82-year-old builds plane from scratch

BURDEN — Armed with a charming personality and a love for flying, D.K. Stovall, 82, reaches back to his youth when he talks about the Brodhead Pietenpol — his project for seven years.

He saw the set of plans for the 1928 aircraft 45 years ago. "It's something I've been wanting to build ever since," he said.

He decided to begin work on the plane after a knee replacement left him with nowhere to go and not much to keep him occupied.

"I knew I couldn't do much," he said. "I told my son, 'I need something to do, or I'm going to go crazy.' "

When the plans for the aircraft came in, Stovall got right to work.

He built the plane from scratch — a Ford Model A engine for a motor, the lid of a skillet for a nose, cushions from his dining room chairs for seats. He used his 17 years of carpentry experience to carefully build the structure. He worked on the first floor of the house that he built about 30 years ago, coming down at 3 a.m. some mornings to begin.

His love of flying kept him going.

"A lot of hours went into it, but it was pleasure," he said. "You do things you enjoy, and you may work on it real hard, but it's not that taxing on you."

Stovall's history with planes goes back a long way. He built his first model plane in junior high.

"I started flying when I was 15. That stopped when I got married at 18. I chose the best of two things," Stovall said.

Sixty-four years later, he said he's ready to get back in the air. His plane is nearly ready to take off, and he has one more inspection before he can legally test it. He's already had two inspections while working on the first parts of the plane.

"This next time, they'll tell me where I can fly it and how many hours I should put on it to do all that," he said.

Stovall's flying license is around 46 or 47 years old, he said. He hopes to get a new one so that he can fly now. If not, he says, "There's lots of qualified people around who can handle all of that."

After the plane gets inspected, Stovall wants to test its handling by driving the aircraft up and down a taxi strip, he said. He said he'll be able to fly it after making sure everything is taken care of. As a member of the Experimental Aircraft Association in Wichita, he knows about the need for precautions. His son, Marvin, built a plane with a Volkswagen engine in it and has helped his father put his plane together.

Stovall has plenty of experience with building. His two-story home was one he built from the remains of an 1894 house he tore down. He's taken heating and cooling classes and has done plumbing and electrical work.

The hardest part of building the plane, he said, was all of the technical things, like learning to make a jig for a pattern.

With not much left to do, Stovall is understandably proud of the aircraft he's built. "I guess it's kept me young. It's kept me busy," he said.