Since he was 20 years old, Mike McGuff has been flying airplanes. For more than 30 years, he worked as a computer programmer for McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis where fighter planes were built.
“The best perk of the job was going out on the assembly line and seeing them built,” McGuff said.
Since retiring and moving to Olathe with his wife in 2000, McGuff has kept himself busy, first restoring a Yamaha motorcycle in 2005. He is currently four months into the restoration of a Honda CB750.
Sandwiched in between the two motorcycle restorations, McGuff worked on a project a little bit bigger than a motorcycle or even a car. McGuff, though, says if you can build a car, you do this. The scope of this particular project seemed much more daunting.
On his 52nd birthday in 2007, McGuff, the son of former Kansas City Star editor and sports editor Joe McGuff, embarked on a project that when completed, could take him in the air to anywhere in the country.
McGuff decided to build an airplane in the garage of his Olathe home and fly the plane one day. To get started, he bought a Van’s RV-9A aircraft kit.
“I’ve always loved airplanes,” he said. “I always wanted to have one, and I like to work with my hands. I like to do woodworking and stuff like that. I have done some mechanical work.
“There is a friend of mine at McDonnell Douglas who was building the same model. He could help me out if need be. I just thought I would give it a shot.”
There were essentially three kits and about 100 pages of instructions. The first part, McGuff said, was the tail section.
“Van’s was smart about that,” McGuff said. “The tail section was the easiest to make and the least expensive. From there, you get the wing kit. That was a little more challenging and then you get to the fuselage. That is the hardest part.
“All the holes are pre-punched. It makes the kit a lot easier to build. It is hard to get a part in the wrong place.”
When McGuff put the wings on, he had to take the airplane to the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport in Kansas City.
McGuff bought a Lycoming io-320 engine. It had 160 horsepower.
“From that point on you start hooking up the oil lines and the electronic stuff,” he said.
Finally, in 2010, the plane that will cruise at 175 miles per hour and has a service ceiling nearly 20,000 feet, was ready for flight.
With his wife present and a friend in a chase plane, McGuff took off from the Downtown Airport and circled a few times around the airfield. He safely landed it and knew his project was a success.
McGuff found a hanger closer to his Olathe home at the Gardner Municipal Airport.
Since the first flight, McGuff has logged more than 400 flight hours on it. He has flown it to Oshkosh, Wis., to Macon, Mo., where his wife grew up, to Oklahoma City and last spring to Phoenix for Royals spring training.
McGuff said it was a 7-hour flight. He had to make two fuel stops.
“It is a lot of fun,” he said of flying a plane he built. “You forget at times you actually put it together.”
Others have flown with him in the plane.
“You find some people have a little reluctance to flying a light plane, not only because I built it, but it is smaller and light,” McGuff said.
McGuff, 60, still enjoys restoring motorcycles, but building a plane that he feels comfortable flying was truly fulfilling for him.
“The plane, due to its complexity and the size of the project, was gratifying,” McGuff said. “The motorcycles are fun. Obviously, it is not nearly as large a project. They do give you a chance to take things apart, replace and repair things.”