Flying for life
BEMIDJI -- Driving to work, Brian Shaw can't help but think about the weather and what it'd be like to fly high in the sky with the birds and clouds, given that day's climate conditions.
Having a passion for airplanes since he was a young boy, Shaw says flying is a hobby that's near to impossible to not think about, even with the constant hustle and bustle of day-to-day activities.
"It's one of those things I say you're born with," he said. "It's kind of an addiction; once you get into flying, you'll always want more and more."
Shaw's fancy for flight began at age 4, when he said he first started to appreciate airplanes. From there, it just continued to grow.
"Periodic rides here and there fueled it, and around my last year of high school, I started building remote control model airplanes," recalled Shaw, who experienced his first plane ride at age 5.
Since his adolescent years of building model airplanes in his basement, Shaw has moved on to the "real deal," buying and working to restore three aircraft of his own, which include two 1946 Taylor aircrafts and a Cessna 150.
Coming across a 1946 Taylorcraft, Shaw said his first plane was in good, flyable condition when he bought it, but it still needed enough repairs for him to eventually call it his own.
"I didn't have shop yet, so I did like a lot of guys do -- I worked in my living room," he said.
Stripping it down to the frame, Shaw has spent many months rebuilding the frame and wings and the aircraft is now ready for fabrication and painting.
And knowing how to fabricate and work on the airplane was a skill Shaw began long before ever coming into aircraft ownership.
Growing up in the Bemidji area, Shaw said flying always seemed a part of his childhood, especially with two uncles who flew airplanes.
"My uncle bought a World War II Stearman biplane that was used as an agriculture plane, and that's what got me started working on planes," Shaw recalled.
Shaw said in return for fabricating and painting the biplane, his uncle agreed to build him a runway on a family farm in Blackduck.
"I told him I didn't know if I could do it," Shaw said. "But his words exactly were 'You've been covering models for years. It's the same thing, just bigger.'"
From that moment on, Shaw said working on airplanes intensified his passion for flying them.
"The build is the means for me to get to the flying part, because I can't afford to just go buy a flyable airplane," he said.
A way of life
As president of the Mississippi Headwaters Flyers of Bemidji, chapter 1397, Shaw said he has had the opportunity to work on about 10 aircrafts owned by chapter members.
And while the experience and cash flow the work generates is rewarding, Shaw says the comradeship between chapter members is the most rewarding aspect of the builds.
"Aviation is just a tight-knit community," he said. "I work on all these different planes, not for the money, but maybe for the opportunity to fly them."
These kinds of opportunities are frequent for Shaw, but the most memorable flight involved an airplane with floats. But Shaw said perhaps the most interesting aircraft he's ever flown is a Super Chipmunk, a Canadian-made airplane used by the British during WWII.
"It was just a crisp, smooth, no surprises kind of airplane, and yet really fun," Shaw said. "I call it the ultimate roller coaster ride."
The owner of Northern Rides, Shaw said his shop has become a hub for aviation enthusiasts to gather and work on planes, particularly on Thursday evenings.
"When I tore my plane (the Taylorcraft) apart, I made it into a group function and got everyone involved," he said. "Half the guys in the chapter just want to work on planes; they don't necessarily want to fly them."
With about 40 members in the local Experimental Aviation Association, the chapter's goal is to promote aviation and keep the interest among community members.
Organizing a week of aviation activities the first week of July at the Bemidji Regional Airport that featured WWII airplanes and a 1929 Ford-Tri Motor, Shaw hopes to make the event an annual affair.
"We would like to see eventually getting an air show going again, but when that's going to happen, I just don't know," Shaw said.
With the last air show in Bemidji in 1992, Shaw said the recent federal budget sequester has made even considering an air show difficult since some of the biggest air show attractions feature military planes.
"It's a hurdle we're going to have to overcome," he added.
Aside from organizing an air show, Shaw said the chapter also puts on an event called the "Young Eagles," in which chapter members meet with children and fuel their interest in aviation by taking them on rides in a number of different planes.
"We're always happy to take people out flying," Shaw said. "If we find someone who is interested in flying, either just to experience it or to learn how, we want to help."
A family affair
A lifelong hobby, Shaw hopes to instill his interest in aviation into his three children.
In fact, Shaw's oldest son Mitchell,13, just returned from the Oshkosh Air academy, gaining insight on pilot and mechanical skills.
"I want to keep the family involved in this," said Shaw, who hopes to one day acquire a Cessna 180 or 185, which would be large enough to accommodate his entire family.
In order to involve his family in his hobby, Shaw said his wife, Rosemary, motivated him to complete his pilot's license, which he has had for nearly two years.
The license requires its holder to complete 45-50 building hours, half of which must be supervised by instructor. There's also a written and practical test. Shaw said the procedure is mostly preparatory for real-life situations.
"You could go your whole life without anything ever happening, but at some point you're going to experience something while flying," he said.
Logging anywhere from 25-50 hours of flight time a year, Shaw said aviation is a hobby that takes a lifetime of dedication.
"If you don't have the passion, you won't do this," he said. "It's fueled 90 percent by passion, all just for the love of airplanes."