Do you ever dream of owning your own plane? There are many advantages of building your own plane.
The main advantage is the cost. The cost of a homebuilt plane can vary from $5,000 upwards to $200,000 depending on the kind of engine, performance characteristics and instruments. For instance, the Mooney Bravo which is basically a four-seater that can fly at 270 mph with a 1000 mile range, costs around $399,000 while the Lancair IV experimental plane which is also a four-seater, costs anything between $174,000 to $200,000, almost half the cost of the Mooney Bravo. The break-up of costs for the Lancair IV is like this; the standard kit costs around $52,000 while the fast-build kit costs $77,000, the engine costs $32,000, the propeller costs $10,000, avionics cost $60,000 while the interiors can cost $20,000. The Lancair can go up to 375 mph with a 1459 mile range that is better than the Mooney Bravo. The difference in cost is on account of the cost of labor, the cost of tools that you use and the costs of the certification that are saved when you build your own kit plane.
The newly simplified and inexpensive availability of light-sport aircraft (LSAs), has meant that they have become the fastest growing segment in aviation. Oshkosh AirVenture, the United States' largest fly-in air show, set record attendance levels this year, with an estimated 560,000 attendees, a 3.2 per cent increase from 2006.Consider the following facts:
What's a light-sport plane?
The FAA defines a light-sport aircraft as a plane with a maximum gross takeoff weight of less than 600 kg (1,320 lb) for aircraft designed to operate from land, or 649 kg (1,430 lb) for seaplanes. Its maximum airspeed in level flight should not exceed 120 knots (222 km/h), and its maximum stall speed 45 knots (83 km/h). It can't have more than two seats; must have a fixed undercarriage; fixed-pitch or ground adjustable propeller; and a single reciprocating engine.LSAs can be operated by holders of a Sport Pilot certificate, which is much easier to get than a conventional private, recreational, or commercial pilot licence required for conventionally certificated aircraft. LSAs also have less restrictive maintenance requirements and can even be maintained by their pilots and/or owners.Apart from airplanes, gyroplane rotorcraft (not true helicopters), powered parachutes, weight-shift control aircraft, and lighter-than-air craft (balloons and airships) can all be certificated as LSA if they fall within the FAA guidelines.Most other countries more broadly licence 'microlight' or 'ultralight' aircraft. And, other countries' microlight definitions are typically less restrictive, not limiting airspeed or the use of variable-pitch propellers.
What's a microlight?
By contrast, the US FAA has a separate definition of ultralight aircraft, which must be extremely lightweight — less than 115 kg (254 lb) if powered, or 70 kg (155 lb) if unpowered — flown by a single occupant, have a fuel capacity of less than 19 litres (5 US gallons), a maximum airspeed of 55 knots (102 km/h), and a maximum stall speed of not more than 24 knots (45 km/h). In the US, ultralight aircraft do not require pilot licensing, medical certification, or aircraft registration.But light-sport aircraft can exceed the limitations defined for ultralight aircraft. Among them are those specifically designed to meet the LSA requirements, as well as overweight ultralights that were earlier operated illegally. A few certificated aircraft, like the original Piper Cub, happen to fall within the definition of a light-sport aircraft and can be operated by individuals holding FAA Sport Pilot certificates. But there's a complication here. Aircraft cannot be re-certificated as LSA. While those with Sport Pilot licences are allowed to operate conventionally certificated aircraft that fall within LSA parameters, the aircraft themselves continue to be certificated in their original categories.
Meet the makers
Established LSA makers include Germany's Flight Design, which makes the CT2K and the CTSW; the USA's Cirrus Design, which makes the Fk14 Polaris and will come out with the Cirrus SR Sport next year; and the Cessna 162. At the lower end of the scale are the Slovakian Aeropro CZ, which makes the Eurofox, and the Zenith Aircraft Company's AMD Zodiac, sold in kit form. But with the market booming way ahead of expectations, several designers and manufacturers of experimental aircraft kits are working to develop models that are compliant with the light-sport aircraft rules.The Exosphere Aircraft Company, for example, has come up with the BD-22, designed by legendary aircraft designer Jim Bede. The aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has listed 57 LSA manufacturers. The two countries with the most manufacturers are the US and the Czech Republic. Others include Canada, Russia, Germany, Italy, Australia, France, and even Hungary, Poland, Spain and Slovakia
Now Piccard has set his sights on another ambitious adventure: an around-the-world flight in a solar-powered airplane, the Solar Impulse.The adventurer said his broader goal is to show the importance of "high technologies in sustainable development." Piccard hopes his solar plane will be completely self-sustaining and capable of flying continuously, even at night, at altitudes up to 32,800 feet (10,000 meters).
The first test flight is set for 2008. The long-distance flights are scheduled to begin in 2010. While any potential takeoff is still years away, the effort is already pushing Piccard and his 50-person team to develop an aircraft with state-of-the-art technology. Piccard plans to unveil their design in two months. "The aircraft must be very rigid and will most likely be built with advanced carbon materials," Piccard said from Lausanne, Switzerland, during a recent telephone interview. "It will need to be very light and use very little energy at night. Energy storage is the biggest challenge for solar flight." As with the Breitling Orbiter 3, Piccard will rely on a team of sponsors and engineers to assist him in developing the plane.
