Experimental/LSA to build time in?

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dwalker

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I feel like this is such a loaded question that I might regret asking, but-

If you were a low-time pilot, or, like me finishing up your PPL and wanting to build time, what would you buy?

I ask this because I had intended from the start to buy a Tomahawk, Cherokee, C150, etc. as a low cost time builder and sell it off down the road as an inexpensive way to build time before transitioning into the Dragonfly when its finished or a Long-EZ I might buy while building.
Obviously, the cost of these aircraft has gone through the roof and I really cannot justify the $50K or higher asking price that most of these types are trading at these days. When I was looking just a year and a half ago, I could have bought the same planes for $19-25K, with fewer hours. Honestly, its been a little frustrating, to say the least!
I have and am still considering a flying club, fractional ownership, or just renting, and those are all good options but I would really like to own.
That has lead me to consider an experimental. In my brain, this would be a VW or similarly powered two seater with dual controls, reasonably docile flight characteristics, potentially grass field capable, basic VFR panel, and low cost to fly, with a budget cap of lets say $25K. I have considered Sonerais, and lean towards them because I think they are cool, but maybe not the best time builder? Maybe a Zenith or Zodiac or something else would be a better, more economical choice? I admit my ignorance and any input and opinions are certainly welcome.
 

TFF

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It all really depends on how well you adapt to new flying situations.

I think the “ smart” way is to work on getting 150 hours in a 150 or like as a baseline, solo. Pilot in command is really important. That is a confidence builder.
While that is going on, get some complex instruction. Even if you never fly one on your own, it’s not about big as much as you handling multiple things at once in something that does things faster than a fixed prop Cessna.

Another way to go is something like a Champ. It will teach you better harmony of control. Relatively cheap to buy if owning is important. Homebuilts along this line like a Bakeng Duce are great budget flyers.

If you have a great flying buddy who is competent, you could venture into owning a Tailwind. It will eat your lunch if you just hop in one from a C150, but if you had someone that can help you acclimate over a good bit of time. You can get a little of both complex and stick and rudder in one. You could do the same with an EZ. Either way you will need cheap, competent help.

You will have to pick a lane and follow it for a while. Lots of times the paths don’t cross. You have to follow one, then jump to the other and learn that, and so on.
 

GeeZee

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In your decision tree don’t forget the cost of hangar rent, maintenance (can do it yourself but parts are parts) and condition inspection. On the plus side there’s nothing like being the sole owner and having an airplane available any time you want it. The older kitfoxes and Avids are sometimes in your price range. If you’ll fit, a VW powered Sonex can go for well under 25k.
 

Vigilant1

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The first hundred flying hours or so can be pretty tough on an airplane. The student is learning to land, and there will be some rough touchdowns. Predictable handling is also very important, as well as the ability to get instruction easily. All these factors favor renting a plane for a year or so. A C-150/C-152/Tomahawk, etc is tough and can teach you a lot. They are well understood and instructors/other pilots can chime in with comments on any issues you have as you build hours. With any E-AB plane, the universe of help is smaller and there may be some question as to whether your observations/challenges are due to the airplane or your technique. At this stage, I'd recommend staying on a well worn path even if it costs an extra couple thousand bucks (and that may be about the difference after considering ALL costs of ownership).
Going this route also lets you try out a few different aircraft (high wing, low wing, etc) to let you try out different configurations. You won't want to do that right away, but it will be an easier option down the road if you've established a relationship with an FBO.
Later, after you've built some time, an E-AB ownership or fractional ownership can make a lot of sense. Given your preference for a Dragonfly, maybe look for a VariEze, LongEze, or Cozy that needs a new home. Perhaps aircraft in general will be cheaper if the economy hits the skids. It's always dangerous to predict such things, but my own opinion is that this is more likely than not.
My Sonex trigear is VW powered and a very honest handling plane. Up to this plane's MTOW of 1150 lbs it climbs acceptably unless DAs are above approx 6000'. Solo, there are no concerns with DA. It handles well, is neutrally stable in pitch (so it must be flown, a good habit to aquire), can cruise fast enough to go places, and is cheap to feed and maintain. But, if you are a big guy you'll need a passenger/ instructor who is relatively small. The cockpit is about the same width as a C-152, but it has less headroom. A Zenith product would give more room, slower cruise, higher fuel burn, and less crisp/more stable handling, likely better off the pavement than a Sonex (esp a trigear, though I've landed mine on a smooth sod strip with no drama).
 
