Taking Wing

Hillsboro youth assembles airplane in his parents' garage, dining room
reprinted from the Festus Jefferson County Leader
 (June 28, 2001)

By Stephen Schmidt
For the Leader

Hillsboro, MO
After a tough day at work or school, a hobby helps. Some people quilt, play music, read, collect stamps -- or build airplanes in their garage. The last example might sound a little odd, but if you're Jacob Abraham, 21, of Raintree Plantation subdivision outside Hillsboro, building a plane in your garage is a perfectly normal way to spend your spare time.

The airplane, a Comp Air 7 turbine high wing turboprop, is a joint project for Jacob and his father, Erich. Since March 2000 the two have been gradually transforming a hollow "airframe" into a fully functioning plane, complete with all the amenities. Father and son have drawn on the support and organizational skills of Paula (Jacob's mother and Erich's wife), and assistance from a collection of friends and neighbors who are interested in the project -- Professor Richard Kamm, Franklin Shott, Bob Labdon and Kevin Doerr, among others. Jacob and his father hope to unveil their project in early August. They plan to lodge the competed plane at the Parks Airport in Cahokia, Ill., east of downtown St. Louis.

Jacob sees the project as an extension of his childhood interest in airplanes. "As a kid I always did model rockets. I always put together model planes," he said. Jacob has been flying the real thing since he was 17, and got his pilot's license at 19. 

When finished, his garage plane will seat seven passengers and its 660-horsepowered Czech Republican Walter 601D jet engine will power the plane up to nearly 250 mph. The plane's cabin resembles a mini-conversion van with wooden trim, overhead lights, and gray upholstery seats that were actually taken and resized from a minivan.

The Abrahams, who have lived in Jefferson County for three years, began their project in 1998, after Jacob graduated from Lafayette High School and began his college studies at St. Louis University. Jacob is majoring in aircraft maintenance engineering, making the build-their-own-plane project an appealing weekend activity for the family. 

Wings and other parts for a turboprop airplane
being built by Jacob Abraham, 21, of Hillsboro are stacked in the family dining room.

                                            Sherree Faries photos

The nose of the plane sticks out of the garage
at the family's home in Raintree Plantation subdivision.

After an extensive search, the Abrahams purchased the airframe from Aerocomp Inc. of Merritt Island, Fla. Using a friend's racecar trailer, they loaded the main carcass and headed home. Since then, the plane has sat in the Abrahams' garage -- as much as a 29.5-by-8-foot plane can sit in a garage. The nose juts out into the driveway about four feet.

The project has caused other intrusions on family life. "The wings are in the dining room," Jacob said. The enormous structures lie next to the dining room table like fiberglass sails. Sprawled out on top of the table are the electrical systems and wires needed for the cockpit. Once the wings are attached, the plane will have a wingspan of 35 feet.

Jacob said the project has provided invaluable hands-on training in his field of study, plus the opportunity to spend quality time with his father. "He got me started with flying lessons," Jacob said. "When I first started flying he would go with me to the lessons. We're committed to a relationship with each other to make a father-and-son team. We've gotten a lot closer."

Jacob said he likes building planes as much as he likes flying them. He recently did an internship at an engine overhaul company called Diemech Turbines Inc. in DeLand, Fla. (He was able to work on his own engine there.) "I enjoy all aspects of it (planes)," he said, adding that his career will definitely focus on aviation. "I don't exactly know what, but something to do with airplanes."

The plane project will go into fast forward around the Fourth of July weekend. That's when the Abrahams are going to make the trek back down to Aerocomp Inc. With a really big flatbed, they will transport the plane, mounting the wings on the side. "That'll be a nervous trip, for sure," Jacob said. The plane will then receive its wings (literally), and get a coat of white paint, complemented with a red and silver stripe down the side. The plane's number will be posted on its side, too -- "601JL". The "JL" represents the plane's official name: "Jacob's Ladder."

In a story from the Bible's 28th chapter of Genesis, Jacob was a man who dreamed he saw a ladder resting on earth, extending up into heaven, and he saw a band of angels climbing up and down the tremendous structure. God then appeared and told Jacob his descendants "will be as many as the dust of the earth." Above all, God told Jacob, He was watching over him, and would be with him always. "We're definitely a religious family," said the 21st-century Jacob. "It (the plane's name) symbolizes my parents' way of supporting me and my dreams." And, he said, "It's definitely God's airplane."

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