Planning my first project for the future!

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Ant45100

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TL;DR: I’m saving up for a project! 60K is my absolute max on the budget, and I’ve been researching the hell out of many many planes to determine what I should go with! Any insight or information on any of these planes, or any other planes, would be highly appreciated!

Hey there! I’m Anthony, and I’m pretty new to aviation in general. I’ve been researching a lot about planes, and the more I look into Experimental, Kits, or Homebuilt aircraft, the more I really would love to start a project. Primary issue about that is that right now I’m only 20, and am currently saving my money for a down payment on a house, and won’t have the money allocated for a plane until roughly 2 to 3 years from now on my current budget. So for now I am planning! I’ve researched planes in the 60K maximum area, and have found a lot of good options, and could use any advice you’d like to give! Here’s my options so far!

Van’s RV-4: literally everyone loves this plane that I’ve seen. If you’re a regular here I assume you already know all about it and more.
Sonex/Waiex: Seems like a solid set of planes with a good track record, although the engine choices have me stumped! This plane sounds like a good middle ground of being realistically completable in a couple years, while also having a lot of things I enjoy!
Sonex OneX: there’s a lot less info out there on this than the Waiex or Sonex; but this is the most interesting of the 3 to me, as garage storage sounds incredible! On top of that I’d most definitely be able to invest in top tier avionics too!
Merlin PSA: This thing looks stupid easy to work with. Realistically completable in 2 months by someone like me, it sounds like a great way to dip my toes into building while also having a nice little plane to have fun in! It’s also super efficient, which would be nice for my use case.
SkyCraft SD-1 Minisport: I just found this one tonight, with a wooden frame it seems to be the most unique one to build, although I’m no carpenter and am not sure of the ups and downs to building with wood, any advice on it would be appreciated! This plane is similar to the PSA in actual use, however the build process seems fun and unlike anything else, which is both a good and terrifying prospect at the same time. I’m not sure if they still make kits however, it seems like they may have moved onto only prebuilts.

Thanks for reading through my long ass list of BS! I’m interested in learning more about the build process and look forward to working on one of these for a year or a few down the line, thanks for any help!
 

Rhino

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Welcome. You really need to decide on the mission before you choose the plane. The choices you listed are dissimilar in many ways, which seems to indicate you aren't really sure yet what the mission will be. You don't want to be one of the many unfortunate builders who spent years building a plane that doesn't really do what they want it to, or doesn't do it all that well. Of course, we all have to make compromises. It's nearly impossible to find a single plane that does everything we'd like it to do. But you do want to try to get as close as possible. Fortunately you've come to the right place for advice. Lots of expertise here.
 

wsimpso1

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+1 on knowing your mission for the plane.

I suggest that you do some self examination and determine which materials you love building in. You are going to spend a lot of time with whatever you choose. For instance, I have enough experience with sheet metal to know I would never finish a sheet metal airplane built up from raw materials, and a quick build is probably a bad idea for me too. Now picking up an RV4 that is well along could work.

If you are not averse to tube and fabric, there are frequently projects offered from Champs and Taylorcraft to Tailwinds.

Billski
 

cluttonfred

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Welcome! You've got some good advice already, and as someone who started with dreams like that and didn't make good on them for many years (still haven't for some) I'd say don't wait, just start small. Start taking flying lessons to make progress toward your license (whichever category suits the kind of flying you want to do). Then start looking for projects to get you in the air relatively cheaply, which usually means purchasing a complete, registered, and flown but no longer airworthy projects (fast, money up front), finishing an incomplete project (medium, varies a lot, money up front), or scratch-building something affordable (slow, but can pay as you go). You don't have to wait to afford your dream project, you can start something fun but modest right now.
 

