PLAINWELL, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) – A man from Plainwell recently won a prestigious aviation award, after spending 12 years building an airplane in his bedroom.
His story is part of a new series NewsChannel 3 kicked off Monday morning. ”In the Spotlight” will bring out the best in West Michigan, highlighting ordinary people with extraordinary stories.
“Too often when one hears a news item regarding general aviation, unfortunately it involves a crash of some sort,” local pilot Andy Millin wrote in an email to NewsChannel 3. “I’m writing in the hope of giving another story, a happy story.”
On Millin’s coffeetable in Plainwell sits a Bronze Lindbergh Award.
Earning one is as rare and esteemed as winning an Olympic gold medal, according to the Experimental Aircraft Association. ”You can knock me over with a feather,” Millin says. “Just complete surprise.”
Andy Millin is an average family man: has two kids, owns a small business and just so happened to build an airplane… in his house. ”Oh, you’re the house with the airplane in it!” laughs Andy’s wife Theresa. “Yup!”
The project really started with Theresa on Andy’s birthday back in 1995. Knowing he had a secret love for aviation, she surprised him with a ride on a B-17. That day, a new dream took flight. Andy, who wasn’t even a pilot at the time, decided he wanted to build a plane.
“A project that size is like eating an elephant,” Andy explains. “It’s one bite at a time.” Luckily, he didn’t dig in alone.
A local pilot wanted to help.
“We basically struck a friendship right there and from that day on, it’s been best friends, so to speak,” says pilot Carlos Fernandez. First order of business?
The pair needed to build a workshop so they could build the plane. ”With the understanding that when it was done it would become our master bedroom!” says Theresa.
Then Andy and Carlos buckled down into a project that would take them 11 years.
“We started with the wings, then moved on to the fuselage,” Andy explains.
Carlos adds, “We were essentially two people doing the work of three.” ”We didn’t have piles of cash sitting around, you know?” Theresa notes. “We’d have to say, ‘Okay, this is what we have to save for.'”
Andy says they built everything from scratch, including the plane’s engine. ”We kept pinching ourselves saying, ‘We get to do this!'” Carlos recalls. Finally, on Andy’s birthday in 2011, they rolled the Velocity XL aircraft out of Andy’s house.
“I darn near cried,” he recalls. “This whole thing has been kind of like a fairytale story for us. Now we have our magic carpet and we can travel the world. There are times I’ll be flying around and it’ll almost bring a tear to my eye. I built this! I can’t believe it.”
Neither could the EAA judges in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
They awarded him a Bronze Lindy in 2012, the top award in the world for people who build aircraft.
The Millins hope their happy ending is actually just the beginning. ”When you see somebody doing something who is an average person, you set off a chain reaction,” Andy says. “And isn’t that a wonderful thing?”
Andy and Carlos say they couldn’t have completed the intensive project without the support of the Experimental Aircraft Association, specifically Chapter 221.
Andy documented every step of the entire 12-year journey on his blog, which you can check out here: www.kal-soft.com/velocity.
NewsChannel 3 is still looking for extraordinary people to feature as part of this “In the Spotlight” series.
Think you know someone who fits the bill? Email us firstname.lastname@example.org.