A kit aircraft is defined by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as “EXPERIMENTAL,” a category that was originally created so that aircraft manufacturers could perform test flights on their prototype aircraft. The Experimental category has evolved over the years and now includes a sub-category for amateur-built aircraft (FAR 21.191(g)): “Operating an aircraft the major portion of which has been fabricated and assembled by persons who undertook the construction project solely for their own education and recreation.”
In other words, the kit buyer is the builder or manufacturer of his or her aircraft. The key is “major portion,” meaning that you, the builder, must perform 51% or more of the actual aircraft fabrication and assembly (all of Swish Projects’ aircraft that are sold as ‘kits’ meet the “51% rule”). Swish Projects can certainly do your ‘Quick Build’ for you and you will still qualify as the ‘majority builder’ (as we stop work at less than 49% completion), but if you engage the commercial services of a professional builder to completely/majority construct your kit then you are basically buying an aircraft from someone else. You are not the builder.
Other key words are “education and recreation,” meaning that you don’t qualify if you build your aircraft for commercial purposes. This is what CERTIFIED aircraft are for, and they cost loads to meet certification. This is why an inferior Certified aircraft (such as a Cessna 152) costs a lot more to buy than an Experimental aircraft. Certified aircraft do not always perform better, but they can be used for commercial purposes. So if you are a Commercial Pilot with an A.O.C. and a great General Aviation business idea – then you need a certified aircraft. If you want the perfect machine for your personal use and you’re not interested in subsidising the certification process for a machine that hasn’t evolved much since the 1940’s – then you want an Experimental aircraft.
Once your kit aircraft has been completed, a person that is authorized by CASA (called the ‘Authorised Person’ (AP)) will audit your build log and associated paperwork before issuing your aircraft Certificate of Airworthiness (CoA). The AP can be a private AP that you pay, or one that is appointed by the SAAA or RAAus. This is an audit and is technically an inspection of the paperwork, and not an inspection of your build. Nobody will ever tell you that your build is fit for flight. Not me, not the AP, not CASA, no LAME – nobody. As an Experimental kit builder, you are the manufacturer and the safety of your new aircraft build is entirely upon you, the builder, to determine for yourself.
What the AP does is confirms that you are eligible for the EXPERIMENTAL registration. Theoretically, they do not actually need to see your aircraft at all.
Once flying, the main operating restriction for an EXPERIMENTAL category aircraft is that it can’t be used for compensation or hire (commercial usage). That’s about it really. If you register your aircraft VH- (CASA reg, not Ultralight) then you can build a Jumbo Jet if you want to. There is no limit on the number of seats, material used (cardboard is fine if you want to fly it), type of engine, speed, altitude, weather (IFR is perfectly OK if you equip your aircraft for it), Day or Night. You just can’t charge people money to fly in it with you.
The benefits for Experimental are huge.
- The builder or builders (anyone who’s name appears on the build log) can legally learn to fly in their own aircraft (do I need to say ‘assuming you built a two-seater? God I hope not). You just need to find a flying instructor that is happy to train you in your aircraft, and in my experience that has not been at all difficult to do. TVSA at Bacchus Marsh are happy. You shouldn’t have any issues if your aircraft is well built. This alone will save thousands if you have more than one family member or friend who is keen to learn to fly. Just make sure that they put a few rivets in during the build and their name is on the builder’s log.
- Once you complete a short Maintenance Procedures Course, you are authorised to perform all the maintenance on that particular aircraft. Massive saving on the operating costs of your aircraft.
- You choose the airframe, engine, instruments and every other nic-knack in your machine. You will get exactly what you want and your aircraft will be brand-new. You do not need to use ‘aviation grade’ or ‘TSO Certified’ equipment.
Whereas most avionics and such gear in production airplanes is built to minimum performance standards that meet technical standard orders (TSO), systems for experimental aircraft have no such official threshold. That doesn’t mean the experimental gear isn’t tested nine ways to Sunday, it just means that the manufacturer doesn’t have to demonstrate the same level of performance as it does for equipment destined for a certified aircraft. All of that official testing and related documentation adds greatly to the cost and doesn’t necessarily add a lot to safety or reliability. The result is significantly greater cost for TSO’d gear versus non-TSO’d. And without the constraints of a TSO process, a manufacturer can be much more nimble in introducing new features and capabilities while quickly resolving issues as they are discovered without having to jump back through all the certification hoops. The result is the amazing capabilities and ever-evolving features of the panels in experimental aircraft. (taken from https://www.aopa.org/news-and-media/all-news/2019/may/30/flying-the-garmin-g3x-touch).
- You will still pay over $120 000 for a 30 year old Piper Cherokee. You don’t want to know how much they are new. You don’t need that when you can build your own custom aircraft and you have the benefit of not paying a LAME $125/hr to change your oil for you every year.
For additional information and details check out the CASA (www.casa.gov.au) web site. I have done my best to summarise the requirements for a working understanding, but there are changes over time and I’m no lawyer.
Note: Kit aircraft are not ‘approved’. As Experimental aircraft, approval of the designs or assemblies is not required by the FAA, CASA, Swish Projects or any other entity.
I highly recommend that you join the Sports Aircraft Association of Australia (SAAA – www.saaa.asn.au). This is an organisation devoted to sport aviation and homebuilt aircraft, which offers excellent resources and support to builders. Join before your kit arrives to get discounted insurance and make sure you have the right information available to you from the very start.
Wow. That was a big FAQ to start off with. I bet you wish you never asked now.
Do I need a pilot’s license to fly these aircraft? Are these kits ultralights?
