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Homebuilt Aircraft Component Factory - A good idea?

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futurethink

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I was looking through the Kitplanes website recently and some builders threads as well. Each aircraft is either hand built or built from materials or parts supplied from the factory - wings, fuselage etc.

Given the high cost of these components and also the tooling and factory space redundancy, what if the components were made to spec in in one large factory? Work would be constant, and standards could be kept high.

For example, one builder may want wings for plane X and another builder may need a fuselage for plane Y and so on, if the blueprints are shipped out maybe the parts could be built and shipped in?

One possible objection is the cost of labor, but the company building the kit plane could simply subcontract out the relevant parts to the Component Factory and then ship them to the user.

Has anyone tried this idea?

I hope someone makes this a reality - it might make building kit built aircraft so much easier. Maybe. I don't know.

Will I ever build a kit plane? No, but I would sure like to be part of the design team. That is where I stand.
 

BJC

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One possible objection is the cost of labor, but the company building the kit plane could simply subcontract out the relevant parts to the Component Factory and then ship them to the user.

Has anyone tried this idea?
I’m not certain that I fully understand your point, but Vans quick build kits are assembled in the Philippines. Kits are shipped there, and assembled by a contractor to the “quick build state, before delivery to the customer.


BJC
 

kent Ashton

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My Sri Lankan friend, the kit airplane market is pretty small and tooling up to do what you want to do would be a huge investment. I have never seen a photo of the Vans Aircraft assembly facility in the Philipines but here's a video of the Bearhawk Aircraft factory in Mexico. It will give you an idea of what's involved.
A person can sometimes make a dollar building parts for one particular airplane ( Cozy Girrrls) but nobody is getting rich on it. I would take a look at what kind of aviation is taking place in India and think how you can fit into it.

I imagine a rubber-removal service for Indian runways would sell right now. :-(
 

pictsidhe

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One problem is that an experimental need to have a certain fraction built by the owner. If they start buying things like wings and fuses, that would not be met. Small brackets and stuff could fit in this, as is done by kit manufacturers.

I think what you are suggesting is that plans aircraft have bespoke kits built for them?
 

Pilot-34

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I have thought of a similar idea.
A factory set up with jigs ,welders shears etc. all set correctly and ready to go.
Molds And the products they are designed for held at the proper temperatures close at hand .

Best of all experienced instructors on hand.

The thought comes from the fact that something that takes 10,000 man hours to build One time can often be produced in a factory with 100 man hours of labor.
 

N804RV

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...I imagine a rubber-removal service for Indian runways would sell right now. :-(
That's harsh!

With all the complaints I've heard about ProSeal, I've thought about making RV fuel tanks on demand. Builders send me their tank parts, and I send them back completed and leak tested tanks.

The only problem is, I need to finish my RV-8 first.
 

Wanttaja

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I was looking through the Kitplanes website recently and some builders threads as well. Each aircraft is either hand built or built from materials or parts supplied from the factory - wings, fuselage etc.

Given the high cost of these components and also the tooling and factory space redundancy, what if the components were made to spec in in one large factory? Work would be constant, and standards could be kept high.
Well, there are two factors involved here: The legalities, and the market size.

In the US and several other countries, kit aircraft are certified in a specific category to allow amateur construction. In the US, the vast majority of kit (and plans-built) aircraft are licensed in the Experimental Amateur-Built category. To qualify for this category, the builder of the aircraft has to perform a "majority" of the tasks involved. In the US, this is referred to as the "51% Rule."

As the US is the largest market in the world for kit aircraft, kit manufacturers take care to assure their products comply with the 51% rule. But if the buyer of the kit, for instance, buys pre-built wings from a company like you are suggesting, the project may no longer qualify as Experimental Amateur-Built.

Of course, Sri Lanka may not have the same rules. But then we get to the other factor: Market size.

