessed to have companies like Spruce and other similar resources, and their catalogs are a must-have for any shop/hangar. Having one of the regional warehouses in your own backyard, well, that’s just an attractive best of both worlds situation.

Photos: Ken Tyduck and Myron Nelson

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Myron Nelson
Myron Nelson soloed at 16 and has been a professional pilot for over 30 years, having flown for Lake Powell Air, SkyWest Airlines, and Southwest Airlines. He also flies for the Flying Samaritans, a volunteer, not-for-profit organization that provides medical and dental care in Baja California, Mexico. A first-time builder, Myron currently flies N24EV, his beautiful RV-10. He has also owned a C-150 and a Socata TB-9.


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