Yes, you need a Recreational Pilot Certificate (RAAus / Ultralight registration) or a Private Pilot License (VH / CASA Registration).
The main difference between the two is that as an Ultralight registration – you are limited to a single passenger, day time only and presently less than 600kg. The weight is set to be increased soon, so check out the RAAus page for more information on that. Please note – the limits here are limits for the class of registration that you have chosen to go with – not limits for the aircraft design or limits for the Experimental category.
VH- reg will require a Recreational Pilot Licence or a Private Pilot License and the accompanying medical that goes along with it. Both Ultralight and VH- require a medical and license combination of some sort and these rules have been changing to become more flexible over recent times.
Check the CASA website (https://www.casa.gov.au/standard-page/licence-structure-and-types) and the Recreational Aviation Australia website (https://www.raa.asn.au/fly-with-us/learntofly/) for the latest.
Generally, if you need an aircraft with more than two seats or a MTOW of greater than 600kg then you need VH rego. Likewise, if you have plans to fly in IMC or at night then you’ll need VH rego.
How many kits have been sold and how many are flying?
For the Zenith Aircraft company kits, there have been over 2,000 kits sold and delivered since 1974, and that’s not counting the additional Drawings and Manuals sold separately. We estimate that at least 1000 of these aircraft are now flying.
Our kit completion ratio (the number of kits that actually get completed and flown) is very high when compared to industry averages, a reflection of how quick and easy our kits are to build.
What are these aircraft built from?
All of our Zenith kits are built exclusively from all-metal (aluminum alloy) construction, and the Aero Adventure and Badlands kits are built with tube and fabric. While each construction type has its relative advantages, all of our kits use the highest aviation-grade aluminium, hardware and fabrics.
For the Zenith kits, aluminum alloy construction continues to be the dominant aircraft construction material. Aluminum alloys’ unique combination of properties make it one of the most versatile engineering and building materials in existence:
- Low weight / high strength relationship;
- Corrosion resistance, especially with newer alloys and modern primers;
- Low cost and widespread availability;
- Proven durability and resistance to sun and moisture;
- Existence of vast amounts of empirical data on its properties (fatigue, stress);
- Easy to work with: requires simple tools and processes, and does not
require a temperature-controlled or dust-free environment as with
composites. Modern blind rivet fasteners have greatly simplified
all-metal kit aircraft construction;
- Environmentally friendly: no health hazards to worry about when working with sheet metal;
- Easy to inspect: construction or materials flaws are easily detected, as are defective parts and damage.
- Simple to repair: rivets and fasteners can be easily removed to
replace damaged parts or sections, and individual parts can be replaced
without having to replace or rework an entire airframe section.
While it’s true that some all-metal kit aircraft require more skills and tools and higher construction times, the Zenith designs have been developed over decades for unparalleled ease of assembly – with very minimal required skills and tools and short assembly times. The latest kits have many holes final match-hole drilled and ready to assemble and rivet.
For most owners, an aircraft is a long term investment. An all-metal aircraft provides proven durability and lower maintenance costs than fabric-covered or composite aircraft.
Now for the counter-point: There is a time and place for fabric-covered aircraft too.
The Badlands Ultralights, for example, are basically already welded up and ready to wrap. You can choose if you only want the fabric for the wings and tail feathers – or the entire aircraft. A Semi-monocoque structure (ribs and metal skin) needs the skin – it is an integral structural component of the aircraft. This introduces weight, cost and build time. Hopefully you will see now that no two aircraft are identical – so it makes sense that materials and designs are also different.
Keeping with the Badlands for a little longer, the aircraft can go together and be ready to fly in a week. The fabric choices vary upon your budget, but you don’t need to paint it – it comes pre-coloured to your specifications. It’s very light weight and is a perfectly appropriate material choice for a weekend toy that you can buy and fly for less than $30 000.
The Aventura amphibian is a similar story. It is designed to operate out of salt water. The hull and fabric wing coverings are non-structural. All of the flying loads are carried by the tube frame. Anecdotally, users of a fabric surface like how easy it is to inspect the inner workings of the wings for corrosion, how easy it is to build the kit and when it comes time to replace the fabric it’s not a massive undertaking. Re-skinning a metal wing however, well that is troublesome.
Fabric wings are not all the same, however. Avoid any that ‘zip up’. They will never be tight and performance just has to suffer for that.
Is it true that these kits are put together with pop rivets?
Well, yes and no: We certainly don’t use the hardware store Pop rivet brand, but we do use blind rivets extensively (instead of conventional “bucked” rivets). Our Zenith kits use Textron’s Avdel Avex blind rivets made from quality alloys, with each imported shipment batch tested by Zenith Aircraft for shear strength before being used. These modern blind fasteners are as simple to set as standard “pop” rivets, and don’t require the expertise and tools required for hammering and bucking conventional rivets, such as pneumatic riveter, air compressor and an assortment of bucking bars. Aside from not having to purchase this expensive equipment and needing to become an expert at riveting, blind rivets represent a number of significant advantages to amateur builders:
Blind Riveting-First, the rivets are pulled only from one side (hence the name “blind” rivet), unlike bucked rivets that need to be driven from one side and bucked on the other side. This means that blind riveting can be done by one person, and the builder does not need to exercise physical contortions to gain access behind the rivet when riveting sections together. Pulling blind rivets is nearly silent compared to the pounding noise of a pneumatic hammer, lending itself well for home projects (without driving the family and neighbors away). Thanks to the innate simplicity of pulling a blind rivet, the process is quick and foolproof. Additionally, the exterior skins are not counter-sunk for flush riveting. While perfectly smooth skins may be aesthetically desirable, they have negligible impact on performance,especially when factoring in the hundreds of building hours it takes to achieve such a finish. Another advantage of blind rivets is their long grip area length, which means that the same rivet size may be used to fasten a wide range of material thicknesses, avoiding the need for a large inventory of different length rivets. While per unit cost is higher for blind rivets, they provide many advantages to homebuilders, and have become very popular with many modern all-metal kit aircraft, providing the required strength, durability, and building ease (they’re now also being used on a number of factory built aircraft).
