If you look around at the light aircraft that are available now — and if you've attended any recent airshows — you can see that the majority of new aircraft are either Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) or amateur-built aircraft (E-AB). If you are attracted to these beautiful and modern airplanes, but don't want to build one yourself, and don't want to spend the $100K plus price of a ready to go LSA, how smart a move is it to purchase a homebuilt?
Purchasing an aircraft kit that's built and flying is a great way to get in the air at a reasonable cost. With few exceptions, homebuilt aircraft will sell for what the builder has in the airplane materially. It does not include build hours. So, while some builders see this as a drawback, for buyers it's a great deal.
When you purchase a homebuilt completed in the last ten years, you are getting a modern panel, relatively new paint, interior, and accessories, and typically a low time engine if the builder purchased all new components. Most builders fly less than 100 hours a year.
Modern homebuilts can sport wonderful performance, efficiency, and reliability, with many using Rotax engines that sip auto gas. You can also do the maintenance on your experimental airplane yourself, although you'll need to get the person with the repairman certificate, or an Aandamp;P, to sign off the yearly condition inspection (known as an "annual" to certified aircraft owners).
If the owner is a motivated seller, you can usually get them to come down on the price. There may be a host of reasons why someone is selling their pride and joy — from moving away, to moving on to another build.
I said there are exceptions on pricing. This is true if you are purchasing a homebuilt with a big fan base, with lots of airplanes flying, and airplanes with great performance and flight characteristics. These homebuilts will demand a premium, though you can still find deals with patient research.
This all sounds terrific; but there are traps for the unwary. Don't jump straight into a used homebuilt aircraft as you would a certified aircraft without keeping the following points in mind.
Quality. Get a pre-buy inspection from someone who knows that model inside out. The last thing you want is something that gives you problems or poses a flight risk.
Paperwork. Homebuilt owners are sometimes not as rigorous about having all of the correct paperwork, all of the necessary logs, and all of the work signed off in the logs. Take a close look at the paperwork with the airplane to determine how thorough it is.
Mistakes on systems. Electrical, fuel, and panel systems often have mistakes in homebuilts. Make sure you check for correct routing, wiring, hardware installation, and placards. Your pre-buy inspection will help you here.
Fly it. Is it everything you wanted? You can get a lot for your money. Make sure you execute a contract and make sure the sales paperwork is in order. Then go for it.
About Lisa Turner
Lisa is a columnist for Sport Aviation and KITPLANES magazines. A published author, Lisa's books can be found on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. She wrote the bestseller, "Dream Take Flight," about her flying adventures. See here: https://www.amazon.com/Dream-Take-Flight-Unconventional-Journey/dp/0997072326. The book is also available as an audiobook.
Lisa is an Aandamp;P and Private Pilot, and after building the Pulsar went on to build a Kolb Mark III 2-place aircraft and then half of a Rotorway helicopter. She is pondering her next build.
Lisa holds degrees in engineering (A.S.), English (B.A.), business (M.B.A.), and science (Sc.D.). She is an engineer in the aerospace field and is an admitted gadget geek.
Lisa's website: https://dreamtakeflight.com