Semi-functional homebrew Kenyan junk-plane

Gabriel Nderitu is a Kenyan IT worker who devotes his off-hours to attempts to build an airworthy airplane out of junk. Here's his latest attempt: a small plane (with detachable wings), powered by a Toyota engine.

The strutted wing and ailerons are skinned with aluminum sheet. The engine itself turns up to 4,000 rpm, driving a 74-inch wooden propeller through a simple reduction belt drive. Nderitu says "a bit of it was a bit of reinventing the wheel ... not really looking and trying to copy." The aircraft is not yet finished and there is no guarantee Nderitu's craft will ever be licensed, or allowed to fly, or that it is even capable of flight (which seems unlikely). But that may not be the point.
Gabriel Nderitu, Kenyan Homebuilt Aircraft Manufacturer (via Neatorama)


  1. The workmanship is not good. The ‘aircraft’ is way overwight. As a data point a Cessna 172 N with 4 passengers, full tanks of gas and luggage comes in at 1800 lb. If this craft is really 800kg it will thankfully not lift off the ground. If it does it’ll kill the ‘pilot’ From what I see the wings won’t generate uniform lift, his CG looks to be way way too far aft which makes me think it won’t have enough control authority to maneuver in pitch. He really should have started with models. Oh gosh, airmanship is well understood now. The Wright brothers started with wood and canvas. So should he.

  2. Its a bit condescending to imply that this guy has to build a pseudo aircraft out of junk because he is Kenyan. I am sure there are plenty of people in Kenya building aircraft that actually fly, and doing real engineering along the way.

    1. Who said he built it out of junk because he is Kenyan? Two days ago, I blogged about a Dutch artist who makes “deviant taxidermy” tableaux out of dead animals; was mentioning that she is Dutch the same as implying that she makes this stuff *because* she’s Dutch? Wherever practical, I give the nationality of the artists, engineers and creative people I feature here, mostly because, as a Canadian, I am always cheered to see Canadians doing well, and I assume that people of other nationalities feel likewise.

      1. I think its the cargo cult implication which bothers me Cory. And the way we find this guy amusing because of his ineptitude.

        And BTW in 1975 I met a postman in the UK who threw himself down nettle covered hills under the misapprehension that he could design air foils. A lot of the people I knew who got into hang gliders and ultralights in the 1970s are dead now, mostly by uncontrolled encounters with the ground. I hope this guy doesn’t get his aircraft off the ground.

        1. Apart from you, who has declared this guy to be either “amusing” or “inept?” I find him inspiring and talented. Hence the tags “maker” and “happy mutants.”

          1. Cory’s right. To me, the only racial or ethic condescension in this piece is in the mind of the reader. This is about a cool project a hopelessly idealistic individual has undertaken. Cory’s mention of his Kenyan nationality has nothing to do with racism – Mr Smith, the link to the Dutch artist should’ve calmed your nerves there. (And it’s okay to say “oh, you’re right,” you don’t have to keep arguing a point just to argue.)

            I’m American, yet I built a race car in my garage out of junk. There’s no shame in admitting that. Sometimes, that’s what your budget allows. Not everyone can afford to order all shiny new bits from a catalog.

  3. All I can say is… if Chinese farmers can do it and make it airworthy (if only just) then a Kenyan IT guy surely could. Give him a bit more time at least one crash to figure out all the kinks.

  4. Gabriel Nderitu-Innovator will need Herbert West–Reanimator if he tries to take of in this thing.

  5. Props (pun intended) to the man with the aluminum junk heap flyer and balls of solid steel!

    Also, IMHO it´s totally ok, and not at all politically incorrect to point out that he is Kenyan. Theres nothing wrong with an angle that points out what people make do with in a region where materials and resources are scarce. The “cargo cult” reference is also lost on me – they thought they could make “planes” fly just by looking like airplanes, right?. This guy knows all the principles of making an airplane – it´s perhaps just his judgement of safety that may be a bit on the “Jackass” side of the scale. Hope he makes it fly and lands safely to tell the tale, or throws in the towel before someone gets hurt.

