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Money, luck and the dream of flying
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So then, what makes an airplane fly?

Smart people may answer that question by elaborating on Bernoulli's Principle. If you examine the cross-section of a wing, you'll notice that the top half is curved, while the bottom half is flat. As the wing moves through the air, the mass flowing over the curved top has a greater distance to travel than the mass moving along the flat underside. Since the air on top has a greater distance to travel in the same amount of time, it spreads out, becomes less dense. Literally, a vacuum is created on the topside of the wing.

At the same time, since the air moving along the underside is now denser than that on top, it "pushes" on the wing. Quite simply, lift is created by the uncomplicated act of influencing the manner in which air flows across the wing.

Having said all of that, the smart person may sit back in his or her chair, cross his or her arms, and remark smugly, "Bernoulli's Principle is the same concept which allows a sailboat to sail directly into a headwind."

While all of that is true enough, it still does not answer the question, "What makes an airplane fly?" The truth is so simple that it can be compressed into one word. Because, there is only one thing on this green earth that makes an airplane fly:


This is not to mean you have to be wealthy in order to practice recreational aviation. If it did, I would not be here writing this article. What that means, is that to pursue recreational flying as a hobby takes a special kind of commitment. It is not unattainable; it merely takes a bit of courage, far-sightedness, and determination. Private aviation is absolutely something anyone can enjoy, just be warned - it's not free.

I mention all of this because that is the one question I am persistently asked. How much did it cost? How much does it cost to restore an airplane? How much does aviation fuel cost? What about insurance? Amazing - hardly anyone ever thinks to inquire about the actual airplane, how she handles, the performance characteristics, etc. It is always about the money. So then, that is where this story begins. Because believe me, it was my first question, too.

Go back to the spring of 2011. I looked at the old girl. Two decades of dust had dulled her gleam. She reeked of mothballs. The glossy topcoat had dried and become brittle. My mind was echoing like a scratched record with one outstanding thought, "How much was this going to cost?"

I was looking to undertake a massive project, of which I had heard horror stories. When I started asking aviation professionals what it would take, to restore this aircraft, I heard everything. One aircraft mechanic smiled knowingly and simply replied, "Good luck." Another took the time to pull me aside and give me the lowdown. When this gentleman spoke, I listened. He had actually restored several just like it. He pointed out; the materials that go into a vintage airplane are not that expensive. To build an aircraft like my Fairchild from the frame up, including wood, fabric, topcoat, paint, etc., I may spend about $20,000 - far less than I would on a new pickup truck.

However, the labor involved raises the cost exponentially. According to Ted, it might take a year of full-time work to restore the Fairchild. Literally, it could cost as much as $100,000 just for labor. With materials and labor, this airplane could cost more than a house.

How did I react? I did what anyone else would do - I balked.

Still, the idea persisted. There had to be a way. What if I just bought the materials and did it myself? To this Ted replied, "Don't do it yourself; it's too big of a project." Time would prove how right he was. One thing was obvious - I needed help, but I couldn't afford to simply hire someone else to do it for me.

It was perhaps fate that intervened in the spring of 2011. Several factors had fallen into place that would see this dream become reality. A downturn in the economy had hit the aviation world - the value of airplanes was down in 2011, as was airplane-related work. Simply, people were not spending money on recreational aviation, and the market responded with a lowering of prices. 2011 also saw record-high values for agricultural commodities - my bread and butter. If the conditions were ever going to be right to take on this project, now was the time.

All I needed was a little help. Again, fate intervened. In March of 2011 I was at the Monroe Middle School giving a presentation on farming for Career Day. Easy - I could speak all day long on the joys of agriculture. As I was heading out, I literally ran into Gary, a pilot. Our conversation went something like this:

Gary asked, "Hey - you guys still have that old Fairchild?" The aviation community is a small one. Everyone knows what everyone else has; kind of like farming.

I replied, "Yeah, but it hasn't flown in about 20 years. It needs a lot of work, but I'd love to get it flying again."

Gary looked at me and offered, "Well, why don't you call Mike Weeden at the Brodhead airport. He may be looking for a project like that."

I thanked him, and we went our separate ways. Simple as that - the seed had sprouted. I made a mental note to call Mike.

- Dan Wegmueller of Monroe writes a column for the Times each Monday. He can be reached at