As a keen observer of human behaviour I am always amused by the habits of the common hangar dweller.
This species of aviation enthusiast is always aircraft mad but seemingly not hungry for altitude. There isn’t a single part of me with the desire to pick up a rivet gun when there is flying to be done. What it is about building or restoring aircraft that fascinates people?
In hangars, garages, carports and backyards all over Australia there are bits of aircraft strewn for miles like the bone yards of Arizona. Much to the disgust of wives and partners these pieces which are intended to be flying are sanded, riveted, un-riveted and sanded again on a daily basis. This never ending ritual is performed under the guise of completing something fantastic, but I have a sneaking suspicion the old saying about the journey being as important as the destination is partly culpable.
These quirks don’t, of course, extend to all homebuilders but it is, from a female perspective, ironic that the steadily diminishing enthusiasm ‘apes’ human males mating rituals. A man will relentlessly pursue a woman for years but once she caves in, admits defeat and accepts the ring, the hunter relaxes, cracks open a can and sits on the couch to watch the Redbull Air Race. Many aircraft builders and renovators behave in this fashion. They love the thrill of domineering a twisted pile of metal and fabric then invoking the magical alchemy that transforms the chaos into a spectacular machine. Truly a master builder. Except, well, except when it actually comes down to the nitty gritty, the thought of finally completing the project is tantamount to being handed a glass of chardy and made to watch Masterchef.
Ego may also play a part in the endless cycle of ‘put it together’ and ‘pull it apart’. Declaring the innings and presenting the project for the scrutiny of other hangar residents must surely be a nerve-wracking event. Here, for everyone to see, is the aircraft builder’s portfolio. A man is measured by the flushness of his riveting. Accordingly, it’s best to unscrew something and return to the wicket tomorrow.
In the grand scheme of all things airborne, it is logical to claim that more knowledge is required for an aircraft on the ground than there is when it is in the air. And no doubting it requires mountains more talent. A pilot pushes this, presses that and maybe manages to loop through their own propwash or perfect a three-point tail wheel landing. In contrast, an aircraft builder has to manage an entire spectrum of specific talents, from metal work and joinery to design, painting, upholstery and avionics.
It’s easy to make fun of what you don’t understand. I like something that can be wheeled out of the hangar, fuelled up and taken for a few laps: a ‘plug and play’ approach to aviation. Yet although the habits of guys and gals who build aircraft bemuse me, it’s safe to say that their journey is a highly satisfying one.
I’ve just watched a mate perform the maiden flight in his impeccably built Waiex kit aircraft. It looked like something Howard Hughes would have liked to fly: all shiny metal and pointy bits. I’ve watched the builder come and go from the freezing hangar all winter without a shred of envy. Watching him fly it today, I am now seething with envy and can begin to understand the thrill of flying something that has been built with your own hands. There is a wealth of talent lurking in the shadows of hangar doors. If only we could coax more of them from the darkness to see their machines take flight!