(CNN) — It wasn’t until he came to live near an airport in the UK more than a decade ago that mechanical engineer Ashok Aliseril Thamarakshan began seriously considering learning to fly.
He was first introduced to flying a few years later when his wife Abhilasha bought him a 30-minute flying experience for his birthday.
Based in Essex, England, Aliseril took flying lessons at a local airport and, during his first session, flew to the Isle of Wight, an island off the south coast of England.
“That was quite an eye opener in how it [flying] gives you the freedom to just go places if you have that opportunity, and access a plane,” he tells CNN Travel. “So I got really hooked on that.”
Aliseril obtained his private pilot license in 2019 and soon started renting planes for short flights.
Engineer Ashok Aliseril spent 18 months building a four-seat plane with his daughter Diya during the pandemic.
Thanks to Ashok Thamarakshan
But as his family grew – he and Abhilasha now have two daughters, the two-seater planes normally available for private hire became even less suitable, and he began mulling over the idea of buying his own plane.
Aliseril briefly considered buying an older aircraft and looked at some built in the 1960s and 1970s.
However, he says he was uncomfortable with the prospect of flying with his family on an older plane he wasn’t familiar with, and he didn’t think it would be a “comfortable trip.”
Aliseril began exploring the possibility of building an aircraft himself, reasoning that this would give him a better understanding of the aircraft so that it would be easier to maintain in the long run.
After researching self-assembly aircraft kits, he came across a four-seat aircraft manufactured by the South African company Sling Aircraft, which ticked all the right boxes.
“This was pre-Covid, where travel was very easy then,” he explains. “I ordered the first kit when I got back. And by the time it arrived, the UK was completely shut down.”
Aliseril says his colleagues, some of whom had experience building aircraft, initially offered to help build them. But the restrictions brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, which had spread across the world at the time, prevented this from happening.
Aliseril’s home improvement experience came in handy when building the four-seat Sling TSi aircraft.
Thanks to Ashok Thamarakshan
Amateur-built aircraft in the UK are under investigation by the CAA, who will issue a “Permit to Fly” once they are satisfied the aircraft is fit to fly.
Although the start of construction was slightly delayed due to the Covid-19 restrictions in place in the UK at the time – the Light Aircraft Authority inspector assigned to the project had to visit his workspace beforehand – Aliseril was able to start in April 2020.
While he notes that his engineering background helped in some ways, he believes it was actually his home improvement experience that proved most helpful during the construction of the aircraft, which measures 7,175 meters in length and height. from 2.45 meters.
“These aircraft kits are designed for any amateur to build, provided you are a little hands-on and have experience working with some specialized tools,” he adds, while following the detailed “Ikea furniture type instructions.” ” describes with drawings that came with the package.
“I would say in general that anyone can get involved in these types of builds.”
He built a shed in his yard to complete the construction.
Thanks to Ashok Thamarakshan
Aliseril completed the work himself, signing in Abhilasha to assist in some sections that required more than one pair of hands. Their oldest daughter Diya, now seven, was on hand for tasks such as removing the plastic from each of the components.
By the end of the summer of 2020, Aliseril had built the tail and wings. He started building the hull section in October when the next part of the kit arrived.
Although he initially planned to hire a workshop to build the aircraft, Aliseril believes that creating a workspace in his home was the better choice.
“I could just get in the shed and work on it,” he says. “So just having everything in the backyard really helped, even though space was tight.”
Each stage of the project had to be signed by an inspector before he could start on the next task – the Light Aircraft Authority completed about 12 inspections in total.
When most of the components were constructed and it was time to assemble the aircraft, Aliseril moved everything from his home to a hangar near Cambridge for final assembly and engine assembly. A few months later, the plane passed its final inspection.
It was one of the first Sling TSi homebuilt aircraft built in the UK. Named after his eldest daughter, G-Diya was signed off for its maiden flight in January 2022.
Aliseril recalls sitting anxiously on the ground when a test pilot took the plane he had spent 18 months building up in the air.
The plane, which has a range of 1,389 kilometers, received a permit to fly back in May.
Thanks to Ashok Thamarakshan
“It took about 20 minutes, and then it came back,” he says. “It was a great relief. I couldn’t lift my head to see what happened [during the test flight].”
That first flight was hugely important in many ways.
“On these construction projects, everyone calls it a project until it’s first flown,” he explains. “Once it’s flown, it’s always called an airplane. You never call it a project again. That’s a big step psychologically.”
When it came time to pilot the plane for the first time, Aliseril was joined by another experienced test pilot.
Although he admits to being cautious, “the test pilot tossed the plane around like it was a race car.”
“I felt very nervous, I didn’t want to put extra stress on it,” explains Aliseril. “But he [the test pilot] really went to extremes. And it was good to experience that. I know it [the aircraft] can handle this a lot.
“Once I landed, huh [the test pilot] clapped his hands and said, “Congratulations, you just landed the plane you built.” That was a great feeling.”
G-Diya, which has a range of 1,389 kilometers, underwent several more test flights before receiving a permit to fly in May 2022.
The following weekend, Aliseril flew with his wife and daughters Diya and Tara, four, to the Isle of Wight, where they took a short taxi ride from the airport to the beach.
“The kids were very happy,” he says. “So that kind of freedom. And the fact that we could just do that on a Saturday and still be back at 4pm. That was a wonderful feeling.”
In June 2022, he and a pilot friend made a week-long trip through Northern Europe, flying to the Czech Republic, Austria and Germany.
While Aliseril emphasizes that he is still a relatively new pilot – he currently has about 125 flying hours under his belt – his confidence is growing with each flight and he is working towards flying to Europe with his family.
“That’s the plan for the future,” he says. “We can travel at the weekend within the UK, if the weather is nice. And in the summer holidays we can book a week and then fly to Europe.”
For Aliseril, one of the main advantages of the aircraft, apart from the freedom it offers him and his family, is the friendships he has formed with other pilots.
He was always aware that owning an airplane could become a financial burden, but managed to get around this by working out an arrangement to share it with three others.
“Getting your private license is quite expensive,” he adds, before noting that many of those who have taken on similar projects are either retired or people “who have the time and financial standing” to do it. to finance the process.
“I knew that from the start and thought I would take that risk and try it myself,” he says. “I knew once it was done I could easily find people to share that cost. And it worked out pretty well [for me].”
Now that the plane is evenly split between four people, “it only costs us about the price of an SUV,” Aliseril adds.
“It’s more economical in the air — it only takes about 20 gallons of unleaded fuel per hour of flight,” he says. “So the fuel cost is about the same as driving.”
There is currently no hangar space at the airports close to his home, so Aliseril is building a new hangar for the plane, still standing near Cambridge, at an airport in Essex.
As for the build cost, the kit was priced at around £80,000 (approximately $91,000) according to Aliseril, while additional costs, including avionics, as well as the aircraft’s Rotax engine, propeller and other supplies, add up to the total at around £180,000 (approximately $91,000). $203,000).
He hopes more young people will take on these types of projects in the future, and points to aircraft sharing as a way to make things more cost-effective and make connections in the aviation world.
“It’s going to be a common thing,” he says. “You always have someone to fly with when your family is not available. Even if you have other pilots who are friends, you learn from each other.”