The Swiss Federal Institute for Technology (EPFL) has signed on as the project's official scientific advisor. Other partners include the European Space Agency and Dassault Aviation—makers of the Falcon range of private jets. "It's a huge project," Piccard conceded. "The plane will have an 80-meter (262-foot) wingspan, which is larger than any commercial aircraft." Piccard estimates that enough power can be generated to sustain a flight of roughly 60 miles an hour (97 kilometers an hour). The batteries used to fly the plane at night must be incredibly dense, capable of storing 200 watts per kilogram (2.2 pounds). Nearly the entire body of the plane will be covered by 287 square yards (240 square meters) of solar panels.
"This type of flight would not have been possible 15 years ago," Piccard said, referring to the new technologies, especially new-generation batteries, that are now available.
The Viper can fly about 760 miles without refueling. And there aren't many like it in the kit-airplane market, which consists primarily of single-engine, propeller-driven aircraft, said Dick Knapinski, communications director at Oshkosh, Wis.-based Experimental Aircraft Association.
Monty Thompson, who recently came to Pasco from Aspen, Colo., to take a test ride, calls the Viperjet a piece of art. "That plane just wants to fly and doesn't want to come down," he said after a flight. At an average cost of less than $800,000 apiece, the two brothers have already sold 23 Viperjet kits that are in various stages of being built nationwide. It costs about $400 to $500 an hour to operate.
Viper has made the kit modular so that customers can put it together without much hassle, said Dan Hanchette, vice president of the Pasco company, which gets about 20 inquiries a week about the plane. There are about 50 manufacturers of kit aircraft in the country. Viper, which has eight full-time employees including the two brothers and Dan's wife, Amber, soon plans to include a center to help customers build their planes.
And Viper Aircraft, the company the Hanchette brothers founded in the mid-1990s, also is working with a builder company to help assemble at its hangar at the Tri-Cities Airport a ready-to-fly plane with advanced avionics for export to Saudi Arabia.
Dan Hanchette said Scott, his older brother, has been interested in planes since childhood. He started taking flying lessons at 14 and wanted to be a fighter pilot. But he couldn't clear a color-vision test. That led him to turn his attention to building a plane that combined speed and style, Dan said.
"I thought that was unfair that only fighter pilots get to fly cool planes," said Scott, president of Viper.
Scott made drawings of a sporty plane on sheets of paper, and later collaborated with Mark Bettosini, of AirBoss Aerospace in Reno, Nev., to develop engineering plans for his vision, Dan Hanchette said. The brothers had a background in business, having run an auto-detailing shop in downtown Kennewick in the 1980s and later a Gold's Gym. It's now called LifeQuest.
"I was into body building, but was bitten by the aircraft bug," said Dan, a 1982 Kamiakin High School graduate.
He said he never realized the things he could do before he got into the kit-plane manufacturing business. His ideas were translated into a three-dimensional reality by Scott, he said. And, it's been a lot of fun, Dan said.
"There were a lot of people who laughed at us," he said.
The jokes steeled their resolve. Often, the brothers ended up working 12 to 15 hours a day for weeks.
The progress was gradual until they learned their father had cancer. And, the brothers, who don't have college degrees, began working with greater intensity to show their dad before he died that their plane could fly. The first prototype was ready to fly in October 1999, and the Hanchettes brought their dying father to see the spectacle. A radio problem delayed the first flight, Dan Hanchette said. A week later they fixed the problem, but their dad was too weak to witness his sons' best moments. So they shot a video of the flight and showed it to him.
After the Viperjet's inaugural flight, a man who had expressed doubts earlier about the Hanchettes' abilities told them, "If this were a bet, I would've lost everything." Scott Hanchette says he doesn't blame the naysayers, because few would dare to do what they did. Since 1999, the Hanchettes have constantly tweaked the Viperjet, investing several million dollars in it. They declined to give the exact amount.
Initially, the Hanchettes thought pilots interested in aerobatic maneuvers would be their primary customers, but after 9/11 — when long lineups at airports became common — the brothers thought of reaching out to business executives who preferred a smaller and faster plane.
Many of Viper's customers already own higher-end, manufactured aircraft that cost $3 million or more, the Hanchettes say. The latest Viperjet has a four-times-more-powerful engine and is slightly bigger than the original version. Also, it has a pressurized cabin plush with Italian leather seats, burlwood accents and integrated flight systems.
"You can always make it better, but you have to draw the line on the sand somewhere," Scott Hanchette said.
The Viper MKII Executive is similar to a T-38, a jet trainer used by the U.S. Air Force, said Greg Bennett, a former Air Force instructor and commercial pilot. He has put in about 200 hours flying a Viperjet. It has quick acceleration, and it loops and rolls in the air like a fighter jet, Bennett said. Because its streamlined body is made of composite materials, Viperjet doesn't encounter much resistance, he added.
"We need more brakes to slow it down," Bennett said.