August 2, 2014 - The F-16C Fighting Falcons of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds are wowing EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2014 crowds this week. But the story behind a Van’s RV-12 painted to resemble them and reposing in Row 313 of Homebuilt parking still can provide plenty of uplift—especially in this, the 10th anniversary year of the sport pilot regulations.
The RV-12 belongs to James Graham, a senior U.S. District Court judge and former commercial pilot from Columbus, Ohio. Judge Graham had been a lapsed pilot for more than 25 years when he heard about the newly minted sport pilot regulations. It was welcome news to him, as a cardiac bypass operation in 2000 had made him think the case was closed on ever qualifying for a third-class medical certificate again.
The judge promptly started flying, and got his taildragger endorsement. Since then, he’s owned an Ercoupe, an Aeronca 7AC Champ, and a Cessna 162 Skycatcher, before purchasing his current ride, the “mini F-16 Thunderbird,” as he calls the RV-12.
The builder, “another senior citizen, decided he really wanted a Searay instead, and I was able to purchase it before it had been painted,” Graham said, and he chose the T-Birds’ scheme.
His sport pilot privileges and airplanes have taken him to destinations including the Bahamas, Sun ’n Fun, and of course, Oshkosh, accumulating almost 1,000 hours of flight time. He’s currently finishing his second Champ restoration (he sold the first) and, having just celebrated his 75th birthday, the judge is about to mark another milestone: “In August, I will celebrate my 10th anniversary of flying under the sport pilot rule,” he said.