Build It and They Will Fly

 Homebuilt aircraft approved by the FAA have the “Experimental” designation. They must be at least 51 percent built by the individual as compared to factory fabrications. There are manifold reasons: the challenge, the reduced cost, the ability to customize. Many homebuilts use composite materials which are lighter and more fuel efficient. The downside? It takes time. Lots of it. Usually 2,000 to 3,000 hours and if you have a day job it might take 5 to 10 years and beyond. If you’re spending every spare moment building, when do you fly? There are also the stories of homebuilt planes that didn’t make it past the first flights, ending in a smoldering heap of debris. All that work down the drain. Of course if you were the pilot in command, that’s the least of your worries. As recently as last week:

“It looked like he was going to give me a real neat show with a swoop. As he started to come down yellow pieces just flew everywhere, he just exploded and then crashed down”. Another eyewitness said she saw the plane do a couple of loops just before its left wing blew apart.  

Part of the problem associated with quality control is you’re hand crafting a “one-off”. No benefit of lessons learned in the production of dozens, sometimes hundreds with standard procedures along the way. Therefore, a pilot must fly between 25-40 hours of test flights in non-populated areas after passing the initial FAA airworthiness inspection. It would take a very brave person to fly even once in this.

Although I’ve always subscribed to the idea that sustained effort produces results, spending ten years on a flying project is like a very long time. Yet recently, my attention was grabbed while son #3 perused one of my EAA magazines and pointed to a two passenger kit plane. “Dad, we should build one of these”, he said.  Within moments, thoughts wandered to selling the current homestead, moving to the country and setting up a pole barn workshop by the house with a grass strip in back.  Some, like my wife’s cousin, did exactly that – rebuilding sixteen vintage planes.

There are some who seek to recreate the terrific warbirds of years gone by , albeit replicas in smaller scale. Fellow flier Tom recently discovered there’s an effort to make a mini-mini B-17.

So what do you do when you’ve already built a Kitfox and a Georgia Special and your buddies (with the help of a few adult beverages) prod you to build “one last” experimental? If you are Jack Bally of Dixon, Illinois, you build a 1/3 scale B-17 Flying Fortress replica.

Ideas hatched with the help of  “adult beverages” sometimes sound a little less viable the morning after. Still, Mr. Bally has made progress. There’s mini home built Mustangs, Warhawks, and Spitfires. So why not a B-17 the size of a two seat Cessna?

Because it’s very much like the Shriners zooming around in their miniature cars in parades. It looks just a little strange when it’s scaled back to extra small.  I hope he succeeds. With ten years invested, it deserves to be in the air, not just on the ground.


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