A key phrase for this website is “Affordable Aviation” (in fact, we bought AffordableAviation.com for future use). Our focus is on aircraft that can work within the budgets of many recreational or sport pilots. Reading about bizjets or self-flying drones in major magazines may be interesting but those of us who love to fly prefer flying machines we can genuinely afford.
A kit-built aircraft is one way to make airplanes more affordable, and more personal. The great news is you have many wonderful choices. What you may not have is time and that’s why this article covers Merlin PSA.
How much time must you invest to get airborne? Would you believe a mere two weeks? Many kits ask for months, even years of your labor plus a place to do this work. If you love the craftsmanship, that may be fine but if you build so you can fly, why not have the process be easier and swifter?
Aeromarine LSA went through the evaluation by FAA to assure their quick build airframe kit (QBK) owner task list met the requirements. The central Florida company succeeded by the slimmest of margins. If that sounds questionable to you, the result is a good thing. The closer a kit supplier can get to the magic 51% point, the less work you have to do. That means the manufacturer did more of the most difficult assemblies easing your effort and saving you time.
A big part of the Merlin magic is something called precision matched hole, which means that all aluminum skin parts, for example, come pre-drilled so the builder simply begins pulling rivets. Matched-hole construction is not new but making it more precise is helpful.
The Experimental Amateur Built (EAB) rule, sometimes called the “51% rule,” is permitted partly because it provides education. Yet education does not rely on repetition. After a builder has installed, or “pulled,” several dozen rivets, that builder will know that task well and does not need to pull thousands of rivets in order to learn more about riveting. He moves on to the next task, and in a surprisingly brief time — two weeks before paint and perhaps a few other details — Merlin is complete.
To see for myself, I went to observe a Merlin PSA under construction.
Matched-hole construction pilot holes must still be drilled to the finished size before riveting can begin. With precision matched-hole methods, Chip notes the holes are punched to the correct rivet size, ready to be attached with temporary clecos. Multiplied by thousands of rivet holes, this represents large time savings.
Many components — the entire horizontal stabilizer and elevator, for instance — come significantly pre-assembled. Every fifth hole has a temporary rivet securing the part. The temp rivet is color marked and after the builder rivets the surrounding holes, he replaces the temporary. This idea is widely used on the Merlin PSA quick build kit.
In addition, a Merlin QBK airframe includes spars and sub-assemblies that are factory riveted together (photo). All parts in the QBK are pre-fabricated and pre-drilled but major portions are delivered in fully finished form. Even paint priming is already done in many areas. For first-time home builders, the combination makes for a far easier set of tasks. It also helps assure builder and FAA that the job is done correctly.
Merlin QBK also includes composite gear, wheels, brakes, control and fuel systems. The overall basic airframe costs only $16,500.
You will need the firewall-forward package involving an engine mount, nose cowl, throttle, oil tank, exhaust, propeller, spinner, air filter, radiator, plus related hardware and fittings. Add another $3,800 (now $20,300).
Your choice of powerplant presently includes Rotax 582: 65HP Electric Start, B Drive, Oil Injected for $6,950 or a HKS 700E 4-Stroke for $12,000 ($27,250 to $32,300). An electric propulsion option remains in testing but is coming.
Instruments, interior, options, and paint will add more but Aeromarine LSA owner Chip Erwin reports you can get airborne for around $35,000. With the Rotax 582, that expense looks achievable and those who prefer four strokes could still finish for $40-45,000. Such investments purchase quite a bit of airplane for a sum many can afford.
Merlin is a single seater. Is that all the airplane you need?
Chip observed that a great deal of all flying is done with a single occupant. AOPA surveys over many years confirm his statement. If you want to take your spouse or a friend aloft, he encourages you to rent or borrow a two or four seater. Since most flights are done solo, as much as 80% of the time aloft, your single seater will do the job well while saving you many thousands of dollars. You can use some of the savings for those occasional larger aircraft rentals.
A single seat Merlin PSA performs energetically with the Rotax 582’s 65 horsepower. It will also be a performer with the 60 horsepower HKS two cylinder four stroke option, in return for which you get wonderful fuel economy and a throatier rumble compared to the higher pitch of a two stroke.