Building your own aircraft sounds impossible for most people… until you enter the world of the homebuilt.
In the UK, the Light Aircraft Association (LAA) exists to manage the world of homebuilders, whether they’re putting together a kit – just like a big Airfix model – or making every single part themselves and working from plans. In the U.S., the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) does the same thing but with a but more leeway for the builder than in the more regulated UK. In both countries, the work of the builder is inspected in stages to make sure it’s up to scratch and to spec.
The appeal of building your own is a) you can make the aeroplane what you want it to be, and b) there’s enjoyment in the process of building, making something. And it’s a business these days, with companies developing and offering kits in various stages of completion (though there is the 51% rule which says the builder must be responsible for at least that much to qualify).
One of the latest and most popular kitplanes at the moment is the Cubcrafters Carbon Cub. You may have heard of the Piper Cub, first produced in 1937. It’s a popular classic even now but long out of production so to fill the void, companies such as Cubcrafters have stepped in with replacements. Of course, it’s the nature of man to want to make things better and the Carbon Cub is possibly the Ultimate Cub.
As the name suggests, it has many parts made from carbon fibre, reducing the overall weight of the aircraft by 250lb while allowing better design in places. The Carbon Cub can also be fitted with a 180hp Titan CC340 engine instead of the original Cub’s usual 65hp motor. Result a power to weight ratio of 7.33lb per hp, giving a climb rate of 2,100 feet per minute. This aircraft really flies!
So how long to build a Carbon Cub? Even the most dedicated builder would say six months, probably a year. Not Toby Ashley. He visited Cubcrafters’ HQ at Yakima McAllister Field in Washington state, chose the Carbon Cub EX-2 variant and announced he would complete it in 81 days. No reason for the odd number, just 81 days.
It’s fair to say Toby and Cubcrafters’ support manager Mitch Travis communicated every business day by phone, text, email or FaceTime. Mitch collaborated with factory personnel to fabricate Toby’s chosen custom instrument panel, and he assisted Toby when needed to assemble the fuselage and wings.
Toby’s objective to build a performance aircraft, one that delivered world-class STOL (Short Take-Off and Landing) performance and sacrificed nothing in payload capacity. He’d done some research and decided to cover the aircraft with Oratex fabric instead of the Poly Fiber system recommended by CubCrafters. Oratex is lighter that Poly Fiber, but is usually more textured when finished. His intended paint scheme was flat military green, so a smooth finish was not a concern to him.
True to his promise, Toby Ashley’s Carbon Cub EX-2 was complete and flying in just 81 days. After completing his test flights, Toby flew the new aircraft to CubCrafters’ HQ on the way from Boise, Idaho to his summer home near Wasilla, Alaska. Mitch was able to inspect the construction and finish closely, and was impressed with both the workmanship and the finish of the Oratex fabric. The kit turned out just as Toby had hoped.
A few days after Toby departed Yakima for Alaska, a stream of photos started filling Mitch’s inbox. Beautiful wilderness scenes of Toby with his aircraft and his trophies arrived at an impressive rate. The new EX-2 was fulfilling its mission.
Today, more than a year after his first visit, Toby’s EX-2 has taken permanent residence in Alaska. Since Toby splits his time between Alaska and Idaho, he is now building another Carbon Cub EX-2 that will be based in Boise. As this article came together, Toby’s second Carbon Cub EX-2 will be about 20 days from flying.