“There is nothing that looks faster than pop-riveted aluminum. From race cars to airplanes, the blind rivet is the fastener of choice for joining sheet metal.” Make magazine, volume 05, February 2006, “Holes, Rivets, and Bent Metal”
The Badlands Ultralight is factory-welded, so no rivets here. The Aventura range uses a tube-and-fabric combination that incorporates AN hardware (you bolt it together, basically). There are some rivets in the Aventura (like, about a dozen I think).
What kind of engines can be used on these aircraft?
Swish Projects supplies Viking Aircraft Engines. Am I biased towards Viking? Yes. Absolutely. 100%. Unreservedly, I am a totally biased and one-eyed fan of the Viking Aircraft Engine line of products. Let me tell you in less than a million words why.
- They are more powerful than any other engine out there. The Viking 130HP engine is our biggest seller and is the engine of choice on most of our kits. In this case, the UL Power 350iS matches the Viking at 130 HP. Most Rotax and Jabiru are sitting between 80 HP and 100 HP. Here’s the thing to understand about engine power. YOU NEED IT. Let me explain why. I can putt around in my CH750STOL all day with my engine sitting at about 50% power (let’s call that 65HP). In other words, the first 65HP of any engine installed on a CH750STOL is entirely consumed just to stay airborne. You will never take-off or climb over an obstacle with a 65HP engine. In fact, you’re in a lot of trouble my under-powered friend. Your performance (namely – speed, take-off distance, acceleration, rate of climb and MTOW) all depend upon excess thrust. Remember that from Flying Lesson #1? No excess thrust = no fun. So, 80 HP engine = 15 HP of fun. Underwhelming. 100 HP = 35 HP of fun. Survivable and functional. 130 HP engine = 65 HP of fun. Now your aircraft will meet your expectations for speed, obstacle clearance, rate of climb. In other words – you will actually really enjoy flying it. Even on hot days.
- They are best value engine and firewall forward combination than anything else out there. No small print, but a caveat. I specify VALUE, not PRICE. The price is what you pay – the value is what you get. We all know this in life. In the case of a Viking + FWF package you will get the finest quality products on the market at an excellent price. You will also get pretty much everything you need to install and operate your engine. You will notice that the Viking FWF prices are more expensive than most others out there. That’s because the Viking FWF is more comprehensive than most others and uses better components than some. I am not dropping names, but when you research other power options please be sure to ask for an itemized and detailed packing list for the engine and FWF. You may be surprised at the number of components that you will choose to replace with a name-brand alternative, or what’s not even included at all. Our FWF include all of the clamps, oetiker pliers, hoses, brackets – everything. You will need to buy your own senders (I don’t know what engine monitoring you are using and they are all different), oil, coolant, gear box oil and batteries. That’s about it.
- They are a proven product. It’s a Honda engine. A mass-produced Honda car engine that Viking have done virtually nothing to. Viking have their own ECU, they add a gear box and torsion damper of their own design and they add a nice little throttle cable guide too. That’s about it. Nobody at Viking is pretending they have some magic wisdom to building a better engine than the Honda blokes that have been perfecting this design for the past 50 years.
- They incorporate the latest technology. This is where I start to lose a few people. And I get it. A steam engine only needs coal and water to produce power – no arguments here. But we don’t use external combustion steam engines in trains anymore. Just like we probably shouldn’t be using carburetors, choke, primer, or mixture controls in our aircraft any more. A basic Lycoming-style engine was designed for certified use in the 1940’s and hasn’t changed much since then (feel free to fact-check this on the Lycoming website. They seem strangely proud of this). Proponents of the ‘aircraft engine’ school of thought will argue strongly that this is a purpose-built aviation engine that only needs fuel and air and it will keep going no matter what. Yep. Generally true enough. I haven’t had a car break down for no reason in decades and my Honda Civic has over 300 000km on it, my Triton over 400 000km. They still run beautifully, and I don’t need a primer, choke or mixture control on them. Your Viking engine uses FADEC (as do some Rotax, UL Power and others). The only engine controls you need to fly the aircraft are an ignition key and throttle. The computer looks after the rest. Delivering you fuel-injected and computer-controlled efficiency and reliability. No carby icing, no leaning as you climb, and instant start on even the hottest and highest airfield. You wouldn’t buy a car without this and I bet you’re not concerned about breaking down on your way to work every day. Viking use two batteries to help overcome the main reservation that people have about installing a FADEC engine – if the ECU loses power then the engine stops. True. No system is perfect – but FADEC is on balance way better than the 40’s alternative. Ask anyone that’s actually flown one. The ECU (Engine Control Unit) is the brains of the FADEC system. It is so reliable that with over 1000 engines in service, not a single one has ever failed.
