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Couple shares the Sequim skies
Parked in a hangar at Sequim Valley Airport, a shiny airplane awaits its final pieces before taking its first flight.
Since January 2013, 84- and 80-year-old husband and wife Trent and Donna Sommer have intricately pieced together almost daily the RV-12, two-seat all-metal side-by-side airplane.
“What I tell people is that any Tuesday from now, we’ll be finished,” Donna said. “But we don’t know what month.”
This will be the first airplane they’ve constructed entirely together.
“When I’m finished with this, I can tell people I built an airplane,” Donna, a retired contract draftsman, said.
The Sommers aren’t alone in their efforts to build a plane in Sequim. They’ve been meeting with the Experimental Aircraft Association Olympic Peninsula Chapter 430 since the early 2000s and hosting the club in their hangar for a few years now. Several members have completed planes and/or are working on one or two or more right now. Trent keeps track of progress on a board with wooden planes on the east side of the hangar.
“Nobody does it (builds an airplane) by themselves,” Trent said. “There are always a lot of people who come and help. A lot are very competent and they really are helping and we appreciate it.”
“People stop by all the time and tell us we are an inspiration,” Donna said. “You have to use your mind and take your time. I’m proud you can touch it and feel it.”
The Sommers and many others with the Experimental Airplane chapter will open up their hangars and bring out their awe-inspiring planes for a second time at the Olympic Peninsula Air Affaire coming up 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, Aug. 30-31.
The 90 club members come from all walks of life and are all aviation enthusiasts who love to fly, fix, collect and/or build airplanes.
Donna said flying in a smaller airplane gives you a whole new perspective.
“You are looking at a whole new world,” she said. “People have the opportunity to see that it’s a God-given gift. It opens your eyes to the world out there. It’s a lot different from being in a commercial liner.”
Trent, a retired technical illustrator, said when you’re building a plane there’s definitely got to be a passion behind it.
“The first plane I worked on was in Diamond Point and I made 700 trips there,” he said.
In his lifetime, he’s owned 13 of his own planes, which he said are all beautiful things in their own right.
For the Sommers’ latest plane, they complete a section, order the next kit which comes in a box along with a large manual and continue on. Donna documents each major step with photographs in a memory book including her work putting in 12,000 pull rivets inside and outside the plane’s body.
“It’s all about love and care,” she said.
At this point, Trent estimates the plane is about 85 percent done.
“It’s close to being an airplane,” Trent said.
One touch he’s personally proud of is the planes’s number N712WE because he said in a way it’s a dedication to Charles Lindbergh and his book “We.”
“It was a book about the people who preceded him with the plane (Spirit of St. Louis),” he said. “We want to give a little bit of credit to him and all the people before us who have flown.”
Donna finds significance in the number through the fact that she and her husband worked on it together.
“There’s never bickering,” she said. “We figured we could finish it together.”
Young at heart
While age hasn’t deterred the couple from pushing forward on their airplane, Trent said one of his favorite parts of flying since moving to Sequim is taking children with the Young Eagles to the skies for the first time.
As a division of the Experimental Aircraft Association, the program gives children 8-17 the opportunity to go flying in an airplane for free with members of the club who donate their time and planes.
Trent has flown 178 children of the 3,000-plus the local Experimental Aircraft chapter has flown since 2003.
Richard Bielawa, who has been flying for more than 50 years, said the program’s intent is to promote aviation to children. “We make smiles,” he said.
“Kids who go up come back grinning ear to ear,” Joan Masterson, chapter member, said.
The most recent Young Eagles flights were Aug. 16 at the Sequim Valley Airport and the next flights are scheduled there on Sept. 6. Other flights are scheduled throughout the year in Port Angeles.
Each participant flies for about 20 minutes and receives a certificate and a log book for participating.
Bielawa said most children want to see their house or their school from the air.
Of the participants, about 75 percent never have flown before, Masterson said.
“Some of the kids come back again and again,” she said.
An adult Eagles program for those interested in obtaining their pilot’s license also is available through the chapter with enough interest.
The EAA 430 Olympic Peninsula chapter meets at 10 a.m. the last Saturday of each month at the airport except in August.
For more information on the chapter and Young Eagles program, visit www.eaa430.org.