Spam Cans vs. Homebuilts
I had to laugh reading the opening paragraph of your article on used Experimentals in the May 2005 issue. It described the day I opted out of spam cans almost exactly. But instead of doing the semi-sensible thing and buying one already built, I bought a nearly done project that someone needed to get out of.
If my mission were less than 1000 miles and I knew what I know now, I would just buy a turbonormalized Tornado Alley Bonanza with TKS and be very happy. But my mission is longer so Im still in the Experimental game.
I think you captured most of the issues. I would like to add a few more: While some of the kit companies engineer the original design very well, there are a lot of features, avionics and add-ons that appear to be reasonable or even sanctioned, but may turn out to be downright dangerous when you look closely.
I would say if you are not personally willing to be responsible for the engineering of anything that wasnt part of the original factory design, you shouldnt buy an airplane that includes such a thing.
If you get involved with a project, its incredibly time-consuming not just to do the building, but to sort through the maze of options, determine what is safe, figure out how to get it done and so on.
For all their faults, certified light aircraft have comparatively huge safety margins in handling characteristics and other operational limitations. Even though it is written in many places, it takes a while to internalize that some Experimentals are so much closer to the edge.
It is somewhat of a free-for-all, but its part of what I love about America. In order to have the freedom to do something really excellent, theres an implied freedom to screw it up. I hope it stays that way.
Hyde Park, Vermont
I enjoyed your informative article concerning homebuilts. For 20 years I have been one of the editors/writers for Kitplanes magazine. In the early years, I did the lions share of flight test reviews. Yes, the kit airplane arena has come a very long way.
Personally, I have successfully built a Q2, Q200 and Glasair Super II FT. Having been forced out of the airline cockpit because of age (may they rot in hell), I fly my Glasair five days a week to my new job.
I now demo and sell everything from the Cessna Caravan to the Cessna Skyhawk for a large Cessna CSTAR. Knowing that my Glasair would be used for long cross-country work, I opted to install the wingtip extensions that add four-feet to the overall wingspan.
There are several advantages, but the main reason was added range and decreased roll rate. My Glasair and I have shot many IFR approaches and spent tons of time in the clouds. It is as stable as a Cessna Skylane but has the speed of a Cessna 210. Yes, I love my kit airplane and no, it is not for sale.
Something a buyer of a kit airplane should seriously consider: Look for an airplane that has at least 100 or more flight hours on it. Something that barely has had its time flown off, for a variety of reasons, should be avoided. In this case, more is better, meaning the builder/owner has flown the airplane enough to have worked out the bugs and the airplane has established itself.
Your article on XM Datalink was very informative. I currently have a GDL49 installed with a Garmin GNS 530 and 430. Id like to know if Garmin is planning any type of upgrade deal for us GDL49 victims.
Also, although Im on the fence regarding the GDL69A with the entertainment option, I will probably opt for the WAAS upgrade when it becomes available. Does it make more sense to go with the GDL69 now or wait? I have a Control Vision system with XM datalink, so I dont have to rush.
By the way, when it comes to XM weather, dont leave home without it! Besides the tremendous advantage of NEXRAD here in Florida, the thunderstorm capital of the world, the difference between nowcasting and forecasting is akin to the difference between GPS and ADF.
Albert G. Love
Port Orange, Florida
Since you have XM-based datalink through the Control Vision system, we dont see any compelling reason to rush into buying a GDL69. Get the WAAS upgrade first, then sort it out. As for an upgrade to the GDL69 for GDL49 customers, Garmins Tim Casey told us none is planned. The GDL49 still functions, continues to be supported and at $10 per month, it remains a low-cost solution for in-flight weather customers, even though the product has been discontinued.
Sportys New Gyro
I recently noticed that Sportys Website is offering a new back-up electric AI that you have not previously reported on. It is made by Castleberry, in Sportys catalog online. It is item number 2060A and costs $1595, which seems like a bargain.
It is STCd as a back-up, can replace the turn coordinator, has a failure flag, adjustable symbolic airplane, backlighting and has an integral inclinometer. The question is its reliability, track record of the company and so on. It sure seems like a bargain compared to Mid- Continents offerings without battery back-up.
Could you please test one of these ASAP. I am sure there are a lot of pilots out there wanting to know what Aviation Consumer thinks about this instrument.
We had planned a review of the gyro for this issue but Sportys informs us we cant get one for 60 days. Look for something in the September issue. And youre right, it does look like a bargain.
I did not contribute to the engine shop survey, but can confirm some of your findings. I was very pleased to see Poplar Grove Airmotive listed among the best engine shops in the U.S. PGA has built two Aztec and one Chieftain engine for our company. Since we have had no serious complications, despite constant use at 75 percent power, I cannot speak on their response to complaints. However, I can tell you that working with Dave Mitok and the other people there is always a good experience. We plan to continue sending our Aztec, Chieftain and T-210 engines to PGA.
We had two significant troubles with two engines from Signature, although Bill Schmidt did give us good support on them. Americas Aircraft Engines made two significant mistakes with one of our engines. They did disassemble the engine to find the missing oil gallery plug, but we continued to have trouble with that engine.