- They are Liquid Cooled. Some people don’t like this. They say it adds weight and complexity. To the first point – yes. Liquid cooling adds weight. To the second point – dubious claim. It can take some builders years to finally get the airflow just right so that their engine is properly cooled on all cylinders. How do you expect to keep an air-cooled engine within the green arc on a 35C day at full power during a 5 minute take off and climb out? You can’t. It’s not going to happen; at least not in Australia. Probably fine in Europe. What does happen is that after about 90 seconds you need to lower the nose to get the airflow up over the cooling fins and you may need to reduce power a little to help out too. Not handy. A liquid cooled engine can climb like this all day long. Also, cabin heating is more than a bit of a worry on an air-cooled engine. Air cooled engines scavenge heat from the exhaust pipes and pump that air into the cabin. Liquid cooled engines use a heat exchanger that comes off the radiator to warm and recirculate the clean cabin air. It is a difference worth noting.
- They are easy and cheap to maintain. Sorry to repeat myself, but Vikings are a current model Honda engine that has been externally modified to work in an aircraft. You can buy your oil filters and spark plugs from Autobarn (or SuperCheap – I don’t mind which). You do not need to get on-line and buy from Aircraft Spruce, Viking or any other random company. You can go to the Service Desk at your local Honda dealer if you like. Viking Aircraft Engines’ business model does not depend upon you relying on them for your parts or consumables. How much easier do you think it is to find someone to resolve any issues you may have with your Honda-based Viking engine than if you had a nice little exotic spinny-majiggy from Europe?
- They provide truly excellent customer service. Please put yourself in my shoes for a moment. I have sold you an engine, made a nice little profit on it – and now you have a problem. Not only do you not want problems, but I don’t want problems either. It is up to me & Viking to help you fix it quickly. I don’t think Jan and Alissa ever sleep. They answer my phone calls and e-mails immediately 24 hours a day. So far, we have not had any problems, but let’s be realistic for a moment – we sell engines. They have moving parts. There is going to be a problem one day, and we’ll work with you to fix it. Swish Projects is not stuck out on a limb all alone – Viking are right there to support me. If they weren’t I would not be selling their products.
So, you now know why I love the Viking engines. I appreciate that my argument for their product is weakened by the fact that I sell Viking engines, but I sell Viking Engines because I love their product. That said, you can install any engine you like on any experimental kit aircraft that you are building. It is an Experimental aircraft – that’s the whole point. The greatest benefit in being an Aircraft Manufacturer (which you will be if you order a kit) is that you are free to install whatever you like into your aircraft. Please don’t dud yourself by loading up the front end with an expensive, and under-powered old dinosaur because that’s what everyone else has been doing. Get the latest FADEC technology and you can enjoy flying your aircraft rather than dicking around with your engine knobs all day.
No matter your choice of engine I will support you in every way that I possibly can.
While all aircraft are designed with certain power and engine weight guidelines, Zenith, in particular, does not design aircraft “around” an engine. Zenith will support a huge range of engines to suit your needs, and I am committed to helping you all the way with your choice of power plant. Aventura is ready to accept a Rotax, Viking or Aeromomentum engine.
Typically, our customers purchase the kit and the Firewall Forward at the same time, and only purchase the powerplant when needed. I have not listed the FWF on my Shop page for other engine manufacturers but I can certainly source them for you. The way it works is that Zenith offer various FWF packages, but they are actually made by different people. The Australian Jabiru FWF is made by Arion Aircraft in the USA, the Belgian UL Power FWF is made by UL Power USA etc. I can get all of that for you through Zenith – no worries at all. This way you will save on freight (the FWF includes engine mounts, propeller and fibreglass cowls – not only are these items fragile but they are quite large). If you send them with your Zenith or Aventura kit then the parts are packed by the factory around your aircraft kit and basically travel for free. We only pay for the cost of domestic freight within the USA. Also, and perhaps most importantly, having your FWF on hand with your complete aircraft kit means that your progress will not be delayed. You can install the engine mounts and hang some 20kg weights off it. Very handy for a tricycle gear aircraft if you want it to sit on the actual wheels while building it. And you do, by the way. You definitely do want that. It also saves a lot of ‘visualising’ where you firewall penetrations need to go etc. When you are ready for your engine then I can usually have it to you within 14 days.
We do supply engine mounts and accessories for many other engine types but we do not provide support for such installations. Neither do Zenith. If you have an issue hanging another engine manufacturer’s produce on your aircraft then you will need to find someone else that can guide you through it. I can certainly help with some engines, but not all. Another reason why Viking may be the way to go for your project – if you buy the kit and the engine from Swish Projects then there’s only one person you ever need to call if you have a problem. Me. I will help you and we’ll work together with Jan and Alissa at Viking to get you all sorted. If you buy an engine from someone else and there’s a problem that they will not resolve for you then I really can’t help out any more than lending advice or trying to make some calls on your behalf. Please do yourself a favour and approach your engine choice with the view that ‘I am going to have issues with my engine. Will I be looked after?’. Research that, and very quickly some choices will be scrubbed from your list.How long do the kits take to put together?
The official “build” time for our Zenith kits is approximately 500 hours, Aventura kits is 200 hours and Badlands can be done in a week. While this figure may seem optimistic, it’s actually quite reflective of actual build times. In putting one of our kits together, you’re simply lining parts up, drilling and riveting – all of the actual parts manufacturing is done for you at the factory.
On numerous occasions Zenith have proven just how quick and easy our kits are to build by completing an aircraft (from kit to flying) in just seven days. At the 1993 EAA Sun’n Fun fly-in about 20 volunteers and Zenair staff built a Super ZODIAC CH 601 HDS during the one week convention, and designer Chris Heintz flew the completed aircraft on the seventh day! (The previous year we did the same thing with a STOL CH701 kit). We haven’t repeated a “Seven Day Wonder” program these past few years – we’ve proven our point are we’re waiting for a competitor to try to meet or beat our feat!
