So, When Will You Be Ready to Fly?

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When do you think you’ll be ready to fly?” This is the question my husband Steve and I are always asked when a friend drops by to check out the ongoing GlaStar project. Our standard answer is, “In about two or three more years.” This reminds me of the standard answer my parents gave me whenever, as a child in the back seat of the car, I asked, “How much longer till we get there?” They’d always say, “Twenty minutes.” Funny that neither of these answers ever seems to change, despite the ongoing building and/or driving process.

The topic of “build time” is intriguing. It was a factor in our prolonged wheelpant-kicking stage of deciding on the project. It’s also a recurring thread among builders, at least those on the GlaStar® Internet newsgroup. I’ve also gathered that many of us are fairly compulsive about tracking the time we spend in our workshops.

So, perhaps because I’m a first-time builder, this got me pondering three questions:

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  1. Should I believe the factory’s claims about build time?
  2. What factors affect build time?
  3. What counts as build time, anyway?

Glastar left wing in jig

Glastar left wing in jig. Photo Mark Fruin.

The Factory’s Claims vs. Reality

Now, everybody (except recent arrivals from other planets and new builders in a state of denial) is fully aware that the manufacturers of all homebuilt kits drastically underestimate the actual number of hours it takes to complete their kits. It seems that the general rule of thumb is to double the number of hours stated by the manufacturer.

Underestimating is a marketing ploy. The factory has to do this, because if they publish totally realistic figures, potential buyers will assume it actually takes twice as long as they claim, which might negatively influence their decision to built. So, we all know that manufacturers do this, and they know we know, but at least it’s understood by all involved.

Going by the information on the S-H Web site, GlaStar® building time is 1,000_1,500 hours (although on the glossy brochure, it just says “fast, easy assembly time.”) Does this mean the “real” figure is now 2,000_3,000 hours? (See the sidebar below for the results of a quick survey on builder estimates.)

Does how long it will take you to complete your kit really matter? For me, the answer is “no”… or at least “not really.”

To summarize, it’s clear that some corollary of Murphy’s Law applies to homebuilding: No matter how long you think it will take, it will always take longer.

What Factors Affect Build Time?

Given that we all realize it’ll take longer than we think, just how much longer? This got me thinking about the various factors that influence the number of hours it takes to finish a kit.

In my opinion, there are five major factors

  1. 1) Builder experience
  2. Quantity and quality of help (including quick-build options)
  3. Commitment to perfectionism
  4. Number and complexity of options and accessories chosen (e.g., corrosion-proofing, all-singing-all-dancing instrument panels, etc.), and
  5. Exactly what tasks are “counted” as build time

(There are probably lots of other minor factors, too, but that’s another article.)

Clearly, those of us with none of Factors #1 or #2 and lots of #3 and #4 should expect the higher end of the time range. Those with the reverse—i.e., lots of experience, plenty of skilled help, not trying to build a show plane, bought the quick-build spar and fuselage and just want a basic panel—should get it done a lot quicker.

Factors #1-4 differ widely among individuals and account for most of the variability in build times. Also, there generally isn’t too much you can do about them. However, for Factor #5, it seems to me that if we could standardize “what counts” as building time, we’d all be in a better position to compare notes.

What Counts?

Here are my recommendations:

Time that definitely should not be counted:

  • Time spent lying in bed at night dreaming about your project, whether asleep or awake.
  • Time spent discussing your project with others. (This includes showing photos.)
  • Time spent driving out to the shop.
  • Time spent thinking about driving out to the shop.
  • Time spent standing around admiring your workmanship.
  • Time spent standing around lamenting your workmanship.
  • Time spent trying to do something with a tool not intended for the purpose.
  • Time spent realizing you need yet another new tool.
  • Time spent looking through aviation supply catalogs for a new tool.
  • Time spent ordering a new tool, receiving it, unwrapping it, and figuring out how to use it.
  • Time spent putting on Bandaids after using a new tool.
  • Time spent reading and responding to E-mail from other builders.
  • Any time whatsoever spent in hardware stores.

Time that probably should not be counted:

  • Time spent building jigs and tables.
  • Time spent uncrating parts.
  • Time spent checking inventory.
  • Time spent pre-reading the manual.
  • Time spent transcribing ANORs into the manual.
  • Time spent on the phone with Technical Support.
  • Time spent practicing your riveting or drilling skills (i.e., on scrap metal, not on a part!).
  • Time spent the second time around on anything (e.g., making the elevator trim tab all over again).

Time that definitely should be counted:

  • Time spent actually building the plane (measuring, drilling, riveting, fitting skins, filing, fabricating small parts, corrosion proofing, sanding, wiring, painting, etc., etc., etc.)!

My Point (and I do have one)!

The bottom line is this: does either the factory’s problem with accurate estimates or how long it will actually take you to complete your kit really matter? For me, the answer is “no”—or at least “not really.” As long as we’re having fun, making progress and dreaming of that first takeoff (time that we can’t count, remember!), the number of hours it will take to “get there” is interesting but, in the long run, irrelevant.

So when we’re asked when we’ll be ready to fly, we’ll just keep smiling and answering, “Oh, in about two or three years.” Anyone who’s a parent (or was once a kid) knows what that answer really means.


Survey Says

Results of a Quick Poll of GlaStar Builders

  • Lowest Estimate of Time to Complete: 1,000 hours
  • Highest Estimate of Time to Complete: 3,500 hours
  • Average Estimate of Time to Complete: 2,200 hours
  • Lowest Estimate of Years to Complete: 1-1/2
  • Highest Estimate of Years to Complete: 4-5
  • Average Estimate of Years to Complete: 2-3/4

Of the seventeen respondents, two were flying and most others were about halfway finished.

“I started working on June 30, 1995. Currently, I am on Step 21 of Systems Installation with 1,500 hours logged. My personal philosophy is not to set deadlines but to work steadily and every day at least a little, if possible. Don’t worry about the hours you put in and try to treat it as a hobby that will pay off with a lot of flying fun and freedom. Try to enjoy the experience. I have too many deadlines at work, and I want to keep the GlaStar in the `fun’ category!”

—Jay Tabor, Kelso, Washington

“I had 2,300 hours in my plane when it first flew. That does not count all the hours spent in studying the manual, figuring out how to do things, and all the `go-fer’ trips to various supply places. I got lazy and stopped recording my time after 2,500 hours. (That was last fall sometime.) I would guess I am at least at the 3,000-hour mark by now. But I am still spending time on it. Keep at it . . . it is a beautiful-flying airplane.”

—Paul Hansen, Longmont, Colorado

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