We have no way of knowing how many kits are actually sold in a given year. But the number of new aircraft type added to the registry probably gives us a reasonable approximation. This table shows the number of new homebuilt aircraft added to the US Registry in 2019. It includes only manufacturers that had ten or more aircraft added in that year.
Type
Model​
New EAB​
Aircam
All EAB​
11​
CubCrafters
All EAB​
62​
Carbon Cub CCK-1865​
10​
Carbon Cub CCK-2000​
51​
Glastar
All EAB​
20​
Just
All EAB​
18​
Kitfox
All EAB​
29​
Lancair
All EAB​
12​
Lancair 4​
6​
Rans
All EAB​
33​
Rans S-5​
1​
Rans S-6​
1​
Rans S-7​
6​
Rans S-12​
1​
Rans S-14​
0​
Rans S-18​
2​
Rans S-19​
7​
Rans S-20​
12​
Rans S-21​
3​
Rotorway
All EAB​
10​
Sonex
All EAB​
25​
Onex​
6​
Sonex​
10​
Subsonex​
2​
Waiex​
6​
Xeno​
1​
Vans
All EAB​
199​
RV-3​
1​
RV-4​
3​
RV-6​
18​
RV-7​
51​
RV-8​
44​
RV-9​
21​
RV-10​
27​
RV-12​
3​
RV-14​
31​
Zenair
All EAB​
60​
CH-601​
6​
CH-650​
6​
CH-701​
14​
CH-750​
31​
CH-801​
3​
Note the average number of aircraft completed in a year is about 43 for these manufacturers...and there are only about ten models that see more than twenty aircraft.

So...out of twenty buyers of specific kits in a year, how many kit purchasers per year are going to be willing to buy ready-to-install major components?

It should be noted that several companies have Builder Assistance programs, that allow kit buyers to assemble their aircraft in the presence of expert personnel and using the professional tools. This would also be a competitor to a ready-made kit component company.

Ron Wanttaja
 

Pops

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If someone wanted to run a small shop, lots of work out there.

Dallas and I made all the hard tooling for the 4 seat bearhawk. Jig for complete fuselage, landing gears, rudder pedals , stick assembly, tail surfaces, etc, etc. Lots of sub jigs for installing fittings on the fuselage. also jigs for all the steel parts for the wings.
After welding up Bearhawks, we sold all the tooling to a missionary group.
We had request for building a dozen or so Bearhawks. We told them to buy from the Factory, we are retired and just going to build for ourselves only. The factory does a good job and the prices are right.

Dallas makes small parts for the Bearhawk and the Patrol, Baby Ace. Been making the fuel tanks, landing gear for the Baby Ace factory for 30 years. He is retired and just will do a little to have something to do in the shop when he wants. He also restores a lot of old railroad lanterns for collectors.
Not in it for the money. Just likes working in the shop when he fells like it.
 

TFF

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Generally the person interested in a plans built airplane doing it because of economics. They can’t afford the kit, but they can afford the materials and do the work for themselves. There are a few just going for craftsmanship, but they are going to be extremely picky.

On the occasion that there is someone who wants to fast track parts, no sub assembly pure parts, will want them perfect. .025mm off and all you will hear is cussing about you selling junk. If the materials you supply is not to what is expected, you will have the same complaint. There is very little tolerance of problems at airplane prices.

Could it be done, probably. You would need 20 happy customers with flying planes to be believable. People don’t want to put there money down without a sure thing.

There is a company that does steel tube fuselage CNC work. Cut to length and fish mouthed. You pay a premium for it so mostly professional builders use it because it saves money when everything is on the clock.

Lots of plans have errors. How will that be handled? Most plans built planes have a point where they have to be fitted. You have to be careful on your solution because it might go counter to consensus.
 

BJC

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I have thought of a similar idea.
A factory set up with jigs ,welders shears etc. all set correctly and ready to go.
Molds And the products they are designed for held at the proper temperatures close at hand .

Best of all experienced instructors on hand.

The thought comes from the fact that something that takes 10,000 man hours to build One time can often be produced in a factory with 100 man hours of labor.
You just described the Glasair Aviation Two Weeks To Taxi program. It has been in place for about 14 years.

They correctly note that, by using all the features that you described, set-up, diddling, checking, jigging, head scratching, looking for parts takes about 10 hours for a new builder in his home workshop to accomplish the same as 1 or less in the TWTT program.

Immediate feedback / oversight by experienced personnel is invaluable: “Wait - that isn’t going to work out right” or “That’s good” keep the builder out of the ditch, educate the builder and eliminate rework.

