Smoke On Go

Build Your Own Aircraft

Meet Deon Swanepoel and Brett Williams, hangar mates at the Algoa Flying Club in Gqeberha who built their own aircraft and who spend time sharing experiences while constantly tinkering with their planes as true home build hobbyists.

This article first appeared in Smoke On…Go! Magazine

Flying options for the newly licenced private pilot boil down to renting an aircraft from a flying club or flying school, purchasing a new or used plane, either as an individual or in a syndicate (covered in the previous issue of Smoke On…Go!) or building a kit option.

There’s a kit available to suit a range of pockets and flying needs from STOL kits, cruising high-wings and motor gliders, to high performance sport planes and comfort cruisers. It’s an option that involves a certain character and a lot of commitment.

Meet Deon Swanepoel and Brett Williams, hangar mates at the Algoa Flying Club in Gqeberha who built their own aircraft and who spend time sharing experiences while constantly tinkering with their planes as true home build hobbyists.

Deon obtained his PPL in 2009 itching to fly, which turned out to be too expensive, so he wasn’t spending any hours in the air. He says the opportunity to continue flying on his own terms was the purchase of a second-hand Cessna or the challenge and reward of building a kit. He considered a Sonex but Deon’s a big fella and having flown in a KitFox 4, found the aircraft that ticked the boxes – it was relatively inexpensive, it had a Rotax powerplant option, he could comfortably fly with a passenger and luggage and there were 5,000 KitFoxes flying around the world at the time, so it had a good reputation. His final choice was a KitFox Series 7 Super Sport.

Brett’s journey is a little different having started flying in 1996 and been an active member of the flying club for many years with a stint as Chairman and renting aircraft from the club frequently. Russell Phillips, another Gqeberha resident had designed the Whisper Gen I and Brett placed an order in good faith, based on the reputation of the successful Whisper Motorglider. The Whisper X350 Gen I ticked Brett’s boxes of being a composite design, negating coastal corrosion issues, and having good performance and range attributes. He salvaged a Lycoming 0-360 180 hp motor from a corrosion scrapped Cessna 172 to complete the airframe/powerplant combination.

Starting the build

“This frame arrives with about 15 boxes”, says Deon, “and the first thing is to do a parts-check down to every spring, washer and split-pin they’ve sent you”. He says he started at page one of the build manual and worked his way to the end but in hindsight would do it differently. “With a KitFox you can start at different chapters, although there are, of course, things you have to complete before you can move onto others”.

“My plane was completely different”, says Brett. “I got the two halves of the fuselage that had been bonded together something like a canoe. Then myself and a helper from Whisper built the wings and the tail, so it was more of a construction than an assembly unlike a KitFox”. Whisper now has a quick build option but Brett bought the foam for the wings, out of which Russell Phillips cut the wing profile. Months and months of fiberglass and sanding work with the help of the fibreglass expert out of Russell’s workshop, and the major components were ready for assembly.

It took Deon three years from the kit arriving to the first test flight, with a total of 1,200 to 1,500 actual build hours. He did most of the work in the garage at home while Brett did the entirety in the hangar, adding years to his build time without the convenience of easy access to his project on his own property. For both of these hangar mates and genuine enthusiasts the build wasn’t seen as a job or a task, it was an extremely rewarding hobby, immersing themselves in creating different parts, finishing and then fitting them. Says Brett, “I want to build another plane because I enjoyed the process so much”. Both admitted to withdrawals once their planes were done and flying, which is why they spend a lot of time fiddling on an endless number of projects on their aircraft.

Inspections and Maintenance

Kit builds are strictly controlled affairs with certain milestones during the build, as well as the completed project, needing sign off. Your starting point is to apply to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) for a build licence upon receipt of your kit and an approved person (AP) is appointed to oversee the sign-off process. Each milestone in the project is inspected by the AP and a full inspection is carried out for sign-off before the first test flight. Both Deon and Brett used Russell Phillips for their test flight as he’s qualified on both KitFox and Whisper.

Your AP also inspects and signs off any maintenance done according to the maintenance manual. Annuals on the engines and airframe are generally carried out like the service on a car, in the case of Lycoming and Rotax it’s 100 hours or 12-months, whichever comes first and involves changing the oil and an inspection analysis. Brett says the annual on his Lycoming costs less than a service on his Suzuki Jimny and as for complexity, he reckons his car is more complex than his Whisper. “It’s not a matter of hours a month for maintenance. We are always fiddling. As a first-time builder you’re constantly improving and fixing the things you could have done better”, says Deon.


Both builders went with the MGL EFIS option, Deon the 10-inch screen and Brett the 7-inch iEFIS. Deon has steam gauges for critical flight instruments, a transponder, radio and the luxury of an auto pilot. Brett has installed an iPad docking station for navigation and maps with a steam gauge air-speed indicator and radio. He has three GPS systems, the MGL, IPad and Air Nav Pro on his phone, “So if I get lost….”, “Then you’re an idiot!”, chirps Deon who uses MGL with GPS and his phone with Easy Cockpit.

Time to fly

When I asked how often they get to fly their planes, the answer was simple. “We live in PE so we don’t fly every weekend”. They’re in coastal weather on the Cape South coast so you have to be careful they tell me. Neither of them is instrument rated and they both have a high sense of self preservation, so there’s no place for being a cowboy amid highly changeable weather and gale force winds that can develop in a heartbeat. Long summer evenings tend to be ideal for a few circuits or a jaunt up the coast. “If we get to the hangar and the weather turns, we end up tinkering with the plane which is as enjoyable as flying”, says Deon. He’s done about 155 hours in the KitFox and Brett’s flown about 130 hours in the Whisper.

With Avgas priced at R34.40 a litre when we spoke in December 2022, it remains an expensive hobby for any enthusiast. Although both engines are happy on Mogas, a paraffin contamination scare has seen them switch to the more expensive option.

So, would they do it again? A resounding “Absolutely!” from both. Deon says if he had the money he would build an aluminium clad plane since the KitFox is a tube and cloth design. “If money was no option I would build a Sling High Wing or maybe an Orion Cub”, reckons Deon. Brett’s next build would be a high wing with folding wings and both laugh as they look around the hangar, “But we don’t know where we’d put them!”.

What it costs


Kit price                              USD60,000

Paint and painting            R40,000

Avionics                              R100,000

Total cost                           R550,000-R600,00

Hangar and insurance     R3,500/month

Maintenance                     R2000/year including the AP for inspection

Kit value today without labour R2,000,000


Total                                    R658,000

Hangar and insurance    R3,500/month

Maintenance                     R2000/year including the AP for inspection

Kit value today without labour R1,300,000 




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