A bit about me and airplanes.
"I was born a poor, black child." No wait, that's Steve Martin's opening line in The Jerk. Actually we don't need to go back as far as day one, but my interest in airplanes developed pretty early in my childhood. From plastic model airplanes, to Cox line-controlled airplanes (which brings back dizzy memories), uncontrolled balsa wood airplanes (remember the Sleek Streak?), and finally to several years of radio-controlled gliders, airplanes have been a serious hobby of mine for quite a while. I was also into biking and photography over the years, and actually considered a photojournalism career at one point, but the mighty airplane lured me away.
After graduating Sir Francis Drake High School in 1983, I was accepted to UCLA's School of Engineering and Applied Science and earned a B.S. degree in Aerospace Engineering 5 years later. Why did it take me 5 years, you may ask. Well, an engineering degree isn't the easiest thing in the world to earn, especially if you are a human being and need to sleep once in a while. I recall my first quarter there... I went nearly 3 days without sleep during finals week. Photography also played a role in extending my stay at UCLA; at the end of my first year I was accepted as a contributing photographer for The Daily Bruin, which eventually led to a paying staff photographer position, then darkroom technician, and ultimately the assistant photography editor. Working 20-30 hours per week at that job definitely affected my studies, but I enjoyed it and it paid the rent.
1988 was not the ideal time to have a shiny new Aerospace Engineering degree in one's hands. The aerospace industry is very cyclical, and the cycle was definately down then. I sent scores of resumes throughout the country, but the phone never rang. Finally at the end of 1989, I got a break when Northrop Corporation offered me a job as a Liaison Engineer on the B-2 Stealth Bomber program in Palmdale, CA. For those unfamiliar the job description of Liaison Engineer, it's kind of like being an airplane doctor. We don't actually perform work (surgery) on the airplanes, but we provide written instructions (a prescription, if you will) to aircraft technicians when things aren't fitting or working properly. Sometimes it's a simple fix like trimming a part to avoid an interference, and sometimes it's more complex such as an out-of-trim airplane, a goofed up weather radar system (sound familiar, Scott?) or in the case of a stealth aircraft, a radar signature "hot spot." It's a very interesting job because every day is different: one day I might be working on a VHF radio problem, and the next I'll be working a weight and balance problem... you just never know. That's also the tough part of the job because we're expected to know so many different things about the aircraft. The typical design engineer is an expert in a very small portion of the aircraft such as the landing gear or the windshield. The typical liaison engineer, on the other hand, knows a little bit about everything and understands the whole aircraft as an integrated, complete system.
Anyway, I was finally in. Now airplanes weren't just a hobby, they were a career. And what a nice change it was to have a positive cash flow (although here it is 9 years since graduation and I'm still paying back student loans). A little cash in one's pocket, a love of airplanes, and a coworker who's a certified flight instructor can only lead to one thing... a private pilot's certificate. I took off on my first introductory flight in a Piper Tomahawk from Rosamond Airpark, CA (L00) on November 18, 1990. 8 months later I was a FAA certified private pilot.
And so began the airplane renting game. It's an expensive game, and somewhat unpredictable since you can't be guaranteed there's an airplane available when you want one. Nor can you be certain what condition the plane is in despite the strict maintenance and inspection requirements levied on rental aircraft. But you gotta fly. So you gotta pay.
In December, 1991 I hooked up with a flying club based at Fox Field (WJF) in Lancaster, CA. The club, known as Center Flying, Inc. was started in 1964 by a bunch of Los Angeles ARTCC (LA Center) controllers and consisted of a 1981 Piper Archer II and about a dozen members. Pictured at right is the club plane after receiving new paint in 1997. Posing is Maintenance Officer Ted Blaine. N8422N was a well-equipped plane and excellently maintained, but if you wanted to take it away for a summer weekend, you had to plan pretty far in advance. That started me thinking how nice it would be to have my own plane.
That thought, however, would have to wait for a while because things were changing in 1996. I decided that Palmdale's desert living just wasn't my style. I made a lot of good friends there, and enjoyed my job with Northrop (now Northrop Grumman), but Seattle was calling. I had an offer to work for Boeing as a Liaison Engineer on the new 777, so I took it.
After I got settled into my new job and new apartment, I checked out with a local FBO so I could continue to fly. Perhaps I was just spoiled by my previous flying club experience, but now I was paying $80/hour (plus tax) to rent an old, slow Cessna 172, which was a bit disenchanting. Serious thoughts of aircraft ownership again returned to my brain. But could I afford it? Would I buy a used production aircraft or build a kitplane (buying a new production was definitely out of the question)? It would have to be a fairly fast airplane so that I could fly home to the Bay Area reasonably. There are a lot of speedy, affordable kitplanes on the market, and with my background and resources, that seemed like the best bet. I'm pretty sure I'd have the patience to complete a large project like that, I was making decent money, and I had the time. "I should just do it," I thought. You only live once.
With my mind all but made up, all I really needed now was to decide which kit to build, and to find a place with a garage. The timing worked out well since my rent was going up and I wanted to buy a home anyway. To find out more, pick the preparation button.