DarkAero

HomeBuiltAirplanes.com

Help Support HomeBuiltAirplanes.com:

cluttonfred

Well-Known Member
HBA Supporter
Joined
Feb 13, 2010
Messages
7,009
Location
World traveler
There is an interesting brief article in the latest Sport Aviation (January 2020) about the three Karl brothers and their DarkAero 1 project for a "275 mph" RV-killer with a 200 hp UL Power 200 hp built in infused carbon fiber on CNC-cut 3D molds. It's interesting to see previously million-dollar technologies trickle down to a small-scale operation, but they lost me at the price ($80,000 for the kit, about $150,000 completed and flying). See https://www.darkaero.com/

Not for the first time, I am disappointed to see that pretty much every venture involving composite aircraft development wants to be the Porsche 911 (or the Lamborghini Diablo) of light aircraft. I am still waiting for someone who want to be the Volkswagen Beetle and apply these technologies to making an inexpensive, easy-to-built, easy-to-fly kit plane for ordinary folks.
 

BJC

Well-Known Member
HBA Supporter
Joined
Oct 7, 2013
Messages
10,477
Location
97FL, Florida, USA
Not for the first time, I am disappointed to see that pretty much every venture involving composite aircraft development wants to be the Porsche 911 (or the Lamborghini Diablo) of light aircraft. I am still waiting for someone who want to be the Volkswagen Beetle and apply these technologies to making an inexpensive, easy-to-built, easy-to-fly kit plane for ordinary folks.
I thought (hoped) that the Personal Cruiser might be that airplane. It’s not clear that it remains available. https://pro-composites.com/Cruiser info.html

I still imagine a single seat, open cockpit, cantilever low wing, glass “fold-a-plane” powered by something in the C-85 class. I doubt that it ever will happen.


BJC
 

Marc Zeitlin

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 11, 2015
Messages
609
Location
Tehachapi, CA
I am still waiting for someone who want to be the Volkswagen Beetle and apply these technologies to making an inexpensive, easy-to-built, easy-to-fly kit plane for ordinary folks.
There are a few other threads on HBA about Darkaero - you can search for them. But the problem is that you're looking for a Venn diagram that has no intersection - inexpensive, easy-to-build, at least, do not go along with composite KIT MFG. Some folks think otherwise and are working on ways to achieve that, but so far, it's never been done with the attempts so far. Just the facts...

Now, you can relatively inexpensively build a PLANS-BUILT composite aircraft, because fiberglass, epoxy and foam aren't all that expensive, but once you build tooling to make molded parts, all "inexpensive" bets are off. For anyone that disagrees, please point to ONE example of a composite aircraft where the kit costs no more than or less than a metal kit of the same caliber of aircraft. A Sonex-B aircraft (which doesn't impress me, but lots of folks like them and they do fly) costs about $37K including the engine. While you could certainly build a Varieze or Long-EZ for somewhere around the same price, you won't get a 2-seat KIT for anywhere near that, including the engine.

So for folks that want to build out of composites and provide a kit, the high-end is the only place to go.

My $0.02.
 

cluttonfred

Well-Known Member
HBA Supporter
Joined
Feb 13, 2010
Messages
7,009
Location
World traveler
My questions are pretty simple. Does composite construction really have to be high end or not at all? Or is it more that the potential to make sophisticated, swoopy, designs seduce designers into going for the Lancair instead of the Volksplane? The Vision and fold-a-plane technique were a step in the right direction, but I still don't know of anyone that's really taken the approach of using composites for lowest cost and easiest build, curves be damned. Where is my carbon fiber VP-2?!?
 

Marc Zeitlin

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 11, 2015
Messages
609
Location
Tehachapi, CA
My questions are pretty simple. Does composite construction really have to be high end or not at all?
I believe that with the current state of technology, yes.

Or is it more that the potential to make sophisticated, swoopy, designs seduce designers into going for the Lancair instead of the Volksplane?
That's certainly true too, but assuming that one is starting a business, would you rather sell 50 kits/year @ $100K, with a 10% profit margin, or 50 kits/year @$12K, with a 10% profit margin? It's not hard to see why folks pick the first choice.

