The following was written by 4 place Bearhawk scratch builder Glenn P. in November 2016 on the Bearhawk Forums to a member considering a Bearhawk. His comments ring very true, and give some experienced insight into a question often asked: Scratch build from plans/raw materials or build from a Quick Build kit??
You are considering a Bearhawk at a great time as the new 4 place version 2.0 has come out. The new Bearhawk Model B has the improved handling and greater speed built into it from the lessons learned with the patrol. We finally have our BH 4 place running and getting close to final inspection after 12 years. We were told at the outset to go with a kit from a scratch builder and we elected to scratch build. The airplane is a nice piece of work and is one to be proud of. The savings with the QB kit in terms of years is priceless in my opinion and we regret that we did not take the sage advice of experience.
Assembling a kit shaves thousands of hours out of the build and the learning process. I cannot say how many 100’s of hours are involved in home schooling one’s self for the scratch build process. Building a kit with the knowledge and skills in your family would make this process go a lot faster. For most of us the learning curve is vertical. Stay on the traveled path of other builders when it comes to power plants and stick to the plans. Most common engines with lots of experience are the Lycoming 360’s or derivatives, Lycoming 540’s and Continental 470’s. We went off the path with a Continental IO-360 210hp. It will be good but I know of 2 others with no BH experience to lean on. I had to go to the Cessna 170 forums for advice as this is a regular upgrade with 170’s and 172’s. It took time to research the idiosyncrasies of the engine, best prop & governor, and a unique engine mount. We mocked up a custom exhaust and had it built. We had to modify the two halves of the typical BH nose bowl. I had to create a mockup of the bowl’s bottom half, made a female mold and then cast the part. It looks great but a lot of hours chewed up walking off the proven path. We emulated the pressure cowl to get good airflow through the engine, set the exhaust up to have a good clear air exit lane and rounded the lower firewall to make it friendly for the air exit. All the work seems to have paid off as the nose bowl cowl arrangement is clean and it can run with good engine temperatures. The front 2 cylinders run cooler at idle until the throttle is applied. The cylinder temps are all the same with power applied. A lot of thought, attention to details and fingers crossed that the cooling worked, It is an accomplishment but again ground up 100’s of hours that could have been avoided following the regular BH power plant choices. It is done and will sip fuel so it will be good to see how it behaves in the long term.
Keep it simple, fabric interior and get it done faster. Sell one of the airplanes to finance the kit and enjoy flying the other until the BH Model B is ready to fly. To get the build done requires more dedication than procrastination. Those who set their airplane projects on the back burner are the least likely to return to it with the enthusiasm it takes to finish. There will be some days where you would rather be anywhere else but turn the radio on and power through it. Progress fuels the spirit to continue to the next phase. The kit eliminates the tedium of making countless parts, tooling etc.jigs, welding, a small fortune in shipping costs to accumulate materials and parts. With a kit the visual progress is bigger and the progress will be a quantum leap as the way the kit arrives is what all of us scratch builders envy & strive for. The QB kit is an excellent start point. A friend who built a Murphy Rebel was admiring our completed wings. He commented that when you think you are 95% done there is 85% to go go. There was never a more prophetic statement. It is important to maintain work life balance with the Mrs. and kids. Especially the Mrs. as it would be nice to still have her there long after the airplanes and kids are gone.
Consumables. No one ever talks about consumable but scratch built consumables impose a good cost into the project. I have 40 years of project engineering design, construction and project management. Consumables on a job are usually in the range of 10%. One of my partners absolutely hates the term now as the consumables would pay for a great all-inclusive trip to the Caribbean. What are consumables? Construction tables, sandpaper, sheets of MDF, welding gases, weld rod, grinding discs, sanding belts, long and short cobalt drill bits, scuff pads, primer, paint, jigs, support frames for wings, nails, screws, miles of masking tape, printer cartridges, solvents, alcohol, silicone and wax remover etc. ad infinitum. Add to the overall costs are years of utilities such as fuel to heat the shop, & years of electrical cost for the shop. We give our partner $1k a year for fuel and electricity and he is likely coming up short being in a colder area.
