If you can dream it, you can do it…or maybe even fly it

Above From left: Evan, Jeannie, Daphne, and Dan Charrois pose by their plane.

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by Jennifer Lavallee
Morinville News Correspondent

A man from the Town of Legal is taking his passion for airplanes to new heights. Dan Charrois, a businessman, engineer, licensed pilot—and now, aircraft builder—has put together his own four-seater airplane (a Van’s Aircraft RV10), a feat that took him 11-years to complete.

On Jan. 15, Charrois’ project came to fruition when he finally flew his airplane for the very first time.

The build took him about 2,300 hours, numerous references to a 400-page instruction manual, assistance from his family, and, of course, commitment.

Charrois, who is near-sighted, said when he was a kid people would insist he could never become a pilot because of his vision. From that early age, however, he remembers being fascinated with the idea of flying, an interest in which he never gave up. It wasn’t until years later he finally looked into actually getting his pilot license, and he realized nothing was standing in his way.

“It still amazes me something heavier than air can take off and fly, even though I understand why [it does]. I think I love flying so much because it’s the wonder of being able to do it,” he said.

In 2002, Charrois earned his pilot license, and it quickly became a family affair. With two kids in tow, Charrois and his wife, Jeannie, rented a plane and adventured all over North America, visiting near (Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver) and far (Las Vegas, San Fransisco, New Orleans). Then, in 2014, Jeannie also earned her pilot license as well, and the couple purchased their very own two-seater airplane.

“I started building my own plane in 2005,” explained Charrois, who said he approached the project as a hobby and slowly chipped away at it over the years, even taking a break in between to construct his home in Legal.

To get started with the airplane, Charrois purchased a kit out of Portland, Oregon, which gave him the materials needed for the outer shell of the aircraft. Finding the avionics and interior finishings were up to Charrois to collect.

In case you’re wondering—step number one when building your own airplane is putting together the vertical stabilizers (the part of the tail that stick up). The last step is painting.

After construction had been completed, Charrois’ next hurdle was to get the plane registered as an ‘amateur-built airplane’ with Transport Canada, allowing him to fly the plane legally. That step, he said, meant a lot of paperwork and several inspections from a Minister’s Delegate for recreational aviation. He is now in the “flight-test period,” meaning Charrois must follow strict rules during the first 25 hours of flight with the aircraft (e.g. no passengers allowed unless they are certified flight instructors, and a restriction on how far he can venture from the Westlock airport, where he houses the plane).

“After I was done with the first flight, it [set in] what I had accomplished. When the wheels come off the ground after lift-off, you’re so busy. So, for the first four or five minutes you don’t even have the time to take in what happened,” remarked Charrois.

“Afterward, though,” he said, “you can reflect on the fact that all these rivets and sheets of metal are actually flying. It’s amazing.”

Charrois said he and his family have exciting plans for their new airplane: first, there will be quick visits to places like Calgary and Red Deer, but before long, he envisions the family venturing throughout North America.

“In the next two years, we’d like to take it to South America and then, in the next three-to-five years, around the world,” he said, adding with a laugh, 11-years worth of work is completely worth it to be able to fly with that much legroom.

Morinville resident and RCAF pilot Gord Welsby, who flew the CF-101 Voodoo and CF-104 Starfighter, is an instructor and pilot examiner who offered to come for the first flight with Charrois. – Submitted Photo

Updated: The original version of this story mistakenly referenced the Gibbons Airport rather than Westlock. That error has been corrected.

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