Unlike most other kits on the market, our kits were designed for the kit builder. What this means is that the inherent simplicity of the design makes it easy to build. For example, no real jigs or fixtures are needed to put the aircraft together – just a flat workbench, with all the sections being built up from the flat reference. Also, our Zenith kits come with complete drawing (blueprints) of the aircraft, and not just assembly instructions. The Aventura and Badlands are just assembly instructions, but if you need to fabricate a replacement part then just let me know and I’ll source the dimensions for you.
Our suppliers are continuously improving upon the quality of our kits, to make them easier and quicker to put together. With more than 40 years experience manufacturing kits, The Zenith kits and manuals undergo continuous quality improvements to make them the most complete, affordable and easy-build on the market today. There are absolutely LOADS of videos on how to build Zenith kits and I’m in the process of documenting my Aventura build too.
How long will it take you to put a kit together? Only you can answer that. We’ve found the single biggest factor affecting build times is large doses of common sense and basic ability to work with blueprints and instructions, and not prior building skills, tools or experience. Some people (like myself, I admit it!) need everything to be perfect before they begin work. Mood lighting, music, boiling coffee pot, incense in the air (OK, not really). Building is a huge part of the fun and I want to enjoy it. For myself, that means a clean and organised work area. I probably spend an extra hour every time I build just mucking around before I do anything actually constructive. Other builders turn on the lights and the compressor and start pumping rivets in like the shed is on fire and the only way out is to fly (you know who you are!). Amazingly, both methods produce good results, not amazingly, my build process takes longer. You will enjoy the build process if you are not feeling rushed, have a good work bench, good lighting, a good compressor, a radio and a bar fridge (to store milk for your coffee).
What special skills or tools are needed to put a kit together?
Our kits have been developed not to require special skills or tools. Every kit will provide the kit builder with all pre-manufactured components that do require any special building skills or tools. For example, the Zenith wing spars (which use conventional solid rivets) are completely pre-built at the factory and supplied ready-for-assembly in the kit. That means that you won’t spend a fortune purchasing specialized tooling or spending a lot of time learning new skills. The Aventura wing spars are also pre-assembled where necessary, and you just need to bolt them up. No notching or bending needed.
What’s the most difficult part about building a kit?
You’ll find it most difficult getting started on the project. While you won’t need special skills or tools, knowing how and where to start is probably the biggest challenge you’ll face with a kit project, and you’ll likely be overwhelmed by the scope of the project at first.
However, once you’ve drilled that first hole and realized that you’re only working on a small section of the aircraft, you’ll find that everything is starting to come together – literally.
The following is an actual quote from a first-time builder who had a hard time getting started: “Finally got past the jitters and have started construction. What a great project!!!”
If you are having difficulty getting started with the project don’t despair – the above quote is very typical. Remember when I recommended that you join the SAAA? Every member of the SAAA has built an aircraft and there are hundreds of people all around the country ready to help you with that first rivet. If you followed my advice on the bar fridge then you may have a hard time getting them to leave.
Another challenge is wading through all of the hundreds of options for finishing your aircraft off. Kit options from the manufacturer, engine options, instrument options, paint/polish/vinyl . . . And everyone you talk to has their opinion on what’s right for you.
Do not let Analysis-Paralysis stop you from ordering your kit and getting on with your life. You only need to decide on the kit up-front. Nothing else. You have loads of time while you wait for your kit to arrive to ask about engines, options, instruments and paint. I will help you, of course, but there are loads of other resources too. SAAA members, FaceBook groups, manufacturers, YouTube – and on it goes. New stuff is coming out all the time and frankly it can get a bit overwhelming. Ignore this in the early stages. Consider the kit to be like the frame on your house. It doesn’t matter what kitchen appliances (instruments), facade/carpet/curtains (paint) or central heating (do houses have engines?) you put in at this point – they are all available to you. What you can’t change is the slab or the frame. Just get the kit choice correct and we work the other stuff together as things move along.
What kind of assembly instructions and help will I get?
The backbone of every kit is the detailed Drawings and Manuals. The Drawings and Manuals are supplied with the complete kit and document the complete blueprints for the aircraft as well as a detailed step-by-step illustrated assembly manual. Actually, you can build the complete Zenith aircraft just from the Drawings and Manuals. You would have to be very keen, but you can do it. The Drawings and Manuals are frequently revised to incorporate any changes or to make the instructions more specific or easier to follow. The Aventura and Badlands only supply an Assembly Manual. They’re not really intended to be ‘scratch built’.
Available technical support and builder resources:
- Online builder resources – our exclusive builder Internet web pages contain up-to-date revisions, builder lists with email addresses, an automated builder mail list (forum), building tips, hints and much more.
- Builder Newsletter – the official Newsletter contains updates and revisions, tips and hints, and news from the factory and fellow builders from around the world.
- Technical Support: Every builder has direct access to free lifetime technical support directly from the factory, just a phone call, fax or email message away.
- Join your local SAAA Chapter to meet with other builders and be part of the exciting world of sport aviation. Local builders can provide you with help (and lend you tools, as well!). The SAAA has a Technical Counselor Program, which provides a local mentor, technical help and guidance to help you with you kit project.
- There are LOADS of videos on YouTube too.
- Of course, you can call me. I have built a CH750STOL Edition 2 and I am in the early stages of assembling my Aventura II. If I can’t answer your question from my personal experience then I will put you in touch with another Australian builder than can. Oh, by the way – one day you will be one of the Australian builders that I will refer people to. It’s a social contract of sorts. They will call for feedback on how well I looked after you during your build, what the kit was like, how good is the after-sales support, does the aircraft actually fly like it says on the packet? That sort of stuff.
