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Jon Matcho

Reasons why building from plans is better than a kit

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While finishing up some detail work for another door on someone else's plane, the topic of this thread came to mind as I noticed the quality of the kit parts.  In a previous door I built from the same manufacturer, the two door shells came bonded, filled, sanded and primed.  It looked great and I could immediately appreciate the anticipated time savings compared to what it would take to build the same part from plans alone.  That is until I got into the details of the kit's plans, which come in two monstrous-sized three-ring binders.

I soon found that I had to spend several hours sanding away much of the primer to get the fiberglass so I could mount and tape the plexiglass into place.  That work was no different than plans-built work, although I did not have to fabricate the door's latches, pushrods, acquire the right-sized bits -- it was all in the plans catalog which just had to be ordered from the manufacturer.  The screws, snap rings and other common items had custom codes, which were either done so the manufacturer could better organize their inventory, or to prevent me from sourcing these parts for half the price.

For the next door I asked to receive the door without being finished and primed, since I had to undo much of that work anyway.  To my surprise the door shells came in two separate halves, which apparently was the manufacturer's new standard.  OK, no problem, I'll just bond them together and go.  However, as I got into this I couldn't help but make more comparisons to a plans-built approach, and question the time savings I was experiencing.  I'm sure some, but it wasn't life-changing at all.

Back to what pushed me to make this post... as I was doing the mechanical work I noticed how dry some areas were in the pre-built shells I received.  There was not enough epoxy in these areas to consider these perfect parts, but I deem them good enough as the overall structure is sound.  Everything will be sealed up with a painted-on epoxy layer, primer and paint, but what the heck?!  I expected unquestionable high-quality parts coming from the manufacturer and their molds.  See the picture...

20190805_211532.jpg

I am pointing to one area in particular, but there are a handful of others.

Also note that one of the pushrods on the latch mechanism is silver and the other gold.  The gold pushrod is anodized, which I'd rather not have (I choose alodine treatments instead).  They're different because I had to manufacture the silver pushrod myself, because when thrown the pushrod was not long enough to properly secure the door to the airframe.  I asked the manufacturer to make me one that was just a bit longer, but they said they could not and instead referred me to an organization they use for sourcing these parts.  Calling that company I learned they help former inmates onto a road of recovery, and that getting them to do anything custom -- even just extending this part by 0.5" -- would not be possible.  So I had to make that myself, as if I was doing a plans-built.

So here's a list of a few reasons I find a plans-built approach to be better than a kit approach, at least for me:

  1. Pay as you go.  Get started for $1,000 instead of $25,000 or $50,000 or $100,000.  You're never over-exposed financially and can match the pace of your build with your budget.  If you get into a situation where you need to let your project go, you haven't turned a $150,000 pile of parts into a $25,000 deal.
  2. Save money.  I mentioned I could have sourced some parts myself for 50% less than what the manufacturer offered them to me for.  There are several other techniques available to save money.
  3. Kit-like options are still available when plans-building.  You actually get the best of both worlds.  I do not have a machine shop for complex metal work, nor do I wish to right now.  I am happy to buy complex parts elsewhere, such as complex metal and other items from the Cozy Girrrls and other vendors to save time and get high-quality parts.  If they go out of business I can still have these items fabricated by myself or a machine shop.
  4. Abandoned projects are comparable to kits.  Finding a good quality project that someone else has strictly followed to plans happens more than not.  Builders typically decide that this is not for them after building the fuselage base, or even after having a fully rolling fuselage with wings.  These come up from time to time for a fraction of the cost it would take to build yourself.
  5. I control quality.  I shared the above experience, and have heard many others involving heavy parts, sloppy work, and whatnot.  I don't care to risk dealing with this scenario again.  Perhaps it's the complexity of composite manufacturing compared to the simple cutting and forming of metals, but I suspect there are issues and stories everywhere.  I'm sure some vendors have great reputations, but it's all dependent on the crew working at the time your kit parts are fabricated.

I'd like to hear your thoughts, pro or con, and whether I missed any other good reasons why you appreciate the plans over the kit approach.


Jon Matcho :busy:
Canard Zone Member & Administrator
Now:  Rebuilding Quickie Tri-Q200 N479E
Long-term:  Building a Cozy Mark IV

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This may just be ego or a twisted mind, but:

I'm building it myself, I'm not just assembling a bunch of parts. No disrespect to those building kits, as they are still a major commitment and achievement. But I want to fabricate the major parts myself. Plus, I like the ability to 'make them my own' with a little customization.

