This man built a plane for his family in his backyard
(CNN) — It wasn’t until he moved near an airfield in the UK more than a decade ago that mechanical engineer Ashok Aliseril Thamarakshan began to seriously consider learning to fly an airplane.
He got his first taste of flight a few years later, when his wife Abhilasha gave him a 30-minute flight experience for his birthday.
Aliseril, who is based in the English county of Essex, took flying lessons at a local airfield and flew to the Isle of Wight, an island off the south coast of England, during his first session.
“It was an eye opener on how he [flying] gives you the freedom to go places if you have the ability and to have access to a plane,” he told CNN Travel. “So that really got me hooked.”
Aliseril obtained his private pilot license in 2019 and quickly started renting planes for short flights.
Engineer Ashok Aliseril spent 18 months building a four-seater plane during the pandemic, helped by his daughter Tara.
Courtesy of Ashok Thamarakshan
But as his family grew – he and Abhilasha now have two daughters – the two-seater planes usually available for private hire became even less suitable, and he began to think about the idea of buying his own plane. .
Aliseril briefly considered buying an older aircraft and looked at some that had been built in the 1960s and 1970s.
However, he says he felt uncomfortable flying his family on an older plane he didn’t know and didn’t think it would be a “comfortable trip”.
Aliseril began investigating the possibility of building an aircraft himself, believing that it would allow him to better understand the aircraft so that it would be easier to maintain in the long term.
After researching DIY aircraft kits, he came across a four-seat aircraft made by South African company Sling Aircraft that ticked all the right boxes.
“It was before the Covid, where travel was still very easy at the time,” he explains. “I ordered the first kit on my return. And by the time it arrived the UK was in lockdown.”
Aliseril says his colleagues, some of whom had experience building planes, initially offered to help with the construction. But restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, which had spread across the world by this stage, meant that was not possible.
Aliseril’s home improvement experience came in handy when building the four-seat Sling TSi aircraft.
Courtesy of Ashok Thamarakshan
Amateur-built planes in the UK are investigated by the CAA, who will issue a ‘permit to fly’ once satisfied the plane is fit to fly.
Although the start of construction was slightly delayed due to Covid-19 restrictions in place in the UK at the time — the Light Aircraft Association inspector assigned to the project was due to visit his workspace beforehand — Aliseril was able to start in April 2020.
Although he notes that his engineering background helped him in some ways, he thinks it was actually his home renovation experience that proved most helpful during the construction of the plane, which has a length of 7.175 meters and a height of 2.45 meters.
“These airplane kits are designed for any hobbyist to build, provided you are somewhat handy and have experience with specialized tools,” he adds, describing “furniture type instructions Ikea” detailed with drawings that came with the kit.
“I would say that in general anyone can get involved in these kinds of builds.”
He built a shed in his garden to complete the construction.
Courtesy of Ashok Thamarakshan
Aliseril completed the work himself, drafting in Abhilasha to help with some of the sections that required more than one pair of hands. Their eldest daughter, Tara, now seven, was on hand for tasks such as removing plastic from each of the components.
By late summer 2020, Aliseril had built the tail and wings. He started building the fuselage section in October, when the next part of the kit arrived.
Although he originally planned to hire a workshop to build the plane, Aliseril thinks creating a workspace in his home was the best bet.
“I could just walk into the shed and work there,” he says. “So having everything right in the back garden really helped, even though space was tight.”
Each stage of the project had to be approved by an inspector before it could move on to the next task – the Light Aircraft Association carried out around 12 inspections in total.
Once the majority of the components were built and it was time to assemble the plane, Aliseril moved everything from his home to a hangar near Cambridge for final assembly and engine fitting. The plane passed its final inspection a few months later.
It was one of the first homebuilt Sling TSi aircraft built in the UK. G-Diya, named after his youngest daughter, was signed for his first flight in January 2022.
Aliseril remembers waiting anxiously on the ground while a test pilot took the plane he had spent 18 months building in the air.
Take the plane
The plane, which has a range of 1,389 kilometres, received a return flight permit in May.
Courtesy of Ashok Thamarakshan
“He took it for about 20 minutes and then he came back,” he says. “It was a big relief. I couldn’t lift my head to see what was going on. [during the test flight].”
This first flight was extremely important in many ways.
“With these construction projects, everyone calls it a project until it’s first launched,” he explains. “Once it’s flown, it’s still called an airplane. You don’t call it a project anymore. It’s a big step psychologically.”
When it was time to fly the plane for the first time himself, Aliseril was accompanied by another experienced test pilot.
While he admits to being decidedly cautious, the test pilot “thrown the plane as if it were a racing car”.
“I felt very nervous, I didn’t want to put any extra stress on it,” says Aliseril. “But he [the test pilot] really pushed him to his limits. And it was good to experience that. i know that [the aircraft] can handle so much.
“Once I landed, it [the test pilot] cheered and said “Congratulations, you just landed the plane you built.” It was a great feeling.”
G-Diya, which has a range of 1,389 kilometers, conducted several more test flights before receiving a flight permit in May 2022.
The following weekend, Aliseril flew with his wife and four-year-old daughters Diya and Tara to the Isle of Wight, where they took a short taxi ride from the airfield to the beach.
“The kids were really happy,” he says. “So that kind of freedom. And the fact that we could do this on a Saturday and be back at 4 p.m. It was a great feeling.”
In June 2022, he took a week-long trip to northern Europe with a pilot friend and flew to the Czech Republic, Austria and Germany.
While Aliseril points out that he is still a relatively new pilot – he currently has around 125 flying hours under his belt – his confidence grows with each flight and he strives to fly to Europe with his family.
“That’s the plan for the future,” he says. “We can take trips to the UK on a weekend, when the weather is good. And during the summer holidays, we can book a week and then fly to Europe.”
For Aliseril, one of the biggest benefits of flying, besides the freedom it gives him and his family, are the friendships he has made with other pilots.
He was always aware that owning a plane could become a financial burden, but he managed to circumvent this problem by striking a deal 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 to fund the process. .
“I knew that from the start and thought I’d take that risk and try to do it myself,” he says. “I knew that once it was done, I could easily find people to split that cost. And it worked out pretty well. [for me].”
Now that the plane is split equally between four people, “it only costs us about the price of an SUV,” adds Aliseril.
“It’s more fuel efficient in the air – it only takes about 20 liters of unleaded fuel per flight hour,” he says. “So fuel costs are about equal to driving.”
There is currently no hangar space at the airfields near his home, so Aliseril is building a new hangar for the aircraft, which is still based near Cambridge, at an airfield in Essex.
As for the cost to build, the kit price was around £80,000 (about $91,000) according to Aliseril, while additional costs, including avionics, as well as the Rotax engine from the aircraft, propeller and other supplies, brought the total to around £180,000 (about $203,000).
He hopes more young people will take on projects like this in the future and says shared ownership of planes is a way to make things more profitable and create connections in the world of aviation.
“It becomes a community thing,” he says. “You always have someone to fly with if your family isn’t available. Plus, having other pilots who are friends – you learn from each other.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story confused the elder and younger daughters of Aliseril. He also misstated the name of the Light Aircraft Association.