YOU CAN DO IT! I DID. by Michael Stewart mstewartga @ yahoo.com
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Ever look around the chapter and wonder how these normal people interested in aviation do extraordinary things, like build an airplane? I did. I mean, really, get into a machine that you put together and fly it? Can that be? It can. I did. And so can you.
I came to the table not unlike you. Sure, I had some skills...I had an unused engineering degree, some toying around with model R/C planes, and a huge interest in aviation. Aluminum? What’s that? Avionics, riveting, dimples, manifold pressure? It was all Greek to me. But what I had was a burning desire to get into something I built and fly it. And once I had the idea in my head, there was no turning back. My dream was committed - but was I?
I started, being the computer geek I am, by surfing the web. I had a few key elements to consider: Budget, speed, aerobatics, ease to build, proven design, and minimal effort on fiberglass. With these in mind the Van’s series of aircraft became the obvious choice. I did not want to reinvent the wheel. I wanted to build it myself, but not everything, and not from scratch - kind of middle of the road on the amount of skill required. What I absolutely did not want was to beat my head against the wall and end up on the wrong side of the statistic of 1 in 15 that start, finish. Failure was not an option. With this in mind, the RV-6A stood out for me. Hundreds flying, aluminum, well proven, good directions, pay as you go, and lots of resources and people to ping off of.
When I ordered my tail kit, can you believe I had not even seen one of these planes in person? I’m serious. I knew nothing of the EAA, and had no clue that just 10 minutes from my house were 6 RV’s sitting in hangers with pilots ready to give me a ride. I soon found the 690 Chapter and got my first ride in an RV with Clyde Schnars. With my horizontal stab completed and the elevators sitting in the jig, I got my dream ride.
What really stuck in my mind when the wheels left the ground on that first flight was, WOW, I made the right decision. It was smooth, fast and comfortable. I had a grin from ear to ear. That was the catalyst for me to stay focused on the job at hand and there was no question after that flight, I was going to finish this plane. Thanks Clyde.
Back in the garage, progress went pretty fast. What I found was that this was not one project of building a plane, it was a thousand little projects that ended up being a plane in the end. If I looked too far ahead I got discouraged. If I focused on the task at hand and just kept plugging at it, things would get done and progress was always happening. Things were not always done perfectly, I am no perfectionist. I would still be working on the plane if I were.
Many screw-ups were to be had - and I had some dooseys. You will to. For instance, I destroyed a set of tank ribs because I was not paying attention to the plans. The plans showed where circles were punched in for strength. I thought it was circles for holes to be cut so fuel could move from section to section. DUHH! I messed up an aileron because I forgot to put the trim servo in while building it. DUHH! I put aluminum angle in for stringers on the fuselage where J channel was supposed to go. DUHH! And the real doosey was putting the support structure in for the wing spar with the wing incidence backwards. The wings ended up with 3 inches off the thrust line. How did that happen? Well when you build the fuse, you build it upside down. When I made my measurements to drill and rivet the bulkhead in that holds the wing spar, I did not take into consideration that the fuse was upside down. @$#%#@!! That one really made me mad. And there were others - too many to list. Recently Dave Henderson, a chapter member who just started to build his RV-7, primed his parts with zinc chromate just like the diligent builder should. Except for one thing, he did not know that paint like that requires a hardener additive. Funny huh? He didn’t know. He read, “prime with Zinc Chromate,” and that’s what he ordered and that’s what he put on. HA! Funny? Yes. Frustrating? Yes. Part of building? Absolutely! There are many pit falls to be had, and you will find some no one else has. The key is, can you accept those challenges and realize your dream of flight? Yes, you can. I did.
There are several key components to my success that without them, I don’t think I could have realized my dream. First is this chapter. I had no fewer that 12 technical counselor visits. I received free advice from guys who know what to look for. I met chapter friends who reached out to help a lending hand, whom I now consider family. Now we go to dinner and fly together. A match made in heaven. Who knew? Not to mention I got involved with the chapter and kept my aviation blood warm while I kept pounding those rivets. Second was the Internet. Many times, I would stare at the plans and try to vision some little do-dad I was supposed to fabricate and I just could not picture it. The web turned a 2 dimensional plan on a piece of paper into an object I could see. Those pictures on the web of guys who have taken the time to show you and me what some of these little parts look like are not worth a thousand words, they are worth hours of your eyes rolling into the back of your head staring at plans and many grey hairs. I suppose being single with no kids did not hurt my success rate either. I had few distractions. Third was a burning desire to do something few people get the opportunity to do. Build a plane and fly it? Do you have that burning desire? I did.
That first flight came and it was truly a dream come true for me. I had friends and family with me that day to realize it and share it with me. I will never forget it. And after 6 weeks and 115 hours of flying later, I cannot imagine not having done this in my life. My new little best friend has carried me, friends, family, young eagles, strangers, and my dog, Casey, to far-off places I would not have seen otherwise. I have been to both southern coasts of Florida to visit my dad, to thank him for giving me the skills to do this. I have gone to lunch in little places like Gatlinburg and Hilton Head. I have had the opportunity to put grins on strangers’ faces whilst turning them upside down. I shoot to 5000 feet with some smooth James Taylor playing “Going To Carolina In My Mind” followed by Kansas’ “Dreamweaver”, while performing some gentlemen’s aerobatics. Can’t you hear the song playing now and see the little plane rolling through the sky? It’s my favorite place to be in the world. Where is yours? I’ll bet its up there too, else you would not be staring at every plane that flies overhead and wonder, “What kind of airplane is that, and what is he up to?”… if only for a moment. I do, and I know you do too.Through it all, I never lost site of the dream. Focused, determined, diligent, and committed are just a few of the characteristics I had that led to the first flight. You have these in you too. Can you pull them all together and realize your dream? I did. You can.