So, you want to build an airplane out of wood, eh?
A little background might be in order. When I decided to build an airplane back in 2012, I had a specific goal in mind. I wanted an all aluminum, low wing, fast two-seater for cross country travel. Like thousands of builders before me, I decided that the Van’s RV-7 or RV-9 would be the one to build. After acquiring a partially built RV-7 kit, I spend the next three years cutting, bending, deburring, dimpling, riveting and doing all the other “stuff” associate with aluminum aircraft construction.
You may have heard the saying that there are builders, and there are flyers. The builders just love to build, and some don’t care if they ever get to fly it or not. The flyers don’t have the love of building but just want to go fly. From the start I was clear about one thing: I was a flyer, building for one purpose. I wanted to fly, and the less time spent building the better. I didn’t hate my time building, and I did enjoy knowing that when the plane was finally finished I’d know it inside and out. I wasn’t a tool junkie or a perfectionist. There was always one very clear goal: Finish. Fly. That’s all. Some builders I talked to had been building for years, or were on their fourth or fifth or eighth plane. “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey”, they would say. “I just enjoy building”, they said. Not me — let’s get this building stuff out of the way so I can go fly.
Through a turn of events that doesn’t bear repeating here, I had to change course. The still partially complete RV-7 was sold before it was finished, and I started looking for something else to fly. No more building; my heart wasn’t in it. I ended up making a pretty good deal on an RV-12 that, while airworthy and solid, was (and is) still something of a project. There were a few cosmetic deficiencies to be addressed, as well as some minor modifications I could do to make it a little more suited to my needs. Since then I’ve been mostly deferring those modifications an flying it instead.
What I discovered along the way sort of surprised me. I found that I missed building. I missed having a big project to take up my slack time. I did not, however, particularly miss working with aluminum. I didn’t really miss the endless preparatory steps or the long sessions riveting. I did, however, miss building. I needed another project. I started looking at what else was out there. Working with foam and fiberglass doesn’t really appeal to me, so I was looking mostly at wood construction. I needed to stick with an LSA qualified design, so that knocked out a lot of potential projects. I looked at any number of Champ- and Cub-like designs, but in the end I decided that if I wanted something like a Champ or a Cub I could just go buy a Champ or a Cub. I wanted something with a little more “ramp appeal”, at least for me. I wanted a biplane. I was drawn heavily toward the Airdrome WWI biplanes; after all, who doesn’t want to fly their own fighter plane? But, I have grandkids. I love taking people for rides, and those were all single seat designs (the few exceptions are very tight side-by-side seating, and I’m not a small guy). Many of the planes I considered use welded steel fuselages. I’m not a welder, and decided that was just not a direction I wanted to go.
Through a gradual process of elimination, I had the field narrowed down to two candidates. Both are made by Fisher Flying Products, a small company based in Ontario, Canada. Fisher makes an 80% scale Tiger Moth that ticked all the boxes for me. Classic “fighter plane” looks, it’s a biplane, it has two seats, it meets the light sport requirements. The other model, the Celebrity, is a little more modern looking but still OK. After talking with Dave Hertner at Oshkosh, he was able to narrow it down after one look at me. “You need the Celebrity, you’re too fat for a Tiger Moth.” OK, maybe he was more polite, but that’s the gist of it. The Celebrity is all wood, which I liked. It qualifies under Light Sport rules, which was a requirement. It can be built from plans, and there are a number of flying examples — not a few thousand like an RV, but dozens at least. They’ve been built with varying degrees of modifications, and the only complaints I was able to find is that they’re slow. Well, yeah, no kidding. It doesn’t require an oddball or one-off engine, and can be powered by a small Continental or a Rotax 912. The useful load is enough that it could carry myself, a useful amount of fuel, and a passenger. I had finally found my project.
Now, the last airplane I built out of wood came in a small box from Guillow’s, and was powered by a .29 control line engine. I knew this would be a somewhat larger undertaking, but after a few years of puzzling over the “builder” mentality I finally had figured it out. How long would it take to build? Don’t care. Where will I store it? Don’t care, that will work itself out eventually.