Ant45100

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Welcome. You really need to decide on the mission before you choose the plane. The choices you listed are dissimilar in many ways, which seems to indicate you aren't really sure yet what the mission will be. You don't want to be one of the many unfortunate builders who spent years building a plane that doesn't really do what they want it to, or doesn't do it all that well. Of course, we all have to make compromises. It's nearly impossible to find a single plane that does everything we'd like it to do. But you do want to try to get as close as possible. Fortunately you've come to the right place for advice. Lots of expertise here.
Don’t worry! I have been thinking of my mission, I know I’ll only really ever fly myself around so a plane with more than 2 seats will be waste. From there I don’t need a ton of range, 300 miles with at least 25% or so to spare minimum. Speed isn’t something I’m super concerned about but would be incredibly welcome, it would make my flights much quicker which is both a good thing for time saving but also bad because I won’t build much time. ~100 knots cruise will be enough for me. I’ll primarily be flying on my days off to visit friends across the state and occasionally a roughly 800 mile trip to CO to visit family. I only need enough useful load to carry some clothes occasionally in storage plus myself and a full, to mostly full tank. IFR capability would be incredibly nice as I’d like to get my license for that down the line too. I’ll list the reason why I chose each plane so far here, the RV4, and really the RV8 too is right around my ideal. The speed is nice, the range is nice, pretty much everything about the plane is nice. Its track record is excellent while I’m at it. However this is the most complex and expensive plane on the list, and I’m nervous I won’t be able to complete it due to monetary and time reasons. The Sonex seems to be significantly less complex, and it is cheaper too, and it also has a solid track record, albeit a little bit shakier. It’s slower yes, but again speed isn’t a priority, and the looks of this plane also would make me want to work on it too. The OneX is more of a fun thought, hangar pricing where I’m from isnt as crazy as I was expecting so storing it in my garage isn’t necessary. As for the Merlin, it’s super efficient, and the build process looks to be next to nothing, if I wanted to try out building but wasn’t sure whether or not it’d be for me. However pretty much everything else spec wise on this plane isn’t too great, however maintaining the thing doesn’t seem to be much of a crazy task either. And finally the SD-1 Minisport, this thing is a nice balance of all of the above, except for one thing. It’s made of wood, which I’m familiar enough with to be dangerous. The rest are primarily constructed with aluminum which is a crazy easy to use material, and I’m more than familiar with. I’d have to look into the build process on this one but it doesn’t seem too bad. The range on it seems excellent, which is the primary reason I’m considering it, I’d use it for cross country flights like I said above.
While these planes aren’t all super similar I am weighing the options and trying to determine which project will be best for me, however until I’m actually out there flying for a while I’m not sure what I’ll be doing most of the bunch, most likely to be local flying or cross state flying.
 

Ant45100

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Welcome! You've got some good advice already, and as someone who started with dreams like that and didn't make good on them for many years (still haven't for some) I'd say don't wait, just start small. Start taking flying lessons to make progress toward your license (whichever category suits the kind of flying you want to do). Then start looking for projects to get you in the air relatively cheaply, which usually means purchasing a complete, registered, and flown but no longer airworthy projects (fast, money up front), finishing an incomplete project (medium, varies a lot, money up front), or scratch-building something affordable (slow, but can pay as you go). You don't have to wait to afford your dream project, you can start something fun but modest right now.
Of course! I’m interested to get primarily my PPL with a IFR cert later on. I’ve started studying what I can, and already got my medical out of the way. Im waiting till I’m out of Trade School this summer to hop onto actual lessons, and when I actually have my own space intend to start a project. However right now I’m living with my parents and will be living with my grandmother later on, and I’m sure they’d appreciate some garage space to themselves lol, otherwise I’d start ASAP on a small thing.
 

cluttonfred

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Well, with nothing more than a bench grinder mounted to a sawhorse, a hacksaw with good new blades, a couple of files, a drill and $100 of steel sheet stock you could already start making the fittings for a wood-and-fabric design like a Volksplane, Pietenpol, etc. These are for a Piet':




I’m sure they’d appreciate some garage space to themselves lol, otherwise I’d start ASAP on a small thing.
 

TFF

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Spend money on flying lessons and keep dreaming. Expose yourself to the game. Get the PPL starting now if you can. You will understand all the choices from experience better, and the sooner you learn, the easier to learn flying.
 

Marc W

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You might also look at the Thatcher line. They are simple aluminum designs for scratch building. Cruising speeds run from 100 to 125mph. The CX4 is a single seat. The CX5 is a tandem two seat which is roomier than the RV4. The newest design is the CX7 which is a side by side two seat. The CX5 is probably the best fit for you. It would have better range than the CX4 and more baggage capacity if you are flying alone.
 