The Vision and fold-a-plane technique were a step in the right direction...
And that went where, exactly? How many were sold and are flying? How much $$$ did the MFG make?

but I still don't know of anyone that's really taken the approach of using composites for lowest cost and easiest build, curves be damned. Where is my carbon fiber VP-2?!?
Unless you're looking for someone to subsidize your build with a low-cost kit that they sell far cheaper than they can make it for, you're not going to get one. Just like you're not going to get a $3K Lycoming O-235 or Continental O-200.

Again, another $0.02.
 

cluttonfred

Well-Known Member
HBA Supporter
Joined
Feb 13, 2010
Messages
7,009
Location
World traveler
I hear you, Marc, but I am not talking about charity here, just moving composites a little lower down the price ladder. You mentioned the Sonex, which can be built for under $40,000. Is it really impossible for a composite kit to be sold at a price point that would allow a flying aircraft at that price or less?

Regarding the business model...well, it depends. How many potential customers are there at each level of a pricing ladder, say $100k/$80k/$60k/$40k/$20k for a complete and flying homebuilt aircraft? I don't know if it's an exponential increase with each drop in price, but it's certainly a pyramid. Sonex is probably the second-largest kit manufacturer in the world after Van's, so clearly there is a customer base at that price point. A composite design that could match or undercut Sonex would, I think, find an enthusiastic market.
 

Kyle Boatright

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 11, 2012
Messages
880
Location
Marietta, GA
How many potential customers are there at each level of a pricing ladder, say $100k/$80k/$60k/$40k/$20k for a complete and flying homebuilt aircraft?
The issue to me is "How big is the worldwide number of people who would even consider building an airplane at any cost?". That cuts the field down to a (relatively) tiny market, meaning there's little opportunity for economies of scale to reduce costs. After that, the market says you need at least two seats as a minimum, which sets the floor for the airplane. Realistically, it also tells you that you're looking for an engine that says Rotax 912 or Lycoming on it (yeah, I know, the VW, but how many VW's power real 2 seaters?) Then you get into the new/used breakdown where there simply aren't enough good/used engines, props, glass panels, etc. around, so now we're talking a new FWF and a new panel. Even if you go minimal panel, you're at $5k, and you're looking at a $25K engine, so you're at $30k and all you have is a panel and engine. Add a prop, engine accessories, wheels, brakes, and all of that and you're at $35k and you still don't have an airframe.

To me, that's the starting point for a viable 2 seat kit. Add in some aluminum (or fiberglass), a canopy, a cowling, etc. and now you have an airplane. But you're on the north side of $40k, and you're at the bottom of the market.

I think the place where the money is made is in the pass-through sales. Van's buys an IO-360 for $28K and sells it to me for $32K. Van's never touches it and it is delivered to my doorstep. Same with avionics and quite a few other things where Van's buys in bulk, throws it in a bag, and ships it to you. That's the easy money in the industry.
 
Last edited:

Marc Zeitlin

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 11, 2015
Messages
609
Location
Tehachapi, CA
Is it really impossible for a composite kit to be sold at a price point that would allow a flying aircraft at that price or less?
Asking the same question three times isn't going to change my opinion on the matter :).

Nothing is impossible after it's been done, but until then...

Jeff Kerlo's projects, Revelaero:


(apparently they forgot to renew their domain name) indicates three price points for a single seat composite canard aircraft - $25K, $35K and $47K. These are the STARTING prices, sans engines. Jeff knows how to build aircraft, and he believes that he can sell kits for these prices and make $$$. I'm extremely skeptical, but if he proves me wrong, great. But even if he's right, if you want an engine and avionics for your plane, figure that the cheapest one will be $40K - $55K by the time you're done, if you get a new engine and mid-range avionics.

Now, none of Jeff's planes exist yet; none have flown; and none have been built in quantity. So the claims for pricing are just that - claims. They're NOT actual prices for things you can get and which will allow him to make both an operating profit and re-coup investment at a rate of return higher than the stock market.

Regarding the business model...well, it depends. How many potential customers are there at each level of a pricing ladder, say $100k/$80k/$60k/$40k/$20k for a complete and flying homebuilt aircraft? I don't know if it's an exponential increase with each drop in price, but it's certainly a pyramid. Sonex is probably the second-largest kit manufacturer in the world after Van's, so clearly there is a customer base at that price point. A composite design that could match or undercut Sonex would, I think, find an enthusiastic market.
While it is certainly true that there are more customers for a $15K airplane than for a $150K airplane, there aren't THAT much more. There are, as of 5 minutes ago, 535 aircraft with the model name "Sonex" on the FAA's database, and another 105 with the model name "Waiex". They've been selling them for what - 21 years, according to their website? So that's an average of ~30 kits/year? As opposed to Van's selling about 1000 kits/year? And that's FOR a low priced metal kit with half decent build quality and performance. Where's the market?

