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Can Anyone Build a Helicopter? Top 5 Kits


The dream of owning your own helicopter for most people is just that, a dream. The high price tag of a helicopter makes it out of reach for most people, but for those with a mechanical mind, basic tools, and a workshop, the many helicopter kits available can make that dream a reality.

I remember watching a TV show many decades ago about a guy how bought his own DIY helicopter kit and built it. Fascinating to watch, it showed just how well a modern DIY kit helicopter can be assembled by the average Joe.

Helicopters to design and build from scratch are very difficult and require a lot of expensive research & design. A helicopter kit from an established helicopter manufacturer can allow the average person to build and fly their own helicopter for around $50,000 and 500 hours of assembly time.

If the challenge of building and owning a helicopter is something that interests you then read on to find out which are the best helicopter kits on the market today.

What is Needed to Build a Kit Helicopter?

Some engineering knowledge and experience working with basic tools are beneficial to building a kit helicopter. Most kits are assembly-only using basic tools and following instructions. A dry and clear area to build the kit will be required during the many months of assembly.

Building an aircraft can be as much of a challenge as learning to fly it but with today’s modern helicopter kits the manufacturers have spent a lot of time and effort to create a kit that not only assembles easily but also requires very little mechanical experience.

Most of the intricate or specialist components are manufactured, assembled, and then calibrated in the factory so all the customer has to do is assemble ‘Modules’. Welding and sheet metal are usually always done at the factory as this can require specialist skills and tooling for which most kit builders do not have.


The Easier the Manufacturer Can Make the Kit to Assemble, the More Kits They Sell – Simple.


Some of the main things a potential kit buyer needs to possess are being able to follow plans and read engineering diagrams, have a methodical approach working through tasks, and a basic set of tools, most of which can be purchased at your local hardware store or online like Amazon.com

One of the most important elements to successfully building a helicopter is having a dedicated space to assemble the kit. An area that is dry, protected from wind, rain, dust, moisture, and is close by is paramount. The closer the assembly area is to your home, the easier it is to do another step in the build when you get a ‘Spare 10 minutes’.

The assembly area does not have to be huge, but as the kit begins to come together a typical garage will be the minimum size to build it. The other thing to remember is that once it is built you cannot just fly it off your neighborhood driveway to your hanger or friend’s farm. It would be a better option to remove the rotorhead and trailer it to an area at which it can be inspected and test flown.

Wire-Locking Pliers Will Become Your New Best Friend!

Some kits may vary in the depth of the build. Some will be ‘Assemble Only’, whereas some may require the manufacture of items or sheet metal. To give you some idea of the type of tools most helicopter kits will require, see below:

  • Metal Shears
  • Die Grinder
  • Hand Grinder
  • Bench Grinder
  • Sanding Drum
  • Belt Sander
  • Drill Press
  • Hand Drill
  • Countesinks
  • Reamers
  • Drill Set
  • Scribes
  • Center Punch
  • Wrenches
  • Screwdrivers
  • Files
  • Pop Rivet Gun
  • Hammers
  • Cleco Fastners (Amazon Link for Reference)
  • Feeler Gaugues
  • Expoxy
  • Loctite
  • Disc Sander
  • Wet & Dry Sand Paper
  • Wire-Locking Pliers (Amazon Link for Reference)
  • Spring Clamps
  • Vice Clamps
  • Socket Sets

Also bear in mind most kits come unpainted, so an area large enough for you to prep, paint, and dry the fuselage, tailboom, cowling covers, and components will also be required. Painting an aircraft is a very important step and should not be rushed. Also, be aware that paint will need to withstand spillages of aviation gasoline or jet fuel, depending on the engine type installed in the helicopter.

What are the Most Popular DIY Helicopter Kits?

