Why Own An Experimental Aircraft?

By: Randy Lervold

Though we don’t have statistics, we know that many prospective aircraft buyers hold the perception that “experimental” aircraft are barely airworthy… something to avoid. They believe that anything with the word “experimental” on it isn’t a “real” airplane. For these buyers, the rigors of testing and oversight associated with FAA Part 23 certification provide peace of mind. For them, the term Experimental Aircraft conjures notions of exciting and dangerous flying machines built up from exotic concepts not yet proven.

In truth, the FAA uses the word “experimental” to describe a category of aircraft that are issued airworthiness certificates separate from FAR Part 23. There are eight experimental certificates including Exhibition, Market Survey, Air Racing, and of course, Amateur-Built, which is the category into which kit aircraft fit. Despite the plain-English distinction from the FAA, there is a lingering and unfair stigma attached to the word “experimental”.

But things are changing. CubCrafters’ product line includes Part 23 certified, LSA, and Experimental Amateur Built (E-AB) aircraft. In the 10 years we’ve offered all three categories, we’ve a seen significant shift in the understanding of, and thus the perception of, experimental category aircraft ownership. Today many of our aircraft buyers contend they will never own anything else because of the increased latitude allowed by experimental certification.

CubCrafters offers two paths to experimental ownership. Our Carbon Cub kits are essentially the same as our production aircraft, which puts them among the safest and highest performing adventure aircraft available. Now, we’ll admit that not everyone is prepared to invest the time and energy required to build a kit, but no one can deny the pride and satisfaction instilled in builders who finish and fly their own airplane. Further, it is fair to say that kit builders have an intimate familiarity with their bird that few production airplane buyers enjoy.

For those aspiring to experimental ownership but unable to commit to a kit, CubCrafters also offers a fascinating alternative. Our Carbon Cub FX (Factory eXperimental) builder assist program walks builders through the fabrication of the airplane parts themselves in a brisk five days. After the parts undergo quality assurance inspections, we use them to assemble a shiny new Carbon Cub. FX airplanes are assembled by the same skilled technicians who build our production aircraft, thereby eliminating any apprehension builders may have about their own skills. Having paid a visit to our factory and walked through the builder assist program, FX builders share in the satisfaction of the build and heightened pride of ownership.

Another advantage to experimental owners is the ability to maintain their aircraft. This can save money and may also provide a logistical benefit if there are no A&Ps nearby. Owners may also use experimental aircraft within an expanded operational envelope, flying in IFR conditions for example, if the airplane is appropriately equipped.

From CubCrafters’ perspective, the most significant benefit to experimental owners is the ability to update your airplane with the newest equipment that offers the best safety, highest performance, and greatest reliability. Manufacturers of these components may not invest in obtaining TSOs or other certification. When new technologies are introduced you can install them, no waiting, rather than hoping for possible STC, TSO, or incorporation into the airframe’s type certificate.

New LED lighting packages dramatically improve a pilot’s ability to see the runway in low light. Bright LED strobes make your airplane more visible to other aircraft. The systems generally draw less power and are maintenance free. Modern LED packages weigh less too… an important consideration for the CubCrafters community. New lights are easily retrofitted and affordable.

Avionics, like all electronic technologies, evolve at a break-neck pace and new systems provide greater capabilities at ever lower prices. It makes sense that flyers want the newest instrumentation in their cockpit and modern EFIS displays deliver tremendous situational awareness along with improved ergonomics in the cockpit. Systems usually include state-of-the-art engine monitoring and warning capabilities, and an integrated autopilot might also be available. Upgrading to the newest glass cockpit is comparatively inexpensive in an experimental. The same upgrade path may not even be available in some Part 23 certified airplanes.

Since CubCrafters airplanes specialize in off-airport operations, we’re particularly interested in the newest tires and recent advances in landing gear design. While traditional bungee gear is reliable and effective, new suspension systems, combined with low-pressure Tundra tires, reduce bounce, stabilize ground control, and improve brake response on fast and/or short landings. Aftermarket landing gear may improve safety and handling for inexperienced pilots and allow off-airport veterans to get the most out of their experimental airplane.

In summary, there are four significant benefits to experimental aircraft ownership to consider:

  1. The personal satisfaction and added familiarity that comes from constructing your own aircraft, whether from a conventional kit or via a builder-assist program like our FX offering.
  2. The ability to legally perform your own maintenance if you choose (though we recommend a fresh set of eyes from an outside resource for the required Annual Condition Inspection).
  3. Operate your aircraft in a broader operational envelope.
  4. Access to a much wider range of components, from tires to the latest avionics that provide state-of-the-art performance at much lower costs.

If you are like many airplane buyers who insist on owning a Part 23 certified airplane and want to enjoy the wilderness with the CubCrafters community, our XCub will fulfill your mission. If, however, you want your Cub to remain on the leading edge of technologies that assure the highest safety and performance, either the Carbon Cub EX kits or FX builder assist aircraft may be your ticket to ADVENTURE FURTHER.

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