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Machine Design

How to build an airplane at home


Submit your ideas for the plane design or instruments through the online forum or at IdeaForge (under Tools) on the Web site.

In a trend called “personal manufacturing,” local shop facilities like The TechShop have given everyday people access to tools typically available only to industry. The shops let individuals more easily make everything from furniture to cargo bikes. Well, hold on to your hats. wants to help DIYers build airplanes at its facilities, dubbed makerspaces, or even at home. The Web site invites educated visitors to submit improvements to the basic Light Sport Aircraft open-source design, MakerPlane Version 1.0, introduced last year. When the final design is complete, MakerPlane engineers will build the craft and the site will let users download plans and 3D animated instructions for free.

“Until now, a big problem has been that nearly three out of four aircraft projects started by home builders — either from kits or from parts — are abandoned before they ever fly,” says MakerPlane founder John Nicol. “Reasons include poor instructions and complicated assembly, plus it takes more tools and skills than many people realize. So we decided to use collaborators from around the world to develop a design that would let home builders take advantage of modern personal-manufacturing equipment such as CNC machines and 3D printers. This makes sense because makerspaces are cropping up almost everywhere.”

Nicol points out that MakerPlane does not intend that people build structural components using 3D printers, just items like door handles and knobs. And in terms of safety, “We are not letting just anyone make design changes to the aircraft,” he says. “Our aeronautical engineer, Jeffrey Meyer, acts as a gatekeeper for all design activities and, as such, must approve changes.”

In addition, every experimental aircraft must be approved and inspected before it flies. In the U.S., the FAA handles this. It sends an FAA staffer to your house and they check your aircraft for compliance. “It is up to you as the pilot and builder to be safe,” says Nicol. “But there are all sorts of regulatory hurdles to overcome before you can fly. You must even have a pilot license.”

To sustain itself and maybe make a profit, MakerPlane will sell kit sets, avionics, and other parts. Users can also source parts from anywhere. “There will always be people who will build the aircraft from scratch and who have all the resources they need,” says Nicol. “But there will be others who want to shorten the time it takes to build a craft by using a kit or parts.”

MakerPlane intends to have a nonflying prototype at the AirVenture air show in Oshkosh, Wis., July through August 2013. It hopes to have an aircraft flying at the 2014 show.

© 2012 Penton Media, Inc.

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