Choosing a Kit

Now that I had the place, it was time to decide which kitplane to buy. Several factors come into play here:

  • Design
  • Performance requirements
  • Material
  • Seating/payload
  • Configuration

From the beginning, I preferred composite kits. This may have something to do with my experience with the B-2 which is primarily a composite airframe. Composites are easy to work with, don’t exhibit fatigue or corrosion problems, are lightweight, and have obvious aerodynamic advantages when properly finished.

Performance-wise, I wanted an airplane that would cruise cross country easily, as I plan to fly from Seattle to the San Francisco Bay Area from time to time. It doesn’t need to be a rocket, but a cruise speed in the high 100’s would be nice. Good climb performance is also important since there are so many mountains along the West Coast. Short/unimproved field performance wasn’t high on my list of priorities, nor was range. Sometimes, on a long flight, a fuel stop is a welcome diversion.

Design was of premier importance to me. An airplane can have the best performance figures in the world and sell for $1000, but if it’s boxy and ugly I wouldn’t buy it. Personally, I think the Lancair line of kitplanes are among the best looking out there. The Glasairs are nice too, but they don’t have quite the style of the Lancairs. Just my opinion.

Seating: it’s gotta seat 4. Simple as that. This eliminates most kits.

Configuration: The 2 biggies are conventional and canard. Then you have your deltas, split wings, flying wings, biplanes and more, but I wasn’t really interested in any of those. I’ve always liked the look of the canard airplane. The Beech Starship, for example, is a thing of beauty, in my opinion.  Plus I think the canard design has some efficiency (2 lifiting surfaces) and safety advantages (more stall resisitent) over conventional design, but these points can be argued until the cows come home.

With these criteria in mind, the 4 kits I gave serious attention to were:

The Lancair was a bit too expensive and the Express, although a nice airplane with respectable numbers, just didn’t do it for me. I guess I just had my mind set on a canard. So it was down to the Velocity and the SQ2000.  One weekend when I was home (Bay Area), my Dad and I took a drive to Lincoln, CA to test fly a Velocity 173.  It was a solid, impressive aircraft that flew well and looked good. Once big plus for the Velocity was the fact that they’ve been in business for a while now, with a good safety record.  Glassic Composites couldn’t make that claim with their SQ2000, since it was a new kit and a new company. Nevertheless, I wanted to check it out, so I booked a flight to Tennessee and went up for a demo flight.

It’s obvious from the beginning of this web site that I ultimately chose to build the SQ2000.  Why?  Well, it flew as well as, or better than the Velocity.  It may not have been a fair comparison since I flew the Velocity 173, which is their big wing version with a lower wing loading, but the SQ2000 was much more sporty.  With it’s higher wing loading, plus the lack of flaps (like most low-end canard aircraft), it has a much higher landing speed as well, but I’m sure I can adjust to that without too much worry.  Although the overall cabin height of the SQ2000 is about 1″ less than the Velocity, I found I had more headroom since the seats are mounted lower. Since I’m 6’2″, headroom was a prime concern.   The SQ2000 is also a couple inches wider, which is nice.  I also didn’t really like the Velocity center stick.  As the pilot sitting in the left seat, having a center control stick forces you to use your right hand to control the aircraft.  To change radio or transponder settings, therefore, I would have to let go of the stick.

Another big plus that swayed me to choose the SQ2000 was the “advertised” lower construction time. The kit is much more complete than the Velocity since it uses molded wings and canards. The Velocity uses moldless construction which means I would be doing major fiberglass layups of the flying surfaces followed by countless hours of sanding and surface preparation. To top it all off, the SQ2000-XP kit cost the same as a Velocity 173 RG Elite kit.  I placed my order in March, 1998 for the fuselage/spar subkit (another Glassic benefit–pay for subkits as you go rather than purchasing the whole thing up front).

It would be about 4 months before I received the fuselage/spar subkit, which gave me plenty of time to convert my garage into a respectable workshop, buy tools, and do whatever else needed to be done.  I also took a weekend course on composite aircraft construction put on by Alexander SportAir Workshops. It cost about $200, but for the would-be airplane builder it’s money well spent.