Sunday, February 12, 2006

Stringing it along...

I spent some time yesterday tyring to confirm that an RV wing and fuse would fit through the doors out of my basement, still hoping that I will be able to use all of that nice environmentally controlled space as a shop. I asked a few builders on the internet for the worst case dimensions of the pieces I'll want to build down there and determined that 16' x 4' is a very convervative requirement. To see if an object of that size would get out the doors and up the stairs, I ran a 16' piece of string attached to 4' tall objects at each end up the stairs just as it I was moving a solid object of that size, and it fit with an inch to spare. That should be plenty, and if it for some reason turns out not to be, there is a fallback plan. I could gain another few inches by removing the 2x4 frame that holds the downstairs door, and the first step of the stairs is plywood and could also be temporarily removed.

That concern addressed, I worked on answering a few more things I had been wondering about. For example, Van's charges $275 for the full-size plans for building the plane. I was wondering if I had to spring for the $275 plans just to build the tail kit, but it turns out that the appropriate plans are included with each kit. I was also wondering if the shop space I would be able to carve out in the basement would be enough, but seeing an RV-9A being built in a single car garage alleviated any worries about that. I'm also going to need a much larger air compressor that the 5hp 20 gallon compressor I keep in the hangar, and I got a second opinion on the idea that the larger, and likely even noisier, compressor would be best installed in a corner of the garage rather than down in the basement.

Now that I'm reasonably certain that I'll be able to build down in the basement for at least five years or so, it's time to really be sure that I want to proceed on this. It's a huge job, and the goal of owning an RV-8 could easily be accomplished using the instant gratification method I used to buy the RV-6. I'm reasonably sure that I could sell the 6 within a month for more than I paid for it last year, and the money that would be tied up in the tail, wings, fuse, and tools would provide the difference between the selling price of the 6 and the purchase price of a mid-range 8. It's hard to argue that I have to build an 8 to get an 8, after having so successfully proven that you can get the same plane already built for right around the cost of building it yourself.

But taking that path would lead me right back to where I am now, albeit with a plane that is 99% of what I want, rather than the 95% offered by the 6. I love the 6 that I have, and for the next few years I think the side-by-side seating fits my mission profile better than the tandem seating of the 8. My assumption in choosing the 8 to build is that my mission will have changed in five or more years when co-pilot Egg is off at college and I'm back to flying mostly alone. Still, I could go ahead and get the 8 now, but it wouldn't address the primary reason I came around to wanting to build the RV-8: I want to build something, and everything else I've looked at building had the fatal flaw of not being something I would want to keep once I'm done.

The problem arises when I have to explain why I want to build something. It's an extraordinarily difficult thing to explain - far harder than answering the "why do you want a pilots license," or "what's wrong with the Tampico, I thought you loved it?" type of questions I've had to answer before. I also have a history of taking quite a long time to get things done. My private license took 9 years. My four-year degree also took 9, unless you count the first abortive attempt too, in which case you could arguably state that it took more like 15. My instrument rating took 5 or 6 years. I think in my defense, however, that you have to note that I did, in fact, get those things done eventaully, and most of the delays had to do with simply not being able to consistently afford to pursue them. Flying has always been a luxury pass-time, and has been the first thing to go when money and/or time got tight. Still, the question of whether or not I have the drive and internal persistence to complete a project of this magnitude is valid, and I'd wager that every builder out there has had to ponder this.

Again, though, there are alternatives that make this a lower-risk proposition than you might assume. For example, if I decide after finishing the tail kit that I can't see spending the next few years doing more of the same, I would have two options. First, I could sell the completed tail and the majority of the tools. This happens fairly regularly, and it seems that there is a good market for that. The second option would be to start buying quickbuilds instead of slow-build kits. The quickbuild wings would cost a few thousand dollars more than the $5,800 slow-build option, and the fuse can be purchased the same way. In fact, I know a local builder that built the tail and wings, but went for the quickbuild fuselage. There's still plenty of work to be done with the quickbuilds, but taking that path would save at least three years of total build time. The decision as to which path to take can be made at any time, so it's very much a case of me being able to try the slow-build first with the tail, and deciding later how I want to proceed.

Once the airframe is more or less whole, the work becomes even more interesting, and since all that metal now looks like an airplane, the enthusiasm level is bound to rise. At that point, I think the risk of getting sick of the whole thing and quitting becomes pretty small. I suspect what kills most projects at this stage, and again it's important to note that the completed pieces can be sold off fairly easily at this point, is that this is where it becomes really expensive, really fast. The engine has to be purchased even though the plane is nowhere near ready for flight, simply because all of the paraphernalia that attaches to the engine has to be installed. It's also a great time to be working on the electrical wiring since everything is still accessible, and that means you probably have to start buying avionics as well. And, since the major components are assembled, it means another $200/month hangar expense. When I reach this stage, I'm probably going to have to take an equity loan against the value of the RV-6 to buy all the expensive stuff.

So, it becomes a bit of a balancing act. If I decide I want to get done quicker than I can with the slow-build, I have to be careful not to get done so quickly that I'm not ready for the pricier phase of the build yet. But, I don't want to string this out to the 10 year range, either. The huge benefit the RV-8 has over the F1 Rocket is that there are multiple options available for determining the overall build time, so I'm comfortable at least with my decision of which plane to build, should I finally decide once and for all that building is what I want to do.

Fortunately, there are things I can be doing now before being committed to proceed in any way. Cleaning out the area of the basement where I want my shop to be will be the first thing to do, and building some work benches will be next. I'll benefit from those projects whether I ever build a plane or not, so I'm going to get started on that.


  1. Haha! And so the deciding begins. Good luck!

  2. The decisions come early and often. Spend the extra $$$s for the 180 hp engine with 3 bladed constant speed prop, or go for the lower cost alternative of a 160 hp engine and a fixed pitch prop? Spring for the Garmin 430, or use a lesser GPS/Comm combined with a Garmin 396? Prime everything, or take the Sam Buchanin method of trusting the AlClad aluminum for corrosion prevention?

    It's all part of the fun!

  3. Unsolicited advice: cleanout the basement where you want your shop to be and construct the work benches ,etc. By the time that is done the weather will have improved and you will be able to devote your latent energy to actually enjoying the RV-6 that you wanted so badly. Instead of spending so much money and effort on a project you may not ever finish and even if you do you're 7-8 years older and only went from 95% to 99%, and devote that time and energy into improving the RV-6 and using it to its fullest,ie ambitious trips, joining with your fellow RV's in club or organized activities. Spend your money on what you have to make it that much more fulfilling than to try for some time consuming, expensive project. If you must have a RV8, buy it. Find another endeavor to burn off all that energy. Why not a really serious shot at photography thatI know you do so well? Step back and consider your personality and recognize how often your patience dissipates before the next desire bursts forth. What's wrong with instant gratification? If it's anywhere new feasible why not choose it rather than tie yourself up in something you may become weary of?
    Enjoy your RV6 and spend your money om broadening the commitment to it.

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  5. Good points, and I'm wondering if a better approach would be to go ahead with the upgrading of the panel in 6, see how that goes, and re-consider the building the 8 next year. The Garmin 396 would sure come in handy...

    I'll have been through the aluminum class by next year too, so will have a better idea of what's involved. There's no real hurry, is there?