Couple Questions For Recreational Pilots

One of these days, when I get some money, I’d like to learn to fly and possibly even buy an aircraft of my own. Right now I’ve got my eye on a Zenith CH 650 (kit plane).

I have a few questions (and NOTE: I’m not talking about ultralight aircraft, which are a different beast entirely):

  1. If you build a plane in your garage, how the hell do you get it to the airport? Are the wings modular and you install them at the airport or something, and carry the component parts in a truck?

  2. Do any (most? all?) recreational aircraft run on regular unleaded gasoline? Or do they all run on AVGas?

2a) I’m not seeing the fuel economy specifications for the model I want, but I’m not wearing my glasses ATM and I may not be looking in the right place. What’s a general fuel economy estimate for a small aircraft like that?

  1. Do private aircraft have the aviation equivalent of a heater? It’s got to be cold at 10k feet, especially when it’s cold on the ground.

  2. When you land, how do you pay landing fees? Just whip out your Visa and pay a guy? Do you have like an account at various airports and they just bill you?

4a) If you need fuel, and your plane runs on unleaded (see #2), do airports have both unleaded and AVGas available?

Thanks in advance; I’m sure I’ll think of more questions as this thread takes off (see what I did there?).

This might be a good place to hang out.

  1. Not a homebuilder, but I think the wings can be removed for transport for most kit planes

  2. Most run on 100LL - but I admit I don’t have stats to back this up

2a) Pretty bad. The C172 I fly goes 105 kts (120 MPH) at 6 gal / hr ( = 20MPG)

  1. Typically single engine planes get heat from the exhaust (like a old beetle). Well, not directly, there is ductwork around the exhaust (a CO2 monitor is recommended)

  2. Typically you will pay the FBO. Most unattended airports don’t have fees. Most FBOs don’t charge if you get fuel, and at least where I fly I have never paid a fee.

4a) Most airports that have fuel carry 100LL. Jet A is probably second. Unleaded is uncommon (again, at least where I fly - I don’t have solid stats)


First, I would like to second the recommendation to hang out at homebuiltairplanes. Lots of good folks on there.

  1. The wings come off. Just moved my RV-8A fuselage to the airport on Saturday. Borrowed a flatbed trailer. Wings will go later (have to paint them first).
  2. depends on the engine. Going by the engine list on, I believe the Jabiru and Rotax will run on unleaded, but it is more controversial on the Lycoming.
    2a) Fuel economy depends on the engine/propellor combination. Fuel in airplanes is usually specified in gallons/hour. The brocure lists 138 mph at 75% on a Jabiru 3300. This page: specifies 6.87 gph at 75%. Putting those together gets 20.1 mpg. This will vary with weight, weather and how fast you try to go.
  3. As noted above, ducting around the exhaust pipe.
  4. Most small airports don’t have landing fees. You pay to park and you buy gas. Pay for both at the same place.
    4a) Most airports won’t have unleaded. Search for “mogas” and the airport you are looking for. Some pilots bring in thier own gas from the local gas station in cans, and accept paying more for 100LL on cross country.

Wings can be removed then re-attached. I’ve helped with this several times. This can be done even with aircraft like small Cessnas and Pipers, most kit planes are designed with the assumption this will be done at least once or twice.

It depends entirely on what engine you select.

Certified engines like Lycomings and Continentals (and the occasional Rolls Royce) are designed to run on avgas. It is possible to modify some models to run on premium unleaded autogas, BUT in every instance I’m familiar with I’ve seen numerous cautions to NOT use gas that contains ethanol. There are a few engines that run on diesel, but I’m not sure they’re being manufactured anymore and they were much more common in Europe. Some enthusiasts have mounted very small jet engines on homebuilts, which of course take JetA, but the fuel economy is crap. Some engines are modified car engines, I think those usually use premium autogas, too.

If this is your first project of the sort I’d recommend sticking to either the certified Lycoming or Continental motors, or using something like a Rotax which runs on autogas. You would need to do some research on available engines and what sorts of fuel are easily obtained in your home area.

