Andy on Homebuilding
Because you're reading this, it is rather obvious that I have a website. I didn't start the project thinking that I should keep the construction log online; it just kinda worked out that way.
From the moment I ordered the kit, family, friends and other well-wishers began asking about the project. It was difficult to describe to someone that doesn't even know what the airplane looks like, just what it was I was doing.
At the time I started, David Karas had posted some pictures of his Velocity construction on www.ImageStation.com. I had taken several pictures and thought I could scan them in and upload them too. What the heck, it was free. The response was great and I was encouraged to keep updating. It's nice to know that people care about what I'm doing and want to see me succeed.
ImageStation allowed for a small caption to go with each picture. At first I just started labeling the photos. Then somehow it changed into writing descriptions and commentary.
A little later ImageStation started requiring visitors to get an account just to view the pictures. I have some in my family that are not that savvy and they stopped looking because of it.
At that point I decided to build my own site. I liked the format of ImageStation, so I modeled this site from it.
I never expected many people to see or read what I posted. As I said, it was intended for family and friends to keep tabs. I am completely astonished, humbled, and flattered that so many people have taken the time to follow my journey. Thank You!
Through the years I have been asked quite a few questions about the project. I thought I would take a minute and answer several of the most common.
This really is a great story.
I guess it was back in the late 80's or early 90's when the Discovery channel hit the cable networks. It might have been earlier, but until they started showing Wings I never really paid attention. Now I never had a particular interest in aviation. I'm just into guy stuff. I liked the series because they talked about the design considerations and even the construction difficulties. The designers and engineers were more prominent than the pilots. After a while I had probably seen every episode at least five times. Yep, I'm a geek.
During this time I started really going to air shows and museums. I would drag Theresa, the love of my life, along. I still don't know how she tolerated me showing her airplanes and going on and on about details that she really could not have cared less about. She loves me.
Well, one day I was at work listening to the radio when they announced that the EAA's B-17, Aluminum Overcast, was coming to the Kalamazoo Air Show and you could win a free ride by listening to another station. I called Theresa and told her to listen and we could double our chances.
At the time we had two little ones; Theresa was a stay-at-home mom, and I was working for a struggling small company. There was no way we could afford to just buy a ride.
The radio station was terrible and if I had to endure hours of their broadcasting I would surely die before I ever got close to an airplane. I called Theresa and told her it was OK to give up. She already had. It was driving her nuts as well. Oh well...
A month had gone by and the Millin family was at the air show. In my typical fashion I wanted to start at one end of the ramp and slowly work my way to the other. How my family put up with it I don't know.
Theresa wanted to know where the B-17 was. I don't know why she wanted to see it; heck I would be amazed if she could recognize it. I was pretty sure it would be about the last plane we would see as it was going to be near the runway.
I said "we'll get there" and kept looking at planes. About a third of the way down there was a PBY you could tour for $2. She wanted to see the B-17, but she let me take my girls, Maggen and Chelsea, through the PBY. It was cool.
After the PBY I went right to the next Warbird. I believe it was a P-47. (The things that get stuck in your head) Well, Theresa asked again to see the B-17. OK. OK. She has never wanted to see a plane before, so we'll go see the B-17. I'll just work my way back to the P-47 after we see the B-17.
We walked right up to the Overcast. It was big and beautiful. We started looking around and reading the informational placards. One of the volunteers asked if we would like to check out the bomb bay. The doors were open and he was going to escort us up so we could look in. I took the girls with me. Theresa wasn't interested. We looked for about a minute. The girls liked the bombs on the racks.
They had a table next to the airplane. It was filled with B-17 information, memorabilia, and souvenirs. The girls and I looked while Theresa spoke with a volunteer. She came over to join us. She had a big smile on her face. Apparently she liked the B-17.
Then she did it. She asked "want to take a ride?" She was obviously caught up in the excitement of the moment because there was no way it could fit in the budget. I said "I love you, but you know that we can't afford it." Then she pulled out this wad of cash and said "I called your parents and your brothers. They all chipped in for your Christmas present. We want you to go."
Yes, I damn near cried and all I could do was shake my head up and down -- Yes. Now, did I say that I love her?
To take a ride on the B-17 you have to become a member of EAA. I had never heard of EAA before, and really didn't care. I would sign up for anything to take a ride.
The ride was great and I have wonderful pictures and a cool flight jacket. That's me in the left seat flying the Aluminum Overcast
A little unexpectedly I started receiving Sport Aviation in the mail. I didn't think much of it, but I did start reading it. At first it was just interesting; then the seed started to grow.
It didn't take long before I was showing Theresa pictures of planes and saying "you know, I could do this." I had seen the ad for the Velocity. It had to be the coolest airplane ever.
