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June 1, 2006
On the surface, Doug Shane's taste in airplanes seems a bit...incongruous. Standing in his hangar, he's faced with a sleek, composite Long EZ that looks fast even though it's standing still. Overlapping the wing is a tube-frame-and-fabric 1948 Stinson 108-3 that looks kind of slow even though, well, I suppose, it just looks kind of slow. But the apparent odd couple of aircraft is joined by this remarkable pilot who started his flying in one and progressed through the other into a career that most people can only dream of.
As vice president of business development, Shane mostly flies a desk, but as director of flight operations at Scaled Composites in Mojave, California, Shane gets to fly quite a collection of incredible aircraft. He joined Scaled in 1982, fresh out of college and the first engineer Burt Rutan hired for his new company. "It was just one of those right-place, right-time things," Shane says. He had only 300 hours on his private ticket, and much of that time was in the Stinson. His dad bought the airplane in 1975 and after a bit of work, it was ready for Doug's solo at age 16 the next year.
After taking the job at Scaled, Shane progressed as an engineer and quickly became a test pilot. He has flown just about every airplane Rutan has designed since he joined the company, including eight first flights in aircraft as diverse as the White Knight (which carried SpaceShipOne), the single-seat ARES fighter jet Scaled developed in the 1980s, and the Adam M-309, now known as the A500.
After more than 20 years he admits with some humility that he's not test-flying quite as much these days. "I've accomplished a lot and I don't mind sharing it with the other guys and making sure we keep building our capabilities." Shane adds that he does do a little flight-testing, but he mostly keeps proficient by flying his own airplanes. "It's a nice Sunday-morning thing to do." Over the years, he's made many trips in the Long EZ back to Kansas City, Missouri, where he grew up, and still uses it for travel. And the Stinson is flown mostly for the pleasure of flying. Shane says it also helps keep the skills sharp — "like any tailwheel airplane, it has the ability to humble you on any given day."
Whether flying one of Rutan's latest creations or keeping a 1940s taildragger lined up on the centerline, after more than 3,600 hours (many of them test-flying) in more than 130 types of aircraft, Shane still enjoys the simple joy of flight. "At the end of the day, they're all just airplanes."
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