This Man Built a Plane for His Family in His Garden

(CNN) — Mechanical engineer Ashok Aliseril Thamarakshan didn’t seriously consider learning to fly a plane until he moved near an airport in the UK more than a decade ago.

He got his first taste of flying a few years later, when his wife Abhilasha bought him a 30-minute flight for his birthday.

Aliseril, who lives in Essex, England, booked some flying lessons at the local airport and flew to the Isle of Wight, off England’s south coast, during his first lesson.

“It opened my eyes [flying] If you have that ability, you have the freedom to go somewhere and have access to a plane,” he told CNN Travel. “So that really fascinates me.

Aliseril received his private pilot’s license in 2019 and soon began renting aircraft for short-haul flights.

Amateur build

Engineer Ashok Aliseril spent 18 months building a four-seater plane with the help of his daughter Tara during the pandemic.

Engineer Ashok Aliseril spent 18 months building a four-seater plane with the help of his daughter Tara during the pandemic.

by Ashok Thamarakshan

But as his family grew — he and Abhilasha now have two daughters — the two-seaters normally available for private hire became even more out of place, and he began to consider the idea of ​​buying his own.

Aliseril briefly considered buying an older plane and looked at some built in the 1960s and 70s.

However, he said he was uneasy at the prospect of flying his family on an older plane he was not familiar with and didn’t think it would be a “comfortable journey”.

Aliseril began researching the possibility of building his own plane, thinking it would give him a better understanding of the plane and thus make it easier to maintain in the long run.

After researching self-assembling aircraft kits, he stumbled upon a four-seater made by South African company Sling Aircraft that fit all the right requirements.

In January 2020, Aliseril flew to the Sling Aircraft factory in Johannesburg for a weekend to participate in Sling TSi for aircraft During a test flight, he was so impressed that he decided to buy it.

“This was before Covid, when travel was still very easy,” he explained. “I ordered the first kit when I got back. When it arrived, the UK was in total lockdown.”

Aliseril said his colleagues, some of whom had experience building planes, initially offered to help build them. However, restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has now spread across the globe, mean this is not possible.

home assembly

Aliseril's home improvement experience came in handy when building the four-seat Sling TSi.

Aliseril’s home improvement experience came in handy when building the four-seat Sling TSi.

by Ashok Thamarakshan

Undeterred, he set up a small shed in his back garden and planned the different phases of the project, which would be completed by Light Aircraft Associationa UK representative body that oversees the construction and maintenance of domestic aircraft, approved by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
The rules for amateur build aircraft vary slightly from country to country.In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has a Experimental Airworthiness Where a special certificate of airworthiness may be issued to a complete aircraft.

In the UK, amateur-built aircraft are investigated by the CAA, which issues a “permit to fly” once it is satisfied that the aircraft is fit to fly.

Despite a slight delay in the start of construction due to Covid-19 restrictions in place in the UK at the time – the Light Aircraft Association inspector assigned to the project was required to visit his workspace beforehand – Aliseril was able to start April 2020.

While he points out that his engineering background was helpful in some respects, he believes that in fact his home improvement experience proved most useful in building the 7.175m long and 2.45m high aircraft.

“These airplane kits are designed for any hobbyist, as long as you have a bit of hands-on skill and you have experience with some professional tools,” he added, describing a detailed “IKEA furniture type description” and accompanying drawings with kit.

“I would say that, generally speaking, anyone can participate in this type of construction.”

lock item

He built a shed in his garden to complete the build.

He built a shed in his garden to complete the build.

by Ashok Thamarakshan

Aliseril did the job himself, drafted in Abhilasha to assist with some sections that required more than one pair of hands. Their oldest daughter, Tara, 7, is on site performing tasks such as removing plastic from every component.

By late summer 2020, Aliseril had built a tail and wings. He started building the fuselage section in October, when the next part of the kit arrived.

While he originally planned to hire a workshop to build the plane, Aliseril decided creating a workspace at home would be a better option.

“I just go into the shed and start working,” he said. “So having everything in the back garden was really helpful, despite the small space.”

Each phase of the program had to be signed off by an inspector before he could move on to the next assignment – ​​the Light Aircraft Association completed about a dozen inspections in total.