Can I build one in my single car garage?
Yes, most builders work in a single-car garage. When building the kit you’re working on small modular sections, such as a wing, tail section, or rear fuselage. All you really need in your workshop is a large flat bench. Once a section is completed, then you store it at your long-suffering Mum and Dad’s place until you are ready for final assembly. At that time it’s best to look for some hangar space at a local strip where you can finish the build and complete the registration and test flying.
What’s not included in the ‘complete kit?’
Basically, everything “firewall-back” is included with the complete airframe kit: Every kit part and hardware piece needed to complete the airframe is included as part of the complete kit, including the gear, wheels, brakes, fuel system and controls. This is the case for ALL of our kits at Swish Projects. We pride ourselves on the completeness of our kits: about the only items not included in the airframe kit is the paint and seat upholstery. Many items included in our standard kits are not supplied or sold as options by other kit manufacturers.
The Firewall Forward package that is supplied by each engine manufacturer varies in level of completion. I can say that the UL Power and Viking kits are very comprehensive. Others vary. Some don’t including fuel lines (for example), but the price of their FWF is cheaper as a result. Viking FWF packages are more expensive than most. Why? Because Viking’s FWF includes a carbon fibre ground-adjustable propeller, spinner, mounts, cowls, hoses, clamps, keyed ignition switch, a header tank and dual fuel pumps. We even supply the pliers you need to fit the clamps. Ultimately, you will end up spending about the same on every FWF installation – the difference is that you will not need order more gear every day if you get a comprehensive kit up-front.
You will always need to buy your own batteries, coolant, gear box oil, and engine oil. You will also need to supply your own electrical components to feed the engine information to your chosen engine monitoring system (Garmin use different senders to Dynon etc.).
Do you sell component or partial kits?
Only if I have to. Certainly Zenith do supply component kits – but they are a rarely a good idea for Australian builders. It will costs about $4 500 to ship the complete aircraft kit (including FWF) to Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne. This cost is already included in the Complete Aircraft Kit prices displayed on the shop – you do not pay this again. Buy your kit all in one hit and be done with it. Do this and from Day One you will have everything you need at your fingertips for your uninterrupted building pleasure. And it costs less.
Let’s say you decide to buy just the CH750 STOL wings and tail component kit now, the rest of the aircraft kit later, and then order your engine and FWF.
- Crate 1 (just wings and tail) – 13 Feet Long, weight 242 kg
- Crate 2 (the rest of your aircraft kit) 14 Feet long, weight 231 kg
- Crate 3 (engine and FWF) 1 cubic meter; 130 kg.
Both of the kit crates need to be built from timber, insured and transported from the middle of the USA to Chicago. I can tell you from experience, the freight here will cost about $9 000 to get to the Melbourne depot if you build this way. I beg you – buy the complete kit and you will save about $3000 right off the bat. My complete aircraft kit prices INCLUDE freight to Melbourne and it’s often no extra at all to re-direct your order to Brisbane or Sydney. Other places generally cost more.
Zenith offer component kits as about 80% of their clients are in the USA. They are perfectly positioned for their customers to take a road trip out to the factory and grab more gear as they need it. For us antipodes, it’s cheaper to pay the interest on a personal loan if you need to do that. The exception to this – if you have started life as a Plans Builder and now want to get the kit parts you need to finish quicker. Complete the bits you have started and then order the rest of the components you need.
Which one of your designs should I build? Which is the best one?
Each of our kit aircraft are chosen by Swish Projects because they are the best value on the market to deliver on their respective missions.
They may look similar (and certainly between the CH701, 750 STOL and 750 SD they are just increases in size really), however, they are quite different once completed and flying. You need to decide exactly what features you want in an aircraft and what type of flying you’ll be doing the majority of the time. Be realistic in setting your expectations and requirements. Buying a plane is not much different to buying a motorcycle, boat or a car. A Harley Davidson is fantastic along the Great Ocean Road, but will not last long crossing the Simpson Desert. No aircraft will ever do everything you want. A STOL aircraft can only really be an excellent STOL machine – the very features that help a CH750 STOL to leap off the ground also incur a drag penalty that will never let the aircraft go really fast. It doesn’t matter how powerful your engine is. Likewise, a CH650 is great at chewing up the miles in comfort, but don’t try and land it on a lake. I mean you can, but it will not work again after that and you’re guaranteed to get wet. If landing on a lakes is your thing then I direct your attention to the Aventura line of amphibious aircraft.
We don’t think that one of our designs is the “best.” Each design was developed specifically to meet certain requirements. Choose the design that best meets your requirements.
What’s The Resale Value / Market of a Finished Kit
Resale value of kit (experimental) aircraft varies on a number of different factors. It is difficult to forecast resale value for a particular kit aircraft. I will say that generally, you get nothing for the amount of time you put into it. Typically, a good sale price would be about what the kit and parts cost you in the first place. While it would be nice to make some money on a kit – that’s not the purpose of your project. Or it shouldn’t be, as you will probably be disappointed.
If it costs you $80 000 to finish your CH701 kit, and you fly it around for five years and put 300 hours on it – then all things being equal you should expect to get between $50 000 and $80 000 for it. Sorry I can’t be more accurate, but a lot of factors affect this price. Not the least of which, surprisingly, is the value of the US$. If our dollar is high then people look for new kits. If our dollar is low (weak) against the US$ then a used aircraft starts to look more appealing.
