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I am a student pilot, and I am trying to decide on what I should do for a plane. I am leaning towards buying a kit, but what are the advantages or disadvantages for that?

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to aviation.SE! I edited your question to (hopefully!) make it clearer; if I got something wrong then don't hesitate to roll back or edit further. I assumed you're asking about which aircraft to buy, rather than which one to train in. FWIW, although this is a good question there are many subjective opinions on it and that means it may not be ideal for this site. You might get a more useful response on a discussion forum where you can hear multiple opinions, clarify your needs in response to follow-up questions etc. The tour might help if you're not familiar with how this site works. $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Dec 8 '20 at 23:01
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    $\begingroup$ IMHO, this is NOT an "opinion-based" question. There are factual, objective advantages and disadvantages to each path here, and they can be presented without descending into the "I like X" and "well I like Y better" debates that Av.SE prefers to avoid. Voting to keep this question open. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Dec 8 '20 at 23:53
  • $\begingroup$ Well, you have to build a kit. The factory one comes with that part done already. Surely that's in the brochure? Do you want to build a plane, or do you just want to fly one? How often? Do you like building things? What are you looking for in an aircraft? The pros and cons are completely subjective (ie: they matter only to you) and we have no idea who you are or what you want out of life. You have also not shared any of the same with us. $\endgroup$
    – J...
    Dec 9 '20 at 14:16
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure it's true, so I put it as a comment. Here's a story: youtube.com/watch?v=9zLO5Sem6Ew with details in comments under the video. A man assembled a kit airplane and then found that he became its "manufacturer" which placed certain liability on him for the whole life of the airplane. So it looks like an airplane sold as a kit has long lasting legal consequences. $\endgroup$
    – sharptooth
    Dec 9 '20 at 14:31
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    $\begingroup$ Surely I meant to say that a pilot bought a kit and assembled it himself and maybe tried to sell an assembled airplane later. $\endgroup$
    – sharptooth
    Dec 10 '20 at 9:00
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The objective is very important. You don't build an airplane because you want one faster or cheaper. Neither is the case. The kit won't be cheaper, and it'll take 1 to 2 thousand manhours, minimum, of your time (take the building time claim of any kit and double or triple it to get reality).

You build one for the experience of building one. A lot of people who build aircraft go on to build another for that reason (the guy that built the homebuilt I own built two more after mine).

If money's an issue, the most cost effective and efficient way to keep flying after your training is to find one or two partners and buy the nicest creampuff Cessna 150 or similar aircraft you can find (really nice 150s go for around 30k). With the fixed costs split 2 or 3 ways the expenses don't become painful (if you have to start making financial sacrifices, it takes away the fun - been there done that) and it'll be easy to sell when you want to get something bigger.

If you're mechanically handy and want to maintain an a/c yourself, buy a used homebuilt or LSA. Only look at a kit because you want to experience the building of the kit.

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  • $\begingroup$ If you live in the western US, though, a 150/152 is probably going to be a bit underpowered for mid to high elevation fields. A 172 or Piper Cherokee isn't that much more expensive. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Dec 9 '20 at 3:35
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    $\begingroup$ The other problem with 150/152 is the schools buy them up like candy. $\endgroup$
    – Jamiec
    Dec 9 '20 at 9:48
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    $\begingroup$ So.... Pro: You get to build it yourself! Con: You have to build it yourself! $\endgroup$ Dec 9 '20 at 10:42
  • $\begingroup$ In the days of scratch building only about 20 or 30 % of projects started ever got completed. Kits have increased that but I would say it's still below 50%. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Dec 9 '20 at 21:52
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    $\begingroup$ @GrimmTheOpiner that sounds like the answer to me! $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Dec 10 '20 at 17:26
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The big disadvantages of a kit: it will take you years to have an airplane ready to fly, and you'll be flying an airplane built by a novice builder.

