Tom Stinemetze is planning to slip the surly bonds of earth. But first, he’ll have to spend a little more time in the bonds of his garage.
Stinemetze, McPherson’s city zoning administrator, has been building an airplane in his garage and workshop since 2004.
“I’ve probably got another couple years to go,” he said, although he has made a good start on the 1929-style Pietenpol Air Camper.
Stinemetze, who got his pilot’s license at age 54, has long been interested in flight.
“I’ve loved airplanes as long as I could remember,” he said. “And of course . . . anytime anyone said, ‘Do you want to fly with me?’ I said yes.”
Ironically, while many people adopt hobbies their parents loved, Stinemetze’s children ultimately influenced him to build his airplane. His two sons worked for a company that competed for the Ansari X Prize, in which the Ansari Foundation offered a $10 million prize to the first non-government organization to launch a reusable, manned spacecraft into space twice in two weeks. Arizona’s Scaled Composites, where Stinemetze’s sons worked, won the prize in 2004.
“I just looked at [my wife] Sharon and said, ‘I want to build an airplane,’” Stinemetze said.
So he started building. The plane is built entirely of wood and fabric, in the fashion of World War I aircraft, and will use a 100-horsepower engine from a Chevrolet Corvair. The Pietenpol’s cockpit is open, and, at the insistence of his wife, will seat two people.
While the plane’s appearance is reminiscent of the ones barnstormers used to perform stunts in the 1920s, Stinemetze said it will only be used for recreational flight - “low and slow.”
Stinemetze, a member of the Experimental Aviation Association (EAA), already flies a rented airplane, but says flying one he’s built himself will inspire both confidence and trepidation.
“Just about every mistake that can be made has been made,” he said of the 10,000 other Pietenpol planes individuals have built. Stinemetze is glad to be able to learn from the mistakes of others and from the experience of fellow EAA members, but says he’ll probably still think, “Did I tighten that bolt?”
Kidding aside, Stinemetze’s story can be inspirational for anyone who has unfulfilled plans.
“You’re never going to get it done if all you do is dream,” he said.