A number of factors strongly influence resale value of a kit aircraft:
- Reputation And Popularity Of Design
- Operation / Service History / how good is your paperwork?
- Aircraft Type: Utility, Ease Of Flying, Gear Configuration, etc.
- Workmanship and Aircraft Finish By Builder
- Operating Costs & Maintenance Requirements
- Market Conditions: Number Of Aircraft On The Market, Resale History…
Historically, Zenair designs have maintained excellent resale values. This can be attributed to:
- Excellent Reputation / Service History Of Aircraft
- Durability – All-Metal Construction (used aircraft are often in ‘like-new’ condition)
- Ease Of Inspection – Metal and Fabric construction can easily be inspected by any mechanic for structural integrity / workmanship (vs. composites)
- Low Operating Costs / Efficiency
- Ease Of Flying / Good Characteristics / Capabilities (suitable for the majority of the pilot population vs. specialized aircraft)
- Market Demand – Very Few Used Ones Available (owners tend to keep them)
- Availability of Manufacturer / Designer Support and Spare Parts
- High Level Of Owner Satisfaction.
You have probably noticed that there are not that many Zenith aircraft on the used market. That’s because they are very popular and advertising is not generally needed. There’s a ready supply of willing buyers your local aero club.
Who should not build a kit aircraft?
For most builders, building and maintaining an aircraft is a hobby, and as such, it should be an activity that is enjoyed – you’ll probably be good at it if you enjoy it, and you’ll enjoy it if it is something that you want to do. If you really want to get up and flying, then you have already chosen one of the quickest build kits on the market. We can help you even more if you want to pay for the Quick Build Option (available on every kit, even where a price is not listed separately), and even more again if you want to discuss our live-in Builder Assist Option. There are worse places you could stay.
Many of our customers have stated that their kit aircraft construction project has been one of the most rewarding (and sometimes challenging) projects that they have undertaken and accomplished in their lifetime.
When purchasing an aircraft kit, remember that you’re not buying a completed aircraft but that you’re obtaining the means to complete an aircraft.
I will tell you something else too – you need to be patient sometimes. As great as all of our kits are – remember what you are setting out to achieve. You are building an airplane from a kit! It’s very cool, but no matter how great the kit is there will be times when you will feel frustration. You will make mistakes, but none that can’t be fixed for the price of a replacement part of a bit of aluminium. This is true of our kits – even after decades of development – and it is true of ALL kits on the market. Anyone who says otherwise is not being truthful with you.
Kit building has taught me that Rome cannot be built in a day, that perfection is the enemy of progress and that I am always learning. There will be times when you will need to give your project a bit of ‘alone time’, and there will be times when you can’t bring yourself to turn off the lights. If it were easy – everyone would be doing it.
How can I learn more about kit aircraft?
The Experimental Aircraft Association is an excellent resource and valuable service available to existing and potential kit builders. Join SAAA and also join a local SAAA Chapter to meet with other builders and be part of the exciting world of sport aviation. SAAA publishes a high quality quarterly publication and arranges fly-in conventions including the annual AusFly fly-in. Other programs / member benefits include the Technical Advisor Program, discounted QBE Aviation Insurance, and more.
YouTube is a great reference. Check out these channels:
What inspections do I need during the build?
You may be surprised by the answer . . . .
You do not ever need to get a formal inspection of your aircraft at any time. Not before you have started. Not during the build, and not after you have finished.
In fact, I would put it to you that there is less red tape involved in getting an aircraft that you have built up into the air than it would be if you decided to build your own car and register that for use on a public road.
How can this be possible? Well – it all goes back to the original intention of the EXPERIMENTAL category of aircraft certification. This aircraft is being built for your own education, research, development or recreational use. Every civil aircraft (from a Cessna 152 to a Airbus 380) started life as an EXPERIMENTAL category aircraft.
This is the aircraft that YOU HAVE BUILT. You are now officially an Aircraft MANUFACTURER, and nobody will tell an aircraft manufacturer if their latest design is ‘safe’ or ‘ready’. Legally and in every other sense you are entirely responsible for determining the airworthiness or safety of your aircraft. Technically, all Swish Projects has done is supply you a load of metal and a picture of an aircraft. It’s up to you what you do with that stuff.
In practice, there are opportunities to get lots of help from loads of different people along the way. Having people around to your joint is part of the fun of building. Sources of assistance include other builders of similar aircraft, SAAA Chapter near you, YouTube, the kit manufacturer, myself, a LAME (Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineer), the list goes on. During my builds I use all of these resources. Apart from paying a LAME to go over your project most assistance is free and offered willingly. There’s lots of support out there. Ask your knowledgeable colleague (whoever that may be), to make an entry in your builder’s log to record their visit and their observations. It all helps. When you ask for an inspection is up to you, but certainly before you ‘close up’ the wings would be a good time. Before you apply power to your avionics, before you start your engine for the first time and before your first ground taxi test are all good milestones to celebrate with friends – and get a second opinion.
You should absolutely check out the SAAA reference material available here for the full story . . . . .
You can start flying when your Authorised Person (AP) says so.
The AP is a person that is approved by the Regulator (CASA) to issue a Certificate of Airworthiness. It is not the AP’s job (or mine, or your flying instructor, or the kit manufacturer, or anyone else) to assess the safety of your aircraft or to see if you have put it together properly. The AP is only there to see that you have met the Regulator’s requirements for a Certificate of Airworthiness. Specifically, that you are the majority builder (51% rule) and that all of the other paperwork is in order. They will want to see that you have done a Weight and Balance using an approved means, you have a Noise Exemption Certificate from Airservices Australia, you have completed the Aircraft Log Book entries, the aircraft is registered etc. Don’t be concerned if these reports sound new to you – it’s only a one or two day job to order the reports and stack your paperwork up for the AP to scrutinize. The SAAA or RAAus will help you with all of this, or just call me if you get stuck and I’ll talk you through it. It’s about as much work as an annual income tax return – annoying, but worth it.