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Turd Ferguson

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I would buy into an equity ownership/club (whatever you want to call it) and then fly at least 2x per week. Since those kinds of deals are not available everywhere, might be better off money wise just renting.

I would not buy a plane at the artificial prices in the market today because risk is it's a bubble and it's going to bust.
 

Hephaestus

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For time building as a new pilot. Challenger 2. Because they follow the ultralight price end of the spectrum more than the certified/experimental - you can usually find one cheap. And just like a cub/champ - barely fast enough to kill you. But still it's logbook time as long as you're not trying to be part 103. Can also eyeball the similar kolb/beaver/chinook/titan options...

Then start looking at sonex etc for a higher performance option to graduate into, or grab one of the 90% done 90% to go completion projects to putt away on while having an interim hour builder.
 

Daleandee

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The Sonex is available on the used market cheap because it's not comfortable for two well fed Yankee pilots. So if you put up with that long enough to get a check out, then it will probably be a good time builder toward a longeze
I agree. I can fly two comfortably but I ain't large (a doughnut shy of 190 lbs.) and I limit my passengers to ~200 lbs. If the two in the seat aren't the "broad shouldered" type then it's a pretty good cockpit. My recent flight review was with a CFI that weighed 150 lbs. It was quite comfortable with she & I in the plane.

BTW ... a VW is not really an option on any Zenith build and while it does work on a Sonex, the airplane must be built very light, the outside temps need to be moderate, and the two in the cockpit must be close to FAA size. Even at that you will see a poor climb rate and most times the engine temps will be a challenge.

The Sonex appears to fit your mission and price range but just be advised that the VW is gonna be challenged on almost any two seat aircraft. When I owned a VW Sonex I did flight testing to 1150 lbs. (factory gives 1100 lbs. for the 80 hp VW) on a quite cool morning and the climb rate wasn't spectacular. My current plane has a 3.0 Corvair conversion and that really is the engine the airplane needs ... but I've been accused of bias, and I am guilty! ;)
 

ToddK

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There is a guy here in Houston selling a Dakota Hawk with a jabiru for around $20k. Or... go in with a buddy and buy a Chief, Champ, or a Piper Tripacer/Colt. If you both put in around $10K you have pretty decent airplane that is cheap to own and cheap to maintain.
 

dwalker

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A lot of good stuff here! I will try and help with some clarification then do some individual replies.

I range between 200 and 220lbs, but am sort of narrow. I "fit" in my Vari-EZ snugly but not uncomfortably, and a little better in the Dragonfly.

I do not intend to purchase an aircraft prior to completing my PPL, so beyond transition flights I do not intend to carry passengers often if ever. As I need additional training I will rent from the local flight school.

There is not a flying club on my local field, the closest is 30-45min drive to a different airfield. That club has at least three aircraft, a couple of CFI members, and fairly reasonable membership. However I feel like it is a low percentage I will be accepted as a member with my low time. The club I am most likely to be able to get into is an hour and a half drive, and has a single airplane.

There are NO hangars available at any of the 4 airfields within reasonable driving distance, which leaves open parking. That will be fine with me, but does influence choice of aircraft. I do have the option of putting an airplane in my warehouse provided the wings are removed for transport. There is a "slim" chance I can beg space at a local airpark, but that would be a grass strip.
 

