Ever thought about building your own airplane? Adam Molny joins me with the story of building his Lancair Legacy kit plane. We discuss the building process, FAA and insurance requirements, the Legacy’s performance and Adam’s first flight in the airplane. If you enjoy this podcast then please share it with your social media circles and forums. Thanks!
Mentioned in this interview:
- Video of flights on YouTube
- Cozy Airplane
- FAA amateur aircraft flight manual
- Experimental Aircraft Association
Dave Goodwin: Imagine it’s a Saturday afternoon and you’re on your $100 Burger Mission. You land your plane, taxi into parking and pull up aside an exotic kit plane. Like most pilots you probably wondered what’s involved in building an airplane from scratch and in today’s episode we’re going to learn all about it with my guest, Adam Molny.
Adam owns a Lancair Legacy and is based at Brookhaven Airport in Long Island. Adam welcome to Plane Viz.
Adam Molny: Thanks Dave.
Dave: Well let’s start with a little bit about you. Tell us about yourself, how you got into flying and how you came to own a Lancair versus some other type of airplane.
Adam: Okay sure. I actually have a background in Electrical Engineering. I worked in the Aerospace and Defense Industry for about 20 years starting in the mid-80s, currently working as a software engineer in the healthcare computing area. I’ve always enjoyed working on things, taking things apart, seeing how they work. Every car I owned I worked on and to some extent or another I’ve raised motorcycles and so, I enjoy mechanical things and I enjoy speed so having that kind of background gave me a good familiarity with engines and just general working on machines that sort of thing.
The way I became interested in homebuilding was that my brother actually became a pilot before I did and he flew the whole family to the Oshkosh fly-in back in 1992 and that’s when I became that “hey” you can build your own airplane from a kit. There’re lots of them out there to choose from. That year the Kitfox was the star of the show and I said, “Oh, I have to have one of those, that’s great” and I started getting the literature and I came to realize I don’t really know that much about airplanes and a Kitfox at that time was around $30,000. In my research I found you have to be a pilot to begin with, so, getting a pilot’s license was only $5,000 and I said, “Hey, I can afford that” so, I got my pilot’s license, flew Cessnas and Pipers, joined a flying club and just kind of tooled around, enjoyed myself, did trips, vacations, that sort of thing, all the usual $100 hamburgers. At the same time when I came back from Oshkosh I joined the EAA, as well as joining my local EAA chapter and I started attending meetings and that gave me the exposure to different kinds of Kitplanes. I could see working progress, understand more about what was involved and then, so my subsequent trips to Oshkosh I saw early Lancairs, the 320s and 360s and I thought, “Oh! That’s a gorgeous airplane. I really like that” so, I kind of settled on that and being the fastest kitplane out there it didn’t hurt either.
Dave: When you flew to Oshkosh with your brother what did you fly out there in?
Adam: He rented a Cherokee Saratoga 6-seater. So we actually had him and his wife, my wife and I, and my parents came as well and that was interesting experience flying the traffic pattern into Oshkosh. It was a real eye opener.
Dave: I’ll bet. I flew down to Sun ‘n Fun, and yeah, “eye opener” is a good way to describe it, but it’s fun. It’s something I think everybody should try.
So you decided on the Lancair after I guess falling in love with the sex appeal and I was out at Brookhaven where your plane is and my plane’s out there too and I wandered into your hanger one day and you were kind enough to give me a tour of it and it’s a gorgeous airplane. How did you handle it? How did you approach the whole process of securing the plane or buying the airplane, buying a kit I guess and then undertaking it to construction?
Adam: As I’ve mentioned, my particular EAA chapter doesn’t actually have a chapter clubhouse or anything. The meeting is hosted at a different workshop every month. So, I was learning more and more about airplanes and eventually, the point came where I said, “hey, you know, I’m not gonna get a whole lot smarter, I’m not gonna get a whole lot richer, it’s time to do this and take the plunge.” So, just about the time I was coming to that realization they came out with the Lancair Legacy in 1999. I didn’t quite have the nerve to place the order then but then in Sun ‘n Fun, the following Spring, I ordered the kit then got on the waiting list.