Ant45100

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Well, with nothing more than a bench grinder mounted to a sawhorse, a hacksaw with good new blades, a couple of files, a drill and $100 of steel sheet stock you could already start making the fittings for a wood-and-fabric design like a Volksplane, Pietenpol, etc. These are for a Piet':


Interesting! I have all of those tools besides the grinder, I’ll have to look into it.
Spend money on flying lessons and keep dreaming. Expose yourself to the game. Get the PPL starting now if you can. You will understand all the choices from experience better, and the sooner you learn, the easier to learn flying.
Thats the goal for now, however planning stuff out’ll help for the long run!
 

gtae07

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In no particular order:

That's a wide range of aircraft. The Merlin and SD-1 are pretty far from an RV in terms of price and capability.

What will your operating budget be? It's one thing to be able to save up enough over several years to buy/build an airplane. It's another to be able to afford to keep and fly it. When I look back over the last decade, my average saving-for-the-build rate is only a little higher than my estimate of annual fixed and operating costs (including hangar, maintenance, insurance, taxes, fuel, and engine overhaul/avionics upgrade reserve). You see a lot of homebuilts for sale shortly after their Phase I period is flown off, and I suspect part of that is their builders found out that the yearly cost was more than they could afford. Just as a WAG, I would expect a rough minimum of $5000-6000 per year in fixed costs (hangar, insurance) for an RV or Sonex, and that's without flying a single hour.

You're right that you will probably want to wait until you have some flying experience to know what your mission will really be. So start getting that experience.
  1. Figure out if you're going to have any trouble getting a 3rd class medical. You can search for more details, but IIRC the process is something like a consult with an AME (before you fill out the FAA paperwork to formally apply for the medical certificate!) to see if they think there would be any obstacles. You may wind up basically paying twice, but far better to do that than to go in and get denied--in that case you'd be barred from everything but gliders and Part 103 ultralights. If there is doubt on your ability to get a medical certificate, you could roll the dice and go for a special issuance, or stick to Sport Pilot. But whatever you do, don't get a denial.
  2. Start your training as soon as you can afford to finish, and fly as often as you can during your training so you retain it better.
  3. Get experience in different types of aircraft if you can. Also try to find someone to give you a flight in the model(s) you are interested in.
An older but cared-for RV-4 or RV-6, especially with an older panel, smaller engine, and fixed-pitch prop, can likely be found within your budget, and at well under the cost to build a new one. Likewise the Sonex family seems to be available for sale at around or somewhat under the cost of components. Unless you're just dead-set on building, look at flying aircraft.

Building takes a lot of your time, and it is very hard to squeeze that time in with young children around while still being an involved parent. I don't know what you have as far as "life plans" for that sort of thing, but if you choose to build there's something to be said for getting as much of a project done as you can before getting married and/or having kids. Same with buying an airplane.
 

Dana

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I bought my first plane a couple of years before I met my wife. By the time our kids were born it was due for a general restoration, so I disassembled it and stored it in the garage. It sat there untouched for about 10 years during that early part of our marriage because I didn't have the time or money to work on it, but I always said I'd sell it only to buy another plane.

In the end I amended that to "another flying machine" when I discovered that a paramotor cost exactly what the plane was worth in its disassembled condition. From there I worked my way up through ultralights and cheap planes to where I am now.
 

Ant45100

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In no particular order:

That's a wide range of aircraft. The Merlin and SD-1 are pretty far from an RV in terms of price and capability.

What will your operating budget be? It's one thing to be able to save up enough over several years to buy/build an airplane. It's another to be able to afford to keep and fly it. When I look back over the last decade, my average saving-for-the-build rate is only a little higher than my estimate of annual fixed and operating costs (including hangar, maintenance, insurance, taxes, fuel, and engine overhaul/avionics upgrade reserve). You see a lot of homebuilts for sale shortly after their Phase I period is flown off, and I suspect part of that is their builders found out that the yearly cost was more than they could afford. Just as a WAG, I would expect a rough minimum of $5000-6000 per year in fixed costs (hangar, insurance) for an RV or Sonex, and that's without flying a single hour.