At the time the Internet was sorta new and there were just a few builder websites. The most influential was by G.A. Venkatesh and his site entitled "Agony and Ecstasy." He was building the Velocity 173. The site isn't around anymore, but it sure had an impact. He was an ordinary guy that had taken the plunge and was doing it. Sure, he made mistakes, but he was able to fix them and he was doing a great job. I wanted to do this.
It was 1995. We couldn't afford the kit and we didn't have the space to build it. We knew that Theresa would be starting nursing school in another couple of years and we were probably going to move. We just need to find a new place that will have room to build the airplane, and hope the money would take care of itself.
We set the date back in 1995 that on my birthday in the year 2000, we would place the order for the kit. By then the kids will be old enough and Theresa will have started her nursing career. The rest is documented on this site.
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Building and The Internet
The internet has come to play a significant role in my project.
Velocity provides a very nice construction manual with the kit. They also make the latest manual available online. Before I start working on any section of the plane, I usually start by researching it on the net first. Step one is downloading the latest section of the manual. Step two is scouring builder web pages looking for pictures that might be helpful. Reading the manual will get you there, but a picture really is worth a thousand words.
I can't say enough good things about other builders that have taken the time to post their pictures and experience on the net. It has been a tremendous help.
Having an online construction log is not for everyone. If you are thinking of setting one up, here are a few things I have learned:
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What do you think of the airplane and the project now that you have been working on it?
I love the project more today than when I started; and I loved it a lot then. It has been one of the most satisfying and rewarding experiences in my life.
I would do it all again in a second. I would still order the same fixed gear, XL, full-build kit. It was the right choice for me then and now.
The people at Velocity are first class. You could ask for better, but you just won't find it.
I would love to have 20 minutes with the uncovered wing cores and a sanding block. I could have saved some weight and a great deal of time if I had just sanded them a bit more with the long block before I covered them with glass.
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I'm thinking of building a Velocity...
This is a very frequently asked question.
The Velocity is a hotrod and regularly hunts down Moonies and Bonanzas. It's big, it's comfortable, it's fast and most of all it has a striking appearance that will turn most every head. What's not to like?
I'm not the first and won't be the last to say "if you just want the airplane, then don't' build it." Building an airplane is for people that really want to build an airplane. I don't think I can overstate here. Most people have never embarked upon a task that will require more of their time, effort, motivation, energy, and yes, money. I can honestly say that I didn't have the experience to be able to comprehend the amount of work it will take.
The truth is that you just cannot live the life you are living now and complete an airplane. No kidding, it's a life changing thing.
Now, if you get anything from my construction log, it should be that this is a great thing. I have learned so many new skills. There is a great deal of satisfaction in finding creative ways to complete complex tasks. The greatest joy comes in taking a moment to just stand back, look at the plane, and think to yourself "wow ... I built this." The good feeling can be overwhelming. How cool is that?
If you want to build an airplane, this is a great one. The materials are easy to master. The manual is great and the Velocity company is fantastic. I don't think you could do any better.
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"Do not fear going forward slowly; fear only to stand still."
-- Chinese Proverb
How do you eat and elephant? One bite at a time. The project is so big that if you dwell on the total amount of work needed you would just curl up in a ball and twitch.
Whenever I start thinking too much, I have to pull back and remember: I'm not building an airplane today. Today I'm just focusing on doing this small job. I want to do it as well as I can. I'm going to make it my best lay-up yet. I'll worry about what's next tomorrow.
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How are you going to get it out of there?
Yes, I had a plan for getting the plane out before the kit ever arrived. Above the two french doors is a large header. The doors and center post are screwed in, not nailed. When removed it will make an opening large enough to roll the airplane through; without the wings.
The whole plan is to turn the shop into a large master bedroom after the plane is done. More of a reason for Theresa to want me to work on the plane. I can get it out of her bedroom faster!
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You're going to fly in something that you built!?!? Ö I could never do that
This seems to be the first reaction from people that will probably never build anything in their life. I am surprised at how often I hear it. Most of the time I feel that it doesn't deserve a response. Better yet, I feel like saying "I would never fly in anything YOU would build either." The implication being that one person can not build a real airplane.
Sometimes I think people have a knee jerk reaction to the idea of home built aircraft. It conjures notions of duct tape, legos, bailing twine, a lawn mower engine, leather helmet and goggles. Often I donít feel like taking the time to educate someone and show them Iím on the leading edge of technology and not the trailing. Besides itís probably more than they want to know.
The answer I give is usually in the form of a return question. "If you knew that your life and the lives of friends and family were going to depend upon the quality of your work, how careful do you think you would be?"
I'm not sure they really understand that this is not duct tape and Elmer's glue. But, they do know that I take this endeavour very seriously and it is being done to the best of my ability.
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Building and Family
My wife and family are by far the most important things in my life; unequivocally. I could live without the Velocity. I could never live without my family.
