This was written for a column on the RV Builder's Hotline
A week ago, I was cutting the aluminum stock that forms the rear spar doubler on my RV-7A's right wing (I had messed up the original). I was using my father's old Delta bandsaw. When I finished, I looked at the piece and said, "thanks, Dad." See, although my father died in 2004, he's helping me build this airplane.
Last summer, I cleaned out -- or started to -- the workshop in the barn that my Dad used for years and even though I've got a cheap old Harbor Freight bandsaw, his Delta bandsaw was still new enough, and well-made enough, that I figured I'd drive it back to Minnesota, clean it up, put a new blade on it, and make it part of the airplane factory in my garage.
It's only a 9" bandsaw -- less than the Harbor Freight model -- and I've only been able to find a 1/8" width blade for it, one that will cut aluminum -- not as sturdy as the 1/4" Harbor Freight blade -- but there's a big difference between the cheap model and the Delta: The Delta was his. And so was the tap-and-die set I used to make the flap pushrods. And so I like to think that my Dad made the flap pushrods and my Dad made the trim on the rear spar and to the extent I'm not the greatest builder in the world but I want to be, well, that was my Dad's handiwork too. The sign in my workshop that says, "you're only a failure if you don't try," once hung in his.
My plane's registration number will be N614EF, and while you might think that's 6-1-4-echo-foxtrot, it's really June 14, Eileen and Fred. The day they were married. I figure it's their airplane too. They helped build it, so their "day" should be on it.
In the years before he died, he didn't get around too much, but I'd talk to him from time to time on the phone and when the subject came to building an airplane, he'd always say, "well, just make sure you're careful."
If you have a father from the Greatest Generation, you learn to speak "Dad talk." You know that line in the Dixie Chicks song where the daughter is leaving home and as she's pulling out, Dad says "check the oil."? That's Dad talk. And it doesn't mean "check the oil," any more than "Gee, the Patriots didn't play too well today" in our conversations meant something about football.
These are the connections that I find all over Planet RV. And while folks may not be saying it; they're "speaking it" just the same. Sons aren't saying to Dad or Mom , necessarily, "this plane belongs to you." Well, at least they're not saying it with words. But they're saying it nonetheless. Sometimes it's an N number, sometimes it's just a ride in an airplane. But they're saying it.
Saturday morning is my favorite day of the week, and not just because it's the time when I realize I don't have to get up and go to work (when you're an online editor for a company whose core media is radio, you're always at work).
Nope Saturday is the morning I get to sit around and read my e-mail. The pressure of scrounging up something to stick in the Hotline (which is how most of my mornings begin) is gone, the issue has been sent out, and the time is all mine.
And once I get through all the spam, there's usually a couple of personal e-mails from RV friends, most of whom I haven't met personally.
Now, you've probably realized by now that this particular column each week isn't about how to build an RV; I focus mostly on the personal connections we have because of these projects, either to the projects themselves, each other, or someone else. This week is no different.
Last Thursday night, I got a note from Walter Tondu, who has a terrific Web site for RV builders , indicating that he'd signed up his father, Larry, to receive the Hotline. My mind immediately snapped back to one of my favorite RV-themed videos. The one where Walter -- and his Dad -- moved his project to the airport.
It's my favorite video, not so much because of the process of moving the plane, but because there was a segment in there featuring Larry. Now maybe it's because I'm a proud father, or because I like to think I once had one, but I easily detected the face of a proud dad along with one very infectious laugh, and an obvious great sense of humor.
"I'm the proud one," Walter said about his Dad when I told him that. And, darned, if that isn't obvious when he flew his plane home to Michigan last year after Oshkosh.
Oh, there's more. This week, I was patrolling the various EAA chapter sites and came across the nifty shot you see over on the left. It's a photo of Mark Navratil and his Dad. They can wear the sunglasses, but you can't mask the pride. This shot, according to the EAA newsletter, won in the General Aviation category of the Iowa Department of Transportation photo contest.
Although we don't seem to be a bunch that talks about these things much, there seems to be a lot of "Dad" in a lot of RVers and aviators. And many times, a lot of moms too.
A few years ago, my Mom came out to visit. She's 85 years old now, and I was renting a Piper Warrior. That's the one-door-and-you-have-to-walk-up-on-the-wing Piper Warrior. My mom was in no condition to walk up the wing, but there was no way she was missing her first-ever ride in a small airplane, especially one piloted by her baby boy. So she sat on the wing and pushed herself up and into the cabin.
We launched for a flight over fly-over country and she told me how, when she was a girl, she wanted to grow up and be Amelia Earhart.
"The plane's yours," I said, and an old lady got a chance to live a dream of flying a plane for a few seconds, and a middle-aged man finally figured out where his love of flying came from.
Then there's Gerry Humphreys of Limerick, Ireland. He had his first flight in his RV-7 on Tuesday. He sent me the picture you see here. Aside from the fact his family appears to be postcard perfect, check out the look on his Mum's face. She's holding the bottle of champagne. Isn't that priceless?
And so, being a news guy, I had to poke into this a little bit more, and asked Gerry to tell me about her.
"My mum is a retired anaesthetist, has has been living with my obsession with flying since shortly after I was born when my Dad, an ex-RAF WWII era fighter pilot, 'flew' me around the room in his arms," Gerry wrote. "He left flying in the late '50s and started farming when his uncle left him the farm here in Limerick, about 18 miles East of Shannon airport in South West Ireland."
"I only discovered he was a pilot when I was about 7 and found some old photos in a drawer. He never talked much about flying, but I made up for him! I dreamt about flying and aeroplanes when I should probably have been dreaming about girls, and started building models as soon as I could. Mum and Dad always encouraged me and over the years paid for more than their fair share of engines, radio gear, fuel etc."
"They were both proud when I got a scholarship from the RAF in my last year of studying Aeronautical engineering at Queens University in Belfast. I spent 20 years in the RAF mostly flying Harriers and retired home to the farm when we discovered my dad had cancer and 6 months to live. That was in 1997, and since then I have been farming organic beef cattle and found a way to stay flying with the local flying club at Coonagh, noteworthy as probably the shortest, narrow licensed strip where prople learn to fly in Europe (400 x 9 m)."
"I met my wife Vicky in the RAF, so she is used to aircraft, in fact I ejected from a Harrier the day after we got engaged; I was supposed to be leading a 4 aircraft formation over her station and did not show up. I had a generator failure followed by engine failure on short finals at Yeovilton down the road. I had a 0.4 sec parachute ride, fortunately no-one was injured and they found a mechanical fault next day."
"We are very lucky to live here on the farm, lots of space, and of course, an airstrip, which was one of my first projects when I took over the helm. I started flying professionally for a local company www.pacnetair.com and after the strip was complete the obvious next step was to build my own aircraft. The RV7 was the obvious choice, and so the last few years have seen me with plenty to do in my spare time!
We are always happy to see visitors, so drop by if you are in this part of the world!"
Yep, that's a mighty fine airplane that your Dad, and Mum, and wife, and children built, Gerry.
I recall a thread on VAF a year or so ago where someone maintained you have to be a "special" person to build an RV. I thought it was enough to scare off a newbie who thought there was something magic about this process, and that much of the character -- persistence, patience etc. -- is something that we can mostly acquire through the building process.
But I suppose, looking back, there are obvious traits in an RV builder -- they come from a solid line of hearty, airplane-building-character stock. Sure, a lot of what we know once we build these things we acquired in the process. Sometimes it's a result of some fancy book learnin'. But all of the time we can thank the gene pool and some people who served as role models.
We build these planes ourselves. But we never build them alone.
An interview with Tom Berge
5 months ago