Lots of notated photographs are provided, and far exceed the value of the ones included in the construction manuals. BTW, their basic instruction manuals are probably the best.


BJC
 
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Pops

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Generally the person interested in a plans built airplane doing it because of economics. They can’t afford the kit, but they can afford the materials and do the work for themselves. There are a few just going for craftsmanship, but they are going to be extremely picky.

On the occasion that there is someone who wants to fast track parts, no sub assembly pure parts, will want them perfect. .025mm off and all you will hear is cussing about you selling junk. If the materials you supply is not to what is expected, you will have the same complaint. There is very little tolerance of problems at airplane prices.

Could it be done, probably. You would need 20 happy customers with flying planes to be believable. People don’t want to put there money down without a sure thing.

There is a company that does steel tube fuselage CNC work. Cut to length and fish mouthed. You pay a premium for it so mostly professional builders use it because it saves money when everything is on the clock.

Lots of plans have errors. How will that be handled? Most plans built planes have a point where they have to be fitted. You have to be careful on your solution because it might go counter to consensus.
Dallas's craftsmanship is first class, everyone that see's his work says it could not be made and better. Made perfect as possible. You are describing Dallas's work.
There are no better Bearhawks than the 4 we made. Take any part off any one of the airplanes and it will fit on the other. On Bearhawk #4 the owner decided he would order the Lyc-540 engine mount from the factory. He ask if we thought it would fit. We told him IF the factory engine mount is built to the plans, it will fit.
It fit perfect.
 

futurethink

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One problem is that an experimental need to have a certain fraction built by the owner. If they start buying things like wings and fuses, that would not be met. Small brackets and stuff could fit in this, as is done by kit manufacturers.

I think what you are suggesting is that plans aircraft have bespoke kits built for them?
Yes something like that: I mean, one aicraft factory that takes its orders from multiple manufacturers.
 

futurethink

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Lots of great answers here.

For the individual builder with the restriction on parts content it may be difficult to follow the practice of ordering most of the major components, and the manufacturer- assisted build programs are a great idea.

How about a mass subcontractor for aircraft companies? I see that several people are already doing this, for individual companies - what about one large factory that takes orders from several different manufacturers? That means that there will always be support for the aircraft, and parts can always be fabricated if needed. There are are many aircraft projects, good aircraft, that seem to have been abandoned. For exam the Adam 500 (not sure if it is a good example) :

Another interesting project is the Panther by Ullman Aircraft Company.

AV Web Article

Aero News Network

They may be still in operation, so no offence meant, but the website is no longer up and running. If the functions of the original company: parts fabrication, maintenance and support was handled by a large company handling these things for aircraft that are no longer supported, that is what I was thinking.

Of course it is another matter if it is commercially feasible, but that is the idea. Another thing is that these are all competing designs, if you know what I mean.

The Bearhawk is a nice, clean looking aircraft. Kitplanes has an entry on it.

Cruise Speed (mph)160Rate of Climb (fpm)2000

How on earth did they manage 150 knots and 2000 fpm? That's impressive.

As for myself I have dreamed of building a flying an aircraft in my younger days, now I will be just content to design.
 

futurethink

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As for homebuilts in Sri Lanka, there are 3 that I know of, all are in the Sri Lanka Airforce Museum, which makes you wonder. There are many Cessna 152s still flying around from the various flight schools. I can't remember the name of the kit, however. There is also a Kitfox that I was able to inspect at close range, I was totally amazed at the use of fabric all throughout.

Homebuilt Aircraft Picture- Aircraft Museum

Ray Wijeywardene's KitFox Aircraft

Mr. Ray Wijeywardene was quite an aviation pioneer here.
 

futurethink

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In the software industry we have 'escrow agreements' might be useful to keep a plane design going, maybe some designs need to fade into history after all, I don't know. The article on the Adam A500 is what really brought up this line of thought.

