By David Fisichella
Most kit aircraft projects are inspired by a love of aviation. This one was more about love for an aviator.
Klaus Assion had all the characteristics needed to become a successful aircraft builder: He was creative, precise, organized, and adventurous. “Klaus could make anything from almost nothing,” his wife, Miriam, told me, adding “for years he talked of using these talents to construct an aircraft from a kit.” But Klaus’s attention to detail required that he proceed slowly, and he approached the selection of a kit as an engineering problem. Only after exhaustive analysis would Klaus choose his project airplane. Many years spent poring over aviation magazines, and many hours watching airplanes depart from Pennsylvania’s Van Sant Airport, helped him define his mission and select the Europa XS Tri-Gear as his dream project.
Selecting a project doesn’t necessarily mean the start of a build. Airplanes, even those from a kit, don’t come cheap, and plenty of things can hold up a purchase. Fortunately for Klaus, Miriam recognized his simmering desire to begin and saw the opportunity to become involved in his quest to build an airplane.
For Klaus’s sixtieth birthday, Miriam surprised him with an aviation-themed party. His first present from her was a Europa ball cap. This alone would have been a sufficient gift in Klaus’s eyes, but what followed was something unexpected and much more life changing. Opening the envelope with his name on it revealed a letter on Europa Aircraft Ltd. stationary stating that hull number 17 had been reserved for him. Miriam had purchased the tail kit, and she gave it to Klaus with the specific instructions, “You’ve just turned 60. Retire, and build your airplane.”
Shortly thereafter, a 12-foot crate displaced the car from its garage. Klaus began work on the kit almost immediately. Resin mixing sticks, sheets of blue foam, and rolls of glass fiber material were spread around the floor. As Miriam recalled, “Nothing coming out of that box looked remotely like an airplane.” Slowly, however, the bits and pieces did come together. Miriam, who believed such an effort deserved more than a photo, commissioned a local artist, Robert Beck, to capture her aviator’s progress. The painting hangs in her home today.
When I asked Miriam if she planned to fly in the airplane when it was completed, she said, “If Klaus built it, yes. If anyone else built it, no.”“Klaus wasn’t a great pilot,” Miriam said later, “but he was a passionate builder.” He was also the embodiment of German craftsmanship. If the cure temperature for a material was listed as a range, Klaus would only work in the middle of that range. When it came time to layup the wings, he built an oven the length of each wing to precisely maintain this optimum temperature. A true tinkerer, Klaus designed a system by which a radio would play if the temperature fell too low, and a light bulb would turn on alerting him to temperatures that were too high. When I asked Miriam if she had planned to fly in the airplane when it was completed, she said, “If Klaus built it, yes. If anyone else built it, no.”
After two years in the garage, Klaus moved the project into a nearby hangar. He spent subsequent years immersing himself in the fine details of construction, seeking only perfection. What remained at this point was the purchase and mounting of an engine, avionics, exterior paint, and trim. Sadly, he would not see the completion of his labors. Klaus died in March 2018, at age 82.
It is hard to quantify the immense pleasure and sense of accomplishment in building something complex out of simple parts. I can imagine Klaus completing a day’s work sanding and filling a wing fairing, then turning off the hangar lights with a satisfied nod. I also believe that in those moments there was a feeling of gratitude toward Miriam for the gift that began all those years ago and was still bringing him joy.
After Klaus’s death, Miriam found a good home for the Europa with Jeremy (Jerry) Fisher in Massachusetts. Jerry purchased and mounted a Rotax 914 engine, prepped the fuselage for painting, but the project faltered again when Jerry had to return to his home in England and he could not take the unfinished kit with him, as British aviation rules require in-process inspections during the build. This is how I came to acquire the airplane, purchasing it from Jerry with my co-owner Conrad Geyser. Together we have completed painting and are almost finished with the avionics installation. Our goal is to begin flight testing soon. Knowing the care that went into the bones of our airplane, I’m confident she’ll fly safely and true. As Miriam said, “If Klaus built it…”
I see my relationship with this Europa as one of stewardship, rather than ownership. When we remember the personal history from which this airplane took shape, our Europa becomes more than an assemblage of fiberglass and other inanimate parts. This is a uniquely beautiful airplane with a compelling history—a love story with wings.
David Fisichella of Falmouth, Massachusetts, is president of the Cape Cod Aero Club, loves soaring in gliders, and spends his nonflying time employed in oceanographic research.