Aaron Knight’s Sonex

A homebuilt kit allows one pilot the thrill of flying for a fraction of the cost.

The Sonex is a two-seat aluminum aircraft designed by John Monnett and sold in kit form by Sonex Aircraft. Like most of John’s designs, the aircraft is aerobatic, easy to build and fun to fly. Today a complete Sonex kit costs $27,670. That includes an 80 hp Aero Vee engine kit. There are two other powerplant options: the 80 hp Jabiru and the 120 hp Jabiru.

When Aaron Knight wrote out a check for his Sonex kit in the taildragger configuration (it can also be ordered as a trike), he opted for the 120 hp Jabiru. He also went for a complete glass panel. In the end, he estimates his project came in just over $50,000. That’s considerably less than any new, two-seat factory-built aircraft out there including the LSAs and that’s what convinced him to build his own. “The used airplanes out there didn’t have exciting features or performance,” he said. “I realized that some of the homebuilt designs offered wonderful benefits at a fraction of the cost if you were willing to build it, so I finally decided that was what I had to do.”

Before ordering his kit, Aaron visited numerous websites, talked to owners, ordered literature, studied specs and thought for a long time about what he was looking for. He narrowed his considerations down to several designs. “Some of the kits would have taken up to five or six or more years of my life with the time I had available.” In the end, he zeroed in on the Sonex…it was fast, had good range, it was aerobatic, could be built in a short period of time and was the lowest priced of the complete kits. Aaron signed up for one of the Sonex workshops, held at the Sonex factory in Oshkosh. He brought his checkbook and when he’d completed the workshop, he signed a contract for a Sonex kit.

Knowing his basement was inadequate, he put up a barn building large enough to accommodate the fuselage and wings. He dove into the project with fervent determination, working on Saturdays (often for 16 hours) and Sundays after church (for 4 to 8 hours). His kids aged 7, 10, and 12 worked with him almost every weekend. They deburred rivet holes, inserted and removed clecos, polished metal, helped position parts and rivets, and handled hundreds of simple items. While Aaron was enjoying quality time with his kids, his wife was freed up on the weekends more than usual, and as a result the homebuilt project produced virtually no strain on the family.

The most challenging parts of the project for Aaron arose in the fuselage, which has some of the most complex systems. The motor mount slowed him down; he wasn’t too happy working with fiberglass and trying to make the cowling and composite components fit properly; and though the all-glass instrument panel took him a long time, he was pleased and proud of what he put together, gleefully declaring “it’s the best panel to be found in any Sonex”. In the process of assembling his aircraft, he adhered to the plans with precision, but went on to add a smoke system for shock and giggles, enclosed the baggage compartment and created a highly functional, low-profile panel. “That was enough customizing to satisfy me.”

He finished the exterior with what he calls a copper chameleon paint job that glistens with different metallic colors in the sunlight. While building, Aaron went out to a nearby airport, earned his taildragger endorsement and learned to do aerobatics at the same time.

On June 13, 2008, at age 35, he climbed into his airplane and experienced the kind of white fear Melville described so poignantly in Moby Dick. It was the day of his first flight. “It was the scariest moment of my life. I kept wondering: ‘what have I done…what have I gotten myself into?'” However, once Aaron fired up the engine and began to taxi, the fear was replaced with focus and an eagerness to put the finishing touch on his accomplishment. Once airborne, he was relaxed and thrilled with the performance. He loves doing aerobatics in his Sonex and has logged some long cross-country flights with his kids and his wife. He’s flown from his home in Norwell, Massachusetts, to the Grand Canyon, to the Turks and Caicos Islands, to Niagara Falls and numerous other tourist destinations. He’s logged nearly 600 hours in his Sonex and never experienced any major problems or had to change anything but oil.

Aaron has his own website with a number of videos taken to document his longer cross country flights and some of his aerobatic flights. You can watch those videos here.

View Aaron’s Sonex in photos.

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Content provided by Aircraft Spruce.


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