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Inland Pilots Enjoy Building and Flying Experimental Airplanes

A number of pilots in Southern California's Inland Empire area have been building and flying a variety of experimental airplanes. Among them is Dave McPhee, a former civil engineering director at March Air Reserve Base, who bought a kit for an RV-9 airplane five years ago and completed it 18 months ago. "The first flight is a little unnerving," he says. "Naturally, on a first flight you're worried about the engine operation. The next thing I knew, I was at 8,500 feet. After I got settled down, I realized it was OK and I made a beautiful first landing."  McPhee is now assisting other pilots at French Valley Airport near Murrieta, Calif., in building a Pietenpol Air Camper airplane, a two-seat open-cockpit craft designed by a self-taught mechanic in the 1930s that can be built from readily available parts. French Valley is the home base of Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 1279, which began building the Pietenpol four years ago. "We like to say in homebuilding we're about 90 percent done, with only about 90 percent to go," jokes Steve Williamson, the club's president. "I think it will be finished in about one more year." An amateur builder takes between 1,000 and 3,000 hours to assemble an airplane, according to Experimental Aircraft Association spokesman Dick Knapinski. "Experimental" may be a misleading term, he says, as any aircraft in the category must be inspected as it is being built, be inspected again when it is completed for an airworthiness certificate, and be piloted by someone with the same credentials as the pilot of any other craft. California is one of the country's most popular places for amateur-built aircraft, with 5,227 out of the country's 23,200 experimental aircraft as of 2007 -- perhaps because of the weather, suggests Gino Barabani, president of the largest Experimental Aircraft Association chapter, Chapter One, located near Riverside, Calif.

November 12, 2009

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