It’s Not About the Airplanes, But the People

How one GlaStar couple made the most out of their building years.

Bob and Kathie Beaty with Steve (left) and Kathy (right) The Beatys flew their ‘Star to Punta Gorda, Florida, to visit us in 2006.

After last year’s Columbia fly-in, Arlo Reeves made an astute comment on GlastarNet: “By now I can say with some confidence that it’s not about the airplanes, but the people. It turns out that building a plane is a good conversation starter and the friendships build from there.”

Arlo made a great point: there is something special about the friends we make through aviation—especially those who build and fly experimental aircraft.


I may be biased, but I think that the members of our Glasair Aircraft Owners Association are very special indeed. Steve and I joined the fledgling organization shortly after we bought our tail kit in 1996, and have been members ever since. Our annual dues have been one of the best investments we’ve ever made. Being part of this organization made our 14 (yes, 14!) years of building much more enjoyable, as well as more productive. We also met a lot of really great people along the way, and thanks to the GAOA members who share their flying tips, we’ve been safer pilots ever since our first flight in 2010.

In my view, GAOA is more than just a “type club.” As GAOA members, we are part of a supportive, friendly and diverse group that not only shares flying tips and stories, but also provides an important support network for new builders across North America and around the world. Thanks to the association’s fantastic communication tools—our newsletter, the Flyer and our website, GlastarNet—GAOA members can get the information they need to get the most out of their building and flying experience. Plus, the social networking opportunities are great: it’s typical that when you meet someone at a fly-in, you feel like you already know them through postings on GlastarNet. We also tend to like each other, simply because we have so much in common.

Steve with Will Crook. Along with nine other GlaStars and Sportsmans, we are getting ready for an early morning departure from Madison to Oshkosh 2013.

Friendships through fly-ins and forums

Having a strong association is really helpful when organizing fly-ins. The folks who organize all this fun make good use of the newsletter to promote their events, and use the GlastarNet forums to keep people informed about everything from weather conditions to what goodies to pack in the plane.

Those of us who have been to the major fly-ins know how much we benefit from the experience and enthusiasm of our volunteer members who make it happen: Dave Hulse and Dave Ammenti (Smiley Creek), Arlo Reeves (Columbia), Dick King (Rough River), Dan Dudley (Oshkosh), Herb Karkheck (Sun ‘n Fun) and Dee Whittington (Festival of Flight) come to mind. Along with their wives or partners, these guys do a lot of work to get a good turnout and hold an enjoyable event. But they also know that flying is just one component of a fly-in, and that sitting down together at group meals or around the campfire (possibly with some El Dorado) is where our friendships are really formed.

Besides going to fly-ins, our members also like to gather for social events at Oshkosh and Sun ’n’ Fun. For the last 11 years, Dan Dudley has been leading a gaggle of GlaStars and Sportsmans into Oshkosh, then rounding them up for his Bratroast.

Steve and Kathy with Ann Walker, in front of our GlaStar and the world’s biggest log hangar. Obviously, we are at Bryce Canyon Airport. Photo by Arlo Reeves.

Another of our members, Herb Karkheck, sets up a hospitality trailer at Sun ’n’ Fun each year and hosts an evening gettogether.

The factory in Arlington holds an annual customer appreciation BBQ, and there are a few fledgling fly-ins in great places like Colorado and Virginia. There has even been some recent chatter online about holding a fly-in in Europe some day!

These are all wonderful opportunities to meet other GAOA members who fly or drive in just for these events.

In so many ways, GAOA is the glue that keeps our community together. Thanks to people like Omar (and others before him, including Dave Prizio), we have a website that meets the needs of our members, as well as a very fine newsletter—the one you are reading right now. It is through these communication tools that our members are able to keep in touch with each other, as well as learn the ins and outs of building and flying, share their expertise (or lack of), and get answers to questions about everything related to flying a GlaStar, Sportsman or Glasair. And for those of us who live where there is little or no support from other builders, these communication tools are lifelines to a wealth of experienced GAOA members who are happy to provide encouragement as well as practical information.

The Suttons’ GlaStar over Monument Valley. Photo by Arlo Reeves.

Building friendships while building an airplane

When Steve and I started building our GlaStar in 1996, we had busy jobs, busy lives, and elderly parents to look after.

Little did we know that we were on the “14 Years to Taxi” program. But we discovered that there’s one good thing about being a slow builder: along the way, if you work at it, you can get to know some of the people you will eventually be flying with.

Steve and I had been going to Oshkosh and Sun ’n’ Fun almost every year since the early 1980s, when we started flying ultralights. It was always great just to be around airplanes. But once we started building the GlaStar, we had a new mission: to track down and acquire everything we would need to complete the project. (As Canadians, we knew we could buy airplane stuff way cheaper in the US, and avoid shipping and customs charges by bringing it home ourselves).

