Building Airplanes

I’m currently in the process of building my own two-seat, single-engine airplane.

Crazy-pants, I know. The project sort of creeped up on me and before I knew it I had finished the empennage.

I decided on the Vans RV-8 because it’s an common kit, there’s a huge community of friendly builders, it’s a relatively simple design, and it looks cool. The RV-8 is the fighter plane of the RV fleet. It seats two people, tandem-style, like military fighters.

The RV-8 is a fast plane. Fully loaded it power-cruises at 182 knots and economy-cruises at 162 knots but it stalls at only 50 knots. The ceiling is 22,500 feet and it has a range of 940 miles.

The Decision

A fellow pilot at work made a suggestion that has significantly reduced my fear of starting. He said: “Buy the empennage kit and build it. At the end, if like what you’ve been doing then continue, if not then quit. You’ll only be out a couple thousand dollars and 100-200 hours of your time, and you’ll be able to say that you built part of an airplane”.

After posting a question on Van’s Airforce, a friendly builder just a few miles from me invited me to see his nearly-finished RV-8. He spent the morning with me showing me the basics of metal working and talking me through the build. That was just the encouragement I needed to order the preview plans and start the planning process.

The Build

I decided to combine the metal-working instruction with the empennage work. My brother, Claudio, and I flew to Eugene, Oregon to learn how to build an airplane. By the end of the (very tiring) week we had finished the empennage.

What I learned from the experience, besides how to build an airplane, was that I really like building stuff with my hands. Squeezing a rivet into place is very satisfying.