Adam Aircraft:

(Maybe a 1/2 scale kit-built Adam 500 would work? )

The five A500s in private service have run into problems obtaining parts and at least one was reported as grounded due to parts issues in August 2008.[15]

The aircraft owners organized an aircraft type club, the A500 Owners Association, with the goal of convincing the new owners of the design at that time, AAI Acquisitions to provide parts support for the existing aircraft.[15]

AAI's head of customer support, Jan D'Angelo, responded in August 2008, saying:[15]


There's no economic model that justifies setting up a support team to support just five planes in the field. There's no critical mass to make it economically viable.
 

ScaleBirdsScott

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To a degree it seems that if you're a factory tooled up to make your own kitplane designs from the past, there may be some synergies possible in offering to make similar parts for other kit makers. There has been a bit of this from what I hear, with company X making ribs for design Y, or a company that specialized in canopies offering them for a wide array of different designs and selling directly to the kit makers. Beyond that, other than straight-up sub-contracting the bulk of the work to another company or just selling them the design for cash or royalty, I can't think of many cases where you might have 4-5 different kitplane companies all utilizing one factory to split the costs and such. At least, I haven't heard of it, and I'm not sure if it could sustain.

Truth be told, if you happened to have 4-5 kit designers who all happened to live in the same general area, happened to generally agree on how to run a business, happened to agree on a common set of fabrication methods and tools to use for making the different designs, and happened to be equally successful at marketing and sales; you don't actually have five different designers you have one designer with severe Dissociative Identity Disorder. (Or 5 kids in a trenchcoat.)

Being honest though, I see a few ways it might work out if you did happen to have similarly aligned individuals in a specific area willing to join forces in some way.

The first would be evenly a co-op; where 4 or 5 principals of each their own small kitplane company that owns the designs, rights, marketing, support, etc; were to form a single corporation between them. This LLC then would manage the factory and then the individual brands would basically be customers for their own company, buying parts, leasing assembly and warehouse space, and probably having general fees, all of which would go towards the central LLC to maintain the space, hire general production staff, support and HR, etc. cover consumables, purchase materials and inventory in bulk, etc. Meanwhile the individual companies might have their own dedicated specialists who are attached to their particular brands. Each company would probably be responsible for paying for their model-specific tooling and paying for the setup time, while, say, buying a new machine or press would be more of a joint decision. There may well be job-shop and special contract work outside of making the core kits for the 5, but they may have agreements for capacity, priority, who gets to overrule those standards when needed, and how to cover repair/damage/etc costs when they come up.

At any point any entity could send their entire design somewhere else, stop using the joint factory, or only use it for some elements. They could also stay on as a member of the co-op even if they retire the actual kit design, and in some situation maybe they can sell the design to one of the other members. Of course there may also be some owners of that central corp that are not involved with any of the actual kit companies that are members. It could be that the factory is 40% motorcycle parts or something, for example.



The second option I see is that a daring entrepreneur who wants to start an aircraft factory doesn't have the time/skills/etc to come up with their own design, and doesn't want the headache of all that brings. So they might instead spend their money to build the perfect airplane factory, with the right tools and people, maybe get some initial practice by doing aircraft restoration work, and then in time simply form an agreement with a few different kit makers to be the one-stop shop that makes all of the parts for that kit. So the kit company is strictly a marketing and customer support entity, the actual fabrication and inventory and everything else by and large for kits would go through that factory.

The downside to this is, well, why it isn't more common; that entrepreneur often is treating their new enterprise basically as a job shop, where they make parts to print, and deliver them, and then get paid. And that's the end of it.

And so as soon as more important projects come along (like say a warbird restoration, or making parts for a SpaceX rocket) it's quite possible that the shop will move on to those greener fields, leaving the kit companies in the cold again looking for someone to cut their sheets and hydroform their ribs at a reasonable price.

Add to that many hopeful kitplane companies just are not in a position to give a job shop dozens of pages of refined, final drawings, for hundreds of parts per aircraft, and then have the budget to buy 5-10 kits worth of those parts. So only a more established company will be in a position to consider sending all of their production to a 3rd party source, after the bugs are worked out and there's a proven market.

