How to Build an Airplane

For some, building and flying your own plane is a personal and satisfying experience. And in most countries, it's quite legal to construct your own. This is a primer for those who would like to do just that. The results are extremely rewarding for both you and your family.


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    Make sure that building your own airplane is legal in your area - in the US building your own aircraft, even before you have a pilots license, is completely legal.
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    Get a pilot's license first is recommended. You should know what kind of plane you want to make, so fly various types of aircraft beforehand. Reading specifications can only tell you so much, but actually experiencing what those specifications mean is completely different, especially how the desired airplane will fit your body type.
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    Decide if you want to make a plane that has already been built or design your awesome one. If you want to get it in the air more quickly, you should use a preexisting design.
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    Decide if you want to build from a kit or plans. A well-developed kit will also speed along the process whereas only using plans may occasionally hinder you.
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    Decide what you want to build. There are three main types of construction: fabric, aluminum and composite.
    • Fabric can be maintenance-intensive and offers slower airspeed, but is the lightest and for some may be the least difficult to build.
    • Aluminum is more difficult, but is somewhat maintenance-free and can make a very fast airplane.
    • Composite is the most difficult to build because of all the sanding to make a nice finish but generally yields the fastest airplanes.
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    Look at different designs and define goals for what you want: minimum expenditure, good performance, utility, etc. Take note: Designs that are straightforward and have good utility once completed are the most abundant and may represent the best choice for success.
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    Attend an event like EAA's Oshkosh Fly-In or Sun n' Fun. The most popular kits manufactures will be there. Spend most of your time there talking to owners about their experiences building and flying the plane you are interested in, rather than talking to manufacturers.
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    Call an aviation insurance broker and see if you can get insurance with your current flight experience and for what you think your experience level will be when the project is finished. Some planes aren't worth enough to insure for their intrinsic value, but you should still get a quote for liability. The amount they ask you to pay is their way of telling you how risky the airplane is.
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    Get a ride in the kind of plane that you want to build to see if you like it more than others. Some manufactures give demonstrator flights. Joining a local chapter of EAA could get you in contact with someone who has the plane you want to build.
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    Find someone locally who is actively building what you want to build. It doesn't have to be the same plane but will ideally be the same construction type, and even better the same manufacturer so you can learn the construction techniques and the quality of the kit. Don't be intrusive, as successful airplane builders are almost always time-constrained and will not want you back if you waste their time. When you decide to build your own plane you can avoid all the mistakes many builders make because you will know what you are doing from the start.
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    Find a place to build your plane after you are confident about a certain design. An attached garage or large workspace in your home are the best options. Make sure you can keep the temp above 50 °F (10 °C); you can't work well with your hands below 50F.
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    Get tools. Now that you have your ideal workspace identified it is time to find tools. You can usually get tools from people in your local EAA chapter that have recently completed their planes. If not the kit manufacturer can point you in the right direction.
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    Get your plans and begin construction. Most kit manufactures will have you start with the tail "feathers" or more formally the "empennage." Building the empennage will offer a microcosm of the project without committing the entire cost of the project. This is a fail safe for those that didn't get help from another builder before starting construction. You may consider looking in classified adds to get a good deal on the empennage of your choice from a builder who got in over their head.
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    Follow the instructions closely. Do not deviate unless you already have some building experience. Deviations cost time, money and sometimes lives. Generally its best to start with the tail, (shown in step 13) but always defer to the plans.
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    Have an EAA technical counselor look at the plane and verify your work. This can also save you insurance money.
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    Pay attention to how long your project took others to complete to monitor your own progress. Some items have lead times that could hurt your schedule. Experience for your insurance, engines, propellers and hangars come to mind. Find out the lead times for each of these and have these things ready when you need them. 3-6 months before you think you are going to fly your plane you need to get it registered.
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    Keep the airplane at your house as long as humanly possibly. it is much easier to get 30 minutes of work done while dinner is cooking when you only have to walk 3 seconds to your workshop; besides hangars cost a lot of money. This may vary because of your workspace but try to get as much done at home as possible: engine and propeller mounted; wiring complete, and perhaps even paint. Although some prefer not to paint until after they have flown off their test time to keep the investment low and give a last chance to fix cracks in composite structures if they develop.
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    Take the plane to the airport and do final assembly.
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    Verify you have sufficient fuel flow to support your power plant.
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    Finish your required registration process.
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    Go fly something; preferably a similar type. It is probable that you've been building so much that you have neglected your flying skills. This is a bad recipe. Go fly. This is not the time to rush. Practice unusual attitudes and engine outs. The unusual attitudes because builder pilots often get distracted in flight monkeying with some gadget that they installed when they forget to fly the plane and get into an unusual attitude. The other because you can never be too good at landing a plane with no engine.
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    Get an EAA flight adviser to help you plan your first flight and test period.
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    Get your insurance in place.


  • Don't let difficulty deter you from building your dream plane, but understand that being the first to build and fly a design is difficult. Every step is a new challenge because it may have never been done before.
  • Designing aircraft is difficult, seek advice elsewhere for it, either from professionals or other experienced amateurs.
  • Consider joining


  • Airplanes can be deadly and require training or a pilot's license to legally operate check your Federal aviation requirements. In the US you can legally fly an ultralight with out a license, under FAR,103

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Categories: Aviation