PHILO, Ohio (AP) — Greg Swingle made a near-noiseless pass above the family barn in Philo before dipping his plane into a steep hairpin turn and landing on an uneven stretch of grass that — if he hadn't just landed there — wouldn't seem possible.
The tiny bush plane, called a Rans S-7, is used to make remote landings in untamed wilderness. Swingle built this one himself, on a whim, with no knowledge of planes or how to fly them.
Earlier this week, Swingle stood on a hillside looking out across the jagged landscape surrounding his boyhood home. He was standing in this exact spot on a clear summer day in 2006 when he decided to fly.
"Everything seemed so layered and beautiful," Swingle said. "I decided I wanted to see it from the sky, sort of get a bird's-eye view of the farm."
His initial thought was to buy a powered parachute, but aviation enthusiast John Krumlauf advised him against it, citing safety concerns.
"He told me he didn't want to read about me in the paper," Swingle said with a grin.
Krumlauf told Swingle about bush planes and their accessibility in remote areas such as the farm. It was just what Swingle had in mind: a plane he could fly out of his backyard. So he purchased a kit plane and got to work.
It took 21 months to finish the project, during which time a host of negative thoughts plagued his mind.
"I started thinking, 'Wow, I don't even know if I'll like flying.' 'Will this even work?' I really had no idea what I was getting myself into," he said.
Several people were doubtful Swingle could finish the project. His ambitious goal to take to the skies was met with hackneyed responses from some pilots: "you're crazy," ''you'll kill yourself." Their defeatist mentality pushed Swingle to succeed.
"I needed to hear it," Swingle said, walking through a cow pasture that doubles as his new runway. "That stuff drives me harder. You want to prove them wrong."
In addition to the six hours a day Swingle spent working on the plane and building a runway — he bulldozed the side of a cow pasture to clear a 900-foot runway — he also had to maintain his West Coast business contacts. A multimedia specialist by trade, Swingle still pays the bills with the skill set he acquired chasing his first dream: film.
Then came that whole learning to fly thing. Swingle was taught by Bob Norman at Parr Airport. The instruction coincided with the FAA's approval of Swingle's plane, and on June 12, 2008, Swingle took his first flight in the cream and black S-7.
"Once I had my own plane up in the air, that's when it really started to be fun," he said. "I was looking out the windows at these parts I'd spent the last year staring at in my garage. ... I was free to test the limits and explore the skies."
Within a few weeks of his plane's maiden voyage, Swingle was flying solo to Alaska, filming his journey along the way.
It garnered him some national attention within the niche aviation market, both for his audacious trip as a young pilot and his playful antics in the films; something he said "seemed kind of different" in comparison with the straight-laced flight circles he had encountered.
Swingle claims much of his inspiration came from the people he met while traveling. People such as Timmy O'Neill, a world-class mountain climber and comedian who founded a nonprofit organization for disabled outdoor athletes. Or Ben Watkins, who challenged Swingle to follow his dreams by traveling to Los Angeles and then to Brazil to film a documentary.
"They inspired me to get out and see the world," Swingle said. "We kind of fed off each other's energy."
Since building his first plane, Swingle has built another S-7, modified for back country ops and turbocharged for high altitude flights. He also has helped friends build planes across the country.
His venture into aviation has unwittingly drawn him toward a career in plane construction, and although he's unsure when the time might come to make the transition, he hopes to one day make a living from his hopeful new business model, Ohio Bush Planes.
"I want to build planes for a living," Swingle said, adding a nose cone to his newest modified bush plane. "It could be a far-fetched idea, I know I've got a lot of other things to take care of before then, but it's what I want to do."
Information from: Times Recorder, http://www.zanesvilletimesrecorder.com