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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 plane—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.