When the plane is done, the joy will be in using our magic carpet to discover the world together.
I knew this before I started. I made a promise to Theresa before I ordered the kit.
There are times when I am just dying to work on the plane and instead I'm sitting at the theater watching a chick-flick. It doesn't mean I'm not thinking about working on the plane though.
It's partly about doing what she wants; mostly it's about showing her that she comes first.
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What engine will you use?
Choice of engine can be as personal as the choice of standard or XL, fixed or retract. There is no wrong answer, just what is right for you based on your wallet, engineering skills, and desire to experiment. I found very intense passion and strong opinion when looking at engines.
I found people who told me (at the Velocity get together at OSH) that if I put an automotive engine in my airplane that they didn't want me to fly over their house (yes, I was stunned). I found those that had put in the rotary and couldn't be happier. It is a great engine. Others said that if it wasn't certified they didn't even want to talk to me. Deltahawk isn't certified yet. The Superior XP-360 isn't certified. Running a GM alternator is not certified. Kinda rough to be told that if you don't have a yellow tag for everything then you are a cheap bastard and are a safety hazard to everyone. Engine research can be rough.
I looked at the automotive option. When I started the kit I was certain I would have an aluminum V8. After more research, I came to some conclusions: The automotive engine was a reliable option. However, there really isn't a dollar savings. After modifying the engine for use in an aircraft and developing the installation, you will have put plenty of cash into it. Also it might be hard to find an installation to copy from. You will probably be on your own for development. You could spend three months just making a new cowl. I have seen some fantastic installations. Considerable thought, effort and money went into them. Great if that is your cup of tea.
Velocity has developed installation packages for the most installed aircraft engines. Reasonably priced, well understood, and you can get great tech support from the factory.
When considering the engine, I looked at HP. I wish that more was always better. Unless you make some modifications to the airframe, your useful load can change with more power but your VNE will not. 200 kts is it. Yes, there are guys that have gone well beyond that, but I don't want to be that pilot. The XL/RG with the 260 hp and the right prop will cruise at 190 kts. Wes Rose was flying with the 300 hp Lycoming and he also cruised at 190 kts. My conclusion was the extra hp would be there for take off and climb performance. The need for more power is based on personal use. Will I need to get out of short strips, or possibly high DA? The extra HP isn't free. It costs more and generally weighs more.
I looked at the Lycoming IO-540 and the Continental IO-520 and IO-550. I don't know of a database or other reference that gives a comparison and contrast on each engine type. What I had were some great folks on the reflector (Rob Johnson, who I wish was still on the reflector) and my technical counselors.
Disclaimer. Disclaimer. Disclaimer. Disclaimer. Disclaimer..... Your mileage might vary. Your mileage WILL vary. The people you talk to can and probably will have contrary opinions. This is what I gathered from the people I spoke with. I have never owned one of these engines. I am not an expert. Listening to me is probably dangerous. :-)
This is what I found, and I'm sure others have different experience. The Continental engines in general have a harder time making it to an 1800 hour TBO. For the IO-520, I spoke with three people who had significant experience with the engine and said it was not uncommon for the engine to need overhaul after 1200 hours. Even harder if it is turbo charged.
I also asked about the IO-550. The engine can be hard on the cylinders and it has been known to need overhaul at 500 hours (from factory new). I'm sure people have gotten to TBO. My conclusion was that this engine could be even more expensive to buy and own that I thought; and I already thought is was expensive.
Then came the Lycoming option. Angle valve, 300 HP or parallel valve 260. I asked quite a few people. Last year at OSH I must have stopped at half a dozen engine rebuild booths. I explained that I am not a mechanic and don't know much about aircraft engines. They were super nice and answered my questions. What is wide deck? What is narrow deck? What is angle valve/parallel valve? What difference does it make? Why should I care? What do YOU think of the engines? The general answer was that if I didn't need 300 HP then I might be better off with the 260 HP engine. Their experience was that the engine was very reliable and had a good chance of making it to TBO. The 300 HP engine had more problems and would probably cost more to own.
Engine choice can be complex. I had to evaluate the requirements I had set down for the airplane I wanted. How fast do I want to cruise? What kind of takeoff performance do I want or need? What useful load do I want to carry? What range do I want? How much do I want to spend? How much do I want to experiment? How much do I want to engineer? Do I enjoy tinkering as much or even more than I like flying? How important is it that my aircraft be unique?
I opted for the 260 HP Lycoming IO-540-D4A5.
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Why did you build the Fixed Gear?
Before I start I want to say that this decision was personal. It is my own and is hell-and-gone from telling anyone what they should do with their airplane. We are all trying to build the airplane we want.
With that said, Velocity offers this kit in either a fixed (always down) landing gear or a retractable landing gear version. The choice is up to the builder.
