JOHNSTOWN - John Peck can still recall his first airplane ride, in a seaplane on Peck Lake when he was a child.
He said he has been crazy about airplanes ever since.
"I always wanted to fly," Peck said.
John Peck stands by his homebuilt Van’s RV-12 aircraft in his hangar at the Fulton County Airport in Johnstown on Tuesday.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
Peck has recently been flying a plane he built himself. His efforts, and the quality of his work, was recognized at a recent airshow in Conneccticut, where Peck took the trophy for having the best homemade plane.
"It was very gratifiying," he said, a smile on his face.
Peck, who lives on Hemlock Drive in Bleecker, has been flying since 1956. While there were a few years where flying was something of a profession - he was involved in operating a flight school - for the most part, flying has been a much-loved hobby, not a profession.
Starting a build
However, Peck found himself with the time and money in 2008 to undertake quite a construction project: building a plane.
For starters, building his own plane from a kit was an economic decision.
The kit for the aircraft Peck chose to build - the Van's RV-12 - cost about $64,000. To buy the plane - or one similar to it - prebuilt would cost around $125,000.
"You can get a brand new plane for half the cost," Peck said.
Another reason Peck chose the Van's RV-12 airplane - which is about 19 feet long, with a wingspan of about 26 feet - was it is relatively easy to constuct.
According to the Van's Aircraft website - www.vansaircraft.com - the all metal, two-seat airplane' comes with step-by-step instructions and drawings laying out what needs to be done.
"No special tools are required - forget the jokes, it really does assemble with simple hand tools," the website said.
Peck, who completed the plane mostly in his home workshop, said for someone in his situation, constructing a plane of that size could take eight or nine years.
However, it only took him about two and a half years.
A major reason the plane was easy to construct involved the rivets that hold it together.
Peck said all 12,500 rivets are "pop" or "blind" rivets. On the surface of the plane, they actually stick up a little bit.
Some planes require the use of rivets that are "bucked." When the rivet is hammered into place, it does not stick out at all, but is flush with the body of the plane.
"That is a very labor intensive process," Peck said.
Peck said another reason he chose the plane was it is a light?sport?aircraft. Peck said he will be able to fly it even if he decides to forego the hassle of passing the Federal?Aviation?Administration medical test as he gets older.
Bill Milton, the manager at the Fulton?County Airport, said it's inspiring to him that Peck was not only enthusiastic about building his own plane, but is making plans to keep flying as he ages.
Peck started a blog about his project - at www.mykitlog.com/BigJohn/ - where he recorded his progress on the plane.
Peck said when he ran into problems, an Internet forum for people building airplanes was quite handy.
It has been especially gratifying to go from being the one posting questions, to being someone who can provide answers about construction problems.
"I've helped people as far away as South Africa and New Zealand," Peck said.
While there were frustrating times for him while he was assembling his Van's RV-12, Peck said, he never worried about being able to complete it.
"Sometimes I got discouraged," he said. "But I knew I would finish it."
He also received help from friends during the construction and painting. His wife, Carolyn, even helped him when he "needed and extra pair of hands."
A moment of truth came in January, when Peck took the plane for its first flight.
Taking the plane up in the air for the first time essentially thrust Peck into the role of test pilot for about five hours or so. It was a new experience for him.
However, this was a plane he had built with his own two hands. It had been inspected with help from others as he worked on it, turning it into the quality aircraft he wanted.
"I was not scared, but I was very alert," he said with a laugh. "It was a thrill."
By this summer, Peck was flying the plane regularly when he heard about the 26th annual Simsbury Fly-In in Simsbury, Conn., on Sept. 18.
The event was a large rally with hundreds of planes, he said, which offered him the opportunity to get the honest opinion of people who are experienced with aircraft.
Peck said his airplane attracted a crowd all day. The judges examined the airplane carefully before giving him the award for having the best homebuilt airplane at the show.
While they did not say it was perfect, Peck said, the judges told him they did not see anything he could have done better.
The airplane - which Peck keeps in a hangar at the Fulton County Airport - is a very capable cross-country aircraft, he said. In flying it to places such as Muskegon, Mich., Peck noted it handles well and is fuel efficient. He is thinking about taking it to a few more air shows, including the famous show in Oshkosh, Wis.
"I built it for fun, but it is a very capable [cross-country] aircraft," he said.