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Randy Pflanzer
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    Why build an airplane?
What skills are required?
That thing will never fly!

The first reaction most people have when they learn you're building an airplane is "You're building a what?"  I guess for most folks, it's not that common.  But if you look around your neighborhood a little bit, you'll find that there are quite a few "garage-builts" going together.  I've been actively involved in building airplanes since 1983 when I ordered the materials for a Long-EZ, which I eventually flew in 1987.

Arial view of my hometown Indianapolis, Indiana

Why build an airplane?

Why not build an airplane?  Your typical single engine airplane is not a terribly complex piece of equipment.  In fact, it is almost comical in its simplicity.  Now, the avionics can be complex and the wiring can be complex, but the basic airframe structure is not.

This pile of parts will become an empennage in about 10 weeks

I build for two reasons.  First, I enjoy working with my hands and I greatly enjoy building things.  Second, I love aviation, airplanes, airports, and just about anything related to them.  Besides, it's a great hobby, albeit a little expensive.  Look at it this way, after a few thousand hours and many thousands of dollars, you end up with a fast airplane that takes you anywhere from the Bahamas to Alaska, and when you're done you can sell it for more money than you have in it!  Not a bad deal if you ask me. 

What skills are required?

I tell prospective builders that it helps a bunch if you have four essential personality traits.  Oh sure, you need some training and basic instruction on the use of rivet guns, dimplers, air drills and the like, and there are several good vendors who can provide you with hands-on training.  No, I'm talking about four aspects of your personality, your true being, that will significantly improve your chances of achieving success:

1)                 Comprehension.  You need to be able to read, understand, and follow directions.  Many  airplane kits out there today are very comprehensive and offer excellent plans and instructions, but you have to be able to follow the instructions.  We're not talking brain surgery here, but if putting together your daughter's bicycle at Christmas gave you fits, then perhaps an airplane project is not for you.

2)                 Patience.  You don't need an overabundance of it, but you've got to know when to put yourself in "time out".  There have been a number of times when I've been really frustrated trying to put something together.  When I put it down and pick it back up the next day, I'm always amazed at how easy it goes together.  Maybe some fairy sneaks into my shop at night and sprinkles magic dust on it. I dunno, but it works.

3)                 Honesty.  Can you be honest with yourself?  You are both the constructor and inspector.  You have to be an honest judge of your workmanship and learn when to reject your own work.  No one drills every single hole in the right spot or correctly sets every single rivet out of thousands.  Judge your work like your life depends upon it, because it does.

4)                 Finally, persistence.  If you are like most builders, your project is going to take several years to complete.  You have to be willing to keep your focus over the long haul.  I try to do a minimum of one hour of work on the project every single day.  Occasionally I take a week off if I feel the need to recharge myself.  But I'm always ready to get back at it.  Itís a fact than a majority of projects started are not finished, or are sold prior to completion.  That's a shame.

That thing will never fly!

When you first start your project, don't expect everyone else to share your enthusiasm.  In fact many of your friends will think you're crazy.  To prove their point, they will often repeat the phrase "That thing will never fly!"  Unfortunately, they have statistics on their side.  You have to realize early on that most of your encouragement has to come from within.  Friends and acquaintances will doubt you (if you even have any of these left after spending years hidden away in your garage.)

Interior and exterior pictures of my second airplane, an RV-6 that I finished in June 2000

When I built my first airplane, my friends used to say "That thing will never fly!".  When I built my second airplane, my friends used to say "Do you think that thing will fly?".  Now they say "When are we going to go flying in that thing?".

"History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. They won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats."
    - Bertie C. Forbes