Theft of the blog: He can build the plane and fly the plane

Editor’s note: Bob Collins will get the last word today, his last with MPR News. Before that, however, we tossed the NewsCut keys to a few folks who know the guy and the things he’s built. Next up is editor Bill Catlin.

Building an airplane solo is among the more noteworthy accomplishments in Bob Collins’ remarkable turn on this planet.

It was a yearslong, painstaking journey that turned out beautifully.

After all the expense of purchasing the airframe parts, the tooling, the engine, the electronics, the safety harnesses, he also had to pay a pilot to test fly his new bird to achieve FAA certification.

That’s a white-knuckle day at the airstrip. But November 614 Echo Foxtrot received her airworthiness certification in May, 2012.

Being a wannabe pilot, I’d followed Bob’s progress and gave him a bottle of Champagne worthy of the occasion and the accomplishment. And he invited me to take a ride with him in his new two-seater RV-7.

So, on a perfect day for flying in early September, we met at his hangar at the South St. Paul airport.

The plane was wasn’t painted yet, and the glare off the shiny aluminum was searing.

Up we went, and headed south across Minnesota, following the Mississippi River to Winona. We passed over a squadron of pelicans on the way and landed at the otherwise deserted airport. We hung out, chatted with a guy who seemed to be the resident elder, whether in an official capacity or not. We mentioned the pelicans. He said they’re dumb as rocks.

Then we were wheels up again, heading back north to Rushford, to enjoy one of the well-hidden perks of general aviation.

The Rushford “airport” is a strip, two hangar buildings, a fuel pump, and a house masquerading as a terminal building, “with accommodations that you’ll have to see to believe,” according to the city.

Inside it looked like a home with lots of comfy furniture and stocked with provisions. I seem to recall burger patties in the freezer, and maybe a grill and charcoal. There was ice cream and pop, for sure. So, we helped ourselves to some root beer floats and sat on the deck watching the hummingbirds zoom around the feeder.

We probably left a few bucks in the kitty.

Then we headed back to South St. Paul. On final approach, close to touch down in a crosswind, Bob felt a wind shear, pushed the throttle forward, cool as a cucumber, and we went around again. A few more glorious minutes aloft.

Bob finished the paint job and eventually decided to sell N614EF.

Now he’s building another aircraft — because, well, planes.

Happy landings, Bob, and thanks! In thrust we trust.

  • I’m still kicking myself for not taking up Bob on his offer to take me for a flight.

    /Former CAF member. The CAF is right next to his hangar.
    //From that video: “You built that.” “Holy shit.”


  • toyboata-friend of the pod

    pilots are a curious bunch. my dad used to own planes until he, too, was sidelined by medical issues.

    probably unknown to many, eons ago there used to be a small airport on, i believe, the SE corner of cedar and county 42, southport airport. that’s where my dad kept his plane. it sounds similar to the one mentioned in the story in rushford. guys would hang out in the “house”, talk planes, discuss their flights that day and other days, watch others takeoff and land.

    every sunday possible he’d take my flying. he loved it, i loved it. my mother hated it.

    anyway, this blog post brought back a flood of memories and thanks for that.

  • My dad was also a pilot, he owned 2 Pipistrels for awhile….gorgeous aircraft. I sadly only got up with him once. Now he owns a self launching glider.

  • JohnOCFII

    I first met Bob in person at a gathering of pilots. I wasn’t sure exactly which guy was Bob, until I matched his furious tapping at a phone with a Twitter post. :). He was also kind enough to show me the beautiful N614EF. The following summer I saw it parked at Oshkosh and was happy to tell my other pilot friends that I knew the builder/pilot of that RV-7.

  • Root beer floats in Rushford with one of my favorite colleagues. My happy place. Also, here’s some pictures of the “terminal”