View Full Version : Hi y'all, where do I start?

11-24-2015, 12:53 PM
Hello everyone, new here and to flying sort of. I'd love to build my own plane and be able to fly it and I don't want to mess anything up and then prevent it. About me, I'm 64 and retired on a railroad pension, 6'2", close to 300lbs. I've been enamored with WW1 era biplanes and would very much like to build a 2 seater. I'm not looking to fly cross country routinely but some easy sightseeing would be just fine. I had a couple of flight lessons back in the early 90's but have moved too many times to keep track of things like log books that I haven't used in years. So I assume I'll be starting from scratch. Funds are limited so there's not going to be any rush on getting either a certification or plane built too soon. Although I would like to get up in the air as soon as I am able. Plenty of time to put plans in order and do this right. So I guess the big question is which comes first, the certification or the plane? Can I get certified in my own plane? Any recommendations on good planes for a beginner? I do have a very strong mechanical background.

Any advise on which way to go would be well considered.

Oh yeah, I'm in Colorado Springs now, our most recent and hopefully last move.

Geoff Adams

Jim Heffelfinger
11-27-2015, 06:12 PM
Welcome Geoff,
Get with your local EAA Chapter and get an Eagle Flight. Join a chapter in your area. Spend time hanging around the group. Find a few new friends. Learn from them. Help with a build. Expand your social life. Even if you never become a pilot or a builder your life will be richer for the time spent.
I can only offer some of my experiences, and it may not apply to you. Your experience will differ.
Flight training: Hypothesis: The older we get the slower the learning curve.
You will be developing new muscle memories and may have to relearn some from our past ( case in point for me –as a child I learned push left and go right on both coaster cars and sleds – my yaw control was challenged heavily especially on final with ground rush) . These new manual skills will take a while to become established. You will be challenged to deal with a rapid succession of activities and talk on the radio coherently at the same time. There will be times when a lesson will not go well and you will be frustrated/discouraged. Remember: you will get past this with perseverance.
Expect to have a 15-20% increase in flight training time. Sport pilot - ~38 hours, Private ~ 60+.
Building: It has to be FUN. It should never become a chore.
Even the most fast build kits will set you back at least one serious year of building. Plans building (scratch building) will double, if not triple, the build time from the kit time. In the real world, with life getting in the way of your building, a build taking 5-8 years is not unusual. You will make a mistake in building and you will have to buy/make a replacement part. Get to know what level of perfection is acceptable in the process. Will a flaw just be cosmetic or unsafe? Making it perfect will usually end up building 2 planes with time and money.
Choose your electronics/panel along the way but buy when you are absolutely ready for that equipment. Electronics for our planes changes rapidly – with a whole new product line nearly every year.
Engines: Here is a controversial topic – the choice of engines. Alternative engines may appeal in price but beware you will be experimenting. There are many excellent engines available - You need to be comfortable with your choices. Wait until you are really ready before you purchase – some alternative engines are developmental and each year they get better. Even the major brands have upgrades every few years that will be advantageous to have. Upgrades always cost $$
Go to AirVenture – at least once. Stay the whole week and if you can, go early and volunteer before the opening. You will find no finer people than the people who dedicate their time to the convention. You will be amazed at the level of stewardship and commonality that AirVenture brings together. It is the pinnacle of passion. You’ll even accept the morning yodeling as an expression of love.
Jim Heffelfinger
Chapter 52 Sacramento

11-29-2015, 10:27 AM
Thanks for the good advise Jim. I guess my mind still thinks I'm a young man, it's my body that doesn't agree. I had not thought of the learning curve that you mention but it sounds reasonable to me. I have in my past been very capable at many things. I used to build and drag race cars, build and ride Harleys, (this is where the majority of aging came from!), build small plywood sail boats, was a mechanic for the railroad and started my mechanical career in a junk yard with a cutting torch. So there shouldn't be too many skills to relearn as far as building my own plane but I'm always open to learning new skills. I think I could grasp the concept of unsafe as opposed to just looks bad pretty easily.

I have looked up the local EAA in my area and plan a trip to visit. I remember falling very much in lust with the Dawn Patrol guys replica Nieuports back in the nineties and was saddened when they got flooded in '93. I still kinda want something along that line but able to fly 2 places. I have grandchildren here in the Springs that will no doubt want a ride in granpas plane. So simple is the order of the day when it comes to instrumentation and experimental is more than likely the type of design of the craft to be built. Sometimes it doesn't even have to finish when it comes to building something, it's almost the building that can be the goal, but who wants to never finish something that they want to use? Sailing is like your coaster cars, you push the tiller left to go right, so I'll keep that in mind too. I'm not looking to get into airspace that is controlled, low and slow is the order of the day there. So incoherent speech should only be a problem in the building shed I hope.

Thanks so much for your encouragement. I think I will like it here.


crusty old aviator
01-04-2016, 05:41 PM
Not to rain on your parade, Geoff, but the Dawn Patrol guys are a bit diminutive compared to your 6' 4" frame. I had a friend about your size and he ended up building a Starduster II because he could fit in it comfortably (in height and width), take a passenger along, and it is a biplane. Go to fly-ins, maybe you can get to the Copperstate or to Oshkosh, and see what's out there in your size. You can always paint your girl up in the Lafayette Escadrille scheme.