Pilot sets speed record in kit-plane he built
Last Thursday at 3:29:12 pm, pilot Gary Schettl and his friend Loren Jones set a national and world city-to-city speed record for their nonstop flight from Minneapolis to Martha's Vineyard Airport aboard a Glasair II kit-plane.
They flew 1,250 miles in six hours and six minutes, with an average airspeed of 187 miles per hour. The plane used 56.5-gallons of fuel, averaging 23 miles to the gallon, with enough left at the trip's end to fly about three more hours.
Making its graceful history-making descent on landing, the small, sleek, two-seater seemed to glide onto the runway, sandwiched in between the usual airport traffic. Although the airplane arrived with little fanfare, the fact that air traffic controller Michelle Meyers stood by to certify its exact landing time set it apart from the rest.
Feet on the ground and heads in the clouds, Pilot Gary Schettl, left, and Loren Jones, enjoy a post-record-breaking moment alongside the sleek Glasair II kit-plane they flew in from Minneapolis to the Vineyard. Photo by Janet Hefler
When Mr. Schettl and Mr. Jones walked into the airport, they seemed somewhat dazed at the realization their record-setting trip had ended. However, when Ms. Meyers presented them with the certification of landing, their faces broke into wide grins.
To record the historic event, Mr. Schettl posed for pictures with Mr. Jones like a proud father next to his lovingly and meticulously built aircraft. Stenciled on the plane's nose were the words "Fortitudine Vincimus (By endurance we conquer)."
The quote was the family motto of another intrepid adventurer, Sir Ernest Shackleton, who set sail from England in 1914 aboard "Endurance" for Antarctica, which he planned to cross on foot.
A look inside the tight confines of the cockpit confirmed those were indeed words to fly by. Mr. Jones, however, attested that they flew comfortably reclined in what he dubbed, "La-Z-Boy seating," with room to stretch their legs out in front of them as they listened to Billy Joel and other favorite CDs playing on a 10-disc changer.
The temperature in the aircraft at their cruising altitude of 11,000 feet averaged about 44 degrees. Mr. Jones, who was wearing shorts, said they ran the heater.
A quick visit
After spending just enough time on the Island to buy a few souvenirs, the two men flew back to the Cape to spend the night at Mr. Jones's sister-in-law's home in Wellfleet.
Late Thursday, Mr. Schettl e-mailed his data on distance, airtime, and fuel usage to the National Aeronautic Association (NAA) and its parent organization, the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), the organizations responsible for national and international aviation record-keeping. The flight also had to be observed by witnesses at takeoff and landing, and followed on radar.
The flight began at 7:30 am central time from Glencoe Airport, about 60 miles west of Minneapolis. Since climbing to a cruising altitude results in a loss of speed, the two men had the advantage of reaching 8,300 feet for a "flying start" that was clocked over the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport by approach controllers.
The Glasair is not equipped for long flights over water, so Mr. Schettl said they picked a flight path around the Great Lakes that cut across the southern tip of Ontario, and shortened their distance over water as much as possible to reach Martha's Vineyard. The less direct routing hurt their record somewhat because the NAA calculates mileage between two cities based on a straight line.
They also flew a little extra distance when Cape Cod air traffic controllers, not realizing they were trying to set a speed record, vectored their final approach up high over the Martha's Vineyard Airport and then down. Although Mr. Schettl kept his cruising speed at 200 mph, the extra mileage and lack of a tailwind brought the average speed down to 187 for the record.
On Friday while flying back to Minneapolis, Mr. Schettl received a phone message from the NAA congratulating him and officially confirming that he set a national and world city-to-city speed record in the class for airplanes weighing less than 2,205 pounds.
All by himself
"I built that airplane all by myself," Mr. Schettl said proudly. "It's saying something when a homebuilt airplane can fly further than a commercially built airplane in that weight class."
He said he began dreaming of owning a plane almost as soon as he got his pilot's license. For a young bachelor, however, spending $300,000 for a factory-built plane that could travel at speeds over 200 mph was out of reach.
As a member of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), Mr. Schettl had some familiarity with kit planes. After some research, he narrowed his choices down to five, picking the Glasair II for its range. He also decided to go with fixed landing gear instead of retractable, willing to sacrifice some speed for less risk of mechanical failure.
Building the airplane took 5,000 hours over 5 years and cost him about $105,000. "More than my first house," he pointed out. Mr. Schettl achieved his dream a piece at a time, buying each section as he could afford it, starting with the rudder. He rented out rooms in his house for extra income.
Building an airplane in his garage presented some unique challenges. When the 1,000-pound wing arrived, the deliveryman called and told Mr. Schettl he would not be responsible for unloading it. Mr. Schettl enticed some friends from work to help him with the promise of pizza for lunch.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) required five inspections during the plane's construction process. Once built, the aircraft measured 24 feet wide, requiring a car-carrier truck to move it. Mr. Schettl arranged for a police escort and was given a time slot between 2 to 4 am to make the eight-mile trip to the airport.
"It's a great accomplishment. You can build the plane to fit you perfectly, and it has all the equipment on board I want," Mr. Schettl said.
Where to go?
His plane built, he decided it would be fun to set a speed record. About six months ago, he went through the FAI book of records to pick one to challenge, but found there were none coming or going from Minneapolis.
Calculating how far he could go on a tank of gas, Mr. Schettl said Martha's Vineyard fit the bill as a place he would like to see and for a record that had not been set. Over the winter, he contacted air traffic controller Anthony Newman at the Vineyard airport and asked him to suggest a good time for the flight, in terms of weather and air traffic.
"Come before Memorial Day and avoid July and August," Mr. Newman advised him.
Mr. Schettl lives in Jordan, Minn., and Mr. Jones in Pryor Lake, about a half-hour from Glencoe Airport. Mr. Jones, who describes himself as a reformed lawyer turned professional photographer, became friends with Mr. Schettl through the EAA.
An avid flyer and flight instructor, Mr. Jones said he proposed to his wife, Gail, in the air. Not surprisingly, their 13-year-old son A.J. already is asking about learning to fly the family's Mooney airplane.
On last Thursday's flight, Mr. Jones provided the level of instrument flight rating (IFR) Mr. Schettl lacked and assisted with navigation and radio communication, as well as sharing the costs.
Mr. Jones put his IFR flying skills to good use when they encountered poor weather conditions over Minneapolis into Michigan and skirted thunderstorm cells over western New York.
When Mr. Schettl is not flying, he works as an engineer at an injection plastic molding company. Although he and his wife Victoria have a son, Trae, age 2, and another baby on the way, he said they are not in the market for a four-seat kit-plane.
"I had no plans for a family when I built this plane. It really is just a hobby," he explained.
It cost Mr. Schettl about $1,000 to establish the record, plus flight expenses. "I wanted to do this once. That's enough," he said, but then added with a laugh, "Unless someone beats my record. I might change my mind."