The preparation was reading the Sport Aviation magazine, learning about airplanes and all that, and that’s how I became confident that I knew the methods and practices involved. I took some workshops at Sun ‘n Fun in Oshkosh to learn about composites and wiring and that sort of thing. So, from that point on it was a matter of getting the kit, following the builder’s manual, you could call Lancair with questions and they would fly support.
As far as tools go, I had the basic mechanics tools – socket set, ranchers, screw drivers, pliers, that sort of thing. As new tests came up, like cutting, crimping, wiring, those sorts of things, I’d buy the tools as I needed them. They’re really expensive tools or ones that I didn’t use frequently I would borrow from other builders. So things like Rivet squeezer which is not something I normally need, I would just find somebody who is building an RD which is an all metal plane and he would be sure to have all those metal working tools.
I knew that the project wouldn’t succeed unless it was very easy to go work on it. So I actually put up a 2-car garage in my backyard with the thought that I could use it for storage down the road once the project was finished or keep cars or make it an outside office or something. So the most important was that convenience of being able to just walk out my back door and be at the workshop in 30 seconds and you can go out there anytime the strikes, come home from work, work on the plane, come back in the house for dinner, go back, work some more. It really, really helps the project move along.
Dave: What year did you buy the airplane or the kit?
Adam: I placed the order in April 2000, the kit arrived in July 2001 and I know the next question.
Dave: Okay and then – yeah.
Adam: My first flight was in April of 2012. So you could count about 10 and a half years of building. Now, on a project that long there was stretches where I would sort of take a break from the project and a few months might go by where I didn’t get out to the workshop. I got in to Bikes and Link for a while and lost some time there because it is difficult to have multiple hobbies and split your time. All total if I had worked on it more continuously I think I could’ve reduced it down to maybe 7 years.
Dave: Okay. Now at what point did you put it on a track and hall it over to the airport?
Adam: When a hanger became available. That’s actually the biggest challenge here in Long Island is finding hanger space, so somebody was moving out of a big box hanger so I heard about it and went in there with 2 other people and that was in 2009. So I actually finished up the last 3 years of the project out at the hanger.
Dave: Kitplanes are always experimental right?
Adam: Yes. There is a slight regulation difference with light sports. I’m not a 100% familiar but I believe you can have a factory assist, they can build it for you but any plane that is amateur built is going to be in the experimental category, so you can build from a kit, you can build from scratch, you can even build your own design if you still choose but those are all gonna fall into the experimental category.
Dave: So what’s the process of getting the airplane certified by the FAA and then what are your requirements for maintenance as opposed to a certificated plane like my one?
Adam: Okay, sure. You’re involvement with the FAA is actually very minimal during the build process. Once you’re ready for your first flight then you get an inspection by the FAA and at that point they’ll want to see your paperwork in order. You’ll have to register the airplane, you’ll have to apply, fill out an application for an air worthiness certificate and then an inspector will come and look at your plane to make sure that you use good practices that’s air worthy and sound. And that’s pretty much it. it’s really a onetime inspection.
There was, I did take advantage of a program from the EAA which is called “Technical Counselor Program” and about a year before I finished, a technical adviser came out, looked to the plane, gave me a few suggestions on things to change and areas to look out for but the FAA inspection is really a onetime event. The only additional requirement is that if you want to do your own annual inspections on the plane, you have to provide proof that you built it yourself and you do that by keeping a journal or a log. In my case I just took digital photos and then over all the years of building and then just put everything on it [unintelligible 00:08:23] I’m driving, handed it over to them and that showed that I built the plane which allowed me to get a requirement certificate.
Dave: Alright. So even though it’s homebuilt airplane you do have the requirement of an annual logbook entry that says it’s been inspected?
Adam: Yes and that’s really a requirement. You’re free to work on the airplane as much as you want, make changes within certain conditions throughout the year but a requirement of the airplane’s air worthiness is that you inspect it every year and record that in an airplane log. So that’s the only on-going FAA requirement plus the usual, the similarity to your Cherokee is that you have to have your ELT inspection and you have to have your transponder certified every 2 years which is just like any airplane.
Dave: How did you decide to equip the panel?
Adam: I have a Dynon Skyview system. My airplane is all electric. I have no steam gauges whatsoever. I have dual battery, dual alternator system for redundancy and the Skyview gives me my IFR capability and then I actually have a 2nd EFIS as my backup power of the 2nd bus so I went for the newest stuff out there.
