For more than 25 years, David Parnell dreamed about building his own airplane. But as with so many of us, that dream had to be put on hold as his career in the Air Force took off and his family began to grow.
“In other words — economics,” said Parnell, who has been a private pilot for more than 30 years, as well as an Air Force navigator flying bombers and tankers. But that didn’t stop him from checking out all the different kits over the years and keeping the dream alive.
Then about four years ago, Parnell’s wife, Kim, tired of his requests to start “one more project,” gave him the green light to fulfill his dream. “It was time to put all that dreaming and research into action,” Parnell said.
First order of business: Choose which plane to build. “You know when you go car shopping and sit in a new car, maybe drive it, then get out and say, ‘nope, not this one’? Then you do the same thing over and over again until the ‘one’ finds you. That happened to me.”
He knew some owners of “well-established brands,” so he had the chance to sit in a few and even fly some. Then he saw a listing on Barnstormers.com for a barely started Tango II at Team Tango’s build center in Williston, Florida.
“After a little research into a kit that few people had even heard of, I flew into Orlando, then drove about 90 miles up to Williston,” he recalled. “I thoroughly enjoyed meeting their staff, touring their facility, and flew with Denny Funnemark, their chief pilot and co-owner. Denny is a retired USAF F-15 driver, so we always barb each other about him flying ‘lawn darts’ and me being in bombers and now in tankers, an airplane that only knows how to make left turns.”
Between all the good-natured ribbing, Parnell found he was impressed by the company and the plane. “I wanted a two place, fast, and simple airplane. That’s exactly what the Tango II is.”
He decided to keep the kit at the company’s build center for easy access to their tools, materials and, most importantly, supervision (one of Kim’s requirements). “It turned out to be great decision,” he said.
He bought the kit for $25,000 in the summer of 2006, then got to work. “I made a couple of trips to Williston to work on it that fall, but got deployed to the desert in the spring of 2007. When I got back, I had a hard time finding the time to re-engage. I did make it to Dallas to the Superior XP-360 build school and built my engine. I really enjoyed that experience. I’m not a gear head, so that basic, one-on-one instruction and intimate knowledge of my engine is priceless.”
Then fate stepped in. Parnell spent nine months at the 601st Air Operations Center at Tyndall AFB, which is about a three-hour drive from Williston. “I would spend my weekends and other time off at the build center. I was able to knock a majority of the build time out during that nine months.”
When he was stationed at the Tanker Airlift Control Center (TACC) at Scott AFB, just outside of St. Louis, “it was a matter of tying up loose ends, getting the DAR inspection and the 40-hour fly-off,” he reported.
The DAR inspection was in April 2009, with the fly-off completed that November. He still has some interior work to do, which he’s working on while the plane is hangared at St. Louis Downtown Airport (CPS).
First flight was conducted by Team Tango’s Funnemark. “Though I had my check-out in his airplane, I was a little nervous to fly the first flight,” Parnell said, reporting the first flight went fine, with just a few minor adjustments needed.
“A couple of days later, Denny sent me out to do some high speed taxiing,” he said, noting “60 knots caught me by surprise and I started to fly. Instead of chopping power and trying to settle back down, I pushed up the throttle and climbed out. Denny said he could see the grin on my face from the infield. My first flight was a blast, though uneventful.”
Parnell regularly flies his airplane, commuting from his job in the reserves at Scott AFB to his home in Canadian, Texas. “Canadian is where both my wife and I grew up and where we moved back to when I left active duty,” he said. “When we moved there in 1995, Kim said she was through moving, so wherever my reserve work takes me, Canadian is always going to be home plate.”
The first 12 years in the reserves, he was station at Tinker AFB in Oklahoma, a relatively easy commute. “Now, being so far from home and with so little time off, the plane makes it extremely handy and cost effective. Instead of six or eight hours of flying on an airline plus the drive to and from the airports (St Louis Lambert and Amarillo) totaling eight to 10 hours, I can be doorstep to doorstep in less than four hours. Granted, I have weather concerns, so I always have an airline ticket tucked away. I really have to watch the weather for my return trip and plan accordingly. TACC is a 24/7/365 operation and we work hard-and-fast scheduled shifts. No excuses are accepted for being late for your shift.”
Now that he’s flying the plane he dreamed about for more than 25 years, Parnell looks back at the build process as “one of the most enjoyable and rewarding events of my life. I’ve had a great Air Force career, travelled the world, seen and done things that one can only dream of, but building my own airplane ranks up close to the top of personally gratifying things I’ve accomplished.”
And flying his own plane is the type of flying he wants to do these days.
“At this point in my life, VFR flying suits me just fine,” he said. “I’ve had my fill of bad weather, night time ops in the mountains, and other flying conditions that seemed exciting and necessary at the time, but not so much now.”