Using the iconic “small Cessna” (150/152/170/172) 6-10 gallons per hour is a good benchmark. Exact fuel economy depends on temperature, density altitude, how much you load on board, how fast you fly, and your personal fuel management skills, hence the range given rather than a fixed number. I’ve flown some modern design, composite Sport Planes that burn about half the fuel of the standard small Cessna, but they have limited capacity and speed. This may or may not be a problem - I typically only few with one other person at a time, and I wasn’t in a hurry, so it was never an issue for me. What do you intend to do with the airplane?

It’s cold at 10k feet even when it’s hot on the ground. Air temps 30 F cooler than the ground is common at that altitude, so if it’s 90 on the ground it will probably be around 60 at that altitude. If it’s 70 on the ground it’s probably 40 or colder up there.

Yes, you can get heaters for that sort of airplane, and it’s a CO detector you want, not a CO2. The heaters are not that great. Dressing warmly is a very good idea.

As noted, most small airports don’t have landing fees. They might have tie-down fees to secure your airplane overnight, or charge for keeping it in a heated hangar in winter, and so on. All the ones I frequented took plastic, though it’s possible some outlying glorified dirt tracks through farm fields might only want cash. Yeah, you whip out your plastic, swipe, and pay. They will also take cash, although that might attract some official attention if they think you’re up to something hinky. You can set up an account at an airport (I used to do that at my "home base) where they will often accept personal checks. Until one bounces. That tends to make them cranky. I usually paid as I went (cash, check, plastic) but some people opt for a monthly bill.

I’ve been to airports with self-serve gas, too. Just like for your car, you pull up to the pump, swipe plastic, haul the hose over to your vehicle and fuel it. The space is configured slightly different - small airplanes of this sort typically have 27-40 foot wingspans so the space has to be sufficient to allow for that.

You can’t assume that. Best thing is to check in advance - there are directori and on line information that either tell you this upfront or provide a means for you to contact the airport and ask.

On one occasion we had to disconnect the fuel tanks from an airplane, transport them to a local gas station for cars and trucks, fill them up, take them back, then re-mount them on the airplane. They were actually designed for that maneuver, but it was still a pain in the backside. Gas stations for road vehicles aren’t always happy to sell to you if they know you’re going to put it in an airplane, concerns about liability is the reason usually given so sometimes you have to be sneaky about this.

Oops, yes, I meant CO. Basically the worry is there is a hole in the exhaust into the heating ductwork.

I find airplane heat “OK”, but dressing warm is still a good idea (I tend to let a bit of fresh air in). Heat definitely drops when you cut the throttle to land.


one thing to be aware of:
Your average homebuilt is a twitchy little thing compared to the planes (Cessna 152 - 172, Piper PA28) commonly used for training.
The Cessnas especially are frigging kites - just keep them moving and kinda upright and they’ll fly. The Pipers are not quite as stable (so I’ve heard) - never set foot in a Cessna.
Find somebody to transition you to the homebuilt.

And see Wiki on the CH601XL and its history.

Yes, the Cessnas are VERY forgiving - that’s probably one reason they’re so common as training airplanes.

My take on training for sport planes is this: the great Chuck Yeager took three hours of dual instruction before soloing a two-seat ultralight/sportplane and if HE thought transition training was a good idea so should you. Take it seriously. Sport planes are fun, they’re not hard to fly, but there are a some differences from Cessnas and Pipers you do need to be aware of. Not the least of which is that their lighter weight means they respond a bit differently to weather conditions. Some of them have landing gear less robust than Cessnas, so gentle landings are mandatory.

Once flew a German-designed sportplane (Ikarus C42) that was a lot of fun, but the throttle was in an unusual place, trim and brakes were on the center control stick (if you’re used to a yoke switching to stick is a minor adjustment for most) which is a bit different than typical, and the flap lever, while easy to manipulate on the ground, requires some real muscle under flight loads - I usually opted to side-slip rather than bother with the flaps because having to hold/control the stick with my right hand while trying to haul down on that damn lever with just my left arm on landing was not working out all that well. Oh, and the landing gear would NOT withstand typical student hard landing/runway bounces the way Cessnas will. None of that is a deal killer if 1) you know about that and 2) you have the required skills to fly the airplane without damaging it. If you started flight training in an Ikarus it would be your normal and no big deal, as I said, great fun but like all airplanes they’re not perfect.

Basically, make sure you understand your machine thoroughly, especially any differences from what you’ve flown before if applicable.