Aviation group’s project taking off

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo The EAA plane will weigh 245 pounds without a pilot when finished compared to the 1,500-pound Aerostar stored next to it.

By Eric Butler: Freedom New Mexico

In the northwest corner of the Blue Sky Aviation hangar at Clovis Municipal Airport, a rickety-looking frame of a plane is waiting to take the shape of something that can actually lift off the ground and soar through the air.

It’s not a confidence-builder, however, as it sits next to two other planes that are already built and functional. For one thing, it’s much smaller and the metal bars of only the fuselage are sitting on three wheels.

But it is a plane, or will be in any case, if members of the Clovis Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) reach their goal by the end of the year.

The 15-member club, many pilots themselves, are building an airplane.

“This is about as low of an end, on the aviation spectrum, as you can get,” said Tim Moyers, 61, one of those pilots helping construct the aircraft.

Though modest in size, it’s not a remote-controlled plane that someone will operate from a distance. It does have a cockpit big enough for one person, the pilot, and Moyers thinks the 245-pound vessel will be capable of elevating to as much as 10,000 feet in altitude.

Chris Papageorgiou, president for the Clovis EAA chapter, said he hopes the unfinished product will be put on a trailer bed and be part of an early-December Holiday Parade in Clovis. By early 2010, Papageorgiou said he’d like to see the craft in the sky.

“I believe early in the next year, we should be able to fly it,” said Papageorgiou, 58. “It’s not supposed to go very fast, or very high, but it’s supposed to be educational.”

Papageorgiou and Moyers have been flying planes since the mid-1970s, but this is a new experience.

“I’ve rebuilt a lot, but I’ve never built one from scratch,” Moyers said.

The airplane will have to be flown for 40 hours before it can be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. Although the EAA club has plenty of pilots eligible to fly all kinds of aircraft, this particular craft has less regulation than normal.

“In the ultralight category, you don’t even have to be a licensed pilot,” Moyers said.

The EAA club members hope to entice younger aviation fans into the fold by holding meetings at the Blue Sky Hangar — the third Thursday of every month beginning at 6 p.m..

“We have 10 to 15 members, but most people aren’t really knowledgeable enough to be doing certain work, but some people do this kind of work (building the plane) and some do other kind of work,” Papageorgiou said.

Papageorgiou said the EAA has a program geared toward younger members called “Young Eagles.”

“We don’t want it to be an old man’s hobby, but it’s not,” he said.

When the plane is completed, and presumably tested successfully, it might be auctioned off. Moyers said the obvious next step for the club would be to create something a little bigger.

“We’ll probably start another one,” Moyers said.