Posted by: Joey Burgess | Nov 14, 2011

Building an Airplane With 40 Friends

Building an airplane involves an awful lot of steps – not just to build it, but also to figure out what is going in it. While many home builders have to do all this themselves, with the help every now and then of a couple buddies, we are fortunate enough to be building this with 40 people and 7 mentors. As such, we needed to come up with a system that allowed as many people as possible to work on the airplane at the same time, or pick up the next day where one group left off. Read on to see how we’re divvying up the tasks.

The group of 40 is broken up into three teams: a fuselage build team, a wing build team, and a systems team. The two build teams are responsible for all of the build steps necessary to complete the kit, and the systems team is responsible for selecting and integrating all of the various systems that will end up on the airplane.

Every Monday and Wednesday some of the 12 people from the wing build team come into the shop to help build, and every Tuesday and Thursday are set for the 12 people in the fuselage team. The build teams will check the build log to see what steps were completed the day or week before, and then determine the steps they will complete for that day. This progress is tracked against a detailed project plan that shows when all parts of the project are expected to be worked and completed.

For this project, the schedule has extra importance since we have two build teams that need to complete their work for final assembly. If one team finishes before the other, we’ll have a lot of us waiting for the other team to finish.

Aside from the build, there is a lot of work to be done selecting the right equipment. There is where the systems team comes in. It is broken into several different functional teams, including avionics, cabin, electrical, engine, and fuel. In addition there are teams responsible for manuals and other administrative tasks. Each team works to create a set of design requirements and objectives (DR&O’s) that specify what the airplane will be capable of doing. These DR&O’s lead into systems designs, which leads to component selection. Once the components are selected and purchased, the systems team will go about integrating them into modules that can be installed on the airplane by the build teams.

Cabin Mockup

To accomplish testing and integration, the systems team built a cabin mock up that will be used to design, build and test our cabin, electrical and avionics systems. The mock up is important for us because we want the systems teams to be able to work on the airplane without disrupting the build, and a mock up allows them to work on something very similar.

It may sound like a lot, but it is only because we have more than a few of us working on the project. In the end, we have to make sure all the folks working on all sorts of different things can come together to make the airplane get off the ground.


  1. The look for your weblog is a tad off in Epiphany. Nevertheless I like your weblog. I may need to install a normal browser just to enjoy it.

  2. […] shop. At that point, was it just a matter of “roll up your sleeves and get to work”? Not quite. What is the optimal way to get 30 people to build an airplane? How do we make the most productive use of everyone’s time, and of the tools available? This is […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: