December 17, 2018

Building A Dream One Rivet At a Time

Able Flight pilot John Robinson

John Robinson faced the same problem many new Able Flight pilots encounter. Once they earn a pilot’s license, then what? What can they fly if they aren’t fortunate enough to live near one of the few adapted airplanes in the country? John’s answer was simple-he’d build his own.

There is a luxury in not knowing how difficult something is going to be when you first start down the path of good intentions.  It was best that John wasn’t fully aware that the Zenith 750 Cruzer he wished to build contained thousands of rivets, and hundreds of pieces of sheet metal along with hundreds of screws, bolts, washers, nuts and fittings, each one requiring the exact placement by a dedicated builder. That’s especially true when it comes to building your own plane, and even more so when you are a quadriplegic (see John’s story in this Able Flight video).  But John is used to adversity and challenge, and in his deceptively low key manner, an obstacle in his path is worthy of study, and that study then leads to a plan of action.

So John decided that, since he doesn’t have the full use of his hands and fingers the way most builders do, he would find a way to make the best use of what he has.  Just as importantly, he would seek generous help from those who hands had not been partially paralyzed in an accident. That help would come in the form of members of EAA Chapter 1083 in Rowan County, NC, and the five chapter members who donated a great deal of time and expertise. Tom Neal, Lewis Brown, Louis Moore, Lance Berrier and Gary Coontz showed up at the hangar time after time for over two years until just a few weeks ago, John’s dream took to the air for the first time on Sunday October 21st, 2018 with Jan Eggenfeller  of Viking Engines at the controls.

Shortly after witnessing the first flight, Robinson says, “After two years of biweekly build nights, and frequent unscheduled work sessions, it was strange to come to the hangar one day and realize that there was nothing left to do, the plane was complete. The transition from building to flying struck me as rather abrupt, almost off guard. It still hasn’t sunk in that in a hangar, I have a flyable airplane.”

Even with experienced and trustworthy help, there was the other big issue. How would he pay for it? That’s when John decided that the solution was to seek help from those who understood that his dream was not for a plane for him alone, but one in which others facing their own physical challenges could test themselves as John had done through Able Flight. To do that he created AV84all, an nonprofit with the mission to “…make general aviation accessible for all, no matter the disability.”

The project was kicked off by Sebastien Heintz of Zenith Aircraft with a donated air frame kit, and that was followed by the donation of a firewall forward kit by Jan Eggenfeller of Viking.  Technic Air provided a beautiful interior, and other contributors were: Whelen, ACR, Wicks Aircraft Supply, The Ray Allen Company, and Corrosion Technologies.

Now, with thousands of parts assembled and moving in unison above North Carolina, there are required hours of test flying to be completed and then John Robinson will once again make a major transition in his life, the return from aircraft builder to pilot. And that’s two dreams fulfilled.