Tooling specific to the build such as routers, router bits, grinders, welding equipment, rivet squeezers, large C frame for dimpling, dozens of clamps, hundreds of clecoes, cleco pliers, temporary spray booth. Avoiding the majority of the cost of the consumables, a lot of tooling and a pile of shipping would pay for half of a quick build wing. The consumables in a project are a dead loss. In hindsight consumables are hard to ignore. The definition of experience is something one has when they are finished that they could have really used when they started.
If one assigns half the consumable cost to the wing with shipping and some tools at $5k, wing materials around $4k and 3 -4 years of shop utility costs at $3k that totals about $13k. The wing kit is $19k so that leaves $6k for labor. Eric Newtons log gives 1225 hours to complete the wings. So to be kinder & keep the math simple let’s say 1000 hours that means a person’s time is less than $6/hr. Newton took 1225 hours to scratch build a pair of wings and 111 hours to complete the patrols QB wings. The difference is 1114 hours or a half year of labour savings based on a 40 hr work week. The same thinking would apply to the fuselage. It gives thought as to how many hours of one’s regular work went into paying for the scratch built consumables, utilities and shipping costs that add no value to the airplane.
Normally consumables are not on a person’s radar but it is a lot of small spending that quietly rolls up into a good number. Another factor common to budget estimating is a 10% for contingency and higher if there is serious risk. My partner was frustrated when I started to talk about consumables and after a while he just surrendered. We laugh about it now.
We found over a life time of project experience that most of the 10% contingency is spent and the project usually squeaks in just under budget. The accountants took contingencies away so we bloated all the costs 10% in self-defense. Eventually the bean counters figured it out and allowed contingency to return to the budget.
This is not to be negative but to show the advantage of a quick build kit to get flying sooner with little difference in final costs. There was an article years ago in the Beartracks of an A&P completing a quick build kit in less than a year. He would have dedicated a good deal of time in a short window. His advantage is that he had the skills to charge through the project while most of us are learning on the fly. You have the skillset to get completed quickly and the ability to keep costs down.
This is how people get stung on home renovations as they only see the big numbers and have no awareness to budget for contingencies or for other costs that sneak in. It comes as a shock when the money runs out. I designed an expansion and a makeover of a friend’s house. He was upset and angry with me when I told him it would be cheaper to take a backhoe to his old house and start fresh. I told him to add in about 15% for contingencies as it was an old house and who knows what they may find when they open it up. He listened to me and secured the loan approval at the higher numbers. We were talking later and he told me it would have been easier if he had knocked it down. There was a lot of work stripping and renewing an old structure so the labour is almost double. His contingencies went to repairing dry rot and upgrading the old structures where it was inadequate.
I think by the time a person factored in all their costs honestly that the cost saved by putting the labour into a scratch build is small. The years of labour to get the scratch built to the level of the kit likely leads to burnout. If a person expends the same energy of scratch building to get the construction to the state of a kit to completing a kit they will be done years sooner and less likely to burn out. It is idealistic thinking that if a person does all the work themselves that they will have an inexpensive airplane. It takes the same qty of materials, consumables, instrumentation, power plants etc for a flying aircraft built from scratch or a kit. The only savings a scratch builder can put into the equation is labour. All the costs to support the labour of scratch building with tools, equipment, consumables, shop operating costs etc cuts the savings to a point that is very low. A person would not work for an employer at that rate retired or not. Burn out is a serious risk and may be why there are so many homebuilts of every variety for sale in various stages of completion. The partners in our scratch build made the commitment to complete the build and we held one another to that commitment. We are at the point where it is ready to fly and want the construction out of our lives.
Realistically a person could get a second job at a higher rate than the hourly rate than their scratch built labour equates to in order to pay for the kit and be better off. The savings in life hours could justify the second job.