You're right that you will probably want to wait until you have some flying experience to know what your mission will really be. So start getting that experience.
  1. Figure out if you're going to have any trouble getting a 3rd class medical. You can search for more details, but IIRC the process is something like a consult with an AME (before you fill out the FAA paperwork to formally apply for the medical certificate!) to see if they think there would be any obstacles. You may wind up basically paying twice, but far better to do that than to go in and get denied--in that case you'd be barred from everything but gliders and Part 103 ultralights. If there is doubt on your ability to get a medical certificate, you could roll the dice and go for a special issuance, or stick to Sport Pilot. But whatever you do, don't get a denial.
  2. Start your training as soon as you can afford to finish, and fly as often as you can during your training so you retain it better.
  3. Get experience in different types of aircraft if you can. Also try to find someone to give you a flight in the model(s) you are interested in.
An older but cared-for RV-4 or RV-6, especially with an older panel, smaller engine, and fixed-pitch prop, can likely be found within your budget, and at well under the cost to build a new one. Likewise the Sonex family seems to be available for sale at around or somewhat under the cost of components. Unless you're just dead-set on building, look at flying aircraft.

Building takes a lot of your time, and it is very hard to squeeze that time in with young children around while still being an involved parent. I don't know what you have as far as "life plans" for that sort of thing, but if you choose to build there's something to be said for getting as much of a project done as you can before getting married and/or having kids. Same with buying an airplane.
My budget should be all good, I’ve taken care to make sure I’m gonna be able to cover the costs over time. I’ll be paying off a house at the same time, however the rough estimates I have made for my price range would give me plenty of room to cover year to year costs.
As for the medical, I should be all good to go with that! I intend to get that done in November here, and since I’m in good shape and have no medical problems that I know of I’ll get it done hopefully without any problems!
As for the already built option, I’m interested in that route but at the same time I’ve also got an interest in building. I’m of course not sure what the future holds for me, but my basic plans revolve around mostly settling down and working on my trade (I’m an electrical apprentice trying to study and work to become a journeyman), and once those’re all set up I plan on flying so I can visit friends and family, since mine are spread out across the whole USA! Along with flying for fun of course!
My main issue with building is I’m not sure how much time I’ll have outside of work, since I’ll be working overtime a lot. This is why the Merlin is so appealing to me, as something that wouldn’t cost an insane amount but would give me a taste of building and seeing whether I really want to get into say an RV8 or something down the line.
If I did go the used route, how hard would it be to find someone who would be able to work on a RV for annuals in that case? That was another worry of mine for that route.
 

rv7charlie

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RV4s are absolutely wonderful to fly (I've owned two), but building one is not for the faint of heart, even with the 'kit' (note the quotes). Any of the RVs can be flown like a Sonex/etc if you want, but can you fly a Sonex/etc like an RV? I do local flying in my 180 hp RV6 at 120-130 kts, burning 5.3-6.0 gph, but I can climb to altitude for x-country work & cruise at ~175 kts burning 10 gph.

For perspective, the Sonex B kit is ~$25K, while the RV7 or RV9 kit is ~$27K. The real difference is engine cost. A new VW-derivative engine will cost around $9k-$10k by the time it flies, and a new Lyc will be close to $30K, but a mid-time Lycoming used engine will cost about the same as the new VW; perhaps a touch more. Avionics are what you're willing to spend, but wouldn't be any different relative to airframe choice. Alternative engines are quite feasible, but will certainly add years to the build (ask how I know). You can likely build the entire Sonex alone, while there's probably 20-30 hours of riveting work on the RV that will absolutely require two people (that's probably more than I have in my -7).

Whatever you choose, RV/Sonex/Pietenpol/etc, fly one before you buy one!
 

mcrae0104

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I’ll primarily be flying on my days off to visit friends across the state and occasionally a roughly 800 mile trip to CO to visit family.
Be careful about density altitude if you choose one of the lower-powered designs. A hot day on the high plains can quickly turn a good airplane into a marginal one.
 

bifft

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If I did go the used route, how hard would it be to find someone who would be able to work on a RV for annuals in that case?
An RV with a Lycoming is close enough to a certified plane in the details most A&P will be willing to work on it. Enough RVs around most would at least be familiar with them.

With regard to complexity, with all the improvements in the kit an RV-8 would be much easier/faster to build than an RV-4 and gets about the same performance on the same engine/prop combo. The $2k or so difference in the kit cost doesn't amount to much over the entire project. An older -4 or 6 with a all steam gauge panel would be a cheaper buy if used.
 

