On The Fly

Sterling Burke builds his plane by the book

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“If you go to my mom’s house and go to the airplane section of the encyclopedia, you will find a lot of dirty fingerprints,” says Sterling Burke. “I learned how to fly [by] reading the encyclopedia.” Well, sort of. Burke, 56, a senior partner with The Foster Group, a professional services group in Chicago, was an aviation officer candidate in the Navy. He attended its flight school in 1971. Now he’s building his own planeā€”one that will fly faster than the model he currently owns. If purchased new, his plane would cost close to $450,000. So, Burke purchased a Lancair IV airplane kit for $39,000 and began constructing it in his garage in 1991. Today, he spends a steady 15 hours per week on the aircraft, which now sits in a hanger at a cost of about $200 per month.

When the airplane is completed in mid 2005, Burke will have spent approximately $200,000 on its construction.

“From an early age, I dreamed about flying my own airplane and building it. It’s all about having a vision of what you want and having a plan to do it.”

Purchase a kit. According to Dick Knapinski, spokesperson for the Experimental Aircraft Association, an international association of aviation enthusiasts, airplane kits can range from $5,000 to $100,000. There are two types: One has parts partially assembled; the other does not. The EAA offers SPORTAIR workshops throughout the country that outline the specific skills needed to build aircraft.

Pass inspection. A finished aircraft must be inspected by the Federal Aviation Administration for airworthiness. A pilot must subsequently log between 25 and 40 hours of test flights in specific non-populated areas to ensure safety. For more information, contact www.eaa.org.