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JonL62021

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Oct 25, 2021
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5
Hi Everyone,

My name is Jon, and I live in Western Mass, I'm in my mid 30s, and finished my PPL in June this year. I have about 90 hours flying to date, and continue to fly a couple times a month. I heard about homebuilding a few months into my training, and fell in love with the idea of building my own aircraft. My professional background is mainly in manufacturing: laser welding/cutting, electronics assembly, project management, and 3D modeling. However, I will admit I have never yet pulled a rivet, so I have some stuff to learn. I joined EAA and found a local chapter recently, which has a number of active builders, which I think will be helpful while I build.

I have been scanning the threads here for a couple months and it seems there is a lot of knowledge. This seems like the most focused forum on general homebuilding not specific to one type of kit or manufacturer. So, I figured this is a good place to solicite some opinions before I start on a kit.

My mission:
-3 to 4 people: Me, my wife, and my son (2yo) mostly. I'd fly alone on occasion, but family weekend trips would be often, probably more than once per month.
-95% less than 200nm distance
-Budget- ~$100k complete (VFR). Less preferred obviously.
-Speed isn't a great factor.
-Hoping to complete in 3-5 years from start.
-Prefer tricycle gear
-Prefer high wing

I realize the 3 seats rules out many homebuilts. This is a requirement though. Our family and friends are spread across New England, and we would use an airplane for visits whenever possible, weather permitting of course.

Considering these factors, I'm thinking my first kit will be a Zenith 750 Super Duty. Here is what I like about it:
-Meets mission requirements (and preferences)
-Looks like most tasks can be done by one person
-My cost estimates put a 750SD build at about $105k including a 20% error in budgeting
-STOL does sound like fun

Here is what I don't like about it:
-Tundra tires- not planning bush flying. Minimal grass strips but there probably will be some.
-Not the cleanest design
-Might be hard to find transition training. I plan on needing to travel.

These are the other aircraft I have considered, but ruled out (in order of interest):

4-Place Bearhawk: QB kit costs adds up quick, build looks like it will take much longer to complete.
RV-10: Love the design, too much money right now, longer build time, looks like it requires two people for much of the riveting.
Zenair 801: Seems like they are still not in full production, and I expect this would take longer to build and cost more than the 750 SD.
Glasair 2+2: I like the design, over current budget
Sonex: I like the simplicity and price, just not enough seats or useful load.
Murphy Yukon: Don't see many flying examples, can't find much info past the murphy website.
Bede-4c: It's just so ugly. I don't think I can look past this fact. Maybe I'm shallow?

So right now, I am planning on flying out to Zenith early next year for a rudder workshop and demo flight. Before I pull the trigger on signing up let me ask this forum:

-Am I missing any kits I should consider?

-Any significant reasons to reconsider the ones I've ruled out?

-Any opinions why the 750 SD isn't a good choice?

-I am under the impression I can probably, carefully and with some knowledgeable help, modify the landing gear for some smaller, treaded, non-tundra tires. I will probably encounter more wet asphalt than unprepared surfaces. I just haven't fully researched this yet, and would also ask this question to Zenith before attempting any modifications. Am I wrong in this assumption? I would note though, non-tundra tires are not a deal breaker, just a preference.

-Anything else I should be thinking about before I start my build?

Thanks to anyone who offers any insight or opinions!
 

Victor Bravo

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Build the 750 Super Duty airframe and just substitute a couple of shapes from the 750 Cruzer using the structure of the SD.

Use the (faster, lower drag) airfoil by using the forward half of the wing ribs from the 750 Cruzer.

Install the "normal" 6.00 x 6 tires from the Cruzer on the Super Duty.

Use the symmetrical airfoil from the tail of the Cruzer instead of the upside down airfoil of the SD tail.

Definitely use the SD's structural design (the thicknesses of metal, the spacing and alignment of parts), but use the Cruzer's slightly more attractive and cleaner shape. You would likely wind up with a 115-120 MPH airplane (assuming 150-180 HP engine), capable of pretty darn good short field capability... just not quite as extreme as the 750 STOL.

The Zenith airplanes are ideal first time projects, their airplanes are demonstrated safe and easy to build. They're certainly not as pretty as many other designs, but other designs are often far less attractive during the build process!

How pretty is the family minivan, and how worthwhile and useful is it?

