Homebuilt Airplanes / Heathkits

This article is about one of the more popular and unique of vintage planes. In fact, the Heath Parasol was sold as an aircraft kit in the late 1920′s and early 1930′s. Buyers of the airplane kit would construct it at home. The Heath Parasol homebuilt airplanes were considered economical to buy and build and relatively easy to fly and it was certified for flight by the U.S. government. It was the only airplane kit of it’s era that was federally flight certified. This was among the first of personal aircraft.

heath parasol homebuilt airplanes

The Heath Parasol Airplane

The Heath Homebuilt Airplanes

The light airplane and kit was designed by Edward Heath in 1926. Heath was a self educated engineer having gained many of his skills being the son of a machinist. Heath actually built his first airplane in 1909 at the age of twenty-one. It was a monoplane that was modeled after the French Bleriot. Having a real love for aviation and spending some time working at Glen Curtiss’s motorcycle business, Heath relocated and founded the E.B. Heath Aerial Vehicle Company in Chicago in 1913.  World War One slowed his plans for marketing a home built airplane kit, although his airplane spare parts business did well during that time.

Eventually he renamed the company the Heath Airplane Company. Teamed up with designer Claire Linstead in 1925, Heath was able to go forward with his idea of affordable homebuilt airplanes. The first plane produced by the company was in 1925 and called the “Tomboy“. The Tomboy did very well in National Air Race competition and the pair won enough money to go ahead and design and construct the Heath Parasol. In addition to the prize money, Heath’s success also publicized the idea of building one’s own airplane.

heath aircraft kits

Single seat Heath Parasol

The Heath Parasol aircraft was designed as a single seat high wing monoplane. The plane was powered by a 27 HP Henderson motorcycle engine. The Heath Parasol was designed as an affordable, light aircraft that could be within the means of the average American. The concept was a bit similar to Henry Ford’s Model T. The Heath Parasol was considered the airplane for the masses. Buyers would have many options. They could purchase the plane fully built or purchase the plane built but without the engine installed. A buyer could also just purchase the blueprints and build the plane from scratch. Something  that would be interesting to the mechanically inclined and to people who had access to the word working and metal working tools required . Prices for the fully built plane were $975 and $690 without the engine. Blueprints sold for $5. Heath also offered a kit for $199 that could be paid by eleven installments. An engine and propeller were an additional $285. Sales went very well. Heath sold about 1,000 kits and about 50 fully built aircraft. Today, there are a great many homebuilt airplanes offered on the market. The FAA certifies all aircraft kits after construction and before they are allowed to fly.

As a cost comparison, Henry Ford sold Model A’s in the same period for a range of about $400 to $1,400 depending on style and models. Interestingly enough, the homebuilt airplanes that Heath was offering fell inside the range of a Ford Model A at the time.

vintage heath airplanes

Heath Parasol Engine

Specifications

Specifications of the Heath Parasol included a wing span of 37 feet, 6 inches…a length of 17 feet, 3 inches…a gross weight of 700 lbs and a maximum speed of 80 MPH. The airplane had a cruising speed of 68 MPH and a landing speed of 32 MPH. The engine was a flat four cylinder delivering 37 HP.

Edward Heath’s aviation career was cut short as he was killed in 1931 piloting a new low-wing test model Parasol aircraft. Historically, he is well known as the leader in home built aircraft kits and was the first American to successfully market and sell the home built airplane kit. Another interesting fact is that after the end of World War Two, Heath’s company became well known as Heath Electronics. Many might still remember the Heath Kit amateur radios and other electronic gear sold by this company. Their first product was an oscilloscope that sold for $50 and sold very well. Heathkits were very popular and relatively economical. Heath Electronics was located in Benton Harbor Michigan.

Two additional articles and photos on our Western Trips site you’ll be interested in are the Beech Model 18 at the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum and the Grumman S2 A-Tracker at the Pacific Coast Air Museum.

wood aircraft propeller

The Heath Parasol wood propeller

See the Heath Parasol Airplane

There are a few good places today  to see a Heath Parasol aircraft on display. One is the Museum of Flight located at 9404 East Marginal Way S Seattle, WA. This is one of the largest aircraft museums in the world and is a great stop if your vacation or trip plans take you to Seattle. Their collection includes more than 150 historically significant vintage planes and spacecraft.The Museum of Flight is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. The Heath Parasol aircraft on display there was constructed in 2008 from the original Heath blueprints.

Another good place to see this aircraft and dozens of vintage planes, and the one from which these photos were taken, is the Western Antique Aircraft and Automobile Museum in Hood River Oregon. This museum located about 63 miles east of Portland and along the scenic Columbia Gorge Highway is an amazing place. The museum features one of the largest collections of still-flying antique aeroplanes and still-driving antique automobiles in the country.

Yet another good museum to see the Heath Parasol is the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum. This museum, located at 11 Museum Drive in Reading Pennsylvania, exhibits one of the fully built 1932 Heath Parasol models.

(Photos from author’s private collection)