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Hangar mates win honors at Oshkosh

By Ed DuBois

The trouble with building your own airplane is that for several years you never have any time to fly.  Every spare hour is spent in the hangar working on the project.

For Mike Reid of Maple Lake and Bruce Topp of Maple Grove, who share a hangar at the Buffalo Airport, years of obsessive enjoyment of their respective projects are over.  They can now fly again, and they are doing it in airplanes that earned quality workmanship awards at the huge annual air show in Oshkosh, Wis., EAA Air-Venture Oshkosh.

The letters "EAA" stand for Experimental Aircraft Association, and the 2014 air show took place during the first weekend in August.  Reid was presented with a Kit Built EAA Outstanding Workmanship Award for his 2014 RV-7A, which has two side-by-side seats with a bubble canopy and tricycle landing gear.  He said there were 155 airplanes in the class and 10 awards.

Topp won a Bronze Lindy Award in the Kit Built Class.  A Gold Award is given to the Grand Champion.  A Silver Award is considered the Reserve Champion honor.  Three Bronze Awards are presented.


'These are keepers'

Topp's aircraft is a 2013 F1 Rocket, which has tandem seating for two people under a bubble canopy and a fast looking, sleek design.  His "taildragger" has a 260-hp engine.  Reid's RV-7A has a 185-hp engine.

"Both airplanes are fully aerobatic" Topp said.

Reid added that both airplanes are night and IFR (instrument flight rules) capable.

"These are keepers," Topp commented.

Building the airplanes was a costly venture, both in terms of money and in time away from home.

"We had no time to fly, and we were away from family," Topp explained.

But they were obsessed to finish.

"We were a little burnt out toward the end," Topp said.


Airplane was his mistress

"My wife often called my airplane 'the mistress.'  But she said it was a good mistress," Reid said smiling.  "She said, 'I always know where he is.'"

Topp had won a previous award at the Oshkosh event around 2007 with a Velocity XL aircraft, which featured a futuristic design that included a forward canard.  The Journal-Press published a story about it in 2009 when it was sold and flown by James Aarestad all the way to South Africa.


Air ambulance manager and IT guy

A pilot since he was 18 years old, Topp works in IT (information technology) for United Health Group in Plymouth.

His hangar mate, Reid, is the operations manager for Life Link III, a regional air ambulance service.  His office is at the Anoka Airport, and he manages five locations, along with five helicopters, a Falcon 10 jet, a turboprop aircraft, and numerous flight paramedics.

Reid went to high school in Richfield and lived in Atlanta before returning to Minnesota.

Topp is originally from Edgerton, Wis.


Helped each other

Reid and Topp have been going to Oshkosh together every year "for a long time," and they camp together at the big annual aviation event.

Their two homebuilt airplanes took about 6-7 years to complete.  They estimate they have each logged over 2,000 hours working on their projects.  Through it all, they often showed up at the hangar at the same time, and they often helped each other.

"Bruce is very good with composites," Reid said.

"Mike is good with aluminum and helped me with the metal work," said Topp.

The homebuilt airplane kits they purchased included the airframe parts.

"The rest was up to us," Topp said.

Beyond the kits, they needed to purchase engines, propellers, radios and avionic equipment, and interior components.


Fit, finish and safety

They took their time putting everything together.  The judges at Oshkosh look closely at the lines and the detail work.

"Fit, finish and safety," Topp said.  "That's what they are interested in; they make sure everything is according to regulations."

The quality of the workmanship shows in the way everything fits together.

"We do it right.  We want show quality," Topp commented.

"Some (kit builders) are just looking to get it in the air," Reid added.

Although Topp sold his previous aircraft, he indicated he plans to keep the F1 Rocket a while and enjoy flying it.

"That's what I said the last time until a guy showed up and had a big fat check," Reid replied.

Both Reid and Topp have now each built two airplanes.

Topp recalled, "I heard a few offers (for the F1) at Oshkosh."

The offers were likely quite large.  The investments in the airplanes were significant.


Purchased over time

The avionics, which include some of the latest high tech gear for navigating and monitoring systems, cost around $25,000 for each airplane.

A propeller costs about $12,000.  Reid's engine cost $25,000, and Topp paid $32,000 for his.  The airframe kits were roughly $50,000 each.

Altogether, Reid estimated he paid $118,000 over the 6-7 years to complete the project.  Topp's total was around $130,000 to $140,000.

"Now we get to fly!" they both said.

They get to give loved ones rides.  Reid has two daughters.  They are both going to college in Bemidji.  Topp has a grown up stepdaughter.


FAA certified

Reid mentioned that he and Topp are both certified to do their own maintenance on their airplanes.  In addition to FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) airworthy certificates, they have FAA repairman certificates.

Reid mentioned that he took pictures of every bolt to make sure he knows how everything was put together.

When Reid and Topp finished their airplanes, they each faced a moment of truth ... the first flight.

"Will it all work properly?" they had to ask themselves.

The FAA restricts the flying in the beginning.  No passengers are allowed in the first 40 hours.  Initial flights are limited to a 50-mile box.  Reid said his box was out to Paynesville.  Topp's box was out to Princeton.

How did the airplanes perform?

"Just some little things needed to be fixed," Topp said.

His engine overheated a bit.  The engine is air cooled, and an airflow adjustment solved the problem.


Time to fly

So, from now on, Reid and Topp can spend more time in the air than in the hangar.  That might be an adjustment for them.  Over the past 6-7 years, every spare hour was spent working on their projects.

But now they can get out and get up high over the Wright County countryside and beyond.

After their success at Oshkosh, they know they have well-built, trustworthy aircraft.

The sky is the limit.


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