The really neat part about this is that the Zenith factory has along history of being willing to talk with their customers about changes, upgrades, modifications, etc. You can run these ideas past them and see if their engineering department can identify any problems that would be caused.

ALSO, going from the aerodynamic shapes of the SD and STOL series to the aerodynamic shapes of the Cruzer is a conservative direction, i.e. the STOL aerodynamic shapes are more exotic and put more strange air loads on the structure than the less exotic Cruzer shapes.
 

Marc W

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I would put the Bearhawk at the top of the list. Much more capable airplane than the Zenith. I would look for an incomplete project to shorten your build. It will also save money. Bearhawk projects come up for sale fairly often.
 

wsimpso1

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My first question is what material set do you love building in or think you can stay in love with until the bird is finished?

If you get halfway in to a 750 and discover you hate sheet metal...Lots of sheet metal in the Zeniths.

Billski
 

JonL62021

Member
Joined
Oct 25, 2021
Messages
5
Build the 750 Super Duty airframe and just substitute a couple of shapes from the 750 Cruzer using the structure of the SD.

Use the (faster, lower drag) airfoil by using the forward half of the wing ribs from the 750 Cruzer.

Install the "normal" 6.00 x 6 tires from the Cruzer on the Super Duty.

Use the symmetrical airfoil from the tail of the Cruzer instead of the upside down airfoil of the SD tail.

Definitely use the SD's structural design (the thicknesses of metal, the spacing and alignment of parts), but use the Cruzer's slightly more attractive and cleaner shape. You would likely wind up with a 115-120 MPH airplane (assuming 150-180 HP engine), capable of pretty darn good short field capability... just not quite as extreme as the 750 STOL.

The Zenith airplanes are ideal first time projects, their airplanes are demonstrated safe and easy to build. They're certainly not as pretty as many other designs, but other designs are often far less attractive during the build process!

How pretty is the family minivan, and how worthwhile and useful is it?

The really neat part about this is that the Zenith factory has along history of being willing to talk with their customers about changes, upgrades, modifications, etc. You can run these ideas past them and see if their engineering department can identify any problems that would be caused.

ALSO, going from the aerodynamic shapes of the SD and STOL series to the aerodynamic shapes of the Cruzer is a conservative direction, i.e. the STOL aerodynamic shapes are more exotic and put more strange air loads on the structure than the less exotic Cruzer shapes.
Definitely some things to think about here. I do like the ideas, but I'd certainly want some sort of blessing from the factory before swapping out components. I know the E-AB route does not get the rigorous testing of certified aircraft, but I assume there is some sort of FEA done to ensure an appropriate safety factor. But at a minimum, this helps me think about things to ask them if I follow through with the visit. Certainly wouldn't mind reducing the drag of the wings.
 

JonL62021

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Oct 25, 2021
Messages
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I would put the Bearhawk at the top of the list. Much more capable airplane than the Zenith. I would look for an incomplete project to shorten your build. It will also save money. Bearhawk projects come up for sale fairly often.
So I guess clearly there is a part of me that hasn't ruled out the Bearhawk entirely yet, because you've got me thinking again. I know it's more capable, I really like the safety in the design, but I do worry about the time to complete. You raise a good point though I may be able to find an incomplete kit with a factory welded fuselage. I didn't look into this yet. Looks like I still have some research to do.

Where do these incomplete kits tend to pop up the most? Barnstormers?
 

JonL62021

Member
Joined
Oct 25, 2021
Messages
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My first question is what material set do you love building in or think you can stay in love with until the bird is finished?

If you get halfway in to a 750 and discover you hate sheet metal...Lots of sheet metal in the Zeniths.

Billski
I think I will be very happy working with aluminum sheetmetal. Professionally, I have mainly worked with steel (CNC, turned, sheet, weldments, etc), and very small titanium assemblies. Just a little 6061 sheet here and there. Very comfortable measuring, moving, cleaning, inspecting and drilling metal. Working mainly with aluminum would seem like a blessing as it is much lighter than steel, and should be easier to work with in general. I think I'd fully enjoy building an all metal aircraft. I've also worked with a variety of plastics and polymers, not as big of a fan.

