Homemade plane takes maiden flight

FedEx pilot celebrates 100th anniversary of Wright Brothers flight

By Toni Lepeska

December 18, 2003

Image By Dave Darnell

Dave Robinson taxis his Pitts model biplane at the
Olive Branch airport Wednesday. Robinson went
along for the ride as another pilot took the controls
for the maiden flight of the plane Robinson built

FedEx pilot Dave Robinson, in honor of the 100th anniversary of flight, flew from Olive Branch's airport Wednesday in a bright red and sunny yellow plane he built in his two-car garage. It took four years for Robinson, who played with model and radio-controlled airplanes as a child, to finish his first "Flyer," a term the Wright Brothers used in their account of the first flight. Two photo albums of pictures document 45-year-old Robinson's project. He made the pair of wings first, then constructed the fuselage. He painted the prop job "Corvette red, yellow and black."

"It's a big deal, building something in your own garage. That's the heart of aviation," said Robinson friend Skip Stewart, who piloted the two-seat plane in which Robinson was a passenger. "That's what the Wright Brothers did." Well, they didn't build their plane in a garage, but they did build it. Orville Wright and Wilbur Wright's first flights were Dec. 17, 1903, between the hours of 10:30 a.m. and noon at Kitty Hawk, N.C. It marked the beginning of the age of flight.

Robinson, a hard-core flight enthusiast who lives in Eads, Tenn., took off about noon from Olive Branch airport, where his boss has a hangar. It was a test flight and his plane's first flight, its maiden voyage. Robinson wasn't flying blind when he decided to make his own plane from a kit after seeing a photograph of a Pitts model in a magazine. Robinson had been a mechanic during his 21 years with the Air Force, but constructing a steel tube and fabric plane from screw to flew still wasn't an easy task. "Each phase had its own challenges," Robinson said. "There was not any one thing more difficult than the other." He'd heard stories of people who'd begun to build their plane and didn't finish. He finished by breaking up the project into pieces. "You can't look at the end. You have to look at each individual item as your project," Robinson said. "If you look at the end, you get overwhelmed." The Pittsburgh, Pa., native was determined. "There were times he did 24-hours straight," said Robinson's fiancee, Ellyn Basham. "He worked around the clock many nights."

Robinson, who is qualified to fly a 727 jet but didn't have necessary certification Wednesday to pilot the biplane, monitored the gauges and enjoyed the ride.  "I was checking the wings to make sure they stayed on," Robinson said. "Apparently I did it right the first time. I was just really impressed." The plane, at 75 percent power, traveled 210 knots, approximately 230 mph. Basham, who does share her fiance's love of flight, had to stay on the ground for the test flight. "He's got to be just thrilled," she said. "Isn't it beautiful?"

Robinson plans to fly the single-engine plane to Kitty Hawk after he gets Federal Aviation Administration approval. That will be after the first of the year.

- Toni Lepeska