dwalker

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The first hundred flying hours or so can be pretty tough on an airplane. The student is learning to land, and there will be some rough touchdowns. Predictable handling is also very important, as well as the ability to get instruction easily. All these factors favor renting a plane for a year or so. A C-150/C-152/Tomahawk, etc is tough and can teach you a lot. They are well understood and instructors/other pilots can chime in with comments on any issues you have as you build hours. With any E-AB plane, the universe of help is smaller and there may be some question as to whether your observations/challenges are due to the airplane or your technique. At this stage, I'd recommend staying on a well worn path even if it costs an extra couple thousand bucks (and that may be about the difference after considering ALL costs of ownership).
Going this route also lets you try out a few different aircraft (high wing, low wing, etc) to let you try out different configurations. You won't want to do that right away, but it will be an easier option down the road if you've established a relationship with an FBO.
Later, after you've built some time, an E-AB ownership or fractional ownership can make a lot of sense. Given your preference for a Dragonfly, maybe look for a VariEze, LongEze, or Cozy that needs a new home. Perhaps aircraft in general will be cheaper if the economy hits the skids. It's always dangerous to predict such things, but my own opinion is that this is more likely than not.
My Sonex trigear is VW powered and a very honest handling plane. Up to this plane's MTOW of 1150 lbs it climbs acceptably unless DAs are above approx 6000'. Solo, there are no concerns with DA. It handles well, is neutrally stable in pitch (so it must be flown, a good habit to aquire), can cruise fast enough to go places, and is cheap to feed and maintain. But, if you are a big guy you'll need a passenger/ instructor who is relatively small. The cockpit is about the same width as a C-152, but it has less headroom. A Zenith product would give more room, slower cruise, higher fuel burn, and less crisp/more stable handling, likely better off the pavement than a Sonex (esp a trigear, though I've landed mine on a smooth sod strip with no drama).
I like all that you have said. I had not considered a Sonex, but will look into them.

I actually have a Vari-EZ that needs the engine hung, a new prop, and a bit of fiberglass work to be a flyable plane. It needs a panel upgrade and some electrical upgrades to be a "nice flyer" and a paintjob to be a truly excellent airplane. I shelved the airplane last year over some concerns raised about the Wing Attach Points and corrosion. I indeed COULD go through the trouble of inspecting the WAPs, repairing them if needed, and restoring the plane to flight as my time builder.
My Dragonfly is also reasonably close to being finished. I could easily double down on its progress over the winter and into the spring and have it flyable and ready to be signed off on. My concerns with using either as a time builder for say, the first 100-150 after checkride, is I will be a pretty green pilot.
 

dwalker

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I agree. I can fly two comfortably but I ain't large (a doughnut shy of 190 lbs.) and I limit my passengers to ~200 lbs. If the two in the seat aren't the "broad shouldered" type then it's a pretty good cockpit. My recent flight review was with a CFI that weighed 150 lbs. It was quite comfortable with she & I in the plane.

BTW ... a VW is not really an option on any Zenith build and while it does work on a Sonex, the airplane must be built very light, the outside temps need to be moderate, and the two in the cockpit must be close to FAA size. Even at that you will see a poor climb rate and most times the engine temps will be a challenge.

The Sonex appears to fit your mission and price range but just be advised that the VW is gonna be challenged on almost any two seat aircraft. When I owned a VW Sonex I did flight testing to 1150 lbs. (factory gives 1100 lbs. for the 80 hp VW) on a quite cool morning and the climb rate wasn't spectacular. My current plane has a 3.0 Corvair conversion and that really is the engine the airplane needs ... but I've been accused of bias, and I am guilty! ;)
I am using a Corvair for my Dragonfly! I would be sorely tempted to put a VW on the front of the Dragonfly and use the Corvair if I were to purchase a Sonex or similar. I am actually very very tempted to use a Corvair for the Vari-EZ I have in the warehouse.
 

BJC

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If you were a low-time pilot, or, like me finishing up your PPL and wanting to build time, what would you buy?
What is the purpose of “building time”? Since you are retired, I’m guessing that you want to gain more experience and enjoy flying for fun. My comments, below, are based on that premise.
I have and am still considering a flying club, fractional ownership, or just renting, and those are all good options but I would really like to own.
Narrow your choice by what tie-down or hangarage is available to you. I once bought a Cessna A-152 because it met my need to tie-down outside in Florida and North Carolina. That need eliminated most of the aircraft that I otherwise would have preferred.