Thinking of other aircraft material... Fabric makes me a little nervous, something I would need help with to feel confident. Wood and I don't have a history of precision. Composite would be my least preferred. Composites just sound tedious, so I'd like to leave that to cowling mods at the most.
 

Victor Bravo

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Spend the couple or three hundred bucks. Go to the Zenith factory's "rudder workshop". In one day you will have enough experience and information to be confident (or not confident) that sheet aluminum agrees with you, and specifically the (somewhat unique) methods Zenith uses.
 

PiperCruisin

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Just being realistic, maybe you just get a C172 project or something with a high time engine. Find an IA/A&P you can work with. When you think the engine needs an overhaul, get a 180 hp STC. You still get to work on stuff if you like that sort of thing. There is no real shortage of certified AC that need some TLC.

3-4 place homebuilt aircraft are a bit rare (maybe manufacturers don't like the "just killed an entire family" liability) and would get pricey (relatively speaking, but obviously a nice option compared to a new certified) when you're done.

I was kind of in your shoes, but high wing was not one of my requirements. I kind of like the Cozy or Velocity for speed. The Sling is super efficient. Considered the Bearhawk but didn't like the fact that it didn't use one general method of construction, but pretty much all of them (pick one). Ultimately just bought a Cherokee and overhauled it.
 

Dana

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Sounds like you have a good handle on what you want. Just remember that many (not all) 4 seaters aren't really 4 people + baggage + full fuel, though I don't know the specifics of the models you've listed. Swapping out to smaller tires is pretty much a non issue.

But, consider that weekend trips more than once a month may be problematic VFR in your area, depending on the time of year. I fly my Hatz from central CT to southeastern NY, about 90 miles, for the weekend whenever I can instead of driving (late spring through early fall), it works out to somewhat less than once a month that the weekend forecast is solid enough to fly. That's not meant to dissuade you, just to be realistic.

Zenith airplanes... They're certainly not as pretty as many other designs...
That's an understatement! But good solid airplanes from all I've heard.
 

TFF

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I would put the Bearhawk and RV10 as airplanes that could be certified, in quality. They are also worth more once built, than you put in, at least physical side.

You also need to see a Zenith in the flesh. Probably the best value, but it’s not for everyone.

I would say buy a 172 and start flying it tomorrow. It will be cheaper. Yes you will see bills every year come across the table for annuals, but it will take a long time before you ever get to equaling what a Bearhawk will cost.

To get through a build, you have to want to build, not think of it as a short cut. Almost never is. You also have to steal the time to build from family and other hobbies. It takes a lot of effort. If you can’t get the time or choose that how you want to spend it, it will not get built.

Something like a Mooney M20C or E would be a great budget traveler.

There are also options like buying a family plane and then build a one seater for fun. Family is covered, and you can have fun building in the shop and buzzing around locally.
 

rv7charlie

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I'll continue to be the one who says, 'fly before you buy'. And especially if you're a low time pilot without a lot of different types in your logbook, get someone with a lot of time in multiple a/c types, including multiple homebuilt a/c types, who's opinion you respect, to fly the candidate a/c, too. Every plane has its own set of devotees, and there's a very wide range of handling characteristics, in addition to performance. And then there's the issue of performance claims vs reality. I know there are some a/c mentioned here that I have no desire to fly in; much less own, after prior experience. Your tastes will likely vary.

If you're buying an already flying 4 seat homebuilt a/c, I can't think of one that fits the budget except the Velocity (flown one; would own one if I needed 4 seats). Pretty strong/safe, especially for canard types with their relatively high landing speeds. Capable of operating off grass strips (if they're long enough). And I've seen decent quality flying examples priced well under that max budget. Also has the advantage of a lot of prefab in the kit. With the scratchbuilt 'glass a/c, you just have to trust that the builder did all the layups properly, with adequate resin, etc.

edit: Forgot about the Bede 4. The B models, like the 172 (see below) aren't really 4 seat a/c. The C model with a big engine would be. But. Fly before you buy. I've owned a B model. For me form follows function, so the performance (speed per HP & per dollar) makes them look pretty good to me. Unfortunately, the B model I owned was borderline unstable in yaw, and careful reading of reviews indicates that many of them are. Only plane my wife has ever flown in that scared her so much that she didn't want to fly in it, and she loves to fly with me. The problem would have been correctable, and might be fixed in the C models, but you need to fly one to see if it bothers you (or better, have your 'expert' fly it to evaluate it for you). The yaw weirdness in the B model has bitten some pilots in the past. B models are quite affordable, if you can find a well built example.

