"A man without a dream in his heart already has one foot in the grave."
I have dreamed of owning and flying my own airplane since childhood. I dreamed about soaring above the clouds, free as a bird, going where I wanted to go. All of us have dreams as a child. It's normal and healthy. I decided as a young kid that I would have an airplane when I grew up. When I was in college I found out how expensive airplanes can be. I took an FAA ground course toward the goal of getting a pilots license. I really enjoyed the class. I logged one or two hours of flying in a Cessna 150 with an instructor, but I didn't have money for continuing flying lessons. Meanwhile, I had taken up skydiving as a hobby. I actually got P.E. credit for the training! Skydiving became my biggest passion. I had 10 jumps logged by the end of my sophomore year in college. By the end of that summer, I had 36 jumps under my belt and my own parachute. I went on in the following years to make over 450 parachute jumps. What a blast! This gave me a lot of contact and experience with the world of aviation. I've been in and around a lot of airplanes. A lot of airports. And a great bunch of people. One thing about all the skydiving experience is kind of unique. I've experienced hundreds of takeoffs in lots of different airplanes. But very few landings. Think about that. I realized this was a bit unusual when I went flying once with a friend. The takeoff didn't cause me the slightest goose bump and was a non-event. But when it came time to land, I found myself gripping the seat and actually a bit nervous. Then I realized I wasn't used to landings! Not in the airplane anyway. What an odd thing.
After college came marriage, four beautiful children, and the pressures and toils of life. My dreams of flying slowly slipped away. Let alone the thought of owning an airplane. Most people let their dreams slip away when the realities of adult life settle upon them. Earning a living, the responsibilities of parenthood, taking care of a home and a yard, maintaining your car, and all the other pressures of the rat-race that many of us find ourselves in, all take their toll on us. But I have always sincerely believed the quote above. You can't let anyone, or anything, steal your dreams from you. We are all surrounded by dream-stealers, but we are often our own worst enemy. If you allow that to happen, something precious and valuable has been taken from you and you are a lesser person as a result. I believe our dreams are God-given. They are ours to keep, to follow, and to motivate us to accomplish great things. Every great thing that has ever been accomplished, every great thing that has ever been built, started as an idea, or a dream, in somebody's heart. Think about that... it's true.
Above, my four incredible kids, about 10 years ago. Luke, Sarah, Daniel, and Paul.
Below, a recent picture of them, with my precious little granddaughter, Maya. I love these guys more than life itself.
During all those years of raising a family and trying to keep my head above the water, I lost almost all hope of being an aviator. But I did manage to divert my dream in another direction and take up a hobby that didn't cost much money and offered an enormous amount of pleasure. It still involved looking skyward. I really got into Astronomy. I learned how to grind and polish a mirror and make a homemade telescope that would outperform almost anything you could buy. I showed my brother and he wanted one, too. So we made mirrors and built telescopes together, and he went on to out-do me in every respect. He built one telescope after another, each one bigger and better than the last. He won awards at telescope conventions. He eventually built an enormous 40-inch telescope (that's the diameter of the mirror!) that required a 16-foot ladder to reach the eyepiece. I helped him grind and polish the enormous mirror. Today, he has a business of his own making mirrors for telescopes and telescope builders. His mirrors are in telescopes all over the world. When my kids were growing up, I took them up into the mountains far from the city lights and polluted air, and we would meet with other astronomy buffs for a "star party" and spend evenings gazing at the heavens. In 1991, my brother and I and my 3 oldest kids drove the entire length of the Baja Peninsula down in Mexico to see a total eclipse of the sun. What an adventure that was. It's a great hobby and one where you will meet a lot of great people. I still have a big 15-inch telescope that I built myself, and I still use it. I love it. It has given me countless hours of pleasure and I've seen many beautiful heavenly sights through it over the years.
My 15-inch homebuilt telescope, at a Star Party on Table Mountain, near Ellensburg, Washington. I still have this wonderful telescope and I use it often.
Fast forward many years. I suddenly find myself almost 50 years old and divorced, finishing raising 4 kids and almost on my own. One by one, they are growing up and leaving the nest. As I see an empty nest in the not-too-distant future, I do a lot of soul-searching and thinking about the rest of my life. Somewhere in all those thoughts, I made a conscious decision. I decided it was time to re-kindle an old dream that had diminished to barely a spark. I decided to renew my interest in aviation and plug myself back in to the world of airplanes, flying, and adventure. I dragged my skydiving gear out of the closet and dusted it off (yes, I still have it all) and thought about skydiving again. But my equipment is old, outdated, and I'm not sure I should use it again. So an investment would be required in new equipment if I took up skydiving again. Do I really want to do that? It still appeals to me and I know I'll jump again someday, but I've lost track of my old friends. I doubt very many of them, if any, are still involved. I wouldn't know how to find them if they are. The old skydiving center I used to go to isn't even in business anymore. There are new ones around, but how would they accept an older guy like me? A whole new younger generation is now out there skydiving and I don't know any of them. They're doing things different than we did. They would laugh if they saw my 1970's vintage jumpsuit that was so cool at the time. Hmmmm... maybe it's time to think more about a pilots license, and flying off somewhere in a plane of my own... with someone special by my side. Lots of things motivate me to want to fly. My kids are scattering to the wind. I want to be able to go see them without spending so much time driving long distances. I have clients in distant places and it would be nice to go visit them. I want to travel and go see this great country of ours. I would like to go to Oshkosh, Sun-N-Fun, and the other great fly-ins around the country. Not to mention the pure joy of just taking off for a pleasure flight, drilling holes in the sky and punching through the occasional cloud-top. Some light aerobatics definitely appeal to me.
