experimental aircraft

The Ins & Outs Of Experimental Aircraft

The popularity of working with one’s own hands to take to flight began long before the Wright brothers ever started experimenting in Kitty Hawk. Flying machines were being thought up, experimented with, and attempted long before the settlers colonized the U.S.

But, unfortunately, those early “homebuilt” machines weren’t always safe. To make these machines safe, the government found it necessary to have some oversight. That oversight began in October of 1952. 

For the first time, the U.S. government included an “experimental” amateur-built category in the Civil Aeronautics Manual. Perhaps not so coincidentally, it was around this same time, in January of 1953, that the Experimental Aircraft Association was founded in Wisconsin.

At Stockton Propeller, we love the challenge of working with our experimental aircraft customers and on their custom aircraft propellers. If you’re looking for someone in the Northern California/Nevada region to work on your homebuilt’s propellers including to repair the propeller blade, contact us today.

What Is An Experimental Aircraft?

“Experimental” is the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) designation for amateur-built or homebuilt aircraft. The “experimental” identification has been around for over 60 years. 

It’s an aircraft used for non-commercial or recreational purposes, such as education or personal use. The term refers to the FAA category for the airplane’s registration, not the exclusivity of the plane’s design or the aircraft’s use. 

Suppose an individual builds at least 51% of an aircraft. In that case, one may register the plane in the FAA’s “Experimental” or amateur-built category. 

Builders can work from kits (with parts of the airplane fabricated) or plans (where the builder purchases all the pieces and then assembles them). 

These amateur-built, or experimental, airplanes are also commonly referred to as “homebuilts.” The name is obvious because many individuals construct aircraft and custom aircraft propellers at home. Construction often occurs in their garages or other outbuildings.

There are currently over 32,000 amateur-built aircraft licensed by the FAA. They have been registered and flown safely for many years.

Curiously, the FAA’s “Experimental” category also includes approximately ten other subcategories. These include aircraft used for crew training or air racing. They also have historic aircraft (such as World War II military aircraft) flown in air shows and exhibitions.

Experimental aircraft are not the same as “ultralights.” Ultralights are one-person flying machines operating under a completely different set of federal regulations. 

Amateur experimental aircraft and homebuilt custom aircraft propellers are registered with the federal government in the same manner as production aircraft with corresponding “N-numbers” on the fuselage.

Who Builds Experimental Airplanes?

There isn’t just one demographic for those interested in taking on this project themselves. Builders include astronauts, airline pilots, military jet pilots, mechanics, machinists, welders, professional people, and many others.

Why do they build them?

There’s a variety of reasons why someone chooses this particular DIY project. 

  • They could see it as a personal challenge
  • They may want to educate themselves more on the “nuts and bolts” of flying
  • They could be seasoned pilots looking to increase their performance in the skies
  • They may want to invest some “sweat equity” into custom planes and airplane propellers instead of purchasing a manufactured aircraft. 

While a few homebuilt airplanes are custom or original designs, the vast majority of builders use standardized, tried-and-true kits or plans. These plans or kits are constructed successfully by the hundreds, if not thousands.

What Goes Into Building Your Airplane and Custom Airplane Propellers?

Most enthusiasts will tell you that it’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.

The cost of building your airplane range may range from under $10,000 to more than $100,000. Many factors contribute to this price variation, including your desired performance characteristics and any optional engine and avionics packages you choose

For comparison, a new factory-built Cessna 172 costs more than a quarter of a million dollars. 

Many homebuilts utilize composite materials that help create lighter, faster, and more fuel-efficient airplanes than similar production aircraft.

It can take a while, however….

Building an amateur aircraft and your custom airplane propellers will take somewhere between 1,000 and 3,000 hours to complete, on average.

Some individuals complete their airplane in less than a year. Others may take a decade or more.

A Few “Extra” Facts About Experimental Aircraft

  • Experimental aircraft are regulated, just like manufactured aircraft. The plane still has to be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration, inspected by an FAA inspector, and issued an airworthiness certificate.
  • An amateur-built airplane is subject to the same condition inspections every 12 months as small production aircraft undergo.
  • You don’t need a license to build your aircraft; all you need is the will fly one! To fly, you must earn and maintain the same federal pilot’s training and ratings as those who fly factory-built aircraft, including Pipers, Cessnas, and Beechcraft. 
  • Also, planes and custom airplane propellers must follow the same appropriate federal regulations during their flights.
  • Experimental aircraft are practically as safe as manufactured aircraft. Studies by the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) show that experimental aircraft have an accident rate of less than 1% higher than the general aviation community.

Finding The Right People To Work On Your Custom Aircraft Propellers

There are very few surprises or breakthroughs when it comes to experimental aircraft design. 

Much like a relationship, every airplane build is a compromise: If you want a little more of this, you have to give up some of that. And vice versa. 

The freedom to fly something that doesn’t meet standard certification means that an airplane licensed in the experimental category will most likely fly differently than the norm. 

Its performance is optimized toward certain criteria that were important to the designer and builder. You’ll probably see sacrifices in other details to achieve that end.

Homebuilding is about freedom. The freedom to build what you want, use whatever materials you choose, and achieve whatever point you wish to make. Because homebuilders can create, modify, or change their aircraft as they want, there may be a chance for replication.

Then there’s always the freedom of expression. A homebuilt is like a blank canvas. The builder sketches out pretty much anything they want, putting their name on a design. They are free to do so, as long as it doesn’t endanger their life, passengers, or the populace below during flights.

