Derek Hopkins typifies the passionate aviator who has the skills and drive to build and fly his own aircraft. Originally a railway engineer, Derek became enamoured with aviation, scratch-built a Teenie-Two VW-powered aircraft in a bedroom of his house and went on to become something of a legend, both in commercial and private aviation.
More recently, Derek (often called “Pops” by his friends) went on to participate in the construction of a Vans RV-7 kit that had been purchased by his son, aerobatic champion and SAA Training Captain, Nigel, in partnership with his aerobatic colleague, Jason Beamish. Affectionately registered as ZU-POP, the RV-7 is often seen in the skies and at flying events countrywide.
Enamoured with the performance of the RV-series aircraft, Derek decided he wanted one of his own. Together with son Nigel, they bought a partly completed RV-8 kit. The somewhat better performance of the tandem-seat RV-8 was an added attraction, so Derek embarked on an 18-month odyssey to build ZU-NDH, so named using his and Nigel’s initials.
Derek notes that building the RV-8 was more challenging than the RV-7 as the narrower fuselage made it considerably more difficult to get inside to do much of the work. Most of the building was done in a carport adjoining his house in Pretoria, before it was trailered to Eagles Creek airport for final assembly.
I was privileged to attend the first flight of the final masterpiece at Eagles Creek. After some last-minute tweaks, NDH was started, the engine fully run-up, a quick taxi test done, and with aerobatic smoke system turned on, took to the air for the very first time.
There is an excitement and satisfaction to successfully flying your very own creation, the product of many hours of hard work, frustration and swearing that those who are mere purchasers of aircraft cannot even begin to understand.
The new engine needed running in, so the first flight took over an hour, with the throttle wide open. After all systems checked out, Derek couldn’t resist a few rolls to check out his new toy’s aerobatic abilities. Nigel then took the beast for up for some more testing.
After landing, Derek’s smile was so wide, many of us worried that the top of his head may fall off!
We wish Derek and Nigel many hours of pleasure from their creation.
TYPES OF HOMEBUILDERS
There are basically four kinds of aircraft homebuilders:
First, like the Wright Brothers, there are those who build their own designs from scratch. This is the most arduous path to follow. Not only must every part be fabricated, but a new design must usually go through many iterations, tests and failures before it can be considered successful, if ever. This is truly the experimental route, but is where ingenuity and new concepts enter aviation.
Second, there are those who scratch build an aircraft from plans. This is a much safer and coherent approach, since the aircraft design is usually well-tested and there is already a community of builders whose experience and advice are available.
The third and most popular option is the now-ubiquitous kit aircraft. Today’s kits dramatically reduce the time, effort and skills required to successfully build a flying aircraft. Most kits have much of the fabrication done, and in the case of the RVs, all holes are pre-punched and almost all the parts required, aside from paint, are available from the kit manufacturer. This is the speediest way to build your own aircraft and since there is a great deal of uniformity the effort required to build it is well known, in addition to there being support from the kit manufacturer.
Fourth, there are the ‘factory assisted’ builds offered by many kit manufacturers. However, it is more popular now to have a business build your aircraft for you. Such ‘production-built’ aircraft are permitted in South Africa under current regulations and so-called ‘chequebook builders’ benefit from having quality aircraft built by experienced organisations. However, the cost is little different to fully certified aircraft and usually higher than acquiring a good used type-certified aircraft.
REGULATIONS, DAMNED REGULATIONS
The regulatory structure relevant to non type-certified aircraft (NTCA) has ballooned since the days of the old CAA LS/1 document which governed NTCA. Today’s NTCA regulations eclipse those applicable to certified aircraft in complexity – and in degree of confusion. Most of these regulations were motivated by industry players, production aircraft builders, maintainers, ‘governing bodies’, ‘inspectors’ and other entities seeking to profit from the popularity of this sector of the aviation market.
