If you are interested in building your own homebuilt aircraft, then you should first become acquainted with the many different materials that are used in their construction. A few of the most popular materials include wood and cloth, metal, and composite. This article will provide a brief overview of these materials which are commonly used to construct homebuilt aircraft.
Wood and Cloth
The use of wood and cloth to construct homebuilt aircraft goes all the way back to the origination of the hobby. Associations for amateur airplane hobbyists have more specialists in this type of construction than any other largely because it has been used for so long in the hobby. Woods used in the construction of planes must offer an excellent strength to weight ratio, so for this reason nice strong woods like the Douglas Fir and Sitka Spruce are often used. Simple construction techniques are used in these planes such as butt joints with plywood gussets. After the frame is completed it is covered in fabric.
There are many benefits to using wood and cloth in homebuilt aircraft, primarily because it requires low cost materials and commonly found tools such as a saw, planer, and clamps. One of the oldest models of airplane, the Pietenpol Air Camper, using these materials and it is still widely made to this day. Recently, there has been a trend of using a wood/composite mixture. In this method wood is still used for the frame, but other materials such as foam and glass will be incorporated into the design as well.
For those who are interested in homebuilt aircraft that is more similar to modern commercial airplanes, metal is the material that is used in this type of design. As a matter of fact, the techniques used to build them are very similar as well. One of the drawbacks to choosing this method however is that it is much more challenging, requiring cutting and shaping of the metal as well as riveting. On the positive side, there are now kits available that come with most of this work finished already. A couple of the more popular types of plane that use metal in their construction are the Murphy Moose and the Sonex.
Finally, there are also homebuilt aircraft that are built with composite materials, such as plastic and high tensile cloth, usually fiberglass. There are essentially two different types of plane that are made with this type of material: molded and unmolded composites. The former prepares the major structures such as the fuselage and wing skins cured in molds and the latter uses shapes that have been carved out of foam and coated in fiberglass. The good thing about composite construction is that it produces nice smooth surfaces and compound curves. On the negative side, is that you would have to work with chemicals.