Chapter 1553

Elk City, OK

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Notes From Sonex Scratch Builder Mike Smith

Posted by Dave Hill - #867273, President on April 1, 2016 at 7:40 AM

I've been looking at building a project for many years as you all know.  Recently I thought it would be interesting to contact builders who were listed in Kitplane magazine who had done a "scratch build" from plans rather than purchasing a kit.  I hear back about 50% of the time.

Here is the response I got back from Mike Smith who scratch built a Sonex.  He put his comments inside of my email. Mike included some awesome videos at the end. (Mike's comments are in blue.)

Thank you, Mike!


Hi, Dave:

 Thanks. Of course they were almost 2 years late in the announcement! :-) I added my 2 cents below.


On 3/31/2016 11:02 PM, Dave Hill wrote:

Subject:  Kitplane Completion


Congratulations on your completion of N439M. I'm always impressed by the guys who build from plans/scratch. I'm considering building from scratch myself and haven't yet decided on what to build.


I have a few quick questions;


Did you scratch build to save money?

Yes. And kind of. I had started my own business only a few years before, and business was not very lucrative. Fortunately my wife had a good job and she really pulled us through the rough years. I loved to fly but lamented the high hourly cost for rentals. The full story of how I started to build in this environment is a long one, so I'll just say I started. But since I didn't have much money to spend, I just bought aluminum and did nothing but make parts for a whole year. I didn't even put 2 parts together. I just made parts. Aluminum is cheap.


Then I started putting the parts together. I was trusting that business would improve as I got further into the process. And by the time I got to the point where I had to start buying larger parts (wing spars, welded parts, landing gear, engine, avionics, etc) my business was doing better. It just kind of progressed like that and it all worked out as I had hoped it would. 5 years, 3 months, and 2,360 hours later I had a flying airplane.


If so, how much did you save?


I'm not sure I really saved much, but buying a kit was not an option for me at the time. And I have to admit that I really MISS building. So the scratch build was much more rewarding, and in fact I'm glad it took 5 years because I looked forward to it every day for over 5 years. All in I spent about $28,000. I have nice avionics (MGL stuff; not super expensive, but not steam gauges) and a smoke system. I polished the plane to save weight, so not paying to have it painted also saved money. Based on other Sonexes for sale I have my hull insurance set at $35,000.


First would you do it again?


Absolutely! It's not for everyone, but it WAS for me. I pretty much stuck to my goal of doing something -- anything -- every day. There were not many days when I didn't do something. Many scratch builders can't build at home like I did, and/or can't stay that focused, and so it takes them 10 years or more.


Do you have a few tips or recommendations you would pass on to anybody considering a scratch built project?


Mostly just what I noted above: do SOMETHING every day. Even if it's just looking over the plans and planning ahead. Or shopping for hardware online at Wicks or Aircraft Spruce. If you have a significant other, do what you need to do to get them behind you.


Build at home as long as you possibly can. The moment you move away from your home to build, EVERYTHING will change. Everything will slow down and be less convenient.


I need distractions when I work. So I had cable TV and a DVD player in my shop. I watched a movie or two, or a football game, every night I worked. I loved that.


I had one other unique situation that helped me. I'm a night owl, so late nights are the norm for me. 6 hours of sleep is a normal night for me. I have a wife and a daughter (she was 5 when I started building). So I almost never did any building on family time. On weekdays I waited until my daughter was in bed, and often until my wife went upstairs as well, and then I would go to the basement to work for 2, 3 or 4 hours. I pretty much never worked on the plane during the daylight hours on weekends, either. I used that time for my family and for doing the honey-do things around the house. I waited until night time again before I started working. So building never took precedence over my family.


I hope some of this helps. There certainly is nothing quite like flying a plane that you built yourself. And if you scratch build you will always get extra kudos from admirers of your plane :-)



Categories: Projects, Homebuilt, Sonex

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