How to Build an Aircraft: A Beginner's Guide on Building Airplanes from Scratch or by Using Kits

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The Basics

This article is intended towards anyone interested in wanting to build an aircraft and would like to know the basics.

Ever met someone who said they were building their own aircraft or ever wondered what the steps were? It’s pretty popular here in the United States due to the fact that there are less restrictive regulations around building your own aircraft unlike other countries. There are also many different types of aircraft, such as helicopters, gliders, airplanes, ultra lights and sport craft. Pick the one you can become certified to fly before deciding on which type of aircraft to build.

There are two basic ways to build an airplane. These are:

  • Designing and build one yourself
  • Building a Kit

Buiding an Airplane from Scratch

Designing and building your own aircraft is very time consuming and rewarding. To determine if this is what you should do, evaluate if your education, experience, tools, technology and knowledge would fit to take on the task of designing and building your own aircraft. Not many people take this route because of the level of difficulty, amount of effort and time involved. The level and amount of risk is great and if you do choose to build an aircraft from scratch, be careful.

Using Airplane Kits

Buying a kit is the popular alternative to building and designing an aircraft. There are two types of kits you can purchase from many different manufactures around the world.

The first type of kit will give you all the materials you need to build an aircraft except for the tools. Normally, this includes wheels, instruments, frames, ribs, skin, lights, wires, etc and range between as little as a few thousand up to over a hundred thousand dollars. These kits generally do not include engines which can range from an extra ten to over twenty thousand dollars or more depending on if the engine is new or rebuilt, the horsepower, and type.

The second type of aircraft kit comes prebuilt. The FAA has strict rules around purchasing and building these airplanes. Just because they are called prebuilt, does not mean they are actually fully complete planes. This just means that most of the harder components were put together for you, like the wings or fuselage. The FAA restricts the amount of the aircraft that can be prebuilt. The aircraft needs to be built at least 51% by the purchaser of the kit. When building a kit aircraft there are different steps depending on the brand, type, etc.

When you build your aircraft you will need to take photos and keep a log of each component being built to prove that you built it yourself. When you’re finished, you will need to seek FAA approval. This is called the certification process. All United States Registered Aircraft have an FAA Airworthiness Certificate in order to fly them. This process will give you the ability to fly the plane with an experimental airworthiness certificate. This certificate is restrictive until you prove the aircraft to be safe. Once you finish the proving stage, you are then allowed to have passengers.