The main advantage of a kit: you (often) don't need all the money up front. Buy the fuselage kit, build it. Then buy the wing kit, and build that. Not all kit planes are sold this way, but several are. No need to pay for the engine, instruments, radios until the airframe is essentially done.

A good compromise is to buy an older, used, factory-built airplane. You can, with patience, get one of those for the price of a luxury car (50-75k USD, these days), sometimes less than the total price of a kit, instruments, and engine; you'll have something that's more familiar to your mechanic, for which parts are standardized (as opposed to "make it yourself"), with a type certification (meaning you get FAA notifications if a problem crops up that affects an entire type, even if it's 25 years old).

Not to mention, you get to fly something that's, in certain ways, cooler than a brand new airplane, whether factory or kit -- and often easier to fly. No, a 1948 Cub isn't as fast as a brand new Velocity -- but it'll be cheaper, cheaper to maintain, cheaper to repair, and cheaper per hour to operate. And what's cooler than a Cub?

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  • $\begingroup$ But you can (or could when I last looked) find kits that offer similar performance to the Cub, for instance some of the ones from RANS. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Dec 9 '20 at 17:27
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf A quick search found at least 4 companies selling kit versions of the Super Cub. That's about as similar as you can get. $\endgroup$
    – Gerry
    Dec 9 '20 at 20:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Gerry: OTOH, I would hope some of them have taken advantage of 70-odd years of improved materials & engineering :-) $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Dec 10 '20 at 3:29
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The other answers are good, there's a couple of aspects that haven't been covered that I'll touch on in my answer.

Safety:

Kitplanes have a higher rate of accidents overall than certified airplanes. There's a good article from kitplanes magazine that breaks down causes, it's not authoritative but it's extremely useful in showing the differences in accidents between kits and certified airplanes. One graphic is especially relevant: Accident breakdown

Cessna 172s are widely used for training, I suspect the miscontrol rates of certified airplanes are due to that. What really shows clearly is that the major causes of the higher rate are builder mistakes, maintenance mistakes and a higher rate of mechanical problems. If you buy a kit airplane you are getting something amateur built and maintained, certified airplanes are by regulation rigorously tested and built, then thoroughly maintained, all at a cost.

Operating Limitations:

Homebuilt airplanes have more operational limitations imposed on them, what types and what it takes to get around those limitations varies by jurisdiction. In general these limitations are around night and instrument flying, sometimes there's limitations on being able to fly to other or over other countries. In many cases there's extra paperwork that can be filled out to get around these limitations to show required instruments are there and that they work, but it's a consideration you'd want to keep in mind before buying anything.

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  • $\begingroup$ The homebuilt rules in Canada are actually more liberal than the US in a lot of ways. Subsequent owners don't need to take the little course to get a "repairman's certificate" to sign off an annual. Whoever's name is on the C of R can sign off anything except a transponder encoder cert. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Dec 9 '20 at 13:43
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I'm not a pilot, though I am an aviation enthusiast, and here are some of the pros/cons that have not been mentioned yet.

Kit plane pros:

  • Kit planes have experimental classification, which means you can add non-certified parts to the aircraft. This can be especially beneficial for things like exterior lights since non-aircraft LED headlights are cheaper and can outperform their aviation counterparts. In general, not being limited to certified parts may allow you to more closely follow modern technology, or maybe even "good enough" technology if that is your thing.
  • The builder of the plane can do all of the mechanical maintenance on the plane, and do the annual inspections.
  • You have a lot more freedom to upgrade/modify the aircraft, like adding new engine, prop, etc. to get the performance that you want out of it.

Kit plane cons:

  • You generally can not use an experimental aircraft for commercial activities. E.g. your friend can not pay you for a ride in your plane (you may split costs, though).

  • It might be harder to find parts for your aircraft, or mechanics willing to work on it.

  • You may have a harder time selling it.

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  • $\begingroup$ One of your "Pros" is also a Con - A "good enough" fix/update/improvement by an amateur may not really be "good enough" and can cost you your life. $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Dec 10 '20 at 17:32

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