Experimental Flying is a resource for builders and enthusiasts of homebuilt experimentally registered aircraft. This website currently focuses on the American trend of these aircraft, but the information would certainly apply to aircraft worldwide. A basic explanation of the experimental phenomena follows. A more
in-depth look resides in the rest of the website.
What are Experimental / Homebuilt aircraft?
Everyone knows what an airplane is, but it is surprising how few people know about the homebuilt aircraft movement. These are not your typical factory-built aircraft but are built by a wide variety of individuals in places like garages, hangars or barns. I watched one being built in a living room. They generally have from one to four seats, are piston engine powered - although there are a few jets out there - and are generally considered recreational aircraft. They come in the form of bush planes, cross country cruisers, high speed hot rods, unlimited aerobatic aircraft, racers and more, anything an individual can dream up. They are built from many materials including steel tube and fabric, aluminum, composites and wood. They come in the form of kits from a manufacturer, planes built from plans or one of a kind scratch-built aircraft. A builder must build at least 51 percent of the aircraft for it to qualify as Experimental Amateur-built. There are many high quality kits available designed so that, when completed the builder, would have done at least 51% of the construction. There are over 30,000 aircraft registered as Experimental with the FAA and countless other projects in various stages of construction all over the world. But you don't need to build one to experience the wonderful world of Homebuilts. You can buy them new or used, have one custom built, or work with a build center to help you during construction.
These aircraft are not without regulation. They must be inspected by the FAA or one of their designated examiners before the aircraft can get a special airworthiness certificate and make its first flight. The builder needs to keep logs and photographs of the construction process for the examiner to review in addition to inspecting the aircraft. Once it has been signed off, the aircraft must be flown for up to 40 hours locally as a test period before any passengers or cross country flights are allowed. The aircraft must have a conditional inspection once a year. If the owner built the aircraft they can do the inspection themselves with a certificate from the FAA that is usually acquired when the aircraft is registered. If the owner of the aircraft, did not build it, they must hire an AP or IA mechanic. If you do have to hire a mechanic try to find one who will let you assist with the maintenance so you get hands-on experience with your airplane.
Experimental aircraft are almost a counterculture, even among other pilots who solely fly certified aircraft. They seem very familiar and normal to us but remain completely unknown to greater society. I actually told a few strangers recently that I was building an airplane and they laughed and joked as if I wasn't there and talked about what kind of fool would fly something they built.
Why build your own flying machine.
There is a freedom with experimental aircraft that doesn't exist with certified airplanes. Freedom to build it like you want and spend as much or as little time and money as you want. You can build a two seat composite hot rod or single seat tube and fabric putter. You can make modifications with parts choices not possible with a certified aircraft, simply because of the regulations governing both types. You have the freedom to go to the hardware store and buy a screw and washer whereas they must be certified on a certified aircraft. The builder of an aircraft can modify things as they see fit, build a custom instrument panel based on of personal preferences and can do the ongoing maintenance on the aircraft as opposed to paying a certified mechanic at a high shop rate and high certified parts prices.
The rewarding feeling and pride of building your own airplane can't be matched. It is your work of art. Not all builders are even pilots or ever intend to fly the plane. They just want to do something very unusual and rewarding in creating their masterpiece
Experimental Amateur-Built Regulations
In the 1950's the FAA found it needed a category to register non certified aircraft that individuals were building. After consideration they decided they fit best in the Experimental category. Thus the Experimental Amateur-Built category was designated, although Amateur-Built is a bit of a misnomer. Some of the most brilliant aircraft designers ever build these planes and I would argue that once someone has completed an aircraft they are no amateur!. Homebuilt aircraft are still registered in this category today.
Section 21.191(g) defines an Amateur-Built aircraft as an aircraft, the major portion of which has been fabricated and assembled by person(s) who undertook the construction project solely for their own education or recreation. Commercially produced components and parts which are normally purchased for use in aircraft may be used including engines and engine accessories, propellers, tires, spring steel landing gear, main and tail rotor blades, rotor hubs, wheel and brake assemblies, forgings, castings, extrusions and standard aircraft hardware such as pulleys, bellcranks, rod ends, bearings, bolts, rivets, etc.
The FAA has designated some private persons to act in its behalf in the inspection of amateur-built aircraft and the issuance of airworthiness certificates. These persons are known as Designated Airworthiness Representatives (DAR). The amateur builder may contact the local FAA Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) or Manufacturing Inspection District Office (MIDO) for assistance.
FAA AC 20-27G explains in detail the requirements for Home-Built aircraft.
You also need to hold an FAA pilots license to fly them and you must obey all the rules on the ground and in the air that all other pilots must follow. For the most part Experimental aircraft cannot be used for commercial purposes. Taking passengers for hire is not allowed. There are some exceptions though such as Experimentally registered airshow planes.
History of homebuilt aviation
I guess it would be up to personal speculation or preference as to when the homebuilt aircraft movement began. You can argue it began well before the Wright brothers first thought of going one step further from fixing bicycles to the idea of creating an airplane. Even Leonardo DaVinci had drawings of flying machines and he certainly wasn't the first. Even earlier, Icarus, the Greek adventurer, made wings of wax and flew toward the sun. As legend has it, they eventually melted and he crashed back to earth. From this early flight, we still learned a lesson pertinent today. No one to my knowledge has attempted to create a wax winged aircraft since.
But for our purpose, I would say it began with people like the Wright brothers building aircraft in their shops and barns. Most didn't fly, but eventually these barn queens become airborne which took the relatively safe pastime of tinkering on airplanes in the shop to the quite dangerous phase of actual flight that was only for the most hardened souls and fools.
If you really want to become part of the experimental aircraft culture, you should. Why wouldn't you? Find some plans or a kit you like and just start. Or better yet, find a used project that you can get cheaper and some of the work has already been done for you. People selling their projects is not uncommon. Builders usually put in 1000 to 3000 hours to build a plane and take anywhere from 1 to 15 years or more. So there is no pressure. No hurry. The journey is what makes it all worth it and you will be along for the ride with a select few like-minded individuals.
I sincerely hope this website will help you on your Experimental Flying journey!