Hello, and welcome to My Wooden Airplane project!
This is actually the second version of my website. I started a project back in March, 2008, but had to stop because of material selection issues. If you'd like to read about it, you can click here to see the original version.
I created this website for several reasons. The first one, of course, is to give distant friends and relatives the opportunity to stop by and check up on me, and to see what I've been up to recently. The second reason is that the FAA requires that I maintain a "builder's log" to prove that I built at least 51 percent of the airplane. While photos aren't absolutely required, they go a long way towards showing all of the work involved.
The third reason is a bit more esoteric. When I was researching the type of plane that I wanted to build, I couldn't find very many websites that detailed the construction of a wooden airplane. (I found TONS of websites detailing the construction of an "RV", however!) My goal is not necessarily to publish a "this is how to do it" type of instruction manual. Rather, it is to present a sort of "this is how I did it" journal. Hopefully, it will be of some use to the next person who decides to build a wooden airplane, and wants to see what might be involved, and how someone else did it.
Of course, there's always the Experimental Aircraft Association (http://www.eaa.org). The EAA is a fantastic world-wide resource for anyone thinking about building their own airplane. I am a proud member of EAA Chapter 1300 in Las Vegas, NV (http://www.eaa1300.org). Unfortunately, there aren't too many people in this area who are familiar with wooden airplanes. Most appear to be building, or have already built, some sort of "RV" airplane. (Don't get me wrong. Van's Aircraft (http://www.vansaircraft.com) appear to produce wonderful, sexy-looking airplanes. They just don't happen to have anything that meets my specific requirements.)
The next question someone might ask is "Why wood?" Well, again, there are several reasons. The first reason, I guess, would be the fact that I'm more comfortable working with wood. Not that I'm any kind of expert or anything. Far from it. It's just that I've had more experience working with wood than any of the other materials out there, and I figured it would be a good choice for my first airplane.
Another reason is expense. Wooden airplanes are traditionally made from Sitka Spruce, a special and rare type of wood that grows only in the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately, "special" and "rare" are both synonymous with "expensive". However, many airplanes are also made from Douglas Fir. According to the FAA, Douglas Fir is a suitable replacement for Sitka Spruce. It's slightly heavier, but it is also slightly stronger, so I should theoretically be able to use a correspondingly smaller amount of wood and have an airplane that is just as strong as one made from spruce. It is also about 1/3 the price of spruce, and as a bonus, is available locally.
Another reason is weight. One of my goals is to use this airplane as a Light Sport Aircraft. LSA's must have a maximum gross weight of 1320 lbs. While there are certainly several airplanes made from metal and fiberglass that meet this weight requirement, there are many more that are made of wood. Also, these metal and fiberglass airplanes seem to have a heavier empty weight, which means less payload.
Besides, the very first airplane was made from wood, and if it's good enough for Wilbur and Orville, then it's good enough for me!
So, what is it that I'm building? I'm glad you asked. It's a relatively new adaptation of an old design called a Falconar Avia AMF-14H "Maranda". How did I arrive at this decision? Well, that's a bit more complicated.
As I've stated earlier, my goal is to build a plane that can be used as a Light Sport Aircraft. During my research, I came across several designs that fit this category. Many of them were even made of wood. There's the Fishers (http://www.fisherflying.com), who produce very cool-looking geodetic airplanes. Unfortunately, just about the time that I was starting my project, they went into "semi-retirement". I could still get plans, but no more kits. I went ahead and ordered a set of plans for their Dakota Hawk, but decided not to build it.
Then there's Light Miniature Aircraft (http://www.lightminiatureaircraft.com). They produce great-looking 3/4 and full-scale Piper Cub and Taylorcraft replicas. I went ahead and ordered at set of plans for their full-scale Taylorcraft replica, but I won't be building this one, either.
There's also RagWing Aircraft Designs (http://www.ragwing.net). They produce several easy-to-build experimental and ultralight aircraft using wood and common woodworking tools. I bought a set of plans for their RW-11 "Rag-A-Bond". While it was an interesting design, I think it might be just a little bit too "light-weight" for me.
Another company worth mentioning is JDT Mini-MAX (http://www.jdtmini-max.com, formerly TEAM Aircraft). Like RagWing Aircraft Designs, they produce easy-to-build ultralight and experimental aircraft that look like they'd be fun to build and fly. Unfortunately, they didn't appear to have any two-place designs.