This is another of those subjects that can easily start a fight between the right, or wrong, two builders. Sort of a "tastes great" - "less filling" for landing gear.
On the surface, the reason for retractable gear is simple. If you get it out of the way, when flying, the plane will have less drag and fly more efficiently. But there is a little more to it than that.
The retractable gear on a Velocity will:
I must admit that the Velocity does look very cool with the gear up. But not cool enough, for me, to compensate for the downsides. As for the complex aircraft thing, I have a fair amount of time in a Piper Arrow. It is cool to have more knobs and levers to mess with. Makes me feel like one of the big boys pulling the lever and looking for three green lights. I have also had more than one moment where I was thinking to myself "don't forget to put the gear down." I don't fly the Arrow much anymore. It just costs too much for the small performance gain.
I met up with Wes Rose a while back at a local fly-in. He has built and flown both the FG and RG versions. Someone came up to us while we were talking and had recognized us. He asked if I was building a Velocity and I said "yes." He asked if it was the same as Wes' plane. I said "petty much, but his is a retract and mine will be fixed." Then Wes spoke up and said that the retract was not worth it. (He sounded like he wished he had built another FG). He started listing all the downsides and said "for the few knots it gets you, it just isn't worth it."
Now I'm certain there are other RG builders/owners that would forcefully beg to differ with Wes.
The final point comes from Duane Swing. He was speaking with a potential customer when they said they needed the RG version. Duane stopped him cold and said "no one needs an airplane, so let's be straight about what you need and what you want." Truer words have never been spoken.
The RG kits seem to outsell the FG by better than 10 to 1 so Velocity is clearly doing what they need to do to give the customer what they want.
With the FG I will only cruise at 175 kts ... and I will have to fly the plane a little longer to make up the time. Ugghhh... :)
Building an airplane is a very personal journey with very personal decisions. As Duane said, "no one needs and airplane ..." In the end I'm building the FG because it's what I want.
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When will it be done?
This has got to be the most oft asked question. All builders get it, and Iíve heard some pretty creative responses. I like Bob Trentís answer: ďTuesday! But I might fly on Friday. If I do, then Iíll be early!Ē
Answering the question is difficult. Not for the estimating, but for the question itself. Again, this is a personal thing and revolves around how I view the project. Part of my answer is in the first rule of home building: If all you want is the airplane, then donít build it; buy it.
Iím not building it just to have it when itís done. Iím building it because I enjoy the process. Iím having fun. So when someone asks the question, I have to explain ďyouíre missing the point.Ē I am savoring the build, not enduring it.
Let me give you an analogy: Letís say I put a fabulous steak in front of you; a thick filet mignon done to perfection, just the way you like it. The aroma alone has your mouth watering and your tummy grumbling. You take a bite and roll your eyes in delight; this might be the best steak youíve ever had. Then, before you can take another bite, I ask ďwhen are you going finish it?Ē Your answer should be ďTuesday.Ē :)
So, in earnest my answer is I donít know and I donít really care enough worry about it. Iím taking my own sweet time. Iím getting there and Iím having a ball doing it. If I keep working on it, eventually Iíll run out of things to do and Iíll have an airplane.
Now if youíve made it to this point and youíre still asking ďSo Ö when will it be done?Ē O_o (sigh) >.< If things go well, I might be flying in 2010. If Iím not flying in 2011, then something major will have happened that put the project on hold.
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Can anyone build an airplane?
The short answer is: Yes. They can. But ...
I really donít know how many times I have spoken with people that like the idea of building an airplane. No doubt it is cool.
There are a couple facts of life in play. Following a dream is truly a noble goal. Donít ever let anyone tell you it canít be done; including yourself. The most wonderful achievements in the history of mankind were made by the little guy climbing a mountain because he wanted to. I like to encourage others to ďclimb their mountain.Ē You only go around once. Donít sit on the sidelines. Get in the game!
Chasing a dream must be balanced with Dirty Harry: ďA man has got to know his limitations.Ē What good is setting a goal that doesnít have a snowballís chance? I could try to play in the NFL but thatís never going to happen.
The best goals can be reached.
So, can you build an airplane? When probing to build or not to build, there are a bunch of questions:
The questions are good, but they are the WRONG questions. If one possesses the ability to learn, then the materials, construction techniques and technical details can be mastered. These are important details, but they are not deciding factors.
The deciding factor is perseverance. The question is: ďare you motivated enough to get in the shop and touch the darn thing every day?Ē The answer to this question will have more to do with completing the project than learning the art of construction.
Anyone can learn to cut, drill, sand and file. If you can cut a piece of cloth and pour syrup on pancakes, you can work with fiberglass. It isnít ďcan you learn this step?Ē Rather it is ďcan you finish a journey of 10,000 steps?Ē
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