So each year, we spent hours hunting down the tools, materials and accessories we would need for the next steps on the project. We took part in workshops, attended forums, and always went to the events hosted by the factory. I had the great pleasure of not one, but two demo flights with Tim Johnson, who so many of us remember with great fondness. While at air shows, Steve and I also walked the flight line, checking out completed GlaStars and imagining ourselves being there some day, camping under our wing (and sure enough, that eventually happened!).

Early in our years of building the plane, we figured out that was equally important to build friendships with other GlaStar folks.

So whenever we traveled, we made a point of visiting other builders. Thanks to GlaStarNet, we were able to track down GlaStar folks almost everywhere we went!

Soon after we started the project, when on holiday in Vancouver, we took a side trip to the factory in Arlington, Washington. On a trip to Pennsylvania we stopped by Randy Gaugler’s place to see his project. Later, when in Florida, we flew our Cessna 150 to Merritt Island to visit Ric and Bobbi Lasher and see their GlaStar under construction.

On a memorable drive from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, we spent a couple of hours with Myron Jenkins and saw the great mods he was doing to his project.

Even when traveling on my own I enjoyed meeting other builders. On a business trip to Dallas, I got to meet Mo Brooks. We went out for dinner, had a great

conversation about aircraft engines, and visited the Superior Engine factory. When in Los Angeles for a conference, I visited Gus Gustavson, checked out his project, and shared some building tips. When on a trip with my mother to Victoria BC, I got to go flying with Jim Miller in his GlaStar—a much-needed shot of inspiration.

One of the best pre-GlaStar trips Steve and I ever took was in 2002, when we flew our Cessna 150 from Toronto to Florida for a winter vacation. We stayed for a week at Bob and Kathie Beaty’s fly-in B&B, where they lived with their beautiful GlaStar. Steve and I had met Bob at Oshkosh in 1996, when we spent an afternoon learning fiberglass techniques by helping build the Young Eagles GlaStar. We are still good friends with Bob and Kathie today.

In 2003, Steve and I decided to organize a GlaStar fly-in at a resort in Killarney, Ontario. We were still years from completing our project, but had our trusty Cessna 150 to get around in. This fly-in turned out to be a real motivator, not just for us, but for others who drove there to see some completed GlaStars. Several of us got some flying time during the event—the best motivator of all. It was here that we met Glenn and Bonnie Culver, who flew up from Indiana. Since then, we have become great friends (and later in this article, I will tell another flying story that involves Glenn Culver).

Steve & Kathy Sutton, with Arlo Reeves & Ann Walker, enjoying an afternoon hike in a slot canyon.

Dreams really do come true

In August 2010, after 14 years of dreaming about how much fun we would have (if we could ever finish the danged project), Steve and I finally made our first flight. In the four years since then, we have had a whole lot of fun flying our dream plane all over the country. Our GlaStar has taken us east to Canada’s maritimes, west all the way to the California coast, and south to Texas and Florida. We’ve traveled to 26 states and 5 provinces, and have been to GlaStar & Sportsman fly-ins at Rough River, Smiley Creek, and Columbia.

Flying around the country has been great in itself: the planning, the adventure, and the spectacular sights. But the best part of these cross-country trips—and also the most durable—is the friendships we have formed.

In 2011, on our first big trip out west, we planned to meet up with Will and Ann Crook of North Carolina and travel to Smiley Creek together. Well, we didn’t actually connect till we got to Jackson Hole, but by then we sure had lots to talk about!

A year later, at Rough River, we met some more great people, including Dick and Marilyn King, and Carlos and Susan Emmons. At the banquet, we sat next to Bill Hayden of Kansas City. When we casually mentioned to Bill that we were heading west, he was quick to invite us to join him on his flight back to Kansas City, and stay with him and his wife Nikki. Well, we’ve become friends since then and hope to do some more flying together.

Our longest trip (46 hours of flying in 40 days) was to California for the 2012 Columbia fly-in. And what a trip that was!

We got to know a lot of the regulars who come to the big fly-ins out west—Arlo Reeves & Ann Walker, John & Brenda Lake, the Hulses, the Ammentis, and many other great people. After that, we joined Arlo and Ann on a fantastic trip to Bryce Canyon and Monument Valley. It was a lot of fun to fly with another GlaStar, and safer too. But again, the best part of the trip was spending time with friends and talking about how great the flying was!

In 2013 we flew our GlaStar to Oshkosh for the first time. On the way there, we met up with Garth Hichens, who was flying his Sportsman from Annapolis MD to

Oshkosh. We talked about possibly going to Smiley Creek together some time. It worked out for us last June, and we had a fantastic flight west with Garth and his wife Sue. Next up is a visit to their place on the east coast! We also met Bob Lisbonne at Oshkosh and are looking forward to visiting him next year when we’ll be heading west again for the Columbia fly-in.

