Interview: Michael Doornbos, Maker and Documentation User

I meet a lot of interesting people in the space business. One of them, Michael Doornbos, is a veteran, engineer, and pilot who now works on software and websites of various sorts who builds things in his spare time like old Commodore 64 computers and airplanes. He’s been building a kit aircraft for several years, and the documentation that such a project would require inspired me to reach out to him.

How did you get into this process of building a plane?
It’s just something I decided to do. It was much more difficult to decide what to build than deciding to build something. I’ve always been a maker. I like physical things, so this seemed natural. I also considered building a boat.

What type of aircraft is it?
A Zenith CH-750 Cruzer.

I presume it came as a kit…or have you been buying parts as needed?
It is a kit, although many people “scratch build” which involves buying raw materials and making each part as you go.

How or where do you find instructions to do this?
There are build guides but they are unofficial and frankly only useful sometimes.

What form does the documentation take, and is it useful in that format?
I’m assuming you mean instructions here. Really the only thing that’s “official” is a set of plans. It doesn’t even specify what order to do things. It’s just 100 pages of engineering drawings. There is also a Construction standards guide, which specifies engineering specifications. What types of rivets to use, the sheer strength of required components, and so on.

What sorts of assumptions does the documentation make about who’s making it (i.e., are they addressed to a single person or a team, do they expect you to have a certain level of education, etc.)?
It assumes you can read engineering plans. It’s not addressed to anyone. it’s all just drawings.

Is there a tool kit, or did you have to figure out on your own which tools to buy?
You’re on your own on this. I’m sure there are outfits that sell bundles of tools, but I’ve just acquired what I needed as I went along.

If it’s not a state secret, how much do the parts and tools cost?

  • Complete kit: $25,000
  • Tools: $4,000
  • Avionics: $8,000
  • Engine, propeller and fuel system: $22,000
  • Paint: $3,000
  • This can vary quite a bit depending on your choices.

Where are you building the aircraft?
It started in my garage and has moved to a hangar now that it doesn’t fit in the garage.

How long has the project taken, and how long do you expect it to take?
It’s 5 years and counting. I expected it to take 2 years, so who knows how long it will take from here. I’m clearly not good at estimating this. I’ve also learned not to be in a hurry. It’s important to enjoy the process.

Very cool.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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