Little notice has been taken of the needs of the grass-roots aspirant aircraft owner and considerable effort has gone into creating regulations that not only benefit CAA and its officials and cronies, but also make the entire prospect of aircraft ownership less attractive to the consumer.
Although the original idea and regulations were designed to accommodate those who wish to build and maintain an aircraft at their own risk, regulatory structures were built on the premise that homebuilders needed to be protected from themselves. This resulted in Aero Club developing its ‘Approved Person’ (AP) scheme in which APs would inspect and sign off a NTCA for a fee. This evolved to include insurance to cover APs and aircraft owners ‘for their own good’.
More than a decade ago, an organisation named the Recreation Aviation Administration of SA (RAASA) was formed by CAA and Aero Club for reasons which are both inscrutable and suspicious. Its existence was contrary to many statutory laws, it may have been a ruse to launder CAA funds and added another layer of complexity and cost to an already unwieldy heap of purposeless regulations. Nevertheless, RAASA survived for a considerable time on the basis of claiming that they provided better service than that provided by CAA.
RAASA was closed down at the end of March this year by CAA which has taken over its functions. AOPA South Africa has been carefully watching this development for the past few months. It is to be expected that there would be a few glitches during the transition and things seem to be foundering. Nobody seems to know what is going on and the AP scheme has collapsed.
Recently CAA held an AP workshop meeting attended by AOPA and other parties in which it was proposed that an AP panel will be established to appoint APs and delineate their functions. The concept is that this will be a fair and consultative committee much along the lines of CARCom. It was pointed out that some APs were now inspecting and signing out as many as six aircraft a day, making a tidy profit.
Although the idea seems positive, AOPA has misgivings that it will devolve into the same farce that CARCom has become, where interested and affected parties are forcibly excluded from such consultations and rules are applied and regulations promulgated despite the committee’s recommendations. For example, CARCom chairperson Mmanare Mamabolo last year openly stated that proposed regulations regarding unlicensed airfields would be recommended for promulgation by the Minister despite unanimous opposition from adversely affected parties. She further went on to say that “the Minister will sign everything we send to him”.
With this arrogance and the dubious structure of such a panel, we fear things could go the same way for the APs.
IMPLEMENTATION OF REGULATIONS
On another note, many of you may have heard of some of the bizarre requirements CAA is now enforcing regarding aviation medicals.
Many pilots with marginal hearing, monocular vision, missing limbs and other disabilities, who have been safely flying on existing protocols, are now being required to submit (at great expense) to specialist procedures to prove the cause of their particular disability. The fact that pilots are able to pass flight tests which show that their disabilities do not affect their flying abilities is unacceptable to CAA’s medical department. CAA medics are insisting on hugely expensive tests. For example, a 200-hour commercial pilot who has never flown anything more complex than a Cessna 182 would be required by CAA to perform a hearing test in Comair’s Boeing 737 simulator, overseen by a CAA doctor (who has no flying experience), at a cost of around R15 000.
In a terrifyingly totalitarian move, CAA has now threatened designated aviation medical examiners (DAMEs) that should they deign to speak out against these oppressive measures or disparage any other DAME, they will be relieved of their DAME accreditation.
Another area where CAA is out of touch with reality is where it is requiring freelance commercial pilots to do their renewals on actual aircraft, even though simulators are available and have always been permitted. For example, it is unacceptable for a King Air pilot to do a renewal on a simulator unless it is a ‘full movement’ simulator. This is causing consternation among operators of such aircraft, since pilots are unable to maintain currency and are dropping out of the local industry.
AOPA South Africa is an independent association of aircraft owners and pilots whose purpose is to promote and protect general aviation in South Africa. As such, AOPA provides a protective buffer between vulnerable aviation enthusiasts and professionals against an often bullying CAA and also regularly takes steps to set aside decisions or regulations which are detrimental to your legitimate pursuits.
Join AOPA today to obtain such protection. Enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org