Buying a Flying Experimental Aircraft
You don't need to build an airplane to join the world of experimental aviation as there are plenty of already flying aircraft out there you can purchase. You might want to consider this if you are either not the builder type, or want to start flying as soon as possible. There is an appeal to owning an experimental aircraft that goes beyond certified aircraft. You are free to do what you like with it; you can personalize it with modifications and improvements that are not possible with a certified aircraft and maintenance is generally less expensive. They tend to be more glamorous than their certified counterparts, sometimes in a very homey way, and other times in a midlife crisis sort of way.
It may seem like a scary prospect buying an aircraft somebody built in their garage, but it is not as risky as you may think. You can learn a lot about a particular make of aircraft before looking at your first one. When you do look at a plane you can tell a lot. Just like looking at cars, you can tell when an airplane is a BMW or a Studebaker, a nice car or a wreck. If the needle is on the BMW side of the BMW-Studebaker gauge, you can dig into it. Ask to look at the builder's logs and aircraft and engine logs. If you are new to aircraft ownership, never let on you don't know what you are looking at in the logs. Arrange for a qualified mechanic to inspect the aircraft and logs. Qualified is an important word here. Get a mechanic experienced with Experimental aircraft. A new AP who has only worked on certified aircraft may not have the knowledge to really do a good inspection for you, as good as they may be. After it is inspected by a mechanic, your mind will be at peace and you can negotiate any squawks found. If you have a friend who has actually built one of these aircraft, they could be invaluable in accompanying you to look at an airplane. Just buy them lunch afterwards. Something in the mid-price range is fine.
Many times the experimental plane will be in better shape than the average certified. These are people's babies and pride and joy.
If you do buy, this website is for you too. You may want to make your purchase personal with modifications and upgrades, learn more about it, be in a community of Experimental owners, builders, and pilots. Selecting a homebuilt for purchase can be difficult and confusing for those new to the category. There is a wide variety of types. First decide what you want the plane for. A bush plane, a sleek speedster, two seats and metal construction? Knowing the type of airplane you are looking for will narrow the field dramatically.
If your friends and acquaintances, whether pilots or not, tell you you're crazy to buy an Experimental, Just tell them in a casual manner that they are fools and idiots and don't know what they are talking about. If nothing else, they will be afraid to bring up the subject again.
Owning an Experimental
Owning your own aircraft is a truly rewarding experience. You have the freedom to fly whenever you want, whereever you want, plus spend time at the airport tinkering with it. You can go traveling, go flying with other pilots, join groups or clubs, have all sorts of fun and have the pride of owning your own ride.
Owning an Experimental aircraft comes with all the responsibilities of owning any type of civilian aircraft. But, as stated elsewhere on this website, there is a freedom to owning an Experimental that is impossible to enjoy with certified aircraft. There is a cost though. You are responsible for insuring your aircraft is maintained properly, up to date with inspections and covering regular and unexpected expenses. A good thing is that airplanes maintain their value, unlike cars. It is not uncommon to sell your airplane for more than you bought it for.
How much will it cost to own and operate an aircraft? There are many calculations for cost to operate your airplane per hour. This is a very valid consideration and should be considered when deciding what model of airplane to buy. Simple planes are less expensive to operate than complex airplanes and bigger engines drink more fuel and cost more to replace. There is no cookie cutter formula that you can use with confidence that will be accurate in any situation. Fuel costs, hanger costs, and maintenance costs will vary depending on your location. The amount of time you fly the aircraft, upgrades you desire, insurance prices that may depend on your time and experience. Some, like flight schools, aircraft rental companies, or pilots who have owned their aircraft for a while can come up with a fairly accurate cost per hour. But one thing like a prop strike can throw the whole thing off. I know, I did it, 10 hours after I had my prop overhauled. Or an unexpected AD on certified parts. This isn't to say don't try calculate it, just do the best you can and don't trust a generic number you see on the internet.
Some of the things to consider and research to come up with a cost per hour are hangar or tie down fees, fuel price and how much fuel your plane burns an hour, oil, hours until engine overhaul divided by cost of overhaul, insurance divided into how many hours you think you will fly per year, and annual maintenance. Call a few mechanics for a ball park amount for the yearly conditional inspection.
Finding a good mechanic you can work with is very important. Ideally the mechanic will let you get your hands in there and perform work under their guidance and supervision as you learn as much about your aircraft as possible. If you have no interest in helping with maintenance, finding the right mechanic could save you time and a lot of money. Get references on mechanics because the cost to do the same task can vary wildly from mechanic to mechanic. If you choose the mechanic who spends considerable time talking to friends or looks for the worst in everything, you will pay more. It is a good idea to look the plane over when they are done. They are human and sometimes leave a wrench in the engine compartment or worse.
If you buy an Experimental spend some time learning what is out there for potential upgrades to airframe, engine and avionics. You can make a wish list. And know the rules, such as you need to do a conditional inspection each year and you can't carry passengers or cargo for hire.
If you can do it, you will really enjoy owning your own aircraft!