For years I’ve been fascinated by a type of person I encounter from time to time in my aerial pursuits. It’s the builder. I’m consistently impressed with the skill of these people as they put an airplane together, often from scratch. I think I might have first become aware of builders when pouring through old back issues of the EAA magazine. There, with accompanying photos, were articles every month about some person who was building a cool homebuilt plane in their garage.
After I entered the airshow business I met Steve Wolf. I’m a charter member of the Steve Wolf Fan Club. I don’t believe I’ve ever met someone who can build better, build faster and then fly the pants off what he’s built. There is a reason that the late King Hussein of Jordan, hired Steve Wolf and Dave Rahm to come to the Middle East and put together the Royal Jordanian Falcons aerobatic team.
Builders are all over the country and they take many forms and experience. In central Oregon alone, we have several. How many guys can build a Spitfire from scratch? Vern Goodsell, of Sisters, did and now has a beautiful Talon which looks like it should have participated in the battle of Britain.
Builder/Flyers are an amazing sub-part of the whole group of builders. Steve Wolf is certainly not the only one. Right here in Sisters is not only Vern Goodsell, but also Steve Harris, who not only built a beautiful Bearhawk, but flies the hell out of it.
Jeff Taylor is a guy whose background in automobile racing didn’t necessarily prepare him for building an airplane, but when he and his father-in-law, Jim Mateski, decided to build a Highlander, Jeff jumped into the project and his workmanship is superb. The plane is now flying and Jeff is now a newly-minted Private Pilot. But, in the back of his mind, he’s thinking about what he’ll build next. Because he’s one of those guys… a builder.
When I moved to Central Oregon, I was immediately impressed with the Prineville Chapter of the EAA. These guys have a hangar and regular breakfasts, chili feeds and activities, including Young Eagles flights.
Later I visited the Independence, Oregon chapter and was blown away by the physical plant, tooling and programs designed to support builders and bring young people onboard.
Not many chapters have this level of activity and I commend them for it. They represent a grass roots breeding ground for the fundamentals of aviation and those fundamentals are the backbone of aviation. It’s the breeding ground from which so much of aviation springs.
But you know what? Most of the people who belong to these chapters and who build airplanes are older. In fact, I’m not sure, but I’ll bet that virtually every member of the “Geezer Patrol” belongs to the EAA! That begs a question: Where will the new aviators and builders come from? Do you have to get old and retire from your “real” job before you start learning and building? I don’t think so. I think that the builders and flyers at little airports represent a gold mine for young people who are interested in aviation. It is to them that I address this entreaty: Put down your smart phone. Turn off your computer with its video games. Get on your bicycle and peddle to the nearest place where people are building and flying. They will welcome you with open arms. And if you can learn to put up with some of their Geezer characteristics, they just might help you learn about a world that can be a magic carpet, carrying you far in a pursuit which will never fail to thrill and fascinate you. They have a lifetime of knowledge in their noodles. The odds are that they will die long before you do, leaving the knowledge they have passed on, as well as the responsibility for passing that knowledge to the next generation. And who will be the next generation of geezers, filled with all that knowledge?. Hmmm, they just might be the young teenagers of today.
Oh and in the “there’s hope” department, a new chapter of the EAA has just formed. It’s in Sisters, Oregon, the home of Sisters High School and its Flight Science class. Maybe we’ll have some younger aviators coming up after all!