By Ron Heberlein, EAA 747690
This piece originally ran in the June 2022 issue of EAA Sport Aviation magazine.
Flying has been my passion for as long as I can remember. Whether it is for business or pleasure, stepping into an airplane has always brought me a sense of joy and excitement. I started flying when I was 14, but I only had the money to fly about twice a year. When it was time to decide on colleges, it was the Air Force Academy or Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (Prescott!). In college, I didn’t have the money for flying, so it took a back seat to getting my aerospace engineering degree.
My first job out of college was at Rockwell Collins where I ended up driving back and forth past the Aurora State Airport (KUAO) every day. It took me a year before I finally took the plunge and started my flight training. Seven months later I had my private pilot certificate in hand, and it was onto the next question — build or buy? With Van’s Aircraft being just down the road, the decision to build was almost settled. After the factory tour and demo flight, it was a done deal!
A month after getting my private, I was building the tail of my RV-9A. Fast-forward 14 months and my quick-build kit was up and flying! After I finished painting the airplane, I vowed never to build an airplane again!
Four years later, it was time to add two seats to accommodate our growing family. We enjoyed a 1967 Mooney M20F for two and a half years, until we had to sell the airplane to move into a new house at the tail end of the global financial crisis.
For five years, flying took a back seat to our young family. We went flying every few months, and that kept the flying bug on a low simmer during that time.
At the start of 2017, the building bug really hit me hard. With a 10-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son, I thought that the time was right to show them a different side of the aviation world. I was able to make a compelling case to our family’s chief financial officer/chief safety officer (aka, my wife, Vania), and she approved the purchase.
I chose the Waiex-B as it was one of the more affordable kits on the market, and it was primarily constructed with pulled rivets. I wanted a kit that would be easy for the kids to help with. To keep the noise down, I purchased an electric rivet puller, which worked out wonderfully. For two and a half years, we worked on building the airplane. Along the way my son’s Cub Scout pack, neighborhood kids, and my wife all helped put the airplane together. Throughout the build, I tried my best to keep it interesting for the kids. I focused on the monotonous parts of the build like deburring, cleaning, and priming, along with prework to make sure that the next steps were relatively straight-forward to accomplish. Anytime we needed to rivet, I made sure that the kids had the opportunity before I jumped in. My daughter, Kylie, enjoyed riveting, and my son, Luke, really liked the Clecos and the avionics. When the build was complete, the family had put in just less than 1,100 hours on the project. Both Kylie and Luke put in almost 100 hours on the project. Between school, dance, Scouts, and all the other activities, I thought that was a pretty good amount of the work. I really enjoyed seeing them smile when we completed each major piece of the project.
The first flight was on October 26, 2019, and I completed my flight testing in April 2020. While COVID-19 has kept us from venturing too far from home, I have really enjoyed being able to take the kids up flying in the airplane that they helped build. For the readers who want to know the details, we installed a UL260iS engine with a Sensenich ground-adjustable prop. A single 7-inch Dynon SkyView with single communications radio and ADS-B In and Out round out the panel. The all electronic engine has been fantastic, I’d highly recommend it. The airplane has been fun to fly, but I’d love a little more power and a little more space.
To my kids: Thank you for taking this building and flying adventure with me. I hope that you have been able to get as much enjoyment from this adventure as I have! And last but not least, a big thank you to my wife, Vania, who has now lived through two airplane builds. I am so grateful to have a partner who has been willing to give up our hard-earned money and her space in the garage to support my passion!