Dave: Do you still have the camera on the airplane? Because you have a Youtube channel. I’ll put this on the show notes, that shows your first flight.
Adam: No. Actually, for all your flight testing you have to fly solo so I actually took out the passenger seatbelt and I used that mounting point to install the camera, so the camera’s not there anymore.
Dave: Well anyway, I’ll put it in the show notes. It’s an interesting video. What was the chase plane?
Adam: I had a friend with a Cozy 4 and another chase plane was an RV but the chase plane had the camera mounted on the nose so he got the air to air shots.
Dave: Okay. Yeah, I noticed he caught up to you so I knew it wasn’t something like a Cessna 150.
Adam: Well I also kept the gear down for the first flight.
Dave: Right. Hey let’s talk about the engine for a minute. There’s a story behind that. When you buy a home built plane or a kit plane you don’t get the engine right?
Adam: Yeah. Most of the kit plane manufacturers are also engine dealers so you can buy a new engine. In my case it’s a continental I.O 550 rated at 310 horsepower. You can buy from various sources to get the engine. In my case I actually decided to take the engine maintenance course from continental so I went to automobile Alabama, took a one leap course on the continental engines and then I actually became lucky and found an engine out of a series that then had a prop strike because the series SR22 uses the exact same engine as the Lancair. So, I bought that engine basically a core price from the previous owner and overhauled it myself, had the parts appropriately inspected, checked everything, put it back together so I was able to save a fair amount of money in that area.
Dave: That’s great. What about the insurance on a high performance airplane like that and tie that with the fact that it’s a kit plane, are there any ramifications with the insurance?
Adam: Yes. As I was building I knew that the Lancair would require high time the insurance companies demand maybe 500 hours plus they prefer to have an instrument rating, you need to have your high performance and your complex endorsement. So while I was building, I actually partnered with another pilot and we owned a Cozy 3 which is similar to a long EZ and has retractable nose gear. So I flew a couple of hundred hours on that in order to build retract time because that’s another insurance requirement. They wanted about 175 hours of retractable time.
The Lancair is probably one of the highest requirement, highest pilot experience requirement airplane when it comes to insurance because of its high performance and it’s rather demanding. Additionally, I got my commercial license just to have more flying experience. I think for other planes such as an RV or something that’s more similar to a certified plane the insurance requirements are a lot easier.
Dave: You told me you took it out to Oshkosh. I looked up you’re a member on Flight Aware and saw that you took it down to Florida. What’s it like flying that airplane?
Adam: Oh! It’s very smooth, a lot of fun. For local flying it’s very sporty handling. It’s nice and crisp on the controls and when it comes to cross country you get it up to 9000 – 10,000 ft. you level out and it’ll just go stable on [unintelligible 00:12:47] pointed and my airplane cruises about 210 knots which is kind of the low end for Lancairs because I haven’t done any drag reduction or anything but I’ve got my eye for our capability, I’ve got my radio and it’s just a nice airplane to go long distances because you can cover such great range, you know, Florida in a single day, one stop, you could do it in no stops if you have the endurance for it.
Dave: What’s the range on it?
Adam: With full tanks the range is a little over 1000 miles depending on the lands of course. It’s basically 5 and ½ hours endurance at over 200 knots. So you can call that’s over 1000 nautical.
Dave: When you took your first flight on the video you can see what you’re doing but there’s no sense of your feeling. What were you feeling? Apprehensive, excited, cautiously optimistic? What was going on in your head, in your heart while you’re taxiing to the runway?
Adam: I would say I was modestly nervous but really just trying to focus on the flight itself. I did a lot of preparation beforehand because you really don’t want to improvise on the first few flights. You just want to say, “this is what I’m gonna do”. I have gone about 6 hours of dual instruction with a qualified instructor and another Legacy a few months earlier and then just a few days before the flight I went up in another owner’s Legacy just to make sure I was fresh and then I used something called “The Amateur Flight Testing Handbook” which is produced by the FAA and they guides on how to plan your first flight, what to do, what not to do and all that. So it was very satisfying. Actually, once I got up away from the runway and was cruising around I was pretty relaxed, thinks nothing drastic was gonna happen, I stayed over the airport and it all felt very good and of course once I got down then your thrilled and you know, slapping everybody on the back and cheering that you made it. It’s a great feeling.