My first attempt was actually going to be a combination of these designs. The overall shape and dimensions were going to come from the Wag-A-Bond "Classic" from Wag-Aero (http://www.wagaero.com). The wing for this design is made of wood, but the fuselage and tail feathers are welded steel tubing. I figured I could use the plans to build the wing, and the construction techniques of some of the other designs to build the fuselage and tail. This actually went fairly well, until I brought some pieces to an EAA meeting for inspection. I won't re-type the whole story here, but if you're interested, you can read about it here.
As a result of this first attempt, I decided that I needed to start over, so I went back to the December, 2007 issue of Kitplanes magazine to their annual Kit Aircraft Directory. I must have missed it earlier, but there on page 50 was a reference to a design called the AMF-14H by Falconar Avia (http://www.falconaravia.com). The directory said it was made of wood and fabric, and that it had a cabin width of 46 inches. It also said that it could take an engine anywhere in the 65-110 horsepower range. This sounded almost perfect! I sent an email to designer Chris Falconar, asking him to confirm these basic parameters. When he did, I ordered a full information kit, which included all of the design specifications and performance figures. It looks like I may have finally found my plane! I ordered a complete set of plans and received them on 10/20/2008.
So, what are these "exacting specifications" that I keep talking about? Well, since I'm not confident that I'll be able to keep a current medical certificate, I plan on taking advantage of the new Sport Pilot privileges. To excersize these privileges, one must have a Light Sport Aircraft. In addition to the 1320 lb gross weight limitation that I mentioned earlier, an LSA can have no more than 2 seats, one (reciprocating) engine, a fixed or ground-adjustable propeller, an unpressurized cabin, fixed landing gear, a maximum speed in level flight of 120 knots, and a maximum stall speed of 45 knots.
In addition to these requirements, I want an airplane that has an empty weight of about 700 lbs or less (for a 600 lb useful load). Here's the real stickler, though. My airplane has to have a cabin width of at least 48 inches. This is where most other designs fall short. I find it hilarious that designs with 42-inch wide cabins are advertised as having an "extra-wide" cabin. I find it incredulous that the original Piper Vagabond and Taylorcraft designs had a cabin width of only about 38 inches. What's even more maddening is how advertisers claim that "our plane fits extra-large pilots - up to 6 and a half feet tall!" as if "large pilots" can only grow in one dimension. That's not to say I'm grossly overweight. At 5'10" and about 200 lbs, I'm certainly heavier than the FAA's "standard" of 170 lbs. I just find it uncomfortable to be squished together so tightly in an area that doesn't normally come with air conditioning, and I'm in a position to be able to do something about it.
The only other requirement (of mine) is that it be powered by a four-cycle engine. I know they are heavier than the two-cycle engines, but I've heard and read about too many other people who have had reliability issues with two-cycle engines. And while they supposedly no longer sound like angry chainsaws buzzing overhead, I feel that having a four-cycle engine will make my airplane seem more like a "real" airplane, as opposed to an ultralight. I'm sure that's my perception only, but since it's my airplane, I can have all the perceptions I want.
I was originally thinking about powering my plane with a VW conversion, but after reading about and listening to several other people's experiences, it seems like the VW is probably not powerful enough to handle two people in a plane as large and "draggy" as the one I am building. An interesting and popular alternative to the VW is the Corvair. While I was initially concerned about its weight, there is at least one other builder that is using it for his Maranda, so I ordered a conversion manual from William Wynne (http://www.flycorvair.com). I'll post progress on the conversion in the Engine section as I go.
So, can I build a plane that will meet all of my demanding specifications? Probably not. Will that prevent me from trying? Nope. I plan on giving it my best effort, and hopefully I will learn a great deal about (successfully) building a wooden airplane. While I will no doubt make several mistakes along the way, I invite you to follow along and learn with me. I'm sure I'll quit and give up several times during this project, but with any luck, we'll soon be flying off into the sunset (albeit low and slow)!
P.S. - I want to also mention that I probably would not be able to embark upon this project without the help and support of my wife Rachael. I know of several potential builders who aren't even going to be able to start on their projects because their spouse has expressly "forbade it", or at least is extremely uncomfortable with the idea. Fortunately, Rachael knew when she met me that I was an airplane nut, and we've shared many pleasant flights together (just as long as I wasn't trying to teach her how to fly!). She's gently pushed me to pursuing my dream of building my own airplane, and even insists that we call it "our" plane, which it certainly is. She's even graciously offered to give up her parking spot in the garage so that I can take over the entire 3-car area. While I haven't taken her up on that offer yet, I may have to before the project is completed. Thanks, Hon! I couldn't do it without you!