Mike Ash of Grand Bend has spent the last 14 years building his plane, which he completed this spring. Soon, he will be allowed to take passengers, but he will not be ready to offer flights for the Young Eagles day. His first – and most frequent – passenger will likely be his wife Kathy, who has waited a long time for a flight. “It’s exciting when he starts that motor,” Kathy says. “It’s a huge accomplishment. I know Mike feels it’s a big deal, too. He takes it in stride and doesn’t make a big thing of it, but a lot of people have complimented him about the quality of workmanship. He’s such a perfectionist, which is good when you’re building a plane you’re going to be flying around in.”
As told to Casey Lessard
I can’t even remember what triggered my interest in flying. I started taking flying lessons when I was in my late teens. It’s just something that I always wanted to do and was always interested in. I got my private license and later got my commercial license. A private license allows you to fly, but not for hire. You can fly whatever aircraft you’re licensed for and you can go anywhere you want, but you can’t make money doing it, where with a commercial license you can do that. Then there’s the airline transport rating, which is what the people who fly scheduled airlines have. I got my helicopter rating and flew helicopters for about three years for a company in King City. I flew various contracts for them, working on forest fires, water-bucketing, moving equipment for drill crews, or just moving survey crews and telecommunications crews around in the North. I have also done rides on fairs and crop pollination. Just a mixed bag. In the last several years I haven’t been flying much because of the building process. I’m now getting into the flying aspect and I’m really enjoying it, of course. My plane is a Murphy Rebel. Murphy is based in Chilliwack, BC, and they make several kits, the Rebel being one of them. I did a search for the kind of plane I wanted to build and read a book or two on home builds. I committed to buying the kit before getting a ride in one, which is not so brilliant, but it seems to have worked out well. I got the kit in November of 1993, and I finished it in the fall of 2007. That sounds like a lot of time, but there’s about 4500 hours invested in it, and there were a couple of years when I didn’t do much on it. I got a little burned out and needed a break. But I got back at it and finished it off.
Taking flight I think every time I go there’s a tad of apprehension to starting a new little trip. And then, as soon as you’re off the ground, you relax and enjoy the scenery and the day. Landing is the hardest part, especially with a tail-wheel airplane. They’re somewhat skittish when you’re landing. The airplane’s centre of mass is behind the main wheels, so it wants to spin the aircraft around. It takes some footwork to keep it straight on the runway. There’s a real sense of independence and freedom (to flying); a sense of being in control of your own destiny. Now for me, it’s also the sense of being able to fly an airplane I’ve built. The cost of fuel is certainly a consideration. People who fly airplanes are not necessarily that much more wealthy than anyone else; they’ve just made flying a priority. They’re going to find the money to buy the gas and maintain the airplane.
Benefits of Sexsmith This facility is one thing that helps keep costs down. It’s run by volunteers, and it’s economical, and that helps people keep flying. The first time I saw Sexsmith, I was attracted to it. This looked like a good place to house my aircraft. I talked to Ron Helm and found out there was a hangar available and I made arrangements to rent it. It’s such a good spot and there’s a great group of people here willing to help out. It’s also a great location: we have people experts in Huron Park and Fullarton available to help. Aviation is certainly something that spurs a lot of people’s interest. They’re much better getting a first hand experience and the Young Eagles day is a great chance to do that. I’m really looking forward when Kathy and I can make some trips. We would like to visit Kathy’s family in Ottawa, and I have cousins in Owen Sound and Windsor, so we’ll be doing trips like that. My goal is to fly to the east coast and the west coast, but I’ve got to work up to that. The number of people on our need-a-ride list is pretty large after 14 years.