 

As you allude to above, I prefer to do things myself where possible to ensure the best quality - I'm more than a little perfectionist, and I am often disappointed in the quality of purchased parts or services when it comes to my vehicles.


Aerocanard (modified) SN:ACPB-0226 (Chapter 8)

Canardspeed.com (my build log and more; usually lags behind actual progress)
Flight simulator (X-plane) flight model master: X-Aerodynamics

(GMT+12)

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7 hours ago, Voidhawk9 said:

This may just be ego or a twisted mind, but:

I'm building it myself, I'm not just assembling a bunch of parts. No disrespect to those building kits, as they are still a major commitment and achievement.

...or just pride of ownership as the absolute builder of the plane.  The Cozy Girrrls take this to an extreme, where they refuse to let anyone visiting their project do as much as pick up a piece of sandpaper.  Personally speaking, if someone wants to help me build the plane in my shop, come on over! 🙂

Many are kit-centric, and as you mention there's nothing wrong with that at all.  I was myself and would be today if something like the Berkut in Cozy III/IV dimensions was available today for a price that I could afford.  I have never heard a peep about bad quality control with the Berkut kits.

7 hours ago, Voidhawk9 said:

I'm more than a little perfectionist...

Plans or kits, us types take much longer to complete builds and the quest for perfection needs to be kept in check IMO.  I think "good" and finished is quite close to "perfect", unless you're aiming to win Plans-built Grand Champion at EAA AirVenture. 


Jon Matcho :busy:
Canard Zone Member & Administrator
Now:  Rebuilding Quickie Tri-Q200 N479E
Long-term:  Building a Cozy Mark IV

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Posted (edited)
7 hours ago, Jon Matcho said:

I have never heard a peep about bad quality control with the Berkut kits.

No two Berkuts kits were identical, and the plans were incomplete, and may or may not have matched the parts you may or may not have been given. Plus you had to generate your own POH. So, yeah. Other than that, no QC issues.

You might want to check with James Redmon about the level of QC. Dave Ronnenberg is a GREAT fabricator, and builds great airplanes. But, the above...

Edited by Marc Zeitlin
Don't know why it posted twice - please delete one of these.

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Posted (edited)
7 hours ago, Jon Matcho said:

Plans or kits, us types take much longer to complete builds and the quest for perfection needs to be kept in check IMO.  I think "good" and finished is quite close to "perfect", unless you're aiming to win Plans-built Grand Champion at EAA AirVenture. 

Absolutely right, and it is something I try to be reasonable about. I had a well-known and respected canard builder visit my project once, and he told me I need to be more sloppy and get on with it! 😅 Point taken!

Edited by Voidhawk9
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Aerocanard (modified) SN:ACPB-0226 (Chapter 8)

Canardspeed.com (my build log and more; usually lags behind actual progress)
Flight simulator (X-plane) flight model master: X-Aerodynamics

(GMT+12)

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On 8/8/2019 at 8:45 AM, Jon Matcho said:

I have never heard a peep about bad quality control with the Berkut kits.

On 8/8/2019 at 4:06 PM, Marc Zeitlin said:

No two Berkuts kits were identical, and the plans were incomplete, and may or may not have matched the parts you may or may not have been given. Plus you had to generate your own POH. So, yeah. Other than that, no QC issues.

And so here is the dichotomy between the "Legend of the Berkut" and historical reality.  It is for mainly this reason, in my opinion, that Berkuts sell thoroughly above $100,000 and Long-EZs sell for well under that.  After all, seeing a beautiful Berkut on the cover of a magazine from the 1990s got me on this road in the first place.  My biggest problem back then was how/when to purchase the A kit and whether I wanted the 360 or 540 model!  I had no clue, and even then I suspect I would have purchased Long-EZ plans if they existed.

On 8/8/2019 at 4:06 PM, Marc Zeitlin said:

You might want to check with James Redmon about the level of QC.

Not bashing Berkuts here, and I take your word for it -- I recall mention of the multiple generations of parts.  This underscores my primary point of this post.

On 8/8/2019 at 4:38 PM, Voidhawk9 said:

I had a well-known and respected canard builder visit my project once, and he told me I need to be more sloppy and get on with it! 😅 Point taken!

I recall experiencing my first hands-on wakeup call in this area early on in the build when I made the perfect tabs for the forward longeron supports (on F22 or F28, etc.) only to cut them off and throw them away in a later chapter.  As you said, "point taken!" 


Jon Matcho :busy:
Canard Zone Member & Administrator
Now:  Rebuilding Quickie Tri-Q200 N479E
Long-term:  Building a Cozy Mark IV

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