Today’s DIY helicopter kit market is dominated by 5 main helicopters with varying passenger-carrying capabilities, build times, and price tags. Those helicopter kits are:

  • XEL By Composite-FX
  • HeliCycle By HeliCycle Ventures LLC
  • Safari 400 By Safari Helicopter
  • Phoenix A600 Turbo By Rotor X Aircraft Manufacturing
  • Hummingbird 300L By Vertical Aviation Technologies Inc.
ModelKit Price
(USD)
Cost Per
Flight Hour
(USD)
# of SeatsUseful LoadBuild Time
(Hours)
XEL$41,000$32.151298 lb.400-500
HeliCycle$67,000$87.151325 lb.400-600
Phoenix A600 Turbo$108,500$69.062655 lb.300-450
Safari 400$152,800$99.212650 lb.500
Hummingbird 300L$227,475$119.324950 lb.1200
* Useful Load includes fuel, passengers & cargo

Let’s take a look at each of these kits individually…

Composite-FX

One of the most popular helicopter kit manufacturers in the market today providing a range of 4 different helicopter kits ranging from an Ultra-Light version to a gas turbine version. All are single-seat kits.

XEL

Composite-FX XEL – Source: FlugKerl2
Seats:One
Engine:MZ202 Piston @ 63Hp
Useful Load:298 lb.
Purchase Cost:$41,000
Hourly Cost:$32.15* excl. Insurance/Hangerage
Build Time:400-500 Hours
Extras Required:Paint, Radio Equipment, Avionics, Electrical, Shipping
License To Fly:None Required
* Based on Jet A @ $4/Gal

The XEL is the only helicopter kit that you can assemble and fly without needing a pilot license! Designed as an Ultra-Light vehicle to fall under the FAA’s Part 103 regulations, this helicopter can be flown by anyone! But, just because you do not need a license does not mean you can just jump in and take it for a ride! Training is required in a two-seat helicopter beforehand!

My students used to take on average around 10 hours just to get the art of hovering a helicopter and Composite-FX include a $5000 discount if you can show you have a helicopter pilot certificate or have gained a hovering endorsement from a Certified Helicopter Flying Instructor in a two-seat helicopter like a Robinson R22.

This Ultra-Light kit has a piston-powered engine that will give a pilot weighing no more than 240lb. a flight of up to 45 minutes cruising at speeds around 62mph. This very basic helicopter kit comes with floats as standard making it the perfect fishing machine! Just roll it out of the barn, fire it up, and off you go!

For those that wish to skip the building phase, you can buy the helicopter factory assembled for a further $11,000, and a list of upgrades allow you to customize the kit to your liking.

You can find out more about the XEL at the manufacturers’ website HERE


HeliCycle Ventures Inc.

HeliCycle Ventures is a New Mexico-based company offering the latest evolution of the HeliCycle which has been steadily progressing since its first creation in 1997 by B.J. Schramm, the same person who also started the Rotorway International helicopter company.

HeliCycle

HeliCycle – Source: Jim Manley
Seats:One
Engine:Solar T63-T32 Gas Turbine @ 100Hp
Useful Load:325 lb.
Purchase Cost:$67,000
Hourly Cost:$87.15* excl. Insurance/Hangerage
Build Time:400-600 Hours
Extras Required:Paint, Radio Equipment, Avionics, Upholstery, Shipping
License To Fly:Private Pilot Certificate – Helicopter
* Based on Jet A @ $4/Gal

The HeliCycle is now a 6th generation single-seat kit helicopter that is now powered by a modified T63-T32 100Hp gas turbine engine. It is designed primarily as a fun-fly, good weather helicopter allowing the pilot to fly at a top speed of 110mph up to 150 miles with an aux fuel tank fitted.

Having a gas turbine allows for a much higher power to weight ratio allowing the pilot to weigh up to a maximum of 220lb.

This simple-to-assemble kit usually takes most builders anywhere from 400-600 hours to complete, but a fast-build option is available from the factory dropping this time to 200-300 for a further $12,000, and helps to eliminate most of the common build errors the manufacturer sees.

Once you have assembled your kit the manufacturer will send a factory check pilot to inspect, make final engine and flight control adjustments, track & balance the rotor system and complete the first few test flights to ensure your HeliCycle is safe and ready to go!