Rhino

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Be careful about density altitude if you choose one of the lower-powered designs. A hot day on the high plains can quickly turn a good airplane into a marginal one.
Mountain weather can wreak havoc with lightweight designs in general too. And you don't need storms for that to happen, or even clouds for that matter.

Have you looked at a Bearhawk?
 

Ant45100

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Mountain weather can wreak havoc with lightweight designs in general too. And you don't need storms for that to happen, or even clouds for that matter.

Have you looked at a Bearhawk?
I just now have! Seems interesting, although I’m not sure I’ll use the 4 seats often, though it actually has the useful load to support it. As for the mountain weather stuff, anything in particular I should look out for? I actually currently still live in CO, I’m moving away however. Cessnas fly around here all the time, but I’m not sure of any of the details to it, or how high they fly to avoid oxygen deprivation or how far away from the mountains they stay.
An RV with a Lycoming is close enough to a certified plane in the details most A&P will be willing to work on it. Enough RVs around most would at least be familiar with them.

With regard to complexity, with all the improvements in the kit an RV-8 would be much easier/faster to build than an RV-4 and gets about the same performance on the same engine/prop combo. The $2k or so difference in the kit cost doesn't amount to much over the entire project. An older -4 or 6 with a all steam gauge panel would be a cheaper buy if used.
I’ve heard that RV8’s can take years to build, which would definitely give me plenty of projects to work on lol. I do think that it’s gonna be the most likely plane that I might build in the end, as just about everything about it is appealing to me, on top of being in the budget if I go for a more modest build (steam gauges, not getting the highest end interior, etc etc). It could be a case where I buy one of the more low cost options to use, and build an RV8 over a longer time to get to experience building and really make my own.
Be careful about density altitude if you choose one of the lower-powered designs. A hot day on the high plains can quickly turn a good airplane into a marginal one.
Also understood. Like I said I’ll have to look more into it, but it will be one of the major things I’ll do with my aircraft around once a year. So I’ll have to be careful with this sorta thing.
RV4s are absolutely wonderful to fly (I've owned two), but building one is not for the faint of heart, even with the 'kit' (note the quotes). Any of the RVs can be flown like a Sonex/etc if you want, but can you fly a Sonex/etc like an RV? I do local flying in my 180 hp RV6 at 120-130 kts, burning 5.3-6.0 gph, but I can climb to altitude for x-country work & cruise at ~175 kts burning 10 gph.

For perspective, the Sonex B kit is ~$25K, while the RV7 or RV9 kit is ~$27K. The real difference is engine cost. A new VW-derivative engine will cost around $9k-$10k by the time it flies, and a new Lyc will be close to $30K, but a mid-time Lycoming used engine will cost about the same as the new VW; perhaps a touch more. Avionics are what you're willing to spend, but wouldn't be any different relative to airframe choice. Alternative engines are quite feasible, but will certainly add years to the build (ask how I know). You can likely build the entire Sonex alone, while there's probably 20-30 hours of riveting work on the RV that will absolutely require two people (that's probably more than I have in my -7).

Whatever you choose, RV/Sonex/Pietenpol/etc, fly one before you buy one!
I never thought about buying a used engine but it sounds interesting. I’ll have to do the math of the cost of an engine with 1/2 the time to overhaul compared to the cost of one that is brand new, over a period of something like 10 to 15 years to determine which will be better for me.
As for the needing multiple people aspect, I could go the Build Assist route to not only get additional hands on board but to also get it done with help from professionals who have done this before.
I am so sorry to those who have read through my paragraph long replies lol, thank you all so much for all the help, recommendations and info so far!
 

TFF

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How things like how high to fly and density altitude are required knowledge for a pilots license. It will be stuff you learn. I know in Colorado there are mountain flying seminars they want you to take before you fly in the mountains. They keep a yearly track of the fools who crash on one of the airport lobby walls I visited a few years ago. Not a small number.
 

rv7charlie

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Couple of reality checks.
Get used to times measured in years, if you intend to build an airplane. It's not much different (in labor required) from building a house.
$60K with pro builder assist included is not going to buy much of an airplane. On a decent a/c, that's about what you'd pay for builder assist alone.

Sorry....
 
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