I'd agree with TFF about the 172, at least until the kid gets bigger (or multiplies). It's not really a 4 seat plane; few are until you get to the ~200 HP point. And remember, with any certified airframe, you're always one annual or AD away from having as much invested as that the (new) Bearhawk would have cost.

If I needed and could afford one, I'd go fly a Bearhawk before buying anything else. All the reviews indicate that it would meet my handling expectations. Performance and lifting ability is there, without a doubt, and the company seems quite solid. It's just a *lot* of money, by the time it flies.
FWIW...

Oh yeah, welcome aboard!
 
Last edited:

mcrae0104

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Bede-4c: It's just so ugly. I don't think I can look past this fact. Maybe I'm shallow?
Beauty is skin deep, but ugly goes all the way to the bone. I'm not a fan of the BD-4 either. I like @PiperCruisin's suggestion to find something certified to meet your needs for now. A little more time flying will allow you to determine how much you really need those extra seats (and how much your family likes flying) and may allow you to afford one of those homebuilts later that seems out of reach now.

Congrats on your certificate and welcome aboard.
 

Dana

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I know the E-AB route does not get the rigorous testing of certified aircraft, but I assume there is some sort of FEA done to ensure an appropriate safety factor.
Some homebuilt designs are professionally designed and analyzed, others are from the "that looks about right" school of design. FEA isn't anything magical, just a (sometimes) easier way to calculate things, and airplanes were designed for years without it.
 

ToddK

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The Bearhawk would be my first choice. They are popular for a reason. Roomy, strong, honest flying, and they have a excellent resale value. Build it like its the last plane you will ever own.

My second choice would be... the BD4C. Simple and strong. That's the first time I have ever heard it called ugly. They have been around a long time and they fly fast. I wish they would offer a stamped rib and riveted wing skin rather then the bonded wing, but the bonded wing seems to be holding up.

Low and slow flying is a pleasure for the pilot, passengers (including family) typically just want to get there, so the Zenith would not be on my list.

Whatever you do, before dropping 100K and a few years of your life, do some test flights with an instructor or factory rep (stalls, maneuvers, and crosswind landings) preferably in a factory modal.

If you want to fly right now, the Bellanca Viking is IMO significantly underpriced for what it is.
 
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geraldmorrissey

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I'm scratch building a Bearhawk. You might consider buying the wings, $10,000 or so, and building the rest which is simple welded steel tube. You can buy sub components like engine mounts, landing gear, control system subassemblies. The wings are by far the most time consuming assemblies to build, buying them will save years. Demand for finished planes is very strong. $100,000 will build a very nice 4 place model B Bearhawk. Check them out.
Good luck
Gerry
Patrol #30
 

Dan Thomas

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If you want to fly right now, the Bellanca Viking is IMO significantly underpriced for what it is.
And there are reasons for that. It has a wooden wing, and after 40 years, especially if it has spent time tied down outside and the wing roots haven't been kept well-sealed, it can have serious decay. Birds and mice also get into it easily. I cleaned out a whole garbage can's worth of mouse nest out of one wing in one Viking. Those animals can cause terrible rot. There's an AD on that wing, an annual check for delamination and decay, that takes time to do. There are other ADs on the tail structure and engine mount and landing gear, and if those things haven't been upgraded they need checking annually until they get fixed, or until they crack and then HAVE to get replaced. The airplane is fabric-covered, and new fabric jobs aren't cheap, and the fabric on the wing is glued down tight to the plywood. Fun to remove, see?

Pilots often make the mistake of thinking that if the airplane is cheap, its maintenance will also be cheap. Just because you can afford to buy it doesn't mean you can afford to own it and fly it. The Viking is a complex airplane, 300 HP, retractable gear, constant-speed prop, some turboed, with all the expensive components such an airplane has. And the insurance rates for such an airplane, too. An old Ferrari might be bought cheap, but what do parts for an old Ferrari cost? Lots. And the shop labor rates for an old airplane or car? Same as the rates for a new airplane or car.

There is no such thing as a cheap old airplane. I was in the maintenance business long enough to see that.
 
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