Look for a two seat airplane. You will get bored just flying locally, but likely will enjoy giving rides to others. Additionally, a two seater is much more comfortable for CC flight, and you are likely to really enjoy that.

Look for a good deal. TC or Exp. doesn’t matter. Looks don’t matter. A solid airframe, a good engine, and good basic instruments and a radio do matter, although an aftermarket radio can fix lots of Cessna static.

Whatever you buy, fly it as much as possible. Avgas is cheap compared to insurance, annuals and hangarage. Ask experienced pilots and EAA flight advisors to ride with you and critique your flying, and demonstrate more advanced maneuvers such as spins and, at altitude, the “impossible turn”.

Accept that you are likely to decide that you will eventually want a different airplane. Accept that you will not know what that airplane is until you have flown more and experienced more types of flying.

Accept that, whatever you do, someone will, after the fact, tell you that you should have done something else.

Have fun.


BJC
 

dwalker

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What is the purpose of “building time”? Since you are retired, I’m guessing that you want to gain more experience and enjoy flying for fun. My comments, below, are based on that premise.
I want to build proficiency and yes, fly for fun!

Narrow your choice by what tie-down or hangarage is available to you. I once bought a Cessna A-152 because it met my need to tie-down outside in Florida and North Carolina. That need eliminated most of the aircraft that I otherwise would have preferred.
There are no hangars available, so I will be using tie-downs to start until one is.

Look for a two seat airplane. You will get bored just flying locally, but likely will enjoy giving rides to others. Additionally, a two seater is much more comfortable for CC flight, and you are likely to really enjoy that.

Look for a good deal. TC or Exp. doesn’t matter. Looks don’t matter. A solid airframe, a good engine, and good basic instruments and a radio do matter, although an aftermarket radio can fix lots of Cessna static.

Whatever you buy, fly it as much as possible. Avgas is cheap compared to insurance, annuals and hangarage. Ask experienced pilots and EAA flight advisors to ride with you and critique your flying, and demonstrate more advanced maneuvers such as spins and, at altitude, the “impossible turn”.

Accept that you are likely to decide that you will eventually want a different airplane. Accept that you will not know what that airplane is until you have flown more and experienced more types of flying.

Accept that, whatever you do, someone will, after the fact, tell you that you should have done something else.

Have fun.


BJC

All the rest is good sound advice, thank you!
 

Vigilant1

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My concerns with using either as a time builder for say, the first 100-150 after checkride, is I will be a pretty green pilot.
I think that is a valid concern. There's nothing unsafe about either the Dragonfly or the Vari-EZs flight characteristics, but they approach and land at relatively high speed (70mph plus), so things happen quickly. They are both very aerodynamically clean, so they pick up speed rapidly if the nose gets low (which can happen to a new pilot juggling cockpit tasks). They just aren't the most forgiving platform for a relatively new pilot. A C-152 or similar plane will give you room to get confident with pitch control, navigation, learn about stalls and stall recovery, etc. And they are robust enough to tolerate the less-than-stellar landings and gear loadings (esp in crosswind landings) that all new pilots produce.
 

dwalker

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I think that is a valid concern. There's nothing unsafe about either the Dragonfly or the Vari-EZs flight characteristics, but they approach and land at relatively high speed (70mph plus), so things happen quickly. They are both very aerodynamically clean, so they pick up speed rapidly if the nose gets low (which can happen to a new pilot juggling cockpit tasks). They just aren't the most forgiving platform for a relatively new pilot. A C-152 or similar plane will give you room to get confident with pitch control, navigation, learn about stalls and stall recovery, etc. And they are robust enough to tolerate the less-than-stellar landings and gear loadings (esp in crosswind landings) that all new pilots produce.
My exact thoughts.
 

Hephaestus

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I like your "i'm going to fly alone" at first thoughts. I get scared when I see that newly minted pilot loading up his whole family for a big cross country. That seems like a setup to fail scenario in my world anyway.

