Archive for Thursday, December 1, 2005

Hedges’ dream taking flight

Homebuilt plane coming together in De Soto garage

December 1, 2005

Given a day off Friday from his job with the city of De Soto street department, Daniel Hedge found his way to the family basement with his head in the clouds.

Once in the basement garage, the young man may have spent a bit of time daydreaming of flying in his own plane but that gave way to the real work of making it happen in about a year.

Filling the basement garage of the De Soto home of his parents, Dan and Alberta Hedge, is a partially assembled Wittman T-10 Tailwind started in fall 1998. A steel-tube fuselage with a four-cylinder air-cooled engine mounted to the front takes up one stall. The wood-covered wings sit off to the side, ready to be attached.

Right now, the Hedges are waiting for the canvas materials to cover the fuselage behind the cabin.

Dan Hedge said the plane's genesis was in his son's earlier experience in building radio-controlled planes.

"He said it wouldn't be much harder than that," Dan said.

The father and son now chuckle at that idea. It's taken about 2,000 hours of work to get the plane to this point, Dan said. At least another 1,000 man hours will be required before the Hedges get the two-place plane in the air, he said.

It's also more expensive, costing about $8,000 to build. The expense necessitated a sporadic approach to building the plane.

"We've kind of been working in spurts," the father said. "We finish one thing and wait until we have the money to move on."

But an awareness of the time and dollar investment required didn't deter Dan from embracing his son's idea.

"I grew up with airplanes," he said. "Dad flew. Dad always talked about building one."

But more than money and the sheer amount of work involved slowed progress on the plane. There was also a lot to learn. Dan said his son, who contributed most of the labor, learned to mig an arc weld, work sheet metal and machine parts on a lathe and other mill working machines.

Their membership in two Johnson County chapters of the Experimental Aircraft Association helped with the learning curve.

"We get a lot of support," he said. "We go to meetings once a month and get bolstered up. They might have a program on riveting, fabric, engines -- you have it.

"They have special Saturday workshops where you can get more hands-on instruction. The meetings will just have members sharing what they've learned. In the Saturday workshops they have more intensive hands-on instruction from experts."

They also learned by going to a fly-in of Wittman T-10 Tailwinds at Baraboo, Wis., scheduled each year a week before the famous experimental airplane fly-in at Oshkosh, Wis. There, they could inspect completed planes and talk to those who built them.

"It's better than Oshkosh, in my opinion," Dan said. "It's a very family, small-town atmosphere. You can talk to people and crawl in the planes. You can't do that in Oshkosh."

The soft-spoken father and son are complete opposites of the boisterous metal-working motorcycle-building father and son of TV fame. The product is much different, too. There's nothing purely for show on a Tailwind.

"It was designed in 1953 by Steve Wittman, famous in the 30s for air-racing designs," Dan said. "His whole idea was keep it light and simple. Every pound you can take off is another pound of luggage you can put in."

The Tailwind will fly at a top speed of about 190 mph, Dan said. The plane will have a range of 600 miles with a ceiling of approximately 17,000 feet. In addition to pilot and passenger, it can carry 60 pounds of luggage.

The Hedges are far enough along that they are considering if they should rent hanger space in Gardner or Lawrence. Daniel should complete his pilot's license this month. Dan will have to renew his expired license.

Although eager to complete the plane, father and son acknowledge the purpose of experimental airplanes is learning and doing. To classify as an experimental plane with the Federal Aviation Administration, a plane has to be 51 percent homebuilt.

"It's not about the final product," Dan said. "We started this knowing it would be a long process for me and my son.

"A person has to be a perfectionist-type in a way. You're going to be up flying it. You want it to be the best it can be."

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