CAN "I" BUILD A RV by Scott McDaniels
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This is a huge question.
Considering the time and hard earned cash that will be expended on such a project… you want to know ahead of time whether your chances for success are good even before you start. Besides answering the questions (1) which kit company should I choose to do business with, and (2) which model should I choose, wondering whether you can do it is probably going to be 3rd on the list.
The best short answer to the question “Can I build one?” is… Maybe!
The longer answer is probably. “If” you have considered some of the points that follow and you feel confident in the decision.
I will try to give you a few things to consider that should make it an easier task for you to decide for yourself the answer to the question. Because this is an RV related forum I will speak in the context of building an RV but most everything would be relevent to considering most any airplane project.
First of all…What is your motive for building an RV? Is it simply a means to get an airplane you want? If so that is ok. But if you dread the thought of building it then you already have one strike against you. If it is just apprehension about being able to do it, that’s ok. We will discuss ways around that later. Many people have given it a try and find that they really enjoy it, and many even go on to become a “repeat offender” after finishing their first project. So don’t let this one issue stop you from trying it out. Just go in knowing that it is important to “learn to like it” if you are likely to have success.
Second… It is imperative that you have support from your family/significant other. A project such as building an RV is going to divert a lot (emphasis on “lot”) of you attention and free time. Yes, even when building from a quick build kit. Because of this, it is very important that your family and people close to you are supportive and encouraging about you taking on this type of project. Many times spouses, kids, girl friends, boy friends (fill in the blank as applicable) get involved and it actually becomes an activity which draws people closer. My wife and I built our RV-6A together and then traveled all around the country in it together. We felt like we lost some of our life/relationship memories when we had to sell it. Do all you can to make it a welcome project at your household.
Side note: Available time is an issue for most people. Which makes it one of the big issues for fitting it into family life. A good compromise is to plan on it being a longer term project than you would probably like. Many builders stretch it out to 4 or 5 years, or even more. This may seem like a lot more than you could ever consider, but hey, if it gets you one of the best airplanes available, and considering that it will last you the rest of your life, 5 years really isn’t so bad. Every year I talk to dozens of people at fly-ins who tell me “you guys sell the best airplane kit on the market, I just wish I had time to build one”. These same people have been telling me this every year for the past 10 years. If they had just dove in and started way back then, they would be flying their own RV by now. Even if they had only piddled along at it.
For many people, stretching it out over a longer time period also can help with the financial issues related to an RV project. When I originally bought my empenage kit I had no idea where I was going to get the money for a wing kit let alone the whole airplane, but spreading it out over a 4.5 year period it all worked out. I don’t think a family should ever suffer because an airplane is being built in the garage (one more reason that everyone has to be 100% in favor of the project). Carefully consider the financial impact as well as the time impact
Third… Have I got a place at home to work on the project? This isn’t absolutely essential, but it can have a major impact on your rate of progress and your likely hood for success in finishing. For many builders, a large amount of their productive project time is many shorter (1 or 2 hour periods) rather than long work periods. This is particularly true for people doing the family time / project time juggling act. If you are working in a hanger that is a 20 minute drive away, you will only have 2 hours to work, then another 20 minute drive home, it is very easy to just decide “I’ll just stay home and watch TV”. It is much easier to stay motivated and focused on the project if you can do just a little bit every day (even if it is only for ½ hour). If you are away from it for very long, you always waste a lot of time just remembering were you left off and deciding what you have to do next.
Fourth…Do I have the skills and knowledge to build an airplane. This is probably the issue that concerns people the most and is maybe the hardest to define. First off let me say that very few people that have completed an RV had the neccessary skills and knowledge when they started. Much more important is the proper attitude. Are you someone who has taken on large scale projects numerous times in the past, and given up before finishing? Or are you able to do what ever is neccessary to get the job done.
In very general terms, building an RV is an education (fits right in with the FAA’s requirement that you built the airplane for your own “education and recreation” ). Call it a home self study course towards an associates degree in aircraft construction. It is your responsibility to use what ever means necessary to become familiar with the particular process or task that you have to do at any given time. This includes but is not limited to the kit construction manual and plans, books and magazines, training classes that are available around the country,. workshops and forums that are available at all of the major fly-ins, involvement in EAA chapters and RV builders groups that are local to your area, talking to other builders and flyers at fly-ins, etc.. The most valuable is just getting to know other builders in your area. Particularly ones that are building the same model and are a bit ahead of you in their level of progress.
To put it another way… I have often used the analogy of someone deciding to build their own house. They have never done it before but over the years they have maybe developed some skills that will be useful in completing the project. As they go each step of the way, when the get to a part that they aren’t familiar with, they go out and get educated on doing that task. If it is a major task like doing the framing or pouring and finishing a concrete floor they may have someone with the required skills come and show them what to do.
Bottom line: Any builder who avails himself to as much information, hints, and advice, from as many sources as possible, has the highest likely hood to succeed.
The builder who is a loner type personality, who goes into their workshop and starts working, and never takes advantage of any of the information and help that is available is more likely to build a poor quality RV or worse. These are the projects that often end up being advertised for sale in aviation periodicals. There are of course exceptions. I have seen exceptionally built RV’s that were built by someone who had never built an airplane before, and had very little contact with other builders or information that was available.
One mistake that many buildesr make is using their airplane parts for the initial practice that they do on any new proceedure that is unfamiliar. Practice on some scrap material first. If it doesn’t seem to go well, then seek out some help. Have another builder demonstrait the technic that they use when doing a specific proceedure. Practice some more “then” try it on your airplane. It is very discouraging to make a mistake that will be very difficult or expensive to correct.
Disclaimer follows…Ok, so I made it sound like you don’t have to already know how to build an airplane to be successful, and for the most part this is true. It is time to be honest with your self though. Are you the kind of person who has a spouse hiding your tool box from you because they know it would be cheaper to just hire someone to do the work in the first place, than have to pay even more to fix what you mess up while doing it your self? It helps a lot to be somewhat mechanically inclined. Though I do think that someone who is not, could succeed in completing an RV project. But it will likely require an even stronger than normal determination, and they will probably need to rely even more heavily on the use of the outside help and information sources that I mentioned above.
I hope this will be useful in making an informed decision, and that like the thousands of other people who have gone before you, you also will be able to say “I can build an RV.
Scott can be reached (and thanked for this article) at firstname.lastname@example.org