Reason I suggested challengers, they're slow. And cheap... challenger 2's are 11-15ish on barnstormers, challenger 1's are 5-8k. Care and feeding of a rotax aside - about as cheap a time builder as you'll ever get. Even if it lives outside for the next 2 years and is completely devoid of resale value - get a hundred hours and you've easily offset the purchase price.

If your local airports are anything like ours - getting access to a hangar might be more about showing up and being seen flying regularly than the notorious "wait list" maintained by a manager... "that poor plane should be hangared" goes farther than "some dude wants a hangar to store his RV" any day of the week. I just got a hangar sublet last week since people saw me continually coming and going from my tie-down.
 

rv7charlie

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This thread feels a little like deja vu.
As has been said, mission is an important starting point. I started out looking for VW powered stuff because of, well, limited funds. The Sonerai and the KR2 were a couple of models that were initially high on my list, until I sat in a couple (and I'm much smaller than you). While I was still a student, I bought a Dragonfly that only had 3 hrs on it, and moved it on a trailer (and the roof of my car) to my local municipal airport. Got it reassembled on the ramp (different days), and an instructor acquaintance made the new 1st flight. Around the pattern once and back on the ground with a melted piston. After Viking (the original) rebuilt it, a different CFI acquaintance did the next 1st flight. Another melted piston, but this time 3 porpoises and a broken canard on landing. I lucked out and because the original builder sold to me so cheap, I was able to recover almost all my investment when I sold the wreck.

Obviously not a pleasant experience at the time, but things actually worked out better for me. I ended up buying a 1/3 share of a Luscombe 8A for less than I'd paid for the Dragonfly, with the seller (a CFI) ultimately becoming a good friend and taking me all the way to my private ticket without charging me. Even bigger, it opened up another entire universe of flying for me. If I'd been able to continue with the Dragonfly, I would have missed out on grass strips, which have become more frequent destinations than paved airports. It more than doubled my options when flying purely for fun. It also greatly opened up the number of options for my 1st homebuilt purchase, since *many* of the great deals we're likely to find on the homebuilt market have the little wheel in back. My 1st homebuilt was a Thorp T-18, and the Luscombe was great prep. After about 60 hrs in the Luscombe, the T-18 was a no-brainer to fly. Still good for grass strips, and the strip where I first flew it is now where I live & keep my planes.

Your goals are your goals; just be aware of all possibilities before you make a choice.

BTW, if you have to tie down outside, a fabric covered a/c may do ok for a short period but I'd plan on long term issues, especially if you're in the south. And as much as I like alternative engines, I'm honest with myself that they are statistically likely to require much more 'fiddling' and maintenance than a typical traditional a/c engine. Most of the smaller traditional a/c engines can be operated at roughly the same fuel burn as a VW or Corvair, if you're willing to pull the go lever back after takeoff. ex: I fly my 180 HP RV6 locally at ~5.3 gph. A small Continental in a relatively clean light airframe will be well under that, and not be always on the edge like a VW. The downside for any of the old certified a/c, of course, is the need for an IA at annual time and the ever present risk of ADs on those old designs. A homebuilt with the small a/c engine lets you use an A&P for the annual, with little AD risk.

Metal wing Luscombe, metal C120/140, and of course the batch of metal nosedraggers, if you decide you want to stick with Dragonfly/VE/etc type aircraft in the future.
edit: Forgot to mention homebuilts. Thorp T-18, Mustang II, any of the RVs, etc. Among the RVs, you could probably find an RV3 in your price range, but you'd obviously need to get comfortable in TDs ahead of time.
 
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Dana

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If you must tie down outside, a metal plane is definitely the better choice. Another option is a plane with quick folding wings (Kolb and Kitfox come to mind), then you can keep it in an enclosed trailer on a tiedown spot at the airport, or you can trailer it home. But if you have to take it home all the time, you won't fly much, it's just a hassle (securing the plane for transport can take longer than the actual unfolding process). When I had my Kolb, I kept it in the trailer at the airport during the flying season, and brought it home for the winter or if it needed any extended work.
 
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