Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Mission - November 8, 2006

The Mission - November 8, 2006

When you ask a homebuilding old-timer what kind of plane you should build, they will probably shoot back with, "What's the mission?" Since no airplane can be all things to all people, you have to decide what kind of flying you'll do most of the time, or decide which kind of flying is the most important to you, and build to that "mission". So what did I decide was important? And what will I be giving up to fulfill the mission I've decided on?

My priorities, in descending order:
1. I want to get better at flying, first of all. So I want to have the option of flying a lot. --Most planes are still in the running

2. Want to be able to carry at least one passenger.

3. I'm not willing to shell out more than $30,000 total to acquire or build the plane. --Still lots to choose from.

4. I want good gas "mileage" (in airplanes, this is measured by gallons per hour, or gph). For me this means 5 gallons per hour or fewer. --At this point, you're looking at at mostly kit-built or scratch-built airplanes and ultralights.

5. I want to be able to travel cross country on occasion, with a passenger, and travel at over 100mph. But the plane should also be able to fly at relatively low speeds. I shouldn't have to land at 70mph. 50mph would be better. --At this point, one of the coolest homebuilt contenders drops off--the CH701, which has incredible short-field takeoff and landing capabilities, but doesn't travel especially fast.

Things that would be nice, but would encroach on other priorities:

1. Flying in clouds (instrument flight rules or IFR). Making an aircraft suitable for IFR could at a lot of expense to the project. Plus cross country travel is not of the highest priority. One of the benefits of flying IFR is that you aren't as likely to have to cancel your flying plans if the weather is marginal. With my mission, flying on a set schedule can't be a priority.

2. Carrying more than one passenger in addition to the pilot. Basically you need more power to carry more people. More power means more gas, and I don't want to burn a lot of gas. Plus a higher powered engine adds more cost to the aircraft.

3. Night flying. This one I'm sort of on the fence with. With the Sonex, it's possible to add the required lighting and such for night flight. This adds weight to the airplane, plus cost. On the other hand, the option to fly at night would be nice. It's a low priority--we'll see.

4. Speaking of extra passengers, no bringing the dogs along. This was a toughie. This issue was actually something that made me face really defining my mission. Having the space and the power to carry our three dogs with us basically would have meant bumping cross-country flight to the highest priority, upping my cost ceiling, and burning more gas on every flight even if I'm the only one in the plane (which adds to the ongoing cost). The increased cost of the project would put my completion date out further in the future as well. Bringing the dogs along would have eaten so much into my other priorities, that I had to give it up as an option.

Other considerations: lots of homebuilt planes are built out of fiberglass, and lots are built out of wood, and lots are built out of steel. Wood and fiberglass work are sensitive to temperature and humidity issues. I live in Minnesota--if I'm going to be building in my garage (which I am), fiberglass is out (for me--it's not as if nobody builds with fiberglass around here), and I'm a little reluctant to go with wood. Steel means welding, which I don't feel ready to tackle. The (mostly) aluminum construction of the Sonex, fits the climate and my skills comfort zone.

So this isn't going to be a business plane, and it's not going to be a "family trip" plane, though Krista and I should be able to use it for travel on occasion. It will be for fun, skill development, and education (I should learn a lot by building it). That's my "mission", old-timer.


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