The EAA Kit Planes & Aircraft Maintenanceby Editor - Daniel Brindley | June 29, 2020

TX Sonerai
TX Sonerai – Courtesy of

A Conversation with Jim Phillips - Board Member EAA Friday May 8, 2020

D= Daniel Brindley J= Jim Philips Board Member EAA


D: Thank you for taking my questions today. For those that don’t know you, including myself, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

J: Um, sure, sure, I’ve lived Milwaukee now for, I guess about four years, I’m an attorney I do mostly tax work and corporate work. I’ve been a pilot for almost the entire time I’ve been here. I had a good friend in high in Iowa; he and I talked about building planes when we were in high school and we were going to build them once we got through college.

Kit Planes

D: When was that?

J: That was 1973, I think we talked about building planes. We ultimately graduated from college, after having gone, driven to EAA Oshkosh one summer to look at the plane kits that were available. And we picked out a kit plane called a Sonerai II I don’t know if you’re familiar with it or not.

J: But it’s a two-seat, tandem, powered by a Volkswagen engine, weighed about 525 pounds, cruised at about 140 MPH; it was steel tubing, welded fuselage, riveted wings. So, we each built these planes it took me 5 years, it took him 15 years. Because went through and we got married, we moved, he went to get his MBA. And I started out building the plane before I knew how to fly, once I was a couple of years into the plane, I took my flying lessons at Timmerman Airport in Milwaukee.


J: Although, unlike today’s plane kits, the kits for the fuselage was 400 feet of various-sized tubing that came in a box about 15-feet-long. And we had to go to the library (at least I did) and pick up a book on oxy acetylene welding to learn how to weld. And we used EAA to get books on learning how to rivet, and you know electronics and everything we needed. A that point in time, this is well before the Internet, well before good access online, and media. We relied on EAA, for a lot of the background.

D: So, your own plane; how did that differ from the Cessna that you learned to fly in?

J: Well, it was a taildragger. It was tandem, so instead of sitting side-by-side you sit front and back. It had a bubble canopy. So, the wing, was a mid-wing instead of a low wing like a Piper, or a high wing like a Cessna. It had a mid-wing; it was just very much a different configuration; it was a little more like a ‘sports car.’ Not real practical in the sense that it couldn’t haul a lot of baggage, it was built around someone who was a relatively small person. Most of these planes were built to accommodate the builder, so it could carry two people, but not two big people.

D: So, when you say “Sports Car” you mean it was much faster than that Cessna you were flying?

J: Yeah, much faster, had a higher rate of climb, roll rate which was a lot faster.

D: And so that was back then, so how many years have you been flying?

J: I have been flying, probably, 37 years.

D: Wow, that’s awesome, and you still fly to this day?

J: I do. So, after a while I decided I needed a new plane. A little bit bigger, a little bit faster, so I built another one. And that’s the plane I have today. That plane, instead of a Volkswagen engine, has a regular aircraft engine. And instead of a little smaller, this one is probably twice the size, twice the performance, and much more capable of doing long trips.

D: OK. Nice!

J: Anyway, that’s my, are you a pilot?

EAA Oshkosh

D: So um, I’ve been coming to Oshkosh for about ten years. I have been involved in Aviation Media Sales, Marketing and Publishing for 10 plus years. It’s been a lot of fun and I’m still learning a lot about aviation!


D: How much aircraft maintenance is involved for someone like yourself, who flies on a regular basis, you have maybe a, piston engine, right?

J: Yes, yes.

D: I mean, is there a lot of aircraft maintenance that you need to do? And do most people do their own maintenance or is a lot of it sort of contracted out to people? Kind of like my car, I might want to do an oil change, or change the fluids myself, but I might not want to tinker with the engine myself.

J: Yeah, I would say it’s across the board. If you build a kit plane, you can get a FAA repairman’s certificate that authorizes you to do the maintenance on the plane that you built. And that’s what I have. So, I do the maintenance. I’m required to do many of the same inspections that a regular certified plane would require. My plane needs an annual inspection, which I do. If there were certain components that needed to be replaced, I might buy the component and replace it. If it’s overhauled, it ends up getting sent out some place. But there are certain things I can’t do, so every two years I need to have certain avionics checked for tolerances in terms of whether it’s reading the correct altitude. I need to work with an avionics shop, a lot I can do, but pieces I can’t do.

D: Got you.

J: For people who didn’t build, they pretty much need to work with someone who is FAA certified, to be able to do the repairs and sign off. But I think it’s partly a sense of comfort of doing it themselves and having the time versus wanting to rely on somebody else or needing to rely on somebody else.

D: You kind of surprised me there, I thought that anything that was a kit plane was not even looked at by the FAA. And that you can basically fly anything. But you were talking about being certified and being able to do certain checks: overhauls, maintenance checks. Now, is that something that I just got wrong?

J: Well, yes. If you are a manufacturer, like a Cessna, and you produce a plane to sell to the public, you have to go through a certification process, not only for the design of the plane, but for the manufacturer of the plane as well. And that requires when you take off a certain kind of instrument or part, you must replace it with a certain kind of instrument or part, only things that are approved for that plane.

My plane is not standard, airworthiness certification, rather it’s in the experimental category because I built it. And that gives me the ability to make modifications, or not follow a standard process in terms of manufacturing, or certification standards. On the other hand, it still requires certain maintenance and inspection to allow it to be flown. Just like a certified plane I must have an inspection once a year, an annual inspection.

D: Now that’s an FAA mandate?

J: Yes

D: OK. So, I just learned something new!

J: That’s a requirement of my airworthiness certificate, for the plane to continue to be airworthy it needs to be inspected in accordance with certain standards. Again the difference is, as opposed to me being a certified repairman or mechanic, and having to go through the training and the testing to be able to work on a variety of planes that are certified; I am only allowed to do it on the plane that I built.

D: Oh, I see. It’s specifically your plane only.

J: Right. And if I were to sell my plane to someone else, that person would have to go to an authorized mechanic, who is certified to repair, and inspect, and maintain airplanes.

D: What if the new buyer was like you certified to fix their own plane, could they not fix it themselves?

J: Well, they couldn’t be certified for my plane as the builder, because they are not the builder. Only the original builder has that authority.

D: Wow. I didn’t know that.

J: Well, I think the concept is, that if you build it, you really understand the plane. And if it’s been inspected and determined to be airworthy, the assumption is you should continue to have the right to maintain that airplane, throughout the life of that airplane. At some point if you were to transfer the plane to someone else, they don’t really stand in the same shoes that the builder did. They are not intimately familiar with the plane, and they haven’t established that they even have the understanding as to how to assemble and disassemble and repair a plane. In theory, the builder does have that.

In Part 2 we chat about drones, cancellation of EAA Oshkosh 2020, UAVs, battery powered planes and more.