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How Airplanes Get Made

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The internal combustion engine fascinates so many people. There are garages all over where homeowners have spare parts strewn across floors, workbenches and shelving units just waiting to get put back together so the automobile can carry passengers again. Far fewer people tinker with airplanes, though. It’s not just because fewer people have pilot’s licenses, but because airplanes seem far more complicated. While they are difficult, airplanes aren’t impossible to build.

What You Need
Chances are good that you don’t have an airplane mechanic in your neighborhood the way you have an auto mechanic nearby. Chances are even better that there’s no shop around for airplane machine parts in the way you probably have an auto parts store around the corner. That’s one of the first decisions you’ll need to make if you embark on building your own plane. Are you building from scratch or from a kit? Each has their merits.

Building a plane from a kit enables you to get all the parts and instructions you need upfront. It’s like building your Ikea furniture, except you have extra tools and parts. Most kits come with customer service to help you if you end up with a sticky problem. You can run into issues if you damage a part or if a part is failed to be included in the kit. In that instance, you’ll need to contact the company to get what you need. There is security, though, in building from a kit. If you follow the directions, you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you’ve built a craft that will operate safely. Knowing that takes a lot of the apprehension out of those first few flights with your hobby plane.

Other people like to build from scratch. Regardless of your level of experience with that, you’ll need a few suppliers for all your materials. Engine, safety equipment, body and interior are just a few of the things you’ll need to source. Sometimes you’ll be able to find what you need as used or refurbished materials, but a lot of it you’ll need to buy new. Of course, you’ll consider your budget when choosing to build from either a kit or from scratch. If you’re smart, you’ll pad that budget to help you deal with any surprises that arise. Also, building from scratch doesn’t mean you don’t have directions to follow. There are blueprints available. You can also find groups of hobby plane enthusiasts that may help you.

Federal Aviation Administration
Yes, you will have to involve the FAA in your hobby airplane build. You’ll need to be aware of the FAA rules and regulations and any state rules and regulations that affect your build. One thing you’ll have to prove to the FAA is that you built your plane for the uses of education and recreation. You’ll have to demonstrate to them in clear terms that you and anyone who worked on the plane with you had these purposes in mind. In other words, you or other hobbyists you know will have to have been the ones doing the primary amount of work on the plane.

Both you and your plane will have to be certified by the FAA, also. Your plane will undergo a rigorous inspection prior to any flight. You will have to complete the mandatory FAA flight training by taking both classes with an experienced instructor and the associated tests for the type of pilot’s license you’re attempting to get. Once your plane is inspected and you’ve completed your training, you’ll need to complete a flight test. The FAA will guide you in using your plane for 40 hours – not consecutive ones – of flight. Afterwards, you’ll be certified to fly cross-country, carry passengers and fly for the sheer pleasure of it as long as you follow the laws of responsible aircraft use. The only thing you’ll be prohibited from doing is operating commercially. That’s a whole different type of license.

Building and flying your own plane is the culmination of a dream for many ambitious hobbyists.

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