For me deciding what to build took two distinct paths: What do I want to build, and what can I afford to build. I thought I wanted a fast, sleek cross-country cruiser, although I didn't particularly have anywhere to go in mind. I wanted to be able to do aerobatics, and as a spin off from that have confidence in the structure to withstand bumps and abuse well. I wanted to be able to enjoy back country areas, and land on dirt roads and sand bars. I wanted folding wings so that I could trailer the plane easily and take it home or on camping trips. Most importantly, I needed something I could afford on my somewhat limited family budget. I guess my perfect homebuilt would be a cross between an RV and a Kitfox, and indeed those were the two front runners. I knew price was a major consideration and so I was leaning towards the Kitfox. Unfortunately, the bank crashed my ill-conceived plans with a dose of reality on what it would really cost me.
This little realization set me on a new path. I have read for years about "defining your mission". I thought I had. I had even seen the Sonex at AirVenture in 2000 and really didn't give it more than a passing, superficial glance. Truth be told, I didn't really care for the looks. I had read several builder websites extolling the virtues of the Sonex, and I was impressed with the comments of the plans quality and ease of building. I decided to take a hard look at my "mission" and see what may have changed.
I wanted to do aerobatics. I wanted light, responsive controls. I wanted flying the plane to be fun. I realized that "fun" was what I really wanted, and not so much pure aerobatic prowess. Aerobatic capabilities ensure "fun handling".
I wanted a two-place. I knew I could always rent a four place as needed, and I wanted to fly with my kids and instill a love of aviation early on.
I wanted to fly really fast. With more thought however, I envisioned the majority of my flights terminating at the departure airport. In other words, local flying. In the end, fast was just "cool". I decided that fast was good, but not at the expense of higher cost.
I wanted to fly low and slow like an ultralight, but I didn't particularly envision myself landing in fields somewhere just for fun (even though I liked the idea...). I didn't need a Super Cub, nor did I really have an itch to fly as slow as humanly possible. I simply wanted to enjoy flying the way I never really did from 2000 feet in a Cessna.
I wanted (needed, really) an inexpensive plane to build. I had more time than money, enjoyed building, and was willing to trade my time to save money. At the same time, I was not willing to build for years and years and risk getting sidetracked due to family and life considerations. About 1000-1500 hours seemed right. I also wanted smaller, cheaper engines. The engine is a huge factor in the total cost of the airplane, and about $13,000 (the price of a new Rotax 912S) was my limit. All told, I wanted to fly for under $30,000.
There were other factors, like factory reputation and support, total number of examples built, "coolness" factor of the plane, but in the end, here is how I defined my mission:
"A two place, easy to build, low cost sport plane with superb handling qualities, robust design, and relatively efficient performance on inexpensive engines."
Compare this to the Sonex description:
"Sonex is a basic and economical all metal two place monoplane. Designed to meet the needs of the European and Domestic sport aircraft markets, it can incorporate various light weight contemporary engines of 80 to 120 hp (2180cc Volkswagen, 2200 Jabiru, and 3300 Jabiru). Outstanding performance is achieved through its clean aerodynamic shape and simple, light weight construction."
It seemed like a pretty good match, and after another couple of months reading builder websites, I finally make up my mind, satisfied I had made the right decision.
The bottom line is this: The Sonex *IS* the plane I have been looking for!