Airplane GEEK

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Prolific Builders

By Charlie Douma, EAA 158343

When in the fall of 1978 I commenced my flight training for a private pilot’s license I had no clue that this would become a 40-year involvement. My flight training commenced normally and I made various acquaintances at the club or over a cup of coffee. Prior to receiving my certificate I bought a Piper Colt and completed my flight training on it. However, I was chagrined to learn that on the annual inspection I was not allowed to do any work except to put air in the tires, drain the oil, and wash the aircraft. In conversation around the coffee shop I learned that if I built my own airplane I was allowed to maintain the aircraft. I also found out that some of the chaps there were indeed building their own aircraft. Picking their brains for further information, I asked one of them if he was willing to go into partnership on the single-seat unit that he was building, however he said he would rather not. I was not that sorry because I knew that I wanted to give my young grandsons a ride as they grew up in a few years.

When in the fall of 1980 I attended a conference in California, I found the Air Progress magazine with a picture of the RV-4 on it. I picked it up read it and said that’s the airplane for me. As soon as I came home I sent off a letter to Van’s Aircraft and received a response in due time and was advised that the RV was a prototype but that I would be placed on a mailing list, and that when kits became available I would be advised. It so happened that in June 1981 I received my first tail kit and promptly started to build. Next, I discovered that there was another member of the club who within a month of mine also received his tail kit. This, along with the previous builder mentioned, became a threesome who supported each other through the build times.

After building my tail kit, I had it inspected and serviced and found that there were a few errors that Transport Canada would love to see corrected. It was a good learning process and now I knew what Transport was looking for towards the completion of an aircraft. After building the tail section I had to wait for three months before the wings became available. Once the wings were completed I had to wait six months for the fuselage to become available and last of all the finishing kit. I completed the aircraft in the summer of 1984 and received my flight permits on Sept. 27, 1984, and flew it for the first time that day. What a thrill that turned out to be. Before I caught up with the airplane I was about 20 miles north of Brampton, Ontario, and was surprised that I had passed Orangeville already. The flight tests  proceeded normally and in due time I received my certificate, which allowed me to fly anywhere in North America. The following summer of 1985 I decided to take a trip out west to northern British Columbia where my daughter and her family had moved to the previous fall. I took off a few weeks before Oshkosh planning to spend a week with my daughter and her family and then fly down to Oregon where Van’s Aircraft factory was. I spent two days there and then with a group of RVs traveled to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, with an overnight stop with Van’s brother in Webster, Wisconsin.

We spent a week together in Oshkosh. After that week I traveled home. It took me just over three hours to get home from Oshkosh, clearing customs in London, Ontario. A great adventure! Over the next number of years I did not do any further building until 1992 when I started to build an RV-3 in the basement of our house. That project reached completion in 1995 after which I sold the RV-4 to a buyer in Stratford, Ontario. My building really took off after I retired in 1997.

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RV-8 in registered in 1998, C-GCSQ

From that point on I built another eight airplanes, six complete ones and two partially completed. One was an estate sale RV-7A and the last one was an RV-4 which had the airframe fully built and I completed the project.

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RV-3 C-GOPA first registered in 2001

To date my total count is three RV-3s, three RV-8s, one Harmon Rocket, and one RV-7A. I have enjoyed the building as much as I have enjoyed the flying.

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The author with RV-3 C-FYXO, registered in 2009
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Beautifully finished Harmon Rocket II, C-FETH, first registered in 2005

A couple of items of note during all those years are the following:

My RV-8 was the first customer-built RV-8 to attend Oshkosh.

I was the first one on our field to install a modern panel with modern avionics, at that time a Dynon D180. Some of the people coming through my hangar would ask “Are you installing a regular air speed indicator or a regular altimeter?” to which may answer always was “No, none of that. This is going to be an electric panel.” “Yeah but what about if you lose your electronics or your power?” To which my answer was simply “This is a VFR airplane and I have no business to be flying in the clouds, and should I lose my power I should certainly be able to land an aircraft without the instrumentation with all the experience I have on a 3,500 foot runway, right?”

Another item of note that I found as our instrumentation has progressed and provides much more information in the cockpit — flying VFR looking out our window has diminished and this is somewhat of a concern to me. Building and flying has been a major interest of mine for the past 40-plus years and I highly recommend it to anybody that is really interested in aviation. Do not hesitate to get on and tackle the job of building your own airplane. Today’s projects are highly sophisticated with pre-punch kits readily available in an industry that has offered much support over the past 20 or 30 years. It’s a wholesome activity, you make friends along the route, and I heartily recommend it to anyone. 


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