That was the $70K question I attempted to answer during my local EAA chapter’s Young Eagles event. More on that in a minute after I plug a worthwhile cause. If you’ve never volunteered your aircraft and skills at one of these International Young Eagles Day events you’re missing out on a rewarding and humbling experience as kids experience flight for the first time in small aircraft. At this year’s event on a Saturday morning in June, our EAA Chapter 166 in Connecticut flew nearly 50 youngsters—that’s a lot of individual local-area flights spread out over a half-dozen aircraft in just a few hours. Since the program was launched in 1992, more than 44,000 volunteer pilots have given free aircraft rides to over 1.9 million kids. It’s always amazing to me the number of parents who bring their kids to these events and never knew the airport even existed—and many have never been up close to a small aircraft.
At our chapter we have everything from Robinson R44 helicopters to plain-vanilla Cherokees, Skyhawks and a bunch of experimentals. And that led to my ambassador-like conversation with Bill, the father of a kid I loaded into a Grumman. “My wife gave me the green light for a big-boy toy, and this flying thing sparked my curiosity,” he told me. With a need for speed, Bill was indeed ready to spend some money on a real toy—an AC Cobra replicar. In particular, it’s a Factory Five Racing model-MK4 Roadster kit, and a pretty nicely executed replica that is in some ways better than a real AC Cobra from the day. Bill and his teenage son (now bitten by the aviation bug), were planning on assembling the kit themselves with the help of a $150-per-hour mechanic and Cobra expert. With the big-block Ford 427 engine, a handful of options and labor, he figured the all-in investment would hover around $50,000, plus the garage renovation to accommodate, store and maintain the project. Figure $70K. But when I showed him our build hangar and the half-completed Van’s RV-12 iS, he asked me to run the numbers.
The current total price for the standard RV-12iS kit is roughly $99,500, and includes the Rotax 912iS engine, a choice of Dynon or Garmin avionics, plus some sizable enhancements to the kit from earlier versions. It didn’t take long before he realized that the plane would definitely cost more than the sports car, and take a lot longer to build. My sense was this engineer had the skills and the smarts to pull off an airplane build if given the right guidance and oversight, but learning to fly AND building an airplane at the same time is a huge time commitment, even training for the sport pilot certificate. That might not end well.
After giving Bill a good dose of realism, he emailed me later contemplating the used Grumman Cheetah market, where he might score a 1978 AA5A for around $70,000—an airplane that he and his kid could learn to fly together. In the world of big-boy toys, I guess that isn’t such a bad compromise.