It seems anymore most airplane builders are doing video blogs of their builds. At least I have spent a fair amount of my time watching these adventurous folks working on their future airplane. After flying certified general aviation aircraft for a little over 12 years it is time that I join the world of the experimental aircraft.
A little about myself. I recently finished up my commercial rating with my total time just north of 700 hours. During my flying time I started out with flying with a 4-way partnership in a TL Ultralight Sting, which was a very nimble Light Sport aircraft. (A note on partnerships; always make sure it’s an odd-number in the group. An even number makes it difficult if not impossible to have consensus.) It was fun to fly and I do miss it on some levels, but what I don’t miss is the barely 90kt airspeed here in the foothills of the rockies… and that’s being generous.
After I finished up my private pilots license I moved onto a club which had a Piper Dakota, a Piper Saratoga and a Beechcraft Bonanza F33a - all of which were great planes to fly. I wrapped up my instrument rating in the Dakota. Hourly rates on the aircraft with fuel ran in the low $100/hr to about $145/hr depending upon the fuel burn. It was reasonably affordable to be part of the club, but scheduling made it challenging to get out in the airplanes frequently. Of all of my flying so far, this has been the longest group I’ve been a part of.
After leaving the club I had a short stint as a T210M owner and the costs proved to be a bit more than I was ready to absorb to stay proficient in the airplane as well as the capabilities of the airplane were well outside the scope of my day to day missions. Currently I am staying current tooling around the neighborhood in a club with a couple of 172’s with the lowest cost per hour I’ve ever heard of at $70/hr wet. They aren’t fancy at all, but it’s enough to meet the minimum requirements for instrument currency and a trip here and there.
The idea of each of these clubs and partnerships has been to help keep my flying habits within the affordable realm. I’m a fan of sharing the expenses where it makes sense, but it was slowly becoming clear that I was ready to head out on my own. While I certainly don’t mind flying older aircraft I would like to fly something that was new.
Spending hours upon hours digging through Trade-A-Plane I had a budget of $200,000 on the high end. A 4-seat aircraft is ideal as we do like to travel with folks from time to time to share in the travels. Obviously faster is better, but we all know what makes airplanes fly right? Money. And the faster you want to go, the more money it costs. My goal would be to have something north of 150kts if possible, but faster is always better.
Kicking the tires on airplanes for sale is fun, but I noticed a pretty clear trend after a while. Anything that would fit my mission and price was always going to need some extra TLC. The paint and interior may be perfect, but the engine is near TBO, or the instrument panel still had the LORAN installed along with all the other supporting equipment. Doing any sort of upgrades on the airplane would put me north of my budget.
Most everything that was affordable by ourself would be manufactured in the mid to late 1970’s and nothing would be without a lot of maintenance issues. Let’s face it - even a brand-new airplane has some maintenance issues, but the older stuff is, the harder it is to find the parts to repair it. And speaking of repairs, anything in the certified aircraft arena is going to require an A&P. And while I’m comfortable around doing the work I’m not an A&P, so working on a certified aircraft is out - meaning more money and shop time to a mechanic.
This is how I arrived at the conclusion that it was time for me to become part of the group of folks who have built (or are building) an airplane. I’m a reasonably handy guy. I can read instructions on an Ikea level and don’t necessarily back down from a difficult and long job. After all, over the last 15 years I have finished three basements from scratch as well as completely remodeled our home without much outside assistance. Certainly a basement is no airplane, but they were big projects which took a lot of time and energy to complete.
In 2018 when I was at Oshkosh a buddy of mine I was attending with dragged me over to look at this new airplane having been announced that year. It was nice. REALLY nice. But in 2018 I was still fully entrenched in the flying club and reasonably happy there. Building an airplane just wasn’t on my agenda. We did however spend the better part of an hour asking a LOT of questions with the vendor and I left impressed.
Over the past couple of years I’ve gotten to know fellow Colorado Pilot Association (CPA) member Bill Marvel and his RV-14A that he seems to spend more time flying than actually on the ground. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a beautiful side-by-side RV. It’s even his second RV. I know a few other folks in the CPA who also have RV’s and they ALSO seem to be flying them all the time.
When working on the 210 purchase, I developed a spreadsheet to be able to plug basic airplane information into and kick out some reasonably close cost of ownership numbers. I started to apply some of the numbers I was using for building into this spreadsheet and was amazed at the considerably lower hourly costs of owning an Experimental. So I researched the situation more. Ultimately coming back around to the airplane I spent so much time looking at in Oshkosh 2018.
When Covid hit it started bugging me more than I could have been working on something productive, like building an airplane. Having finished up the sale of the 210 and completed my commercial rating, it was time. In September my wife, Laurie, and I did a very calculated and risky quick trip out to Torrence California to visit The Airplane Factory to test fly the SlingTsi. In fact this was the same one I had seen two years prior at Oshkosh.
The SlingTsi is a 4-place Rotax 915is Turbo aircraft with a constant speed prop and is part of the Sling family of 2 and 4 seaters manufactured in South Africa. The Airplane Factory (TAF) in Torrence is the North American distributor for the Sling platform. There’s a lot to like about this airplane and it’s most closest competitor in the market is the RV-10. In fact, it is the closest thing the RV-10 has in the experimental category to a competitor. I’m going to put together a video to go over the details on the differences between the two so watch for that posting here soon.
After our visit to TAF in September, we came home, wired out the deposit and got on the list. The one downside to the current experimental market is the demand for the kits is extremely high. The Sling kits are six months or more out for delivery. I have heard of other kits being more than a year. So I was quite surprised when we found out that our order got bumped up on the list due to another builder not being able to go forward with their purchase.
Where am I going to build it is probably the next most asked question. I didn’t want to spend a lot of missed days not building because I had to drive to the airport. Since returning from CA I have been organizing and building supporting equipment in my 2 1/2 car garage at home. It might be a little crazy, but we’re going to take it as far as we can right here.
One of the primary advantages of the Sling over the RV-10 is the Sling uses pop rivets instead of buck rivets. This cuts down the build time quite a bit. Van’s website scopes out the RV-10 build at about 2000 hours for the normal build. The Sling is 1400hrs. I’m a little slow in most everything I do, so hopefully this 1400hrs will help me fly sooner.
Over the coming weeks and months of 2021 I’m going to be documenting the progress on the build in a variety of online places, including here at this blog site. As Bill pointed out to me, any time you spend working on something other than the build only delays the completion of the airplane. So the updates will be done in hopefully the most efficient of ways, but I will endeavor to keep everyone appraised of the progress.
The process seems overwhelming at times. It will definitely take me into new areas of learning about aviation and not just owning, but building and maintaining an airplane. I've certainly had my moments of "what the heck am I doing?", but all I can do to find out if I'm up to the task is to start. After all, this journey begins with The First Rivet.