Dennis Martin loves to fly. And it shows.
Just pay a visit to his home in northeast Provo and behold the wings and fuselage of a small airplane that rests inside the garage and the adjacent, canopied carport. All in all, this makeshift outdoor hangar looks like a small-scale Boeing plant.Buying a finished plane costs thousands of dollars more than building one from a kit, as Martin is doing. But saving money is not the only reason he decided two years ago to jump headlong into this summer project.
"There's joy in building it yourself," said Martin, a BYU communications professor. "It's not work, it's fun."
Still, Martin realized he was in for a major chore the day the airplane kit material arrived at his home. "You feel like you're starting the biggest model airplane project of your life," he said.
"I opened the box and thought, `Can I really do this?' "
The 8-by-8 box, which came via truck, contained the components of the Velocity 173. "The bishop is using the box as a storage shed," he said.
When his summer hobby is completed, projected to be sometime next year, Martin plans to take to the skies in his "home-built" plane, a four-seat aircraft that has the ability to make a 1,000-mile cross-country trip at speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour and at an altitude between 7,000 and 12,000 feet.
The twin-tail plane, made of composites - fiberglass and carbon fiber - has a wingspan of 31 feet and a length of 19 feet.
Naturally, the sight of a plane in a garage has attracted significnt attention in the neighborhood. "Everybody's interested in it - my family, neighbors, the mailman," Martin said.
For him, this hobby is the marriage of his love of flying and his profession. Martin travels frequently, as he attends international conferences and makes consulting trips to major universities around the country. The craft will enable him to fly to his destinations without having to rent a plane. And it will be tax-deductible, too.
The cost of the Velocity kit and the engine Martin purchased is about $33,000, and by the time it's finished, he estimates he will have put in about $60,000 (with financial help from a silent partner) and about 1,000 hours of labor.
Now that school is back in session, however, he works on the plane only on weekends. Later this fall, he will mothball the aircraft and have it hangared at the Provo airport until next spring.
At 58, an age when most men concentrate on serene hobbies like fishing or golfing, Martin spends much of his summer break bonding epoxy to fiberglass, sanding and researching the intricacies of airplane-building.
His interest in flying began when he was a youth, and he believes it is an interest shared by many baby boomers. "I'm a guy in his 50s who wanted to fly in college," he explained. "Other responsibilities took precedence over that dream. Now that the children are raised, I can do it."
While on sabbatical to Singapore a couple of years ago, Martin studied the Internet looking for home-built options. He found Velocity, a Florida-based company. When he returned from Singapore, he earned his pilot's license. "It was a very big moment," he said.
He now has just under 100 hours of flying experience under his belt.
But what in the name of the Wright Brothers would possess a man to spend tedious hours of his spare time constructing an airplane? "It's in the genes," he said.
"I like to joke that my dad is a compulsive builder. He is 83 years old and still digs ditches and does electrical stuff. I learned to love building from my dad. It's been in the family blood a long time."
His dad, Berkeley, has put in between 200-300 hours helping out on the project. Assistance has come from other family members as well as a maintenance supervisor at BYU, Dennis Miller, who has airplane-building experience. Martin has enlisted other experts to help him with delicate devices, such as the instrument panel.
Home-built aircrafts, also known as "custom-built" or "amateur-built," are assembled by people, like Martin, who are licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration. The crafts are "experimental," a term that was created about 50 years ago. FAA regulations state that if an individual builds at least 51 percent of the aircraft, it can be registered under the AmateurBuilt/Custom-Built designation.
A member of the Experimental Aircraft Association, Martin says there is a 70-percent non-completion rate for home-built aircrafts. Many people get into the project and underestimate the amount of patience, research and determination it takes.
When it comes to preparing his plane for flight, Martin is fastidiously cautious. "The number one thing for me is safety," he said. He adds that 25 percent of airplane crashes are the result of stalling engines and the Velocity does not stall. Another 25 percent of crashes are due to weather or night flying.
"I will not fly at night," he said. "And I've never hit a cloud I couldn't outrun."
Martin is not alone in this building-and-flying craze. About 22,000 home-builts are currently licensed with the FAA.
"I love to fly. I love the challenge," he said. "You reach a point in life when you have to decide which hobby you like best. I like golf, and I will take my clubs with me when I fly. But I'm loving the learning that goes with flying."