Plans, Kit, or Materials Package?
For a number of years, the market rage has been the 49-percentcomplete kit. That's a kit that comes with all of the parts necessary to complete the airframe (minus the engine and instruments), with approximately half of the fabrication completed by the factory, leaving 51% of the construction for the builder to complete. The packaged kit appeals to the time-sensitive buying public and has resulted in more projects reaching completion. There is a downside in the form of higher costs. Compared to a plans-built plane, where the builder shops around for surplus parts, etc., a kit plane will likely cost 50 to 100 percent more.
Buying Time with a Kit
The advantages of building from a kit are numerous. Firstly, in many instances the entire package can be ordered -- albeit with a large cash outlay -- and the builder will be able to work on any portion of the aircraft he chooses, at any time. Many builders are depressed by the fact that half their "building" time with plans projects is spent chasing down bargains and parts. With a kit, hundreds of hours spent as a gofer (going for parts you need next) will be eliminated, as all necessary parts normally arrive at the same time.
Some manufacturers will even ship partial kits to help solve the cash flow or storage problems their customers might otherwise encounter. A huge blessing of most kits is the factory completion of chores that many builders would be uncomfortable with or incapable of performing. These tasks include welding, metal bending and lay-ups of composite forms in molds. Fabrication of machined parts such as a retractable gear, shaping of bell cranks, and forming and laminating composite box spars are some of the responsibilities few builders wish to tackle.
Then there's the question of quality. Could you build a female mold and turn out composite fuselage halves as well as the Lancair factory? Would you happen to have a garage-sized oven for curing the completed sections? Enough said. The caliber of materials produced by many of the suppliers is second to none.
Just Plain Plans
Some folks will say that this is the only way to build in order to get full challenge and satisfaction. Well, this may be so, if you have all the skills necessary to complete a given project. However, others pursue this route because they have more time than money.
This should certainly be the least expensive way to get an airplane in the air. For instance, the super slick, plans-built GP-4 could be built for $15,000, while a kitbuilt plane of similar performance would require twice as much money -- but half the construction time. You pays your money and takes your choice. If you live near an area where materials or parts are available at greatly discounted prices, further coin of the realm can be saved. Still other builders have collected mountains of materials that can be used on any project-thus increasing their savings.
The downside to plans-built projects is the reading of catalogs and the chasing of parts. This also puts the onus of determining quality of materials, and substitution of same, on the builder. Frequently, these individuals are more experienced and more skilled, as they will have to complete some of the advanced procedures such as welding and machining on their own. Alternatively, they can chase down someone to perform these operations.
The Middle Route: A Materials Package
Using plans and a materials package will be a balance of saving money and time. A number of the major suppliers, such as Wicks and Aircraft Spruce, provide complete or partial packages of such basic materials as wood or composites to complete a given aircraft type.
For individuals in remote areas, both time and money will be saved. If you shop around, you will do better financially putting together your own package; however, you may wear out a set of tires rounding up your bargains. To compound the decision-making, some aircraft are better materials package bargains than others.
Once again, my advice is: Shop around and get suggestions from the knowledgeable members in your local experimental aircraft club.
Flight Report: Starlet
Occasionally, I get to strap on an aircraft that overwhelms me with flying pleasure. Owner Don Wilkinson's diminutive, all-wood Corby Starlet is a surprise and a delight from the moment it starts-with the first blade pull. Being so light, the taxiing produces a very active ride on the tiny tailwheel and spring steel gear legs across Waipukerau, New Zealand's rutted turf airstrip. Visibility through the aft-sliding bubble canopy is very good and the cockpit is quite comfortable for local and cross-country flying-for my 5' 10" frame.
The heel-operated brakes on Don's Corby, registered "TOY," are from washing machine parts and are similar in size to those used on ultralights. However, they proved more than adequate for this lightweight design. ZK-TOY sports twin ignition in the form of a belt-driven Slick mag and an electronic car ignition. The latter is used for start-up and emergency backup, using a small battery, while the magneto supplies zap during the remainder of the flight.
With the throttle firewalled, TOY accelerates rapidly, lifting its tail and leaping upwards in less than 300 feet. Nailing the optimum climb speed of 65 mph produces a very steep climb, especially when you consider this cool-running engine produces only 60 hp. The controls are light and delightfully balanced. Negligible stick forces are required from the climb speed to the redline (achievable in level flight with Don's 1835 cc VW conversion). The resulting light control pressure eliminates the need for the weight and complexity of a trim system. Incidentally, Vne is set at 159 mph after successful dive testing to 185 mph.
Knowing Don had won the New Zealand Aerobatic Championship with this $4,000 airplane, against Pitts Specials and other hefty hitters, I am tempted to "perform," since the Starlet feels so right. However, I am deterred by the absence of a parachute and the presence of government officials at the Kiwi equivalent of Oshkosh. Also, the limit load factors of +4.8 and -1.8 Gs would be easily exceeded with the full fuel load, my bulky mass, and my sloppy aerobatics. Nonetheless, flinging TOY through the deep blue, smog-free skies with abandon proves that the Corby is a triumph in sport plane design.
