What is a Cozy Mk IV?
I’ve learned that just telling my friends that I’m building a Cozy is kind of a waste of time, since almost nobody outside the experimental aviation community has any idea what these things are. I might as well be telling them that I’m building an Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator, because they’ll still ask, “What’s that?” The short answer is that it’s a 4-seat composite (foam and fiberglass) aircraft with a canard/pusher-prop configuration, and it looks like this…
At this point, the best stepping-off point for more information about the Cozy is at Marc Zeitlin’s Cozy Builders site. He’s got a good weblog of his own building progress from back when he was still building, links to tons of other good information (including many builders’ sites), and maintains a very helpful builder’s Google Group.
Why build anything?
Why not just go out and buy an airplane? That can be done. I have a private pilot’s license, and I love to fly. And, believe it or not, certified aircraft are somewhat affordable, especially if you go in with a couple of buddies. (You can regularly find C150/2′s in the 20-30k range, and they tend to maintain their value if you maintain them.) Some people could make the case for renting as well, which I won’t try to do here. However, I have several problems that simply purchasing an airplane wouldn’t solve. First, our families live all over the place. We live in the Twin Cities (MN) area, and we have family we try to see with some regularity who live in Oregon, Alberta, and North Dakota. If I were to try to purchase an aircraft that could get my wife and I to those places in less time than I could drive there, I’d be looking for something in the 150K + range, which is not going to happen. Second, being required to have an A&P do all of the work on your airplane means big bucks. Seriously big bucks. And it’s not because A&P’s are gouging people. (Well, some of them might be, but that’s not my experience.) The trouble is that when you start down the road of flying a certified aircraft, your choices regarding who can work on your plane and what parts they can use become much more limited, which means they also become much more expensive. Third (and probably most importantly), I love to learn. The whole point of experimental aircraft is the education of the builder, and the opportunity to not only own your aircraft, but to become intimately acquainted with it through the building process, enough to feel confident to maintain it properly. That’s incredibly attractive to me.
I’m not naive enough to assume that a project like this will always be easy, or even fun. I have a feeling, though, that it will be somewhat similar to my doctoral work, just without all of the arbitrary deadlines and stuffy advisers! (I know there are some stuffy people in aviation. Trust me – nothing close to the folks who were watching my dissertation.) Ultimately, I’ll have gained an education along with an aircraft, which just going out and making a purchase could never accomplish.
Why build a Cozy (and not something else)?
But which aircraft? There are a lot of options out there. I spent about fifteen years mulling this one over, because, well, I figured that as long as I wasn’t in a position to start building, I may as well plan for the day in case it came. One resource that was helpful to me was the book pictured here. It’s not exhaustive, but it helped me to feel my way through some relevant issues. I started out with a list of values I thought were important:
- Speed/Range: Since I’m building this airplane to travel distances, it needs to be fairly fast (at least 175 mph cruise) and possess good range (at least 600 miles).
- IFR Capable: I don’t have my IFR rating yet, but I plan to try to get it in this aircraft, and I plan to use it. If you can’t fly IFR and you live in southern Minnesota, you don’t fly much from November until April.
- Cost: I want the option of building this aircraft for a price somewhere in the range of a brand-new decked-out minivan. That means somewhere between 40K and 50K. I realize I could spend more (depending on engine, prop, avionics, IFR/night capability, etc.), but I don’t want to HAVE to spend more just to get it to its first flight.
- Two Side-By-Side Seats + Baggage: We have three children, and I knew pretty early on that trying to purchase or build an aircraft that would carry all of us plus baggage would be out of range financially. (The old adage goes, “Add a seat, double the price.”) So the mission is for my wife and I to be able to travel comfortably with our luggage. And she’s not going to want to sit in the “back.” Additional seats are a bonus.
- Possible To Finish In My Lifetime: I’d like to be able to start using this aircraft within the next decade for sure with an average of ten hours per week work-time invested.
- Good First-Time-Builder Project: I need a project that has many successful first-time buildersand since I may only ever build one of these, it needs to be a good first-time project.
- Helpful Builder Community: I’m going to need a lot of advice along the way.
- Good Safety Record: Enough said.
- Cool Factor: Not the most important thing, but if you’re going to build an airplane, you might as well think it looks awesome just sitting there.
So I started comparing those values to some of the major designs that are out there:
Velocity: Everything there but the price. The lowest-end kit you can buy from Velocity is about 33K, and that doesn’t include engine, avionics, carpet, or even an air freshener.
Sonex: It seems close at first glance, but the speed/range/IFR capability just aren’t quite there. It’s really a short-range sport plane, not a long-distance cruiser.
GP-4: I fell in love with this airplane when I first saw George Pereira’s prototype in his hanger at Rio Linda, CA when I was flying out there with a buddy of mine. (It’s for sale – 70k is a steal, I would say.) It’s a performer, and the price is right, but it’s not a good first-time-builder project, and would likely take me about 80 years to finish, based on the 4000+ hours it’s taking most builders. It’s also a bit tricky to fly. There also aren’t a lot of these things that have been completed, so the builder community is pretty limited. Someday.
Lancair Legacy: Like the GP-4, this one has the performance, and I could finish this in a much shorter amount of time, but the the cost is way too high, and the need to invest in a kit means significant outlay up front. I’ve got five years (at least) to work on this, so I don’t need all that investment sitting around my garage for years before I get it put together.
Vans RV-7: I almost went for this one. It’s got everything on my list. In the end, it was a decision between this one and the Cozy. I finally steered away from the RV’s because of the slightly higher completion price, and the need to invest up-front in the kit.
So I decided to go with the Cozy. It’s got all of the characteristics above, plus it’s a plans-built aircraft, which means that I can order materials as I can afford them. It’s built tough (no in-flight breakups to this point), it won’t stall/spin because of the canard configuration, and it’s got four seats if you need them. It’s not a true four-seater in the sense that you can’t put four people and baggage in it, but the “baggage compartment” is more versatile than it would be in an RV-7, for example. The only qualms I had about building it were because of the need to control shop temps, which isn’t important for metal aircraft. I’m now confident I can handle that. So, decision made. Alison blessed the project and bought me the plans as a gift when I finished my doctorate. Time to get going!