The manufacturer has left all of the avionics, radios, and electrical system out of the kit as most pilots will have different requirements to what equipment they will need in their HeliCycle. With space at a premium, this gives the owner complete flexibility but will have to be budgeted for when purchasing a kit.

You can find out more about the HeliCycle at the manufacturers’ website HERE


Rotor X Aircraft Manufacturing

Rotor X is now the new owner of the world’s most popular helicopter kit. They purchased RotorWay in 2021 and released the latest version of their kit based on the hugely popular RotorWay Exec and A600 Talon models.

Phoenix A600 Turbo

A600 Talon – Source: Aeroprints
Seats:Two
Engine:Phoenix A600 Turbo @ 168Hp
Useful Load:655 lb.
Purchase Cost:$108,500
Hourly Cost:$69.06* excl. Insurance/Hangerage
Build Time:300-450 Hours
Extras Required:Paint, Radio Equipment, Shipping
License To Fly:Private Pilot Certificate – Helicopter
* Based on 100LL @ $4/Gal

The Phoenix A600 is a two-seat, FADEC controlled, piston-powered helicopter aimed at looking like a true helicopter rather than a kit. The pedigree behind this latest model has allowed the manufacturer to sell over 2500 kits creating one of the best build processes of any kit helicopter.

Most of the ‘Heavy Lifting’ has been done at the factory allowing it to be an ‘Assemble Kit’ using basic hand tools and a few aviation-specific tools. No welding, sheet metal, or intense aviation engineering is required by the customer.

The A600 comes standard with dual electronic ignition, dual FADEC (Full Authority Digital Engine Control), leather seats, a digital flight instrumentation system, and a 17 gallon fuel tank giving just over 2 hours of flight. An additional ‘Aux’ tank can be added to provide a further 14 gallons extending this helicopter’s range to 278 NM.

The manufacturer has incredibly detailed assembly instructions, videos, online support, and a builders/owners online community but if that is not enough, you can also apply for their ‘Builders Assist’ program where you can pay to have someone help you build your kit.

You can find out more about the Phoenix A600 Turbo at the manufacturers’ website HERE


Safari Helicopter

Safari Helicopter produces two helicopter kits. The Safari 400 is their most popular, followed by the Safari 500.

Safari 400

Safari 400 – Source: ALEXF
Seats:Two
Engine:Lycoming O-360 Piston @ 180Hp
Useful Load:650 lb.
Purchase Cost:$142,800
Hourly Cost:$99.21* excl. Insurance/Hangerage
Build Time:500 Hours
Extras Required:Paint, Radio Equipment, Shipping
License To Fly:Private Pilot Certificate – Helicopter
* Based on 100LL @ $4/Gal

The Safari 400 helicopter kit is positioned in the market as ‘The Complete Kit’. It can be ordered as a whole kit that gets delivered all in one go, or the customer can select to have it shipped in 4 stages to help those with limited building space.

The Safari 400 is a two-seat helicopter kit powered by a Lycoming O-360 piston engine which is one of the most reliable and popular aviation piston engines used in many types of helicopters and airplanes, not just kits. The Robinson R22 I used to instruct in has the same engine and it never missed a beat – ever!

A 28 gallon fuel tank allows this helicopter to fly for around 2.5 hours at a top speed of 100 mph.

All of the crucial construction like welding and sheet metal have been completed at the factory allowing the customer to just assemble the aircraft and paint it to their liking. The company also includes a premade wiring harness so even all the electrical equipment is just a matter of plugging it together! This makes the Safari a very attractive proposition, especially to those who are not experienced mechanics or engineers.

You can find out more about the Safari 400 & Safari 500 kits at the manufacturers’ website HERE.


Hummingbird 300L

Vertical Technologies is the only helicopter kit manufacturer to offer a 4 seat helicopter kit. Based on the Sikorsky S-52, the Hummingbird is their version to which they now own the S-52 FAA Type Certificate.

