Friday, May 01, 2015

River Falls, Wisconsin: John Field takes to the skies piloting his hand-crafted plane

John Field stands with his mom, Marcella Field, near the airplane he built himself, N35JF. Marcella was her son’s first passenger in the plane, once it passed a safety inspection and trial period.

Many people have dreamed of flying through the clear blue skies. Most people can only achieve that through imagination or an airline ticket.

But for John Field, taking to the skies starts with simply taking a seat behind the controls of his own airplane.

“It’s very much a sense of freedom.” Field said of flying. “I get a thrill every time I go, at least a little one.”

Field, a River Falls native, didn’t just decide to go out and buy himself a plane. A licensed pilot, with about 40 years of experience, Field built the plane himself.

He used a kit to build the RV4 airplane. The RV4 kit made by Van’s Aircraft company.

He bought the blueprints in 1987 and started working on the plane in 1990. It took 22 years to finish.

Field did most work himself, though he had help from a friend when bucking the rivets.

Field learned a lot from the building experience. He said he knew how to fly planes when he began, but not much about building them.

“Pretty much everything I did I had to learn it,” Field said. “Every new kind of thing I got into, I had to read up and study about how it was done correctly.

“I was always having to figure out how to do this or that. Like the electrical system, and the fuel system and painting.”

That’s one reason it took so long for Field to build the plane. That also allowed him to really customize the plane to himself.

Field said it has definitely been worth the 22 years of work.

“It wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying if I had just purchased it,” Field said. “I think the fact it’s kind of my creation, at least to a great extent...

“That’s probably the most satisfying, I suppose, is just having accomplished it. It was a journey more than a means to an end. It wasn’t all about having the airplane, it was about building it.”

Field finished his airplane in July 2012. After a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspection, Field began an FAA-required 40-hour test phase.

“The first flight I just stayed right over the airport,” Field said. “After that you sort of carefully expand, explore and document the aircraft’s flight envelope and performance, but the design is so proven it was basically making sure I built it right.”

After a successful trial period, he was free to take passengers and go wherever he’d like. His first passenger was with his 83-year-old mother, Marcella Field.

“She’s a very amazing per-son, that’s for sure,” Field said of his mom. “She had a hard time getting in, but she en-joyed it a lot.”

Field now flies his airplane out of the New Richmond airport where he also stores it. He doesn’t fly much in winter, but over the summer he usually flies about once or twice a week.

He’s flown over River Falls, and all over Wisconsin. He’s taken his plane on trips to Madison and Arizona, with a few stops to refuel on the way.

Though Field doesn’t have to file flight plans with the FAA, he does take safety very seriously.

“Flying safely is a very complicated subject,” Field said. “I try very hard not to do stupid things while flying airplanes. Maintaining a disciplined approach to this hobby is important.”

A 1975 River Falls High School graduate, Field started learning to fly in 1976 at the Lake Elmo, Minn., airport, where he earned his private pilot’s license in 1978. But, he said, he really learned to fly while he was an F16 instructor for the U.S. Air Force.

Field, whose father George Field was a UW-River Falls chancellor (1968-85), joined the Air Force after graduating from UWRF in 1982.

He left the Air Force at the end of 1989. He later flew business jets for Dayton’s and the Target Corporation for 15 years after that.

Field’s plane has a 20-foot wingspan, weighs about 1,000 pounds empty, and has a 160- horsepower engine.

That means it can fly up to 210 miles per hour. It can go up to 17,500 feet with the oxygen system it has in place.

“It’s a fun airplane to fly,” Field said. “It’s very much a freedom that you have up there.”

The complete story can be found in the April 30 print edition of the River Falls Journal.

John Field placed a GoPro camera on the tip of his airplane’s wing during a flight to Arizona with Lora James riding as his passenger.