But what if we suppose say that budding entrepreneur goes to 3-4 different budding kitplane makers and says "hey I want to make parts and I like your design idea, we can partner up and I'll use my factory to make all the parts and help you figure out your design. That sounds great! But, then very tricky matters of ownership, rights, who gets paid what, etc start to creep in. If the kits start crashing is it the factory making parts with poor understanding of the design requirements? Is it the designer missing critical factors? Is the sales guy saying one thing while the designer intended another thing an the factory is providing something else entirely from either? There are a lot of extra pitfalls and now the factory owner that might have partnerships with 4-5 different kits to bring them to reality in their super factory is now involved with these 5 different people as more than just a contract mfg but as a partnership entity. And it might be that 3 of the designs are perfect while 1 is marginal and the other never gets off the ground after 5 years of development, but that last one is taking up tons of valuable shop space and time, delaying paid customers from their parts... and the whole while these 5 teams are working independently, each designer thinking they have the best thing, its starting to be a conflict of interest in ways.... just messy.

The most successful cases tend to be that startups start small, build up what's sustainable based on interest, and make it or break it mostly on their own. They likely will outsource some amount of their kit manufacture to other kit companies who have special skills, or to just whatever local sheet metal shop has the right stuff to make the parts and is cool with doing tiny volumes. But in either case, the realities of the amount of space that tooling and fixturing takes up, the high amount of process specialization that is involved with any given design, and just the overall large time investment that it actually takes to get a kit together means that most kit-makers have to do that work themselves. Thus the buck stops at the company owner for the most part, and the liability is theirs alone whether that part was made right, whether the design was sound, and whether the builder used it correctly to assemble the final plane. It does mean, somewhat sadly, that most companies are probably either at 200% capacity or 50% capacity depending on their current situation, and while it means a lot of redundant machinery, skills, and so-on; there are benefits to redundancy.
 

Wanttaja

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How about a mass subcontractor for aircraft companies? I see that several people are already doing this, for individual companies - what about one large factory that takes orders from several different manufacturers?
We have half of that, now. Companies like Van's, Sonex, Glastar, and Titan (e.g. T-51) can generate CAD files, submit them to a specialized company, and get a mound of pre-cut, pre-drilled, and (in some cases), pre-bent parts. One centralized company can output parts for a wide variety of aircraft.

However, getting PAST that point is the hard point. Because HOW the wings for each design go together is different. True, the assembly skills are the same, but the details are vastly different. For example, some use driven rivets, some pulled rivets. Even the aluminum alloys can be different The assembly team will need specialized training for each type, and like I mentioned in a previous posting, the market just does not exist to make this financially viable. A company that specialized *just* in RV parts might make a go of it...but, again, competing against Van's own Quick Build kits would be difficult.

Ron Wanttaja
 

ScaleBirdsScott

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I think the only financial case for something like this to exist would be a group of people trying to disrupt the current landscape with new designs, and by their powers combined start to reach the sort of numbers that Sonex or Vans would. It would take probably 3-4 new designs all made to basically the same standards as existing top-of-the-line designs, and all hitting different segments of the market so that they aren't directly cannibalizing each-others' sales too badly.

Certainly this has happened at a limited scale with companies buying existing designs, and the various hardware companies buying up plans to sell the corresponding hardware kits. But what you'd really ideally have is just one company that ends up buying 3-4 disparate designs, running them through a heavy standardization program to use the same hardware, materials types, manufacturing processes, and then just have one kit company that offers those 5 designs. Because even if you standardized on everyone sharing the one factory it's still kindof inefficient to have all these different owners who lets be real likely are just freelance engineers, all trying to profit heavily off their designs with wildly different ideas of how to market and develop their ideas. And so at a certain point it would not work unless one big investor just buys everyone out and streamlines it without interference.
 

Pilot-34

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Or it could be a matter of kit standardization.
Kind of like a Cub seems to be
The base of a lot of the older kits.

With standard wings and sides you get a lot of different designs single tandem and side-by-side are mostly just matters of how far the sides are separated And if the wings are mounted top middle or bottom
Top mount a engine and you get a observer .
A slightly different bottom Gets you a amphibian.
Make it a slightly lower mount tractor engine and you’re back to a Kingfisher.

Yes I get it none of these designs would be the optimal but I suspect the lightest high-performance single seater would actually carry only a few more pounds of unnecessary weight to have the option of creating a four seater retractable amphibian.
 
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