With most of the components built, it was time to assemble the aircraft and Aliseril moved everything from his home to a hangar near Cambridge for final assembly and engine installation. A few months later, the plane passed its final inspection.

It was one of the first Sling TSi homebrew aircraft built in the UK. G-Diya, named after his youngest daughter, signed an agreement for its first flight in January 2022.

Aliseril recalls waiting anxiously on the ground when a test pilot took to the air with the plane he had spent 18 months building.

take off

The plane, which traveled 1,389 kilometers, received clearance to return in May.

The plane, which traveled 1,389 kilometers, received clearance to return in May.

by Ashok Thamarakshan

“He picked it up for about 20 minutes and then came back,” he said. “It was a relief. I couldn’t look up to see what was going on. [during the test flight]”

The first flight is significant in many ways.

“With these build projects, before the first flight, everybody calls it a project,” he explained. “Once it flies, it’s always called an airplane. You can’t call it a project anymore. It’s a big psychological step.”

When he first flew the plane himself, Aliseril was accompanied by another experienced test pilot.

While he admits he was very cautious, the test pilot “threw the plane like a racing car”.

“I was very nervous and I didn’t want to put any extra pressure on it,” Aliseril explained. “but he [the test pilot] Really pushed it to the limit. It was a pleasure to experience this.i know it [the aircraft] Can handle so much.

“As soon as I landed, he [the test pilot] Clap your hands and say, “Congratulations, you just landed the plane you built.” That’s a great feeling. “

The G-Diya has a range of 1,389 kilometers and has undergone several test flights before being granted a flight permit in May 2022.

The following weekend, Aliseril flew to the Isle of Wight with his wife and four-year-old daughters Diya and Tara, where they took a taxi from the airport to the beach.

“The kids were really having fun,” he said. “So that kind of freedom. The fact that we can do that on a Saturday and still get back by 4 p.m. is a great feeling.”

Over the past few months, Aliseril and his family have flown back to the Isle of Wight and also visited the seaside town of Skegness in eastern England and the village of Tweston in Buckinghamshire.They’ve been documenting their travels instagram.

In June 2022, he took a week-long trip to Northern Europe with a pilot friend, flying to the Czech Republic, Austria and Germany successively.

While Aliseril stresses that he’s still a relatively new pilot — he currently has about 125 hours of flying time — his confidence grows with each flight and he’s working hard to fly to Europe with his family.

family trip

“That’s the plan for the future,” he said. “We can travel within the UK at the weekend when the weather is nice. In the summer we can book a week and then fly to Europe.”

For Aliseril, one of the main benefits of the plane, besides the freedom it afforded him and his family, was the friendship he developed with other pilots.

He always knew owning a plane could be a financial burden, but through an arrangement with three others to share the plane, he has been able to work around that.

“It costs a lot of money to get a private permit,” he added, before noting that many of the people who worked on similar projects are either retired or have “the time and the financial situation” to fund the process.

“I knew this from the beginning and thought I was going to take the risk and try to do it myself,” he said. “I knew once it was done I could easily find someone to share the cost. And it worked out really well [for me]”

Now that the plane is split between four people, “we only paid about the price of an SUV,” adds Aliseril.

“It’s more fuel efficient in the air – only about 20 liters of unleaded fuel per hour of flight,” he said. “So the cost of fuel is almost equal to driving a car.”

The airport near his home currently has no hangar space, so Aliseril is building a new hangar for the plane, which is still at Essex Airport near Cambridge.

As for build costs, according to Aliseril, the kit cost around £80,000 (approximately $91,000), with additional costs including avionics, as well as the plane’s Rotax engines, propellers and other supplies, bringing the total to about £180,000 (about $203,000).

He hopes to see more young people taking part in programs like this in the future, noting that shared aircraft ownership is a cost-effective way to create connections in the aviation community.

“It became a public thing,” he said. “If your family isn’t around, you’ll always have someone to fly with you. Plus, having other pilots as friends – you can learn from each other.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story confused Aliseril’s oldest and youngest daughters. It also misstates the name of the Light Aircraft Association.

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