Pratt & Whitney Engineer Turns Plans into Plane

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Keith Macht's seven-year-old daughter is waiting patiently for her turn. She's seen it come to life throughout her seven years and is looking forward to the time when she will be able to fly in the plane her dad has built in their garage. She'll have to wait a little longer for Macht, a customer support engineer on the F135 program, to finish his 40 hours of solo flying in the two-seater.

"Hopefully by spring, I'll be ready to fly with someone else," Macht said. "My first passenger will definitely be my wife. She has been through this with me from the beginning and has been very supportive and patient about the time and money I've invested. After that, I'll take my daughter and my dad up."

Macht, who earned his pilot's license in 2004, quickly decided that renting a plane over time would prove costly. "I had more time than money at that point in my life, so I decided the most cost-effective thing to do was to build my own plane," he said.

He did some research and bought plans from Sonex Aircraft in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, in early 2005. "When I first saw the 800 or so pages of plans, it was a little overwhelming," he said. "My original plan was to finish the build in two to three years."

Life had other plans. "Between work, finishing my master's, the birth of our daughter and other priorities, I worked on the plane a couple of hours a night with help from my father, wife and (eventually) daughter," Macht said. "I finished the build in September of this year, about nine and a half years after I started."

He started the build using 4-by-12 sheets of aluminum in his basement. "Then, I moved it to the garage because I needed more space," he said. "Eventually, I had to put up a bigger garage to house the plane."

About 95 percent of the plane is aluminum, with the exception of the nose and tail tips, which are made of fiberglass. Macht purchased the tail tips, but made the cowl (nose), which required him to learn to work with and finish fiberglass. "I wanted a slightly different cowl design than what was already out there, so I made it myself," he said.

The plane's 80 horsepower, air-cooled Aerovee motor, based on the old Volkswagen Beetle designs, was purchased as a kit. "The parts came in three boxes, along with assembly instructions," Macht said. "I put it together it in my basement."

In late September, he towed the plane from his garage in Colchester to Windham Airport in Willimantic, Connecticut, for its first flight. "The 25-mile trip was pretty uneventful other than the looks I got from passing motorists," Macht said.

After updating his life insurance documents (just to be on the safe side) and spending time in Oshkosh for flight training, he took the plane up for the first time the first week in October. "The first flight was about a half hour and everything worked and it flew like it was supposed to," he said. "That was the most rewarding time for me and I realized that I had done everything right."

The plane, not including paint, cost Macht about $15,000 to build. "If I bought a kit, rather than just the plans, it would have cost me $27,000 to build, so it was still a good deal," he said.

And, in the process, he's had a good time. "Everyone gets to the point where they get frustrated with a project and I'm no exception," he said. "But with support from my family and the online community, I was able to push through those times and learn as I went along. It's been a blast and I encourage anyone who is thinking about doing something like this to just do it. It's a great experience and well worth it in the end."

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