    1. The “cargo cult” reference is also lost on me – they thought they could make “planes” fly just by looking like airplanes, right?

      Not really – as I understand it they were imitating the ritual practice of the GIs, including the building of certain ritual sculptures (planes, control towers), and rites (marching about in rectangular formations with sticks on their shoulders). There was no intention that the planes should fly, just that by their shape they should fulfill the function of pleasing the supply-convoy gods, so that they would bring food and tools as they did to the GIs.

  6. As an R/C modeler, he has the right basic ideas but his details need work.

    The horizontal stabilizer is WAY too small. If he gets it off the ground it’s going to be very unstable. The vertical stabilizer is too small compared to the rudder and will probably shear off the first time he kicks the rudder pedals; it will also be unstable in that axis.

    The huge question is if he’s bothered to get the Center of Gravity (balance point) of the plane set properly. Too far back and the plane will snap over and crash, too far forward and the controls wont work to steer.

    Would be interesting to try it out on a huge lake bed with a radio-control unit in it, but I sure wouldn’t put a human in it to fly….

  7. This guy will soon no longer be either inept or amusing, but very deceased if he tries to take this thing off.

    Looks like he totally skipped the whole CG topic, and if the rest of the thing works as well as the front wheel, he is most certainly doomed.

  8. “I find him inspiring and talented”

    Agree on both counts, but no matter how talented a maker you are, you don’t get to invent your own principles of flight dynamics – if you want to fly and live.

    I suspect he could have gotten a set of plans for a proven ultralight design, and with the fabrication skills he clearly has, gotten it to fly reasonably well.

  9. This just goes to show what you can do when you don’t live in a country with video games and TV distracting you.

  10. My guess is that it’s a bit on the heavy side to take off.

    Assuming he survives version 1, I reckon version will do it though…

  11. I have to give him respect, but previous comments about the actual flight dynamics are valid. Over here, we get to draw on EAA technical counselors, linked communities of builders, mail order supply houses like Aircraft Spruce and Wicks, and a civil aviation infrastructure that provides for and encourages amateur-built flying machines.

    He’s totally hardcore though. It’s one thing to build a kitplane like the one squatting in my guest house, but it’s quite another to not just build from plans but build from plans of your own design. That’s the 20th-level mage of experimental aviation. Assuming it flies.

    This is a textbook example of the way to do it:

  12. Impressive! But there’s no way it’ll fly. Liquid cooled automotive engines don’t have the power to weight ratio needed in aviation. You can see from the way it sits that there’s a massive amount of nose weight on it.

  13. As soon as I heard “Toyota engine” I knew it wasn’t going to fly, a car engine is designed with very different goals than an aircraft engine. Interesting effort, hopefully some people with actual skills and experience sit down and help him out, maybe there’s some Kenyan pilots and aircraft owners who could put him on the right path?

    1. Actually car engines are used by a lot of the airplane homebuilders in the Experimental Aircraft Association. The ancient VW Bug engine is probably the most popular, but I know of 3/4-sized P51Mustangs that are powered successfully by V8 auto engines that have been modified to meet FAA standards.

  14. Sorry Cory, I’m going to echo the “junk” monkier here as well. As the original reply mentioned, wood and canvas would have been a lot better materials than steel frame (the floor is diamond plate!) with aluminum sheeting. His heart is in the right place, but he bit off more than he can chew. Maybe if this is newsworthy, you can interview the builder of Raw Faith?

  15. Give the guy a bit of credit. He’s trying to do something a unique way.

    I’m guessing he’s consulted the internet already, so the self-righteous aviation nerds proclaiming his demise should pipe down and realize they’re likely not “first post.”

    In fact, maybe your high speed flight dynamics and RC model projections don’t apply to a big steaming heap of metal he’s probably hoping will hover five feet off the ground going 80 mph…

    I give it a good chance to provide a really fun, safe “flight.”

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