Once the AP is satisfied that the paperwork is in order then they will issue your Certificate of Airworthiness and all applicable conditions for your flight test phase.
This flight testing is referred to as “Phase 1”. It’s generally restricted to essential crew (Pilot only), 25 Miles from the designated base of operations and only for the purpose of proving the safety of the design (that is, no flying training, joy flights, cross-country flights etc). The length of the Phase 1 Test Flying phase is determined by the Authorised Person, but generally varies between 25 and 40 hours.
Factors such as a completely new design, new materials or an unproven engine will form part of the Authorised Person’s considerations when they describe the limits of your Phase 1 test flying area and the number of hours that must be flows before your new aircraft is moved out of Phase 1 test flying and you can essentially operate it like any other aircraft (non-commercial use only). With any of the designs that Swish Projects sells you can expect a short and pretty basic test flying schedule. These aircraft are simple in design, use established materials and construction processes, and a Viking engine will not cause the Authorised Person any concerns.
Like I said, legally, the AP never even needs to lay eyes on your aircraft. Practically, they will want to. We care about you. We are also excited about your new project. Your AP will know in a few minutes if your aircraft has been assembled correctly and using sound techniques. They’ll probably want to check that your controls are all connected and are moving in the correct directions. They’ll look at the labels on your panel, your windscreen and propeller. Just a general once-over out of the goodness of their heart.
It’s kind of stressful because you want everything to go well, but actually, the AP visit is a fun and exciting time.
Click and Collect:
If you are collecting your new kit or engine from Swish Projects’ workshop in Melbourne then it’s really very easy. You just bring a 16FT car trailer and I can load you up with my forklift, strap you in, we pose for some photos and then you are on your way.
Direct to your door:
There are some things that the driver of your delivery truck will want to know.
1. Overhead powerlines can be an issue depending on what sort of loader your driver uses.
2. The surface needs to be sealed or very well packed gravel. The drivers will not risk getting bogged.
3. Turning and general street access. If you have low tree branches or tight turns then you may find your kit left half way up the driveway.
When your kit is ready to collect I will send you all of the paperwork that you need to take with you to the depot. Your kit will not be collected from the actual port, but rather from a freight depot near town somewhere.
Take with you all of the following:
1. Paperwork from me (to show GST has been paid and that you are authorised to collect).
2. Photo ID (Driver’s License)
3. Personal Protective Clothing. Some depots are funny about this, and others don’t care. Steel cap boots, high viz vest and gloves.’
4. A car trailer. Get yourself a 16FT car trailer that can carry at least 800kg. Please do not skimp on anything less.
5. Tie downs. Four good ratchet straps.
6. Camera or your smartphone. Take photos of ALL SIX SIDES OF YOUR CRATE. Ask the forklift operator to raise the crate so you can see the base. They should be accustomed to this request and will comply. Do not be pressured to just load up and go.
If there is any damage tot he outside of the crate then be sure you record that damage on the slip before you go. You can still take the crate out of there and we’ll worry about any damage to the contents later. You are still insured provided the damage is photographed AND you note the existing crate damage with the depot before you leave. Photograph the document too.
The insurance provided by Swish Projects with your kit or engine delivery covers the replacement of any damaged gear, including freight. There is a $1 000 AUD excess payable (by yourself) on any claim. The insurance is only valid until yourself (or your nominated agent – such as a third-party truck driver) signs for the crate.
Generally, I melt the Internet and search for the perfect aircraft to match a variety of mission profiles that we need to cater for in the Australian market. Defining the mission is the most important step of the aircraft selection process. Before you worry about price or anything else – you must have a clear idea of how you intend to use your aircraft. You can’t have an aircraft that is both STOL and FAST. You can’t carry four people at 180 knots on the cheap. It’s just how it is. It’s really a lot like shopping for a car in many ways. A Tarago Family Van will not do what a Ferrari can do; and the opposite is also just as true.
So, I define a few ‘missions’ and then I search for the best VALUE kit on the market. 4-seater speed machine = Velocity; harbor cruiser = Aventura II; fun little paddock-jumper = Badlands Ultralight. I am sure you get the idea. Every product in my shop represents the best value proposition that I can find.
I contact the manufacturer and a long process of ‘getting to know you’ begins. I supply references, I ask to speak to customers, I look for examples flying in Australia and I certainly want to know that the manufacturer is in good financial shape. They need to support their customers and have very well developed products and systems. It is also very important to me that they are good people.
That said, I regularly receive invitations from this supplier or that supplier to distribute their gear. On the surface they always look great, but I don’t give them a run.
I will not do any business with China or Chinese manufacturers. The reason why most people think they produce junk is because they are famous for producing junk. That’s OK if you are buying a toaster but not if you want an aircraft. Somewhere buried within that Chinese engine component or that Chinese aircraft is another Chinese component that is waiting for it’s turn to fail.
My products are manufactured exclusively in United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, USA, Canada and Australia. That’s it.
Price is what you pay – Value is what you get. If you shop on price alone then I can’t help you.
My suppliers must pass my four-way test.
1. Are they good people?
2. Are their products excellent value (quality to price ratio)?
3. Do their products excel at what they were designed to achieve?
4. Will my customers be comfortable building the kit?