The Velocity SE kit price (no engine, slow build version) is $41K - add $43K for the available options, still sans engine. The XL kit starts at $51K. You won't finish a Velocity for less than $100K, and the XL will probably be closer to $150K minimum. There are 393 Velocities on the FAA database (all #'s are approximate due to rough searches). Velocities have been for sale for 30 years or so - maybe 35, so that's an average of 10 - 12 kits/year.

It's a pretty skinny pyramid, if a pyramid at all. The market is small - tiny in fact - for anyone other than Vans, and until someone actually succeeds with a fever dream for a new aircraft (composite or not), it's going to stay that way.

Now you're up to $0.06 :).
 

Hephaestus

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 25, 2014
Messages
1,465
Location
YMM
The lower end really needs a bit of uptake... Right now that's dominated by wood/fabric. Because you can buy in small bite sized pieces.

It's too bad the makerplane project failed - I had high hopes with it being based around an easily attainable material (Home Depot 2pcf Dow foam cores) I can't be the only one who can buy rolls (or yards) of fiberglass, carbon fiber and kevlar at a local store (along with all the resins and other materials). Shipping big blocks of foam from A$$/Wicks is a budget killer up north of the 49th.

This lazybee based design I've been playing with really would be a quick build in composites... Sucks that I don't have the math skills to do it...
 

BJC

Well-Known Member
HBA Supporter
Joined
Oct 7, 2013
Messages
10,477
Location
97FL, Florida, USA
If there were an actual market for sub $30,000 (or $20,000 - pick your favorite number) homebuilts or spam cans, there would not be so many derelict airplanes in hangars, barns and garages. Lots of opportunities for tinkerers who just want to get into the air.


BJC
 

Hephaestus

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 25, 2014
Messages
1,465
Location
YMM
If there were an actual market for sub $30,000 (or $20,000 - pick your favorite number) homebuilts or spam cans, there would not be so many derelict airplanes in hangars, barns and garages. Lots of opportunities for tinkerers who just want to get into the air.
I think that's half the problem - people don't want to buy a 50yr old maintenance nightmare that looks like it's 50yrs old.

If you look at challenger - they're still selling hundreds of kits a year... They sell for less than a maintenance nightmare with a Wichita dataplate...
 

cluttonfred

Well-Known Member
HBA Supporter
Joined
Feb 13, 2010
Messages
7,009
Location
World traveler
Excellent point. FAA registry lists over 1,500 aircraft with make or model name "Challenger." Add in the Part 103 airframes and you are probably pushing 2,000. Not too shabby.

A small, low-cost operation that sells a just two dozen airframes a year for $3,00-5,000 profit each certainly seems like a viable proposition, especially if run as a family business with most production subcontracted.

I think that's half the problem - people don't want to buy a 50yr old maintenance nightmare that looks like it's 50yrs old.

If you look at challenger - they're still selling hundreds of kits a year... They sell for less than a maintenance nightmare with a Wichita dataplate...
 

Hephaestus

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 25, 2014
Messages
1,465
Location
YMM
I still think there's probably a market for the old RAF style business...

Buying a license gets you plans & 1yr of tech support on the company forum - after a year a 30$/yr or so fee for access.

Run builder workshops 2-3x a year, team up with a local flight school for quick demo flights or conversion/type ratings... Want to get those 20hours so you're insured for hull damage before your test flight - y$/hr with instructor...

Once you've got a couple good knowledgeable employees offer some onsite builder assistance at x$/day

Use economy of scale for some of the harder to find parts - some like canopies motors you could probably drop ship straight from the mfg'er...
 

cluttonfred

Well-Known Member
HBA Supporter
Joined
Feb 13, 2010
Messages
7,009
Location
World traveler
Actually, with sites like Patreon already established, a whole range of support could be provided fairly easily. Scaled fees start with read-only acces to forum, then ability to post, then small subgroups for active builders only, then periodic webinars, then even one-on-one video suppport.
 

