By Jonathan Walters, EAA 431328
This piece originally ran in the June 2021 issue of EAA Sport Aviation magazine.
I grew up flying from a small airport in Madison, Connecticut, which was the home of Luscombes, J-3 Cubs, Stearmans, a Waco, an OX-5 powered 1927 Swallow, a PT-19, a BT-13, an AT-6, and more. Also, I had the good fortune to share my passion for flight with my father who also became a pilot at a young age.
The year was 1970, and I was 17. The ink was still wet on my private pilot certificate, and I had decided to build an airplane. It seemed like a simple plan. After all, how difficult could it be? I had built countless tissue-covered balsa models over the years. Also, I had been a member of EAA since age 14 or 15. After reading every article in EAA Sport Aviation I was convinced the average person with simple tools could build an airplane. I considered myself at least average and had access to tools. After careful consideration I decided upon the EAA Biplane. The plan was to build my airplane for $2,650, as advertised.
I should mention that my decision to build an airplane had little support from my parents. In fact, there was none. However, that did not deter me from purchasing the plans, and shortly thereafter I ordered the needed material from Aircraft Spruce & Specialty and started constructing wing ribs. They say the judgement portion of the brain is not fully developed until the mid-20s, and I must admit the timing for my project was quite poor. I had made about a dozen wing ribs and found myself on the way to attend college in Ohio.
Suddenly it was 1975. I had completed college with a degree in business administration and economics. I now had a wife and job in Ohio, and my mother informed me she wanted my wing ribs removed from the house. So, my next visit to Connecticut I brought the ribs back to Ohio where they remained on a shelf for a year or so. At that point I owned a Taylorcraft but always intended to continue with my project. The winters were particularly harsh in the late ’70s and that afforded me the opportunity to build the remaining wing ribs. In fact, by 1980, all four wings and the center section were complete (including fittings) and hanging in my garage.
Now the next problem. I considered myself a handy person with tools; however, I had absolutely no idea how to weld. I had the great fortune to receive help from my friend Larry. Larry is an outstanding welder and was in the process of building a Stewart Headwind. After attending night school for acetylene welding, much practice, and a lot of guidance from Larry, I was welding. I remember the hours of welding the many clusters in the fuselage. By the way, Larry had his Headwind flying in three years.
By about 1983 the fuselage, landing gear, and tail feathers were complete. I had purchased an 85-hp Continental engine, and by securing the fuselage to a tree with a rope it was brought to life.
Shortly after that things came to a screeching halt. I pickled the engine, and the project stood still. During that time, I became very busy in the businesses my wife and I operate. However, I continued to fly, obtained my ATP, and flew extensively for business. Through all this my heart remained in grassroots aviation. The bare-boned fuselage remained in my garage, and every time I drove the car in the neighboring bay, I would think, “You must see this through.”
Then in 2013 I witnessed my friend’s Glasair make its maiden flight. The moment was magical to me, and it was just the inspiration I needed. My friend Al had spent many years building it and experienced many project delays. Although Al’s delays are more appropriately measured in years, not decades as in my case.
I really thought that in two to three years my little biplane would be flying. Well as usual, I underestimated the work to be done and the time needed to construct jigs and to develop the new skills required. It was during this period that Larry often reminded me that “it was the journey not the destination that really mattered.” I would then remind Larry that every journey needs to show measurable progress to even qualify as a journey.
I really need to thank the EAA-sponsored workshops. I attended the TIG welding workshop and the fabric workshop twice. I had attended a fabric workshop many years earlier; however, a refresher course was badly needed. I strongly recommend these workshops.
My sister-in-law always told me that the world would end before I completed my airplane. It was during the worst of the COVID-19 outbreak that I told her I was nearing completion. She was more convinced than ever that the “end times” were near.
May 1, 2020, was a big day. On that day, the fuselage was loaded and taken to the airport. This was followed by the wings and center section for final assembly. At last I had my little biplane in a hangar at the airport. Finally, my flying wires arrived (a victim of pandemic delays). No time was lost in installation, and I was then able to taxi my creation around the ramp.
On October 8, 2020, my dream took flight. It was a feeling beyond words. Oh yes, the name of the airplane is PUTZ’N Around. It has a dual meaning as it took 50 years to complete and has a flight mission of just PUTZ’N Around. I encourage anyone who has a project collecting dust to reconnect with their dream of building an airplane. It is well worth the blood, sweat, toil, and even a few tears.