Hummingbird 300L – Source: Aleksandr Markin
Seats:Four
Engine:Titan Fuel Injected IO-540 Piston @ 300 Hp
Useful Load:950 lb.
Purchase Cost:$159,000 + Engine $68,475
Hourly Cost:$119.32* excl. Insurance/Hangerage
Build Time:1200 Hours
Extras Required:Engine, Paint, Radio Equipment, Shipping
License To Fly:Private Pilot Certificate – Helicopter
* Based on 100LL @ $4/Gal

The Hummingbird 300L is based on the Sikorsky S-52 and is aimed as ‘The Family Helicopter Kit’. This 4 seat helicopter comes with two baggage areas under the 2 front seats making it perfect for stowing small luggage for a trip or weekend away, even when all the seats are occupied.

The enclosed cabin is now created using composite panels to help save weight and is all pre-fabricated at the factory so all the owner has to do is paint and install them.

The 300L is powered by a 6 cylinder, fuel-injected Continental Titan 300Hp piston engine allowing this helicopter to lift 950lb. of useful load, fly at a top speed of 105kts, and have a range of 375nm.

Just like all the other kits, the majority of the intricate assembly has been completed at the factory but allows for 51% of the assembly to be completed by the customer under the FAA’s 51% Rule (EAA.org) for kit aircraft.

This helicopter was originally certified as a commercial helicopter and as such went through stricter build protocols to meet this standard. To keep costs low for the customer they then decided to sell it as a kit but using the strict manufacturing standards to provide a higher factor of safety for their customers.

Although this helicopter requires more build time, a higher price tag, and the engine to be purchased separately from the kit, if you are looking for a cheaper 4 seat helicopter to build yourself, then the Hummingbird 300L is definitely an option.

You can find out more about the Humminbird 300L kit at the manufacturers’ website HERE.


If you wish to watch a 9-Part Series on the building of a Rotorway kit helicopter check out the video below:

A Chopper is Born


How Much Does it Cost to Build Your Own Helicopter?

A helicopter kit can cost from $50,000, then it will need shipping, paint, avionics, consumables, and an area to build the helicopter. This can push the cost up to $60,000-70,000 depending on how many extras are required. If flight training is also required then a further $5-10,000 will be required.

The cost of the helicopter kit is just one part of the cost to build your own helicopter. Careful inspection of the manufacturers’ quotation will be needed to ensure no surprises come down the road.

Here are some costs to be aware of:

Not Included in the Kit

Some helicopter kits do not come with an engine, this could be a further $60,000+ expense. Most kits do not come with a radio, some come with no electronics or instrumentation at all. Most kits come unpainted and depending on how much fuselage needs to be painted, this could cost a further $2,000-10,000.

Shipping

One other consideration is crating and shipping. Many of the manufacturers offer kits to be sent in one go or in phases. Each time parts are shipped, the crating and shipping charges will be passed on to you. Be sure to check the costs of these before signing any agreement. The shipping charges alone could cost several thousand dollars!

Inspections

The FAA will require your kit to be inspected once it is complete before it is allowed to fly. This service, if completed by the FAA is free, but due to long delays, the FAA may require you to have the inspection completed by a Designated Airworthiness Representative, who may charge for their time.

The other inspection you may have to be aware of is from the kit manufacturer themselves. Some kits include a final inspection, setup, and test flight by a manufacturers’ test pilot. This may be included in the purchase price or it may be an extra cost that may be required at the end of the build.

This will be something to enquire about at the time of purchase.

For more information on FAA inspections see the FAA website HERE

Premises

Building a kit helicopter in a shed or garage is great until the helicopter begins to become too big! Finding a location that is close to home, big enough to finish the entire build, and then be in a location remote enough to fly the helicopter from may require the renting of space.

Hangers at a local airport can be rented and this is where you will find most kit helicopters are built. Farms or rural properties are a second favorite as they meet all the requirements mentioned. Getting halfway through a build and then having to move can really set back the pace of the assembly, especially when all the tools and workbenches have to be moved as well as the kit itself!

Hanger or unit rental can range from several hundred dollars per month to several thousand, so looking around will be required. Also, many spaces may add in additional fees if not contracted to yearly lease terms.

