Russel Koch spent six-and-a-half years building his own airplane in order to minimize travel time to visit his mom in Edmonton.
Koch, who first got his pilot licence in 1973, says he stopped flying four years later after he and his wife had kids. He says when his kids got older and his youngest was in university, a friend of his asked him if he wanted to go on a flight. He wondered what it would take for him to get his licence back.
“About four or five hours later, plus an exam and a medical, I had my licence back,” said Koch.
Koch started flying with rented planes but wanted his own. He didn’t want an older one with lots of kilometres on it, but he also couldn’t afford a brand new one, so he started to think about building one.
“In 2005, I said to my wife, ‘I’m going to build an airplane and she said ‘What?!'” Koch laughed as he told the story. “She bought me a Christmas gift of some instruments for the airplane. Once she bought me those, that was my indication that it was OK for me to go ahead and build the airplane.”
Koch said he read lots of magazines and reviews to figure out what kind of airplane he wanted to build. He ended up building an RB9A with a regular airplane engine.
He started building his plane in January 2006 and completed it August 2013, working on it about an hour each evening and four to five hours over the weekends.
“When I took my first flight in it, I took off from Medicine Hat airport and went up into the sky for about 20 minutes,” said Koch. “I did some turns, I did a stall so I could feel out the airplane and after I did that I went and landed. The next day I flew it for four hours.”
Koch says his airplane travels at about three miles per minute, in comparison to the one mile per minute travelled by car on a highway, which cuts his trip to Edmonton to visit his mother to less than an hour and a half.
“I fly about 150 hours a year,” said Koch. “Sometimes, some friends of mine and I, friends who also have planes, will fly into a town like Shaunavon, walk into town to have breakfast and then fly home.”
Koch once flew his brother in law to Medicine Hat to watch his grandson play hockey, a surprise that was very special to his niece.
His wife doesn’t fly with him, as she is claustrophobic and scared of heights, “which isn’t a good combination for flying,” says Koch.
“It’s relaxing because nobody gets in your way, even if there’s clouds or rain,” he says. “I won’t say it’s a challenge, but there’s always a challenge to it. I just get to control the airplane, and I’m not worried about the other guy on the road.”
Koch says one of his favourite parts about flying is feeling like he’s in a different place, a place that not a lot of people get to go.
“I see things that most people don’t see, because I get to see it from a different perspective,” said Koch. “I see sunsets from above. Sometimes in the winter time, I see snow geese from above and they’re flying over a lake, so they’re against a black background. There’s just certain things you can’t see from the ground.”
LAUREN THOMSON, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News