(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 a plane.
He got his first taste of flying a few years later when his wife Abhilasha bought him a 30-minute flight experience for his birthday.
Aliseril, who is based in the English county of Essex, booked some flying lessons at a local airfield and flew to the Isle of Wight, an island off the south coast of England, for his first session.
“That was pretty eye-opening as to what it’s like [flying] it gives you the freedom to go places if you have that ability and access to a plane,” he tells CNN Travel. “So it really hooked me.”
Aliseril obtained his private pilot’s license in 2019 and soon began chartering planes for short flights.
Engineer Ashok Aliseril spent 18 months building a four-seater plane during the pandemic, helped by his daughter Tara.
Courtesy Ashok Thamarakshan
But as his family grew—he and Abhilasha now have two daughters—the two-seater planes normally available for private charter became even less suitable, and he began to ponder the idea of buying his own plane.
Aliseril briefly considered buying an older plane and looked at some that had been built in the 1960s and 1970s.
However, he says he was uncomfortable with the prospect of flying with his family on an older aircraft he was unfamiliar with and didn’t think it would be a “comfortable journey”.
Aliseril began looking into the possibility of building an aircraft himself, reasoning that this would allow him to better understand the aircraft so that it would be easier to maintain in the long term.
After researching DIY airplane kits, he came across a four-seater airplane made by South African company Sling Aircraft that ticked all the right boxes.
“This was pre-Covid, where traveling was still very easy at the time,” he explains. “I ordered the first kit when I got back. And when it arrived, the UK was in full lockdown.”
Aliseril says his colleagues, some of whom had experience building aircraft, initially offered to help with the build. But the restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, which had spread around the world at this time, made this not possible.
Aliseril’s home improvement experience came in handy during the construction of the four-seat Sling TSi aircraft.
Courtesy Ashok Thamarakshan
Hobby-built aircraft in the UK are investigated by the CAA, who will issue a ‘permit to fly’ once they are satisfied that the aircraft is airworthy.
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 Association inspector assigned to the project had to visit their workspace before, Aliseril could 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 came in most handy 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, as long as you’re a little handy and have experience working with some specialized tools,” he adds, describing the detailed “Ikea furniture-type instructions” with drawings that came with them. . with the kit
“I would say that, in general, anyone can participate in these types of builds.”
He built a shed in his garden to finish the construction.
Courtesy Ashok Thamarakshan
Aliseril completed the work himself, drafting Abhilasha to help with some of the sections that required more than a pair of hands. Their eldest daughter Tara, now seven, was available for tasks such as removing the 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 had originally planned to hire a workshop to build the plane, Aliseril feels that creating a workspace in his home was the best option.
“I could go into the shed and work on it,” he says. “So having everything just in the back garden helped a lot, even though the space was tight.”
Each stage of the project had to be signed off by an inspector before it could move on to the next task: the Light Aircraft Association completed about 12 inspections in total.
Once most of the components were built and it was time to assemble the aircraft, Aliseril moved everything from his home to a hangar near Cambridge for final assembly and engine tuning. The aircraft passed its final inspection a few months later.
It was one of the first UK home-built Sling TSi aircraft. G-Diya, named after his young daughter, was signed for its first flight in January 2022.
Aliseril remembers waiting anxiously on the ground as a test pilot took the plane he had spent 18 months building into the air.
Taking the flight
The plane, which has a range of 1,389 kilometres, was given permission to fly back in May.
Courtesy Ashok Thamarakshan
“He held her for about 20 minutes, and then he came back,” she says. “It was such a relief. I couldn’t lift my head to see what was happening [during the test flight].”
That first flight was very important in many ways.
“With these construction projects, everyone calls it a project until the first one flies,” he explains. “Once it’s flown, it’s always called an airplane. You no longer call it a project. Psychologically, this is a big step.”
When it came time to fly the plane for the first time himself, Aliseril was accompanied by another experienced test pilot.
Although he admits to being decidedly cautious, the test pilot was “throwing the plane like it was a race car.”
“I was very nervous, I didn’t want to put more stress on it,” explains Aliseril. “But hey [the test pilot] I was really pushing it to the limit. And it was good to experience it. I know that [the aircraft] can handle so much
“Once I landed, hey [the test pilot] he clapped his hands 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, went through a series of test flights before receiving permission to fly 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 it on a Saturday and come back at 4 p.m., that was a great feeling.”
In June 2022, he took a week-long trip through northern Europe with a pilot friend and flew to the Czech Republic, Austria and Germany.
Although Aliseril stresses that he is still a relatively new pilot, he currently has around 125 flight 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 going forward,” he says. “We can do trips to the UK on a weekend, when the weather is good. And in the summer holidays, we can book a week and then fly to Europe.”
For Aliseril, one of the main advantages of the plane, apart from the freedom it provides him and his family, are the friendships he has made with other pilots.
He always knew that owning a plane could become a financial burden, but he’s been able to avoid that by working out an arrangement to share it with three other people.
“Getting your private license costs quite a bit,” he adds, before pointing out that many who have taken on similar projects are retired or people “who have the time and financial situation” to finance the process. .
“I knew that from the beginning and I 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 share that cost. And it’s 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,” Aliseril adds.
“It’s more fuel efficient in the air – only about 20 liters of unleaded fuel are needed per hour of flight,” he says. “So the fuel costs are pretty much the same as driving.”
There is currently no hangar space at airfields near his home, so Aliseril is building a new hangar for the plane, which is still based near Cambridge, at an airfield in Essex.
In terms of build cost, the kit was priced at around £80,000 (about $91,000), according to Aliseril, while added costs including avionics as well as the Rotax engine, propeller and other aircraft 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 points to shared aircraft ownership as a way to make things more cost-effective, as well as making connections in the aviation world.
“It becomes a communal thing,” he says. “You always have someone to fly with if your family isn’t available. Plus, having other pilot friends, you learn from each other.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story mixed up Aliseril’s older and younger daughters. He also got the name of the Light Aircraft Association wrong.