Similar to a de Havilland Chipmunk and other aircraft boasting superb control harmony, the Starlet may entice you to sample the freedom of limited aerobatics. But before you begin, be sure to obtain professional training, as it is easy to exceed the ultimate loads of the airframe with poorly executed aerobatics.
Leveling out for as brief a time as possible, the CJ-1 indicates 115 mph at a conservative 2900 rpm and 3.5 gallons of auto fuel per hour. That's 33 mpg economy and cheap flying in any man's language. For those in a rush, 3400 rpm produces 144 mph on 4.3 gph. Imagine what this plane could do with the improved 82 hp Magnum engines now available from Mosler Motors (weight permitting).
A Fighting Thoroughbred
The wood construction absorbs a considerable amount of the VW's noise and vibration, reducing that characteristic "blatting" sound from the exhaust that is faintly reminiscent of a WWII fighter. Actually, a few minutes at the Starlet's controls will convince you that you are handling a fighting thoroughbred, what with light control pressures and snappy performance. Roll rate appears to be about 270 degrees/sec and the differential ailerons take the chore out of rudder coordination.
In the stability department, hands-off flight is effortless at the trim speed. A small baggage locker behind the seat allows up to 40 lb to be carried on cross-country excursions. Aircraft that generate superior maneuvering often produce scary stall characteristics; this is not true of the Starlet. The power-off stall is preceded by a slight shudder and a significant nose pitch-down at 35 mph. Recovery is perfectly normal and results in a loss of less than 100 feet of altitude. The full-power stall has the nose drop out as the right wing stalls at an inconsequential indicated airspeed. Pretty tame actually, but delectable for the hammerhead stall sequence during aerobatics.
Returning to the big fly-in with this flapless plane, I set up a glide of 60 mph, using some sideslipping to steepen the approach. Rounding out to a reasonable touchdown speed in the 40-mph range results in the tailwheel touching first, but this is no problem for the strong Starlet. The large control surfaces remain very effective during ground operations and one must be careful not to overcontrol on the rudder. Corby's cute CJ-1 handles crosswinds quite well and has demonstrated its proficiency in 15 knots of wind from the wingtip.
Nonetheless, Cessna and Piper pilots should log an hour or so of dual on a sensitive homebuilt aircraft before flying the single-place Starlet.
Starlet construction is simplicity itself, as it is all wood, like your basic model airplane kit. Plans are cheap and very well drawn, and the project fits quite easily into a single-car garage. The fuselage is comprised of built-up spruce frames that are plywood covered, with provision for a gas tank behind the instrument panel. The main landing gear attaches to a solid spruce/ash beam that doubles as the wing leading edge attach member. The wing uses a laminated spruce main spar and can be built in one or two pieces. Ribs are traditional built-up girder construction and the leading edge D cell solidifies the structure for torsional and fore-and-aft bending loads.
The empennage employs similar construction, with control surfaces and aft portions of the main wing receiving a fabric cover of the builder's choice. Those wanting to avoid composite and metal construction can purchase premolded engine cowlings, control assemblies, gear legs, wheel pants, wing tips, laminated wing spars, fuel tanks, and canopy from various distributors.
The well-proven assembly techniques employed with the Starlet are easily accomplished, producing a very strong and lightweight performer. With modern-day glues, fabrics, and finishes, the completed aircraft is very weather-resilient and long-lived.
With 50 projects flying at this writing, the Starlet is immensely popular "down under," taking into account a population of under 15 million (not including sheep). Marketing in North America has not been aggressive; however, more and more builders who want a single-place aircraft capable of limited aerobatics and swift cross-country jaunts are discovering this forgiving, sprightly performer that can be operated on a school kid's weekly allowance. Easy to build and fly, the Starlet offers ultralight operating costs and perky performance.
Who is the Starlet for? The weekend warrior, entry-level aerobatic pilot, first-time builder, or any combination of these. (I'd like one, too!) Sometimes we get to evaluate an aircraft that is much better than we expect. Corby's Starlet is one of these.
Starlet CJ-1 Specifications and Performance
PLANS PRICE: $150 ... BUILDING TIME: 1400 hrs ... NUMBER OF SEATS: 1... ENGINE TYPE: Volkswagen conversion ... RATED HORSEPOWER: 70 ... EMPTY WEIGHT: 450 lb ... GROSS WEIGHT: 750 lb WING AREA: 68.5 sf ... TAKEOFF DISTANCE: 550 ft ... LANDING DISTANCE: 450 lb ... CRUISE SPEED: 130 mph ... TOP SPEED: 160 mph
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