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Aviator makes local history with first aircraft built in Presidio

June 27th, 2012 under Features

By ALBERTO TOMAS HALPERN

PRESIDIO – Presidio resident Chase Snodgrass recently built an airplane from a kit. But this wasn’t made of plastic and held together with glue. This is the real thing that he now flies in the sky over Far West Texas.

“I started flying when I was about 15,” the lifelong aviator said, explaining that his father was a golf coach in Sonora, Texas and the golf course was near the airport. “Out of boredom, waiting for him to get done golfing, I would go over to the airport as a teenager and started to watch planes.”

Snodgrass bought his first airplane when he was 15, flew his first solo flight at age 16 and at 17 received his private pilot’s license. “Then I went on to get my commercial pilot certificate and instrument rating.”

Snodgrass joined the United States Border Patrol in 1988, where he worked on the ground for seven years before becoming a pilot for the agency flying multiple aircrafts. After 23 years with Border Patrol, Snodgrass retired a year-and-a-half ago.

Since then, he has been the volunteer manager at Presidio’s Lely International Airport, and has recently accepted a paying job from Presidio County to help revitalize both the Presidio and Marfa municipal airports to meet the county’s emergency services and economic development objectives.

In a hanger that Snodgrass owns at the Presidio airport, he has been working away at completing his homemade plane. Snodgrass began the project in February 2008, working mostly alone, but with some help from his wife, Debbie, and an aviator buddy, Edward Earwood of Sonora.

The plane is believed to be the first to be built in Presidio.

Snodgrass’ airplane is a kit from Van’s Aircraft. This particular model is the RV-10, a four-seat, aluminum and fiberglass flying machine that cruises at about 200mph at an altitude of up to 24,000 feet above sea level, though Snodgrass said the plane will generally fly between 14,000 and 18,000 feet above the ground.

Chase Snodgrass aboard the aircraft he built. (photo by ALBERTO TOMAS HALPERN)

“It has exceptional climb rate,” he said, adding that the aircraft has a range of about 1,000 miles making it “a true cross-country airplane.” The aircraft also has an onboard oxygen system for pilot and passengers for high altitude flying to cruise over thunderstorms or to take advantage of strong winds.

The power plant is a 540 cubic inch piston engine rated at 260 horsepower.

Snodgrass said that many redundancies were added for safety, including a duel electrical system, two batteries, and two alternators.

“If you’re in the air at 20,000 feet and the electrical system fails in this thing, its no sweat,” Snodgrass said.

When asked if the project was complete, Snodgrass said with a smile, “I have a new slogan and that is that an airplane project can never really be complete, only flown.”

With the plane now airworthy, its flying status is in the flight-testing phase at present.

“It’s been flown twice. It’s expected to go 40 hours” of flight-testing, which will occur mostly in the Big Bend area.

“Once flight testing is complete, then it goes into its useful phase,” he said.

The aircraft is classified as “experimental,” which is required by law as it is considered an amateur home-built airplane.

“Since it’s amateur built, it has some limitations for what it can be used for. The limitations are basically that it cannot be used to carry passengers for hire, only for personal business and pleasure,” Snodgrass said.

This particular airplane actually will belong to Earwood. A second airplane kit, for Snodgrass, is sitting in the hanger awaiting construction.

The plane, Snodgrass said is for “recreation and education. Purely for fun and the joy of learning it.”

After putting in nearly 3,000 hours of work over the course of building the airplane, Snodgrass added, “I feel I should be awarded a Master’s degree for the amount of stuff I had to learn to put this whole thing together.”

This is Snodgrass’ third attempt to build a kit plane, the first two of which were unsuccessful due to time constraints and workspace issues. His first attempt was in 1995 and the second in 2003.

“I intend to start flying on a regular basis next week for about an hour or two for the first few flights. I don’t anticipate anything will need to be fixed. Once I’m confident that everything is holding then we’ll venture into longer and higher flights. I’ll gradually expand the test flight envelope and prove the airplane can do what it was designed to do,” Snodgrass said.

He explained that kit-built airplanes are a growing trend among general aviation pilots. “It’s huge because the performance you can acquire cannot be bought,” Snodgrass said about production airplanes. “There is no production airplane that can do what this one does, period.”

Having been a pilot for most of his life, Snodgrass needed very little inspiration to start a project of this nature.

“The inspiration started when I was about 14. I remember opening a magazine and seeing a kit plane, single seat airplane that looked like a fighter jet. And I just thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I gotta have one of those,’” Snodgrass said, his eyes lighting up.

“I’ve finally reached that point in my life were I’ve completed a project like this and I intend to build many more. I truly do love the challenge.”

Please see a video of Snodgrass and his plane here.

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