Magic carpet: Building an RV-10 to enjoy in retirement

As he was nearing retirement as a corporate pilot, David Maib and his wife, Mary, started discussing what kind of plane they wanted for their retirement “magic carpet.”

“We have had an airplane in the family, with very few gaps, as far back as I can remember,” said David Maib, listing them: “Porterfield, Cub, Tri-Pacer, Cardinal, Bonanza. The Bonanza was a partnership and my partner was a mechanic, so we did almost all of our own work and I learned a great deal about aircraft maintenance and construction. Prior to that, it would not have crossed my mind to build a kit airplane.”

As the couple started researching what plane would suit their needs and budget, David became aware of the RV-10. “Our goal was to end up with a modern, comfortable traveling machine,” he said.

A corporate pilot for a Fortune 100 company, he was on a layover when he visited the Van’s Aircraft facility in Oregon and took a demo ride. “I was really impressed with the airplane and with the whole Van’s operation,” he said. “I came home from that trip and told Mary that I thought we should consider building our retirement airplane. Now, I am a guy who is not very handy with tools and not very patient, so Mary looked at me with some concern and asked me if I was feeling OK!”

She remained skeptical until the couple flew to the Pacific Northwest to visit friends and family. “We dropped in at Van’s so Mary could see the RV-10 and get the tour of the factory,” David recalled. “When we departed, she said, ‘Well, I think we should do it.'”

The St. Paul, Minnesota, couple agreed to tackle the project together. “I would not have done it any other way,” David claimed.

They ordered the kit in early 2006. “Since we had no experience, we signed up for Wally Anderson’s Introduction to Building class at Synergy Air. We spent 10 days with Wally and completed the empennage kit. We learned the basics of sheet metal construction and got a good working introduction to most of the tools we would need. Both Mary and I believe that without that kind of training, we might well have given up on the project at a very early stage.”

The remainder of the kit was delivered in June and the couple started work on it immediately. “Our goal was to complete the airplane by the time I retired in the fall of 2008,” David said. “We know now that this was an extremely aggressive schedule, but at the time, ignorance was bliss.

“We spent every free moment working on the airplane for two-and-a-half years,” he continued. “During the build, we had lots of help from friends in Minnesota. A couple of friends who are A&P mechanics provided guidance and help constantly. I also had Noel Simmons from Blue Sky Aviation come and help me with the firewall forward.”

Some of the changes and modifications “added quite a bit of work to the build,” David reported. “Air conditioning from Flightline AC and extended range fuel tanks from SafeAir1 were two of the larger projects. We also elected to install the Vertical Power VP-200 Duo electrical system. This state-of-the-art approach to electrical power is fantastic and is one of the best decisions we made. We obtained a used IO-540 and had it overhauled locally in Minnesota.”

As with any homebuilt project, the couple experienced a series of high points and low points. One of the biggest — and best — surprises for David was “how good Mary was at this. She has the ability to look at the plans and visualize what the particular part or assembly is going to look like. She says this is because she learned to sew as a young girl, and working with sewing patterns is similar. It became a common sight to see Mary setting up the drill press or the bandsaw as she worked on the project. I am pretty sure that when she married me 30 years ago, becoming familiar with rivet guns, air drills, deburring tools, etc., was not in her plans for our life together.”

The lowest point in the project? “It was the day I accidentally pushed one of the wings out of the cradle and it hit the floor on the leading edge of the fuel tank,” David remembered. “The tank was pretty badly dented and required a lot of work to replace the end rib and straighten the leading edge. That was a sick feeling!”

The high point? “It was definitely when the DAR handed me the Airworthiness Certificate and shook my hand on Nov. 22, 2008. That was a culmination of two-and-a-half years of constant work.”

The first flight went very well, David reported. “I had gone to Dallas a few weeks earlier and got five hours of transition training with Alex DeDominices in his RV-10, so I knew what to expect from the airplane. My EFIS tumbled about 10 minutes into the flight, but that was the only problem. It turned out that I had skipped a step in the set-up process. The first flight was about 40 minutes and it was not until I was back on the ground that I got to really savor what I had just done. The only disappointment was that Mary was not there to share the moment. By that time, she was already down in Florida overseeing the remodeling of the home we had purchased a year earlier.”

After flying the Phase 1 flight test program, David turned the airplane over the paint shop at Wipaire in South St. Paul, then he and Mary finished packing up a rental truck and moved to their retirement home in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.

“We returned to Minnesota during the coldest part of the year in January, to reassemble the airplane after it was painted,” he said. “We left for Florida late in January and have been enjoying traveling in our new airplane.”

The couple keep their “magic carpet” at the New Smyrna Beach Municipal Airport (EVB), flying it once or twice a week. “We have taken the airplane to the Bahamas, New York City, Key West, and lots of other Florida and Georgia destinations,” said David, who has logged more than 17,000 hours and notes that Mary is now pursuing her private ticket. “Mary’s mother lives in Wichita, so we fly that trip a few times a year. We have done some volunteer flying for Pilots n’ Paws. We would be interested in doing some flying for Angel Flight, but they currently will not utilize experimental airplanes for their flights.”

LESSONS LEARNED

What advice do the Maibs offer other new homebuilders? Slow down!

“We set ourselves an unrealistic time table to build the airplane,” David said. Feeling pressured to finish the plane before he retired, the couple found themselves under a deadline. “Towards the end, that took some of the pleasure out of the experience for us as we felt pushed to get it finished.

“Try not to get into a position where you feel like you have a deadline to finish the project,” he continued. “I had a friend who built a Christen Eagle several years ago, and he gave me some advice before I started: ‘When you find yourself willing to compromise a bit on quality just to get something done, it is time to take a break and go see a movie or something.’ That was good advice and I tried to follow it. Having a deadline made that more difficult.”

For more information: ExperCraft.com

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