Perseverance Pays Off
EAA staff-built Sonex makes first flight
(l to r) Barry Elk, Charlie Becker, and Joe Norris give the thumbs-up after the first flight of N280GD, a Sonex built over the past eight years with the pooled resources of many EAA’s staff members.
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November 30, 2010 — Sunday, November 28, saw the realization of an eight-year dream at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh as a new airplane, N208GD, taxied out to Runway 22 and took to the skies for the first time. The airplane, an AeroVee-powered Sonex aircraft, is the result of an idea hatched in 2002 that several staff members working at EAA, the cradle of homebuilt aviation, should work together to build an airplane.
Work was shared by many hands - some no longer employed with EAA - and during the long, often interrupted construction period, the group experienced many of the same challenges as other projects. They thought the project might take a couple of years to complete, three tops. But as Charlie Becker, now EAA director of membership services and one of the original organizers, said, “As with any project, sometimes life gets in the way.”
The idea seemed logical; gather a group of people employed at the world’s cradle of homebuilding - about a dozen or so in the beginning - to build an airplane. After some organizational meetings, the Oshkosh Aircraft Builders Club, Ltd., set out to build Sonex #450.
Members ranged from men and women who had absolutely no homebuilding experience to a couple of seasoned builders. They committed to the idea in 2002 and enthusiasm ran fairly high in the beginning, with scheduled building sessions twice a week.
They started out working in the former restoration shop inside EAA headquarters, what is now the EAA Founders Wing. They later moved to the Air Academy workshop in the museum’s educational wing, then to one of the hangars at Pioneer Airport, making steady progress along the way - the tail section was completed, then the wings, followed by the fuselage. Final work was completed across the runway at a Sonex hangar.
When life’s many challenges and commitments occurred – including the annual months-long ramp-ups to AirVenture Oshkosh - some people dropped out while others joined in. Becker was with the project to the finish. Joe Norris, EAA homebuilders community manager, served as a technical counselor for the project. Norris was at the controls for the first flight and, as an FAA designated airworthiness representative, also performed the final airworthiness inspection about a week earlier.
Other tech counselors included Chuck Burtch, Dave Nason, and Brian Lee. Sonex Founder John Monnett served as flight advisor.
The group overcame the death of one of its charter members, Gregg Deimer, who after a courageous bout with cancer succumbed to the disease during AirVenture 2007. His passing was a prime motivator to complete the project, Becker said, and the plane’s registration number serves as a memorial to their fallen comrade, representing Gregg’s birthday and initials (208-February 8-and GD).
Two years after Gregg passed away, most of the airplane had been completed, Becker said, stating the old homebuilder’s adage, “It was 90 percent done with about 50 percent left to do.” Most of that work had to do with assembly of the AeroVee engine, avionics, wiring, and electronics, and flight control systems. Barry Elk, who joined EAA as director of membership marketing in 2008, was instrumental in completing the avionics installation, as well as a lot of the fiberglass prep, engine buildup and painting.
“I also fabricated a few parts - including an aileron bell-crank that I bent by over-torquing a push rod!” Elk said.
Over the past two years, those remaining on the project – Elk, Norris, Becker, and Mark Forss, set aside Wednesday nights to work toward completing the project. “This project has really pointed out to me the importance of making it easy to work on a project regularly,” said Elk, who at some point plans to build his own airplane.
After Norris completed the maiden flight, he reported a few instrument squawks in the otherwise uneventful “couple of laps around the patch. It flew really nice.” Elk added, “It was thrilling to finally see it fly after having worked on it for two-plus years.”
N208GD is by design an EAA staff project through and through.
“We went into this hoping to build an affordable aircraft that people could fly – simple and inexpensive,” Becker noted. “We built for day VFR flying, installed a used Stratomaster avionics unit, and used Krlyon spray paint for the fiberglass parts.
“Over the years, a lot of people helped out. It would be hard to imagine any one person doing it all alone. It’s sort of like flying – a lot of flying is done solo, but you want and need to share it with others to keep going.”