About my airplane

After an absence of 12 years, I will shortly get back into flying, thanks to the FAA’s recently initiated Light Sport Aircraft rule.  Two years ago a client of mine, who built and flew his own ultra-light, introduced me to this new classification of both aircraft and pilot certificate.  At that time he also told me about Just Aircraft, www.justaircraft.com, located in my home state of SC, who builds kits that amateur builders could then assemble.  In December of 2005 I made the 5 hour drive from my home in Hilton Head to the upstate mountain community of Walhalla to investigate this small company.  Following an hour tour of their 30,000 sf. plant, by Gary Schmitt, one of the principals, he asked if I wanted to take a ride in one of their demos.  I answered in the affirmative, and we were shortly departing their 600 downhill cut-out in the woods adjoining their factory.  The airplane literally leapt into the air in less than 150 feet.  We quickly climbed out to 2000 feet where Gary turned the controls over to me.  These 15 or 20 minutes of flying, along with the return and dramatic approach to their “strip”  (only 300 feet which was usable--but far less used), solidly convinced me that this is a plane that I could easily fly.  Two weeks later I returned with a deposit check in hand.

 

In July of 2006 the kit was ready for delivery.  For less than $25,000 I had everything that I would need to complete the airframe’s assembly.  This included a fully welded fuselage, quick build wings, wheels, tires, breaks, fabric, and literally all other small hardware, fasteners, screws, bolts, nuts and washers---some 1,000+ parts, in all.  Not included was my choice of engine, propeller, or any instruments, avionics, or navigational aids. These added another $25,000 to my total budget.  Because I was slated to semi retire that September, I planned to begin my project at that time.  Since I had never attempted anything of this magnitude before, I decided to avail myself of the factory’s “builder’s assist” program.  For another $5,000 they would give me a well light spot of about 500 square feet at the back of their factory to do this assembly.  Further, they would provide all of the hand and power tools as well as a myriad of plant presses, saws, benders, grinders, etc. to accomplish this task.  Further, I would have available up to 100 hours of help, advice, mentoring and even “hands-on assistance” from one of the factory personnel to get me over the “rough spots”.   Since there were 3 other builders, in various stages of completion, working alongside me, I found this assist program to be exceedingly helpful.  Unfortunately some 6 weeks into this project, after I had completely assembled and covered the fuselage and the tail feathers with polyester fabric, installed the firewall, seats, flap handle, rudder and brake hardware, and was well into the beginning stages wing fabrication, having done the fuel tanks installation, the unexpected happened.  I received a call from the company that had taken over my business accounts, indicating that they were no longer interested.  Many of my customers are required to have these preventive maintenance inspections performed each year by their insurance carriers.  I reluctantly had to postpone my airplane project and return to the road.   Now, I had to make a decision as to whether I would let the aircraft assembly sit in hiatus until I had another buyer for my business, or try to come up with a “Plan “B”.

 

Plan “B” turned out to be an unexpected gift from the FAA (faa.gov).  Due to a loophole in the new Light Sport Aircraft rule, there was a one time opportunity to have the airplane built by others instead of having it meet the 51% rule for Amateur Built LSA’s. (Which is what I had originally intended to do.) This exemption was originally intended to allow the heavy (“fat”) ultra lights to transition into LSA’s to make them “legal”.  As long as I had a applied for an “N” number) prior to January 31st, 2008 and scheduled a designated FAA examiner, I could have this airplane certified as an “Experimental LSA”.  Throughout 2007 I made occasional trips to the factory to see the ongoing progress, and occasionally to work further on the airplane.  In July it was completed enough to allow Just Aircraft to trailer it out and display it at the EAA’s (eaa.org) Air venture Expo in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  In December of that year, I had the final FAA inspection and was issued a certificate of air worthiness and a Registration certificate.  This is not to say that the plane was finally finished--only that it was complete enough to begin flying.  Its Phase 1 flight testing took place over this past January, February and March, and was accomplished by Just Aircraft personnel.   On April 1st I made my first flight in this machine, which consisted of a take-off, climbs, turns, descents and 3 touch and go landings.  Over the next month or so we will continue to fine tune the control settings, make minor adjustments in the rigging, and proceed with flight testing.  Hopefully by the end of May I will be ready to proceed on the next phase in this epic---and get “on the road” with this new airplane.