By Ken Hall, EAA 281118
This piece originally ran in the July 2021 issue of EAA Sport Aviation magazine.
In 1987 I built a Kitfox Model I, which I flew off my grass strip north of Windsor, Colorado. I sold the airplane after a few years, later purchased an Avid, sold it shortly thereafter, and then stopped flying for 20 years. But I attended Oshkosh regularly over those years, and I kept mowing that grass strip, for … therapy?
In June 2019, on the day I turned 60, a young man named Art Hoag, EAA 1227617, purchased the acreage next door and moved in with his family. I quickly learned that Art and his family are some of the nicest people you could hope to meet, and he is also an accomplished pilot and flight instructor and loves taildraggers.
While at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2019, Art inquired about my Kitfox experience, as a mutual friend of ours was considering a kit. That conversation started the Kitfox wheels turning for me once again. After returning home I found a complete, unstarted Kitfox Model III kit on Barnstormers.com. The kit was originally purchased by a gentleman in Minnesota 30 years ago, and it sat essentially untouched after that. When he died in early 2019, the kit was sold to a man from Iowa, who then sold the kit to me. We met midway in Nebraska on October 5, 2019, to complete the transaction.
I questioned whether I could relearn to fly a taildragger at 60-plus, 20 years after my last flight. Art had no reservations whatsoever. Early in the Kitfox build process when I considered converting the Kitfox to a tricycle gear, he said, “Don’t you dare! I can teach you to fly a taildragger again, no problem.” So, we booked time in a Citabria, and a dozen or so hours of quiet, patient instruction later I soloed it. Art signed off my flight review and refreshed my tailwheel endorsement. He is hands-down the best instructor I have ever encountered.
As for the kit, although it had been stored inside, it also sported a thin coat of rust, courtesy of the humid Minnesota climate. The first task was to sandblast and prime the fuselage and all the various steel parts. Remarkably, the Rotax 582 engine appeared fresh from the factory, with all the original plastic plugs still in place, internal factory oiling still intact, and not a trace of rust or corrosion inside or out.
I chose to upgrade certain kit components. New, larger tundra tires replaced the cracked 30-year-old tires. Kitfox ethanol-resistant tanks replaced the wing tanks. Hoerner-style wingtips fabricated from foam and fiberglass replaced the original droop wingtips. I replaced missing stringers and floorboards by fabricating them from fir strips and birch plywood. A new behind-the-seat tank from Kitfox replaced the forward header tank. I bought and installed a new three-bladed 70-inch Ivo ultralight prop (and later cut it down to 66 inches). My seamstress sister generously contributed beautiful seat backs and cushions embroidered with the classic Kitfox logo.
I covered the airplane using the Stits Poly Fiber process. When it came time to paint the airplane, I discovered yet another of Art’s talents. He had both the experience and the equipment to paint the airplane and insisted on doing so. We converted the center aisle of my barn into a 10-foot by 60-foot paint booth, and with a borrowed fuselage rotisserie and many gallons of Poly-Tone paint, he painstakingly painted the Kitfox with four colors, including pinstripes.
For instruments I went for lightweight VFR simplicity and chose MGL 2-1/4-inch Vega digital instruments, with the kit-supplied Kitfox airspeed indicator as backup. A Vega EMS-1 monitors engine functions, and an ASV-1 provides airspeed, altitude, and vertical speed data. They work great. I installed a Microair 760 transceiver that I had purchased for another project, and eventually purchased a Sigtronics Sport 200 intercom. I also 3D-printed snap-in mounts for my iPhone and iPad Mini for use with the Garmin Pilot app.
Empty weight for the airplane came to a slightly heavy 535 pounds, due to the large tires, wing tanks, and many gallons of paint. After engine break-in and taxi testing on the home strip, I conducted an uneventful first flight using the long concrete runway at the Northern Colorado Regional Airport (KFNL) on August 5, 2020, exactly 10 months after starting the project. It brought back cotton-mouth memories of my earlier Kitfox inaugural flight — but was also extremely satisfying and rewarding. I eventually flew the Kitfox to my home strip, where Art and I flew off the 40 flight test hours in mid-December 2020. My significant other, Darcy, was the first passenger on a perfect (albeit brown) Colorado Christmas day.
From start to finish, the Kitfox build took nine months, and I logged a little more than 700 hours of build time. I maintained a spreadsheet of all costs, with the total coming to just less than $20K — not bad for an essentially new Kitfox. I am still making minor improvements to the airplane, and probably always will be. Homebuilding is a process.
So, it turns out that rust can be removed, both literally and figuratively. New neighbors are now treasured friends. And a “new” 30-year-old Kitfox is providing very affordable enjoyment for all of us. We are truly fortunate.