Tools & Consumables

Most helicopter kits require only basic tools to assemble. There will be however certain aviation-specific tools that will be required to ensure the kist is assembled safely and to meet FAA requirements.

Cleco Fasteners Are Essential During Sheet Metal Installation

Two of the most popular tools that most people outside of aviation do not own are:
(Both can be found at Amazon.com)

Before the build is started it is advisable to get a ‘Tools & Consumables List’ from the manufacturer to ensure you have all the necessary tools on hand before you begin. There is nothing worse than getting a good pace then having it stalled because you are missing a tool or a certain sized Reamer for example.

Flight Training

No matter which helicopter kit you purchase I can tell you now that without ANY flight training you WILL crash it on your first attempt to hover it. Hovering a helicopter is hard, really hard, and without dual controls and an instructor next to you the machine will end up in a pile of bent parts with you wedged in the middle of it.

Even training on a PC simulator will not help you get the ‘Feel’ required to master hovering. Helicopters are susceptible to the Pendulum Effect and Overcontrolling. These two factors will need to be overcome before you can safely hover a helicopter.

Typical students will take on average around 10 hours just to begin mastering a hover, let alone safely executing an autorotation if you experience an engine failure. Helicopters are a great machine but when they bite, they bite hard and the only way to prevent them from biting or recovering from a bite is with proper training!


Here are three articles I highly advise you to read BEFORE purchasing your new helicopter kit:

  1. Learning To Fly Helicopters – Is it really that hard?
  2. How Does a Helicopter Land? With and Without Engine Power
  3. Cost To Become a Pilot: All the Certificates Compared!

How Long Does it Take to Build Your Own Helicopter?

On average, it takes 400-600 hours for most helicopter kits to be assembled by their owner. For a 500 hour build, working 10 hours per week will take approximately 1 year to complete. Working 40 hours per week will take around 3 months. The larger the helicopter, the more hours will be required.

Assembling a helicopter kit is not difficult but does require the methodical execution of the assembly instructions without rushing or working when tired. The assembly of the kit should be a fun part of the journey and having a dedicated space that is easily accessible will allow the build to progress at a good pace.

Any part of the build that is not fully understood should be halted until complete clarification can be sought to ensure it is assembled correctly.

Most kit builders will work on their kit in the evenings and weekends and it’s not uncommon for a build to take 1-2 years.

Do You Need a License to Fly a Kit Helicopter?

All helicopters require the pilot to hold at least a Helicopter Private Pilot Certificate to fly, except for those helicopters classed as an Ultra-Light under FAR Part 103 Regulations. These can be flown without any pilot certificate but are single-seat & will require previous helicopter training to operate safely.

The only helicopter at this time that can be flown without any pilot certificate is the Composite-FX XEL helicopter kit. This helicopter kit is purposely designed to meet the FAA’s requirements as an Ultra-Light Aircraft.

Those requirements in14 CFR §Part 103.1 state the aircraft:

  • Is used or intended be used for manned operation in the air by a Single Person – Only one seat allowed!
  • Is used or intended to be used for recreation or sport purposes only
  • Does not have any U.S. or foreign airworthiness certificate
  • If unpowered, weighs less than 155 pounds
  • If powered, weighs less than 254 pounds empty weight, excluding floats and safety devices which are intended for deployment in a potentially catastrophic situation
  • Has a fuel capacity not exceeding 5 U.S. gallons
  • Is not capable of more than 55 knots calibrated airspeed at full power in level flight
  • Has a power-off stall speed which does not exceed 24 knots calibrated airspeed

Once a helicopter exceeds any of those requirements the pilot is required to have at least a Private Pilot Certificate Helicopter. For those pilots who wish to own the XEL then flight training in a dual controlled helicopter with a Certified Helicopter Flight Instructor is a must to prevent injury and damage to the aircraft.

Rick James

I am an aviation nut! I'm an ATP-rated helicopter pilot & former flight instructor with over 3500 hours spanning 3 countries and many different flying jobs. I love aviation and everything about it. I use these articles to pass on cool facts and information to you whether you are a pilot or just love aviation too! If you want to know more about me, just click on my picture!

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