Dave: Right. I haven’t heard of that handbook. Is it like a checklist that you go through?
Adam: It’s an advisory circular put up by the FAA. I believe it’s called “Amateur…”
I could send you a link. It’s a flight testing handbook for amateur built aircraft.
Adam: So, yeah. That first flight, really, the only goal of a first flight is to make sure that you can get the airplane up, it doesn’t have any bad habits and you can get it back on the ground. So I left the gear down, I left in 10 degrees of flaps the whole time, never went above 140 knots and then basically leveled off about 5,000 ft. circling over the airport and then I slowed down to my approach speed to make sure the airplane could fly at that approach speed and that was the extent of the testing and after that it was just enter the pattern and land. So, very conservative on the first flight.
Dave: What is the approach speed on that airplane just out of curiosity?
Adam: You could approach at 100 knots on final. It’s 120 on downwind, 110 on base and then 100 knots on final. Coming over the fence you can slow to 90 and then the next question is I’ve actually gotten it stopped in less than 1,900 ft. about 1,800 I’ve measured it at.
Dave: It’s a nice looking airplane and it’s got a great sound.
Adam: Yeah it does.
Dave: What about recommendations for people who might be considering buying a kit plane and taking a crack at it, do you have any pointers or any gotchers or caveats?
Adam: Yeah. I mean the first thing I would say is that life is short, if you want to do something, go out and do it. It’s a big project but the main thing I would say is for keeping yourself motivated is that I consider the building, that whole 10 and ½ year period was a hobby in and of itself. Enjoy the building, treat that as a hobby and eventually you’ll have a working airplane at the end. Don’t set a working schedule for yourself because then you’re just creating pressure, end up missing deadlines and then you’re unhappy with yourself so, just enjoy the building and when it’s ready, it’s ready.
As far as choosing an airplane, obviously you’re doing this as a fun hobby so you want to pick something that appeals to you. You also want to look at what kind of missions you expect to fly. Am I gonna be doing a lot of grass field or long distance? Am I gonna be taking 4 people up? You know, choosing the airplane and then take your time and learn what you can about airplanes. Join the EAA, read the magazines and go visit other home builders. When I was building that airplane in my workshop at least a couple of times a year, somebody would call and say, “Can I see your project?” so, reach out to other people in the community, there’re message boards for all the various kits, RV, Lancair and so on. Do your investigation, do your homework and then take the plunge. That’s my advice.
Dave: I’ve heard that other kit building manufacturers have programs where you can assemble 49% over to something at their facility, is that something that Lancair does too?
Adam: Yeah, there’s actually a funny story about that. Even back in 2000 I was still a little bit timid about taking a plunge and the factory option is obviously extra cost and I was so shell-shocked at the expense that I passed on the factory. It’s just, I got the kit at July of ’01 and just about 1 year from that date I had a whole group of people there to close the lanes which is major milestone and as we’re closing the lanes I said, “Gee, you know? If had to take back to rebuild this, this would be Tuesday” so the point there is don’t skimp. If you get flying, it’s sometimes better to get some outside assistance. Have your panel built by somebody else. You’ll get it in a couple of months instead of stopping what you’re doing to be building the panel. You can be doing something else while they’re building the panel for you. The same goes for the factory assist. If you can afford it, go for it and if you can’t afford it go for it anyway.
Dave: And you’re able find most of the help that you needed in and around Long Island?
Adam: Absolutely. Lancair is a composite airplane so there were people building other composite airplanes around, demonstrate how to do lay-ups and wedding out fabric and that kind of thing and then you can always call the factory and ask them questions. Whenever I had a 2-person task, I’d always have a helper ready, willing and able and there was always plenty of information and advice out there.
Dave: That’s a great story. It’s an excellent airplane and we could talk about this all day but we’re up on our 20 minute mark. I just want to thank you for coming on and telling us about kit planes. Hopefully you’ll have inspired somebody to take a crack at it.
Adam: Yeah, it’s a growing hobby and it’s a great way to get yourself up in the air and build something that you can’t buy from the factory.
Dave: Alright Adam, well thanks for coming on Plane Viz and we’ll see you out at the airport.
Adam: Okay. Thank you Dave.
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