At Stockton Propeller, we love the challenge of working with our experimental aircraft customers and working on their custom aircraft propellers. If you’re looking for someone in the Northern California/Nevada region to work on your homebuilt’s propellers, contact us today.


Top Airshows in the US

Airshows are a fun event for everyone. Sure, airshows have plenty for you if you own or repair planes, but they also typically feature fun components like stunt shows, too.

Airshows are popular in the U.S., so you’ll likely be able to find one near you. Check out our list below of the best U.S. airshows, or look for others near you.

But don’t worry: you don’t have to go to an airshow to get information about aircraft propeller repair service. From basic maintenance to a complete overhaul, Stockton Propeller can help with it all.

Reno Air Races

The Reno Air Races have been held in Reno, Nevada, for 48 years. They feature different races and performances.

There are also vendors and exhibitors. You can find information on things like flight schools and aircraft manufacturing, as well as purchase items related to aircraft.

One of the most exciting things? The Reno Air Races is the location of the National Championship Air Races, so there are six different classes of aircraft at the event: Formula 1, T6 Class, Biplane, Sport, Unlimited, and Jet.

You can see both racing and acrobatics. The aircraft race on three- to eight-mile courses. Pilots can be civilian, ex-military, or amateur.

In between races, acrobatic pilots perform. Other times, you’ll notice military fly-bys or demonstrations.

This combination makes it an excellent place for a pilot or enthusiast to bring the family. You get to enjoy the specialty, vintage, and modified aircraft, while the kids get to enjoy the acrobatics or military aeronautical technology on display.

So whether you like to watch the speed-of-sound-breaking jets or the vintage and stock propeller aircraft, you’ll find it at the Reno Air Races!

Want a tip? Sunday is the busiest day, so to beat the crowds, go earlier. However, if you want to see the final races, the Unlimited Gold Race, you’ll have to join the crowds on Sunday.

experimental aircraft at airshow

EAA AirVenture Oshkosh

There’s a reason the EAA AirVenture is known as The World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration. This weeklong event is the largest airshow with an attendance of over 500,000.

There are also more than 10,000 aircraft, and you’ll see all kinds, like vintage craft, homebuilts, ultralights, and warbirds if you make the trip to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for this incredible event.

But wait, there’s more! It’s not just aerial performances and static aircraft on the ground at AirVenture. There’s plenty for kids or family members who aren’t pilots or aircraft enthusiasts.

For example, there are films, pyrotechnics, demonstrations, workshops, and kid-specific activities. And if you’re looking for a career path in aviation, you can attend the Aviation Job Fair to meet with employers.

Have a lot of kids? This might be the airshow for you: youth aged 18 and under get in free in efforts to introduce more young people to the joys of aviation.

The EAA AirVenture is also committed to encouraging females in aviation. There is a three-day EAA GirlVenture Camp during the airshow and a female-focused gathering called EAA WomenVenture, where women can network, build camaraderie, and enjoy special events.

P51 Mustang at airshow

Los Angeles County Air Show

The L.A. Air Show is a two-day event in almost always sunny Southern California. But don’t let the brevity of this airshow dissuade you: it’s full of impressive air performances as well as plenty of ground exhibits.

If you’re looking for daring and spectacular aerial displays, you’ll want to check out this show. If you wish to see Air Force fighter crafts blazing through the skies with precise movements or propeller planes executing acrobatics and stunts — or both! — you’ll find it here.

The L.A. Air Show also features a historical performance of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, complete with flaming pyrotechnic effects. But it’s not all serious: There’s a humorous skit involving a “stolen” 1946 Piper J-3 Cub that will have everyone laughing.

Educating and inspiring young people is a mission for this air show, so they have a STEM program included in the event. There are high school robotics teams in attendance, displaying their creations.

There are also hands-on exhibits where attendees can test out robots, and a new drone exhibit, too.

The event also has multiple panels. Speakers may include former war pilots or current aerospace industry workers.

If I can only go to one airshow, which one should I attend?

It’s hard to pick just one, and, of course, your location and availability might affect your decision, but the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh is the largest and highest attended.

If you want to go where everyone else is going and see most people and events possible, it’s probably the airshow for you.

However, if your focus is interacting with other pilots or enthusiasts, or exploring exhibits and vendors for information about aircraft propeller repair service, for example, you might be better off finding an airshow near you.

At a local airshow, even if it’s several hours away from you, you’re more likely to find other flight enthusiasts who live near you and aviation industry services in your area.

boy learning to fly paper airplanes at airshow

What’s the best airshow to take kids to?

For most kids, especially younger ones, the Reno Air Races and the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh are both excellent choices. However, most air shows these days have special areas or events for youth.

All three air shows featured on this page have STEM zones and drone zones. Both of these features will be big hits with tweens and teens.

The EAA AirVenture has a section called KidVenture, which not only has fun, hands-on activities but includes instruction areas where children can log actual flight simulation instruction with a certified instructor or earn official FAA credit.

If you’ve got a future pilot on your hands, EAA AirVenture’s KidVenture is a great place.

Whether you’re interested in repairing or maintaining a propeller because it’s less expensive than replacing it or because the propeller you need is hard to find, Stockton Propeller can help you out.

They’ll also work with you to modify stock propellers for experimental aircraft or better performance. Contact Stockton Propeller today to find out how they can help you.