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Proportion of completed kits?

I have just read in the US AOPA magazine that Lancair sold a total of about 2250 kits, of which about 1100 have been completed and flown.

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

I’m not surprised at that figure.

As the quality of kits and support improves, the completion rate also improves.

People are generally over optimistic about the time they will put in and it’s not unusual for some to take 10-20 years over building. A lot of the 1150 unfinished may eventually complete and fly. Some will pass through many hands or be completely abandoned. Even over a typical 4-6 year build period, people can go through many issues that dictate a change of direction.

When homebuilts were mainly built from plans or very limited kits, the ratio of plans sold to completed aircraft was more like 10 or 20:1.

Rutan stopped issuing plans and licences about 20 years ago, but there are still a few of his types emerging.

KHWD- Hayward California; EGTN Enstone Oxfordshire, United States

I am surprised that almost half of the kids have been completed. I would have thought 1 in a hundred. How anyone can find the time to complete one is beyond me.

LSZH, Switzerland

Another thing driving completions, especially in the US, is the availability of builder assist programmes.

They use every available option to minimise the work involved and stay within the 51% rule to qualify as amateur built.

Initially that was through ‘quick-build’ options where a significant amount of the wing and fuselage construction is already done. But that spawned several companies to offer factory supervised and assisted build programmes. Lancair, Glasair, Cubcrafters etc all offer such options and there are several independent shops offering similar services. Many of these only demand two weeks of full time commitment by the ‘builder’.

I think the FAA recognise that the end results have a level of consistency and quality more akin to factory production and less likely to have imaginative modification.

The safety statistics of those kits seems to justify the concession in building effort and commitment

KHWD- Hayward California; EGTN Enstone Oxfordshire, United States

Mark_1 wrote:

I think the FAA recognise that the end results have a level of consistency and quality more akin to factory production

It IS factory production, only it is non certified. Legally the builder is still fully responsible, as if he should have built the whole plane from scratch. The factory has no responsibility whatsoever, but pretends it has because it has 100% de facto authority of every single thing. If this is OK or not, it’s up to the “builder” I guess, but I’m not sure every “builder” really understands what he ventures into. In particular this is a questionable approach, the more complex the plane is, and this kind of “building” tends to be popular for the most complex planes.

I’m sure this will increase the proportion of completed “kits” to practically 100%, but I’m not sure this increases quality. When you have lots of builders around, things become much more “open source”-ish, and the kit manufacturer receives feedback all the time, continually improving the design. No such thing happens for these factory built homebuilts, and the design is frozen, even though it is full of basic design stuff that should be improved.

What proportion of currently flying homebuilts were assembled under such a factory-assist programme?

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Peter wrote:

What proportion of currently flying homebuilts were assembled under such a factory-assist programme?

I don’t think that figure is easy to determine.

In the UK, it will be a small proportion as most of the kits and assistance programmes are US based. I believe Lambert in Belgium get all the kit purchasers to spend at least some time with their kit in the factory. That way they can QC some of the more critical composite processes.

Most Glasair Sportsman customers are using their TWTT programme from what I can see. Carbon Cubs are split with similar numbers for the EX or FX versions (The F is for factory). I doubt that any Lancair IV-P or Evolution buyers opt out of the factory programme.

KHWD- Hayward California; EGTN Enstone Oxfordshire, United States

I think if there was a large take-up of the factory assist programme, we would be a much higher % of kits completed. I would expect factory assists to be mainly completed.

I don’t know the IV and IV-P but the Evolution numbers are relatively small – around 80. Of the two known to be flying in Europe, the owner of one, based in the Czech Rep, wrote an article on the Lancair website (which was later deleted) about his whole experience in the factory, followed by the flight back to Europe. I continue to look at the Evo but can’t ever see it becoming usable (in any overt way) in Europe in the rest of my life, due to the restrictions. And same with the -IV. A less capable homebuilt can deliver value just on relatively local hacking around, with the occassional longer trip, perhaps with Mode S firmly OFF, but these high-perf types would be wasted doing that.

Regarding the numbers in my post #1, I was actually not surprised. But still these numbers portray a massive disappointment on the part of so many builders who paid, presumably, c. 100k, spent 1k-2k hrs, probably finished off their marriage and then either abandoned the unfinished pile in some shed, or sold it on without recovering their time.

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Peter wrote:

many builders who paid, presumably, c. 100k, spent 1k-2k hrs

I suspect many of the uncompleted kits were Lancair 320s and 235s. The airframe kits were just over $20,000 in the late 90’s. The investment doesn’t build up until the late stages of building with engine, avionics and interior/paint etc. Engine and instruments, if purchased, may well be parted out if the builder abandons his project.

KHWD- Hayward California; EGTN Enstone Oxfordshire, United States

Peter wrote:

or sold it on without recovering their time.

How much of your flying time have you recovered? And how much of the expenses? There are such a thing as airlines you know, trains and cars also. Building is for those who like building. If you consider it a waste of time and money using your hands, then don’t start building a plane.

At any rate, take a look at the statistics. Much more homebuilt planes are produced each year in Europe than factory built certified planes. Homebuilding “works” if that’s what you are wondering about, it’s just spread out thin among a certain niche of enthusiasts, and very few of those are visiting this site. It’s not unusual that the second or third owner finish the plane. People grow old, life changes, they got their hands filled up with other things and so on. It’s not actually finishing that is the drive either, but the process.

Last year I had a visitor from Denmark looking at my Onex. He was one of 10 others building a Europa. They have been building for 20 years, and none of the first 10 were even actively building anymore. They had it taxiing last year. I haven’t heard about a first flight, but I would think if flies now. That describes a bit how things are.

My own situation, I can fly as much as I want, much more than I have time for, towing gliders and instructing. I pay nothing, on the contrary I make some small cash out of it. I don’t need to build myself a plane, and certainly not two, to be able to fly. It’s more like I “need” to build, at least as much as I “need” to fly. In fact, building RVs and selling them for a small profit, that’s not an idea that lost on me – if I only had time and commitment (not at the moment for me). You can do that with RVs and a few other planes, which is what lots of builders do, always new projects in the loop. It’s just a hobby, a very fun and rewarding one, and if you want, you can make it pay for itself, and then some. But to be able to do that, you have to be a bit more into it than the average builder (and the learning curve IS steep), just as it is with flying.

A couple of months ago I bought plans for the Verhees Delta. I just couldn’t resist. Now, that’s another story. Bart Verhees designed and build his Delta ages ago. It’s really a masterpiece of aircraft design, both aerodynamically and structurally. His “prototype” is the only one flying in the entire world. Yet, he makes a little business selling plans, And he sells all over the world. My wild guess he has sold hundreds of plans. At €4k a piece, that’s a nice little profit. A few weeks after I got my plans, I got an email from an Australian, wondering if I wanted to sell them to him. He had the impression Bart had stopped selling plans.

The homebuilt world is a special niche. It has it’s own dynamics and “economy” and it is not for everyone. People sell and buy, give up, start again, and so on. Ultimately it’s probably the most rewarding thing you can venture into in private aviation. But, if you are afraid of “recovering your time”, then stay as far away as you can.

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