Hephaestus

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 25, 2014
Messages
1,465
Location
YMM
Yeah in this day administration for such systems is easier than ever... That's why I wonder why it's not done... I get it the 50k+ kits are better profit margins - but look even today at the builds being started on some of the old Rutan designs (original and openez etc).

Just saying there's a middle ground with the options for profit there too. This forum speaks so well to that - look at the interest in Fritz's ranger project - even as one of those 'useless' single seaters.
 

Wanttaja

Well-Known Member
Joined
Sep 15, 2013
Messages
1,387
Location
Seattle, WA
My questions are pretty simple. Does composite construction really have to be high end or not at all? Or is it more that the potential to make sophisticated, swoopy, designs seduce designers into going for the Lancair instead of the Volksplane?
It's probably related to how fast you can pay off making the tooling. Doing the molds for composite is probably about the same level of effort, whether they're swoopy or flatsided.

Add to that the fact that composite construction probably doesn't automate well. Are they robots that can apply layups to complex shapes and ensure the layers are well soaked in bonding agent...and are ready to wring the excess out?

If it's more expensive to set up and manufacture, the company is better off with a more expensive aircraft to help recoup their outlay quicker.

Contrast that with aluminum, where you can feed flat sheets into one side of a machine and get ready-to-assemble parts out the other.....

Ron Wanttaja
 

tspear

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 12, 2014
Messages
795
Location
Oneida
It's probably related to how fast you can pay off making the tooling. Doing the molds for composite is probably about the same level of effort, whether they're swoopy or flatsided.

Add to that the fact that composite construction probably doesn't automate well. Are they robots that can apply layups to complex shapes and ensure the layers are well soaked in bonding agent...and are ready to wring the excess out?

If it's more expensive to set up and manufacture, the company is better off with a more expensive aircraft to help recoup their outlay quicker.

Contrast that with aluminum, where you can feed flat sheets into one side of a machine and get ready-to-assemble parts out the other.....

Ron Wanttaja
Ron,

Auto companies have done composite shells with plenty of odd angles and swoopy designs. Using heavy automation, GM's Saturn division pioneered a lot of it; but the only spent a few billion to figure it out (I think the number was 6B, but do not quote me on that).

Tim
 

cheapracer

Well-Known Member
Log Member
Joined
Sep 8, 2013
Messages
5,946
Location
Australian
It's probably related to how fast you can pay off making the tooling. Doing the molds for composite is probably about the same level of effort, whether they're swoopy or flatsided.

Glass tables are simple and cheap, re; flatsided.


Not for the first time, I am disappointed to see that pretty much every venture involving composite aircraft development wants to be the Porsche 911 (or the Lamborghini Diablo) of light aircraft.
This, this, this!

I hear you, Marc, but I am not talking about charity here, just moving composites a little lower down the price ladder. You mentioned the Sonex, which can be built for under $40,000. Is it really impossible for a composite kit to be sold at a price point that would allow a flying aircraft at that price or less?
Absolutely possible.

Presuming by composites, you mean CF, it has come down in price 10 fold in the last 10 years, and is still dropping.

I am well aware where I am that i can build a CF Sonex well below it's current price, but for further on that, see my answer to the next post below ...



While it is certainly true that there are more customers for a $15K airplane than for a $150K airplane, there aren't THAT much more. There are, as of 5 minutes ago, 535 aircraft with the model name "Sonex" on the FAA's database, and another 105 with the model name "Waiex". They've been selling them for what - 21 years, according to their website? So that's an average of ~30 kits/year? As opposed to Van's selling about 1000 kits/year? And that's FOR a low priced metal kit with half decent build quality and performance. Where's the market?

Major marketing studies have been done in this area, the result is, coincidentally, that at a price point of $15K, sales dramatically fall off in the sports hobby industry. A person who can afford a $25K Sonex, often can, and will often move a few price points up to a Vans at $35K.

The actual purchasers of Sonex are often extending themselves, hence things like cheaper VW engines powering them.

The major market is those sport hobbies that will be under the cap at $15K for the first year's total expenditure, including transport, fuel etc, and is why motorcycles, jet skis, quads, snowmobiles are a big market.
 
2
Group Builder
Top