I shuddered at the thought of what an airplane would cost now. But somewhere along the way, I stumbled across a story about a guy in Australia who was building his own airplane. It was a Europa model. I didn't know you could do that! I knew nothing of experimentals, airplane kits, the EAA, the fly-ins, the support groups and the resources that are available. Neither did I have a clue that the Van's Aircraft factory was literally right here in my backyard, less than 25 minutes drive away! But a little searching on the internet opened up a whole new world to me. When I learned about experimental planes and kits that are on the market, I knew instantly that this was the answer for me. You can build your own airplane for about what you would spend on a good new car or truck. Wow! A brand new commercially made plane with similar performance could cost as much as $1/4 Million! I read all about the Europa and thought of building one of those. Then I discovered the Glastar. It had an overhead wing like the Cessna's that I used to jump out of, and the wings were designed to fold back alongside the tail, so you could actually load the plane on a trailer, take it home with you, and put it in your garage. That sounded great to me. No hanger fees. Keep it at home. I found out that the factory was up in Arlington, Washington. So when the next EAA Arlington Fly-in came along, I went up there to attend the fly-in and check out the factory. That was about 7 years ago. I was shocked to find out when I got there that the factory had been closed. Bankruptcy was underway. Yikes! That was a big lesson. What if I bought a tail kit and then the company went out of business? Where would that leave me? I learned I better do my homework and check out the financial stability of the company I decide to do business with.
I looked at lots of airplanes at Arlington that year. I met some great people and attended some workshops. There I saw some RV’s for the first time. What really turned me this direction, though, was a conversation I had with a guy who had a sleek, sexy, beautiful canard-type aircraft. It was either a Velocity, Long-EZ, or perhaps a Cozy. I honestly don’t remember. I just remember admiring it when he was loading it up preparing to leave. I asked him if he was happy with his plane and his answer surprised me. He said he was happy but if he were to do it again he would probably buy a kit and build a Van’s RV. Wow! I thought I better check it out a little further, because I had been leaning toward the sleek, sexy fiberglass models. I went to Van’s booth and picked up some literature, and later when I came home I discovered a local builders group, their website, and some builders’ sites online. I read every word of Randy Lervold’s RV-8 site, and later discovered Dan Checkoway’s RV-7 site. His plane was still under construction at the time. For a long time, I followed his progress. I have since found other sites and friends online. I also started attending some of the monthly meetings here in my area. I eventually joined chapter 105 of the EAA (experimental aircraft association). I learned that no kit plane delivers more bang for the buck than an RV. An RV has "Total Performance" unlike any other. All of this solidified my dream and put some reality into my ideas. I met a great friend about that time, Brent Ohlgren, who had a flying RV-6A. I was just becoming interested in RV's and airplane building, and he was just becoming interested in astronomy and telescope making. Our paths crossed and we have been great friends ever since, helping each other out. He took me up in his plane and we went flying. Wow! That really did it for me. My mind was totally made up.
Along the way, as I made some changes in my business model and with my career, I began making small steps, as I was able to, toward my dream. I started building a tool collection. I bought an air compressor, a drill press, a band saw, and some other tools as I found things on sale. I bought a lot of things on auction on e-Bay. I also started working on my garage, to turn it into a workable shop. I was in the middle of remodeling my house, and it was motivating to me to get the house finished so I could start on my airplane. I finally reached a place in 2006 where my income and living situation had improved enough to allow me to finish my tool collection and my shop. On the last business day of 2006, right before the annual price increase, I placed my order with Van's for my empennage kit. I was finally on my way!
Also along the way, I did a lot of searching for that special person. I knew at this point that I must find someone who would not hinder me from pursuing my dreams, and better yet, see what I see and get excited about this along with me. This is hardly the only issue that's important to me, but I have been blessed and extremely fortunate to find someone who not only shares my values and beliefs and everything else that's truly important, but she has much in common with me. I took her to a fly-in where she had her first RV ride. Jamie is amazing... she is so supportive, helpful, and she is getting excited about traveling and flying adventures together. We have been reading traveling stories online together. To top if off, she has turned into a capable riveting partner!
My personal story is far from over. In fact, it feels like it's just beginning. I'm enjoying the process of building this airplane! I'm really looking forward to all the new friends I will be making, and flying all over this great country.