Let’s see. Where was I?
When we last spoke, I was headed back into the motorcycle realm, where I eventually got to be editor in chief at Motorcyclist magazine, then owned by a company that could trace its roots to Bob Petersen’s motor-themed empire. We were purchased by another publishing house that ended up being too big for the downturn in print advertising and a failure of the motorcycle industry as a whole to re-ignite after the 2008 economic crisis. When my boss basically said I had to build a magazine whose content and overall direction directly contradicted not just my gut instincts but the explicit desires of our subscribers, I knew it was time to go. (That magazine is no longer in print, a fact that does not necessarily mean I was right.)
Where flying was concerned, I had come to the conclusion that if I couldn’t do it often and do it well, I would focus my efforts (read: money) elsewhere. My daughter had been accepted into a prestigious (read: expensive) school, so my Glastar Sportsman was sold and, for the most part, I hung up my headset. Truth is, I simply wasn’t very happy with the rental options available to me for what I was willing to spend. Four years with the Sportsman, outfitted exactly as I wanted it and tremendously capable in its own right, had really spoiled me. While I wasn’t looking, really lackluster old Cherokees got expensive.
So here we are. In between, I did a stint with a motorcycle accessory retailer and distributor, where I dove deep into the always hungry e-commerce machine. That moved me to southern Rhode Island from California, but also gave me a deep understanding of digital properties and the necessity of having your content across a wide range of platforms, including print, web, and video. That should give you a hint of where some of our growth lies.
Having said that, our print magazine isn’t going away. I’ve discovered through the last decade or so as an editor that only the really savvy, really efficient and really committed publishers learn how to survive in an industry a fraction of its size during the peak. Belvoir, our beneficent parent, is one of those; it says something that there aren’t many people between me and the owner. Couldn’t say that about Motorcyclist’s publisher.
Okay, so that’s a lot of inside-baseball talk. What this means for your favorite magazine about homebuilt aircraft is that I will pick up where Paul Dye, now Editor at Large, left off, benefitting from an excellent group of writers and a top-notch staff in Mark Schrimmer and Dan Maher as well as a bunch of terrific behind-the scenes types who work genuinely hard for this magazine and its digital equivalent. I cannot thank Omar Filipovic enough for all the hard work he’s done for KITPLANES® on our digital efforts. You’ll thank him, too, as you use the new website he’s helped us roll out. Finally, we’ll be on a common, flexible and expandable web platform (WordPress, if you’re curious) that will give us the ability to do some really cool things. Plus, WP is beautifully mobile responsive, a boon to those of you reading our content on phones and tablets.
You can expect evolution not revolution—at least in print—and will see your favorite flight testers, feature writers and columnists continue. What I have learned in my time away is the value of a strong digital presence, one that includes video, to provide outreach. It’s no surprise to anyone that aviation in general is “graying” with not enough new blood to offset attrition. This may or may not make you feel any better, but it’s exactly the same problem motorcycling faces. And the possible solutions are the same: communicate with younger consumers in the way they prefer to get content, which is strongly tilted toward digital and video.
Many things have changed while I was a curious (but not deeply involved) homebuilt enthusiast. Airplanes continue to be built, and that has expanded the used base. At no time in the past have I seen such a vital used market of really nice airplanes that have retained a surprisingly high percentage of their build costs. (Less the value of the builder’s time, of course, but what price education, eh?) When you look at the capability/value comparisons to certified airplanes, homebuilts look better than ever. At least to my eye.
And that realization brings a couple of ideas forward. First is that we’ll begin a semi-regular series on buying a used homebuilt. Yes, we’ve done broad stories on this since the beginning, and there are tremendous resources available online to a potential buyer willing to put in the time and carefully parse “forum chatter.” But what I want to provide is an all-in-one resource that considers one popular type at a time. I want our readers, especially the new ones who are considering a previously built Experimental for the first time, to get a solid foundation of knowledge. And this will be a foundation that comes from the factory (assuming it’s still in business), builders, flyers, and others. I don’t expect to turn anyone into an expert on, say, a GlaStar in one feature-length sitting, but I’d like you to know enough to ask the right questions and at least help assess any of that model you’re considering. It’s basically this: Is Airplane X good enough to warrant further research, consideration, and a physical inspection, or should I move on?
The other idea that has actually penetrated my Type A thick skull is the possibility of buying a flying homebuilt. I undertook the others because, in part, I could get them exactly the way I wanted from the start. But I learned a lot with my Sportsman, whose panel was almost completely different from first flight to the day I sold it, and I enjoyed the refurbishing/modifying part almost as much as building. Almost. Given the flexibility of our Experimental rules, getting someone else’s vision to meld into my own is eminently possible.
All food for thought. Fortunately, I won’t go hungry long. As I write this, Oshkosh is just around the corner. You just never know what kind of inspiration I’ll find there.