Paying it forward

In between our big trips, Steve and I are always happy whenever there’s an opportunity to help motivate other builders. A couple of years ago, we decided we should meet Mark Briggs, so we planned a day trip to his home airport near Ottawa. I took Mark’s wife Micheline up in our GlaStar, then Steve took Mark for a flight. We had lunch together and are looking forward to going places with them once they get that Sportsman finished.

We also had a visit last year from Hasse Hellstrom. Hasse lives in Sweden and is friends with Arlo Reeves. I think Arlo suggested he might want to contact us when on a trip to Canada. So he did, and we arranged to meet at our home airport.

After a hangar tour and a close inspection of some mods Steve had done to our GlaStar, we had lunch and agreed that this was a great way to make new friends.

Hasse Hellstrom (left) and his entourage, checking out our engine installation. Hasse is a GlaStar pilot from Sweden.

A story from Vienna

Castles are everywhere in Austria!

As members of the GAOA community, we also have opportunities to make new flying friends when traveling abroad. Here’s a recent example of what I’m talking about.

Steve and I traveled to Europe last spring for a river cruise with our good friends Glenn and Bonnie Culver, who we met in 2003 at the fly-in we organized in Killarney, Ontario. Many readers will remember Glenn. A former US Coast

Guard pilot and instructor, Glenn finished building his GlaStar in 1999, then went flying all over the US. His goal was to visit builders who were still working on their project, and give them some left-seat time. Over a ten year period, Glenn logged 750 hours and took dozens of people flying. Naturally, he made a lot of friends in our community. And even though he sold his plane a few years ago, he has remained friends with many of the people he met during his GlaStar years.

Enjoying a fine dinner in a Viennese winery. From left to right: Kathy, Bonnie, Glenn, Wolfgang, and Joseph. Steve took the photo.

Back to our trip to Europe: Wolfgang Drahanowsky lives in Vienna, Austria. A radiologist, he spent some time in San Diego a few years ago, where he did some flight training as well as taking medical courses. Glenn and Wolfgang first met in 2000, when Glenn and his wife Bonnie were on holiday in Vienna. They made a point of visiting Wolfgang, who was still building at that time. They soon became good friends, and since then, their families have gotten together many times in the US.

Steve, Wolfgang and Glenn in front of Wolfgang’s hangar

About 10 years ago, Wolfgang completed his GlaStar. Since then, he had been asking Glenn to visit him in Austria so they could go flying together. So when we planned our trip to Europe with the Culvers, Glenn arranged for the four of us to spend a day with Wolfgang. Well, this day turned out to be the best of the whole trip! Not only did Glenn, Steve, and I get to go flying with Wolfgang, he took us on a wonderful tour of Vienna.

Glenn looks pretty happy about going flying with Wolfgang!

We also got to experience the true nature of builders helping builders. During our flights with Wolfgang, we all noticed that a pretty bad noise was coming from his nose wheel, indicating a possible problem with the wheel bearings. Glenn and Steve quickly decided we would not leave until the problem was fixed—especially since Wolfgang had plans to take his son flying to Denmark the next weekend. Just as the guys were trying to figure out what to do, Wolfgang’s friend Joseph Buber showed up at the airport. Joseph shares a hangar with Wolfgang and is building a Glasair II. (He’s making some interesting modifications to the fuselage, but that’s another story).

In short order, the four guys had the nose wheel off the GlaStar. As they suspected, the bearings were shot. What to do? Well, I think it was Joseph who figured out that the brand new nose wheel assembly on his Glasair was identical to that on the GlaStar.

The tools came out, and soon after, Wolfgang’s plane—with borrowed nose wheel—was once again airworthy and ready for his trip. What a great example of the spirit of homebuilding!

All six of us then drove off to celebrate at a local winery where we enjoyed some great Austrian food and drink, and shared a lot of stories from our years of building and flying. Steve and I insisted that both Wolfgang and Joseph, along with their families, must visit us if they ever came to the Toronto area.

A GlaStar selfie: Kathy flying with Wolfgang

What about the Two Weeks to Taxi builders?

My views are based on my experience as half of a slow but dedicated couple. Steve and I built our plane together, and we also fly everywhere together. We had many years to cultivate our friendships. But what about the builders at the other end of the spectrum—those who built their plane in the “Two Weeks to Taxi” program?

And what about the pilots who bought a previously-owned GlaStar or Sportsman?

How do these folks form their friendships in our community? Hmmm… this could be a topic for my next article…


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  1. Loved your article and couldn’t agree more. I’m on my 2nd ‘bought not built’ GlaStar and I can tell you the help, support, and just good conversation to be had here on this forum, in the hangars of GlaStar owners, and at Smiley Creek has been wonderful. I’m looking at kits now to maybe take it to the next level. Thanks for the insight!