Arnold Ebneter wrote about a small plane that broke a distance record while he was studying engineering at Texas A&M during the 1950s. After he finished the paper, he wanted to break that record.
"I told myself that one day I would like to build a similar thing," said Ebneter, now 82.
However, after he graduated, he enlisted in the Air Force and had to refine his design while collecting new materials to build his plane from scratch.
Ten years ago, he had the time to start building the plane he named the E-1, an all metal, single-engine low-wing monoplane.
He built the airplane mostly by himself but had help from his wife, Colleen, and daughters. His wife helped him buck the rivets for the plane.
"She put up with me while I was building it," he said.
She passed away 10 years ago.
On July 25, Ebneter believes, he broke the distance record for small aircraft weighting less than 500 kilograms -- about 1,100 pounds -- when he flew nonstop from Everett's Paine Field to Fredericksburg, Va.
In the cockpit, Ebneter had two photographs, both showing him and Colleen together.
His plane weighs 263 kilograms (580 pounds) empty. With Ebneter in the cockpit and just enough fuel in his tank to beat the record, the plane weighed 498.9 kilograms.
Ebneter said he made the plane of metal because it was the lightest and most reliable material. He could also seal the wings so they could carry fuel, something called a "wet wing." He spent $25,000 on building his lifelong dream.
He lifted off from Paine Field at 2 p.m. July 25. He flew 18 hours, 27 minutes to reach Fredericksburg, the next day at 11:30 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. His nonstop flight of 2,327 miles could, if confirmed, put him in record books maintained by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale.
At the moment, the recordkeeper for American aviation, the National Aeronautic Association, is reviewing his trip to confirm the world record for distance, something that could take six to eight weeks.
The current record was set in July 1984 by American Frank Hertzler, who flew
Ebneter had 58.5 gallons of fuel when he took off. At the end, he had two and a half gallons left.
"I could have gone another 100 miles," he said.
It was not a difficult flight, he said. He had good weather and room for his legs to move, but the time spent sitting took a toll afterward.
"I thought for a second that I had to learn to walk again."
Kandace Harvey, president and chief executive of Harvey Field in Snohomish, has known Ebneter since 1974 and describes him as an "accomplished individual and highly educated in a number of professional areas."
"He never ceases to amaze me," she said. "He is always working on something."
Ebneter works as a flight instructor and FAA inspector at Harvey Field a few times each week and serves not only as a supervisor to all the staff, but as a mentor, Harvey said.
Ebneter has never lost the enjoyment of flying or of teaching others to fly.
"He is always excited and every time is special for him, no matter the number of times he has done it," she said.
Flight School Manager Christi Otness said that Ebneter always makes time and respects the people around him.
"I am so proud of his accomplishments," she said.
Ebneter started flying when he was 15 years old. He grew up on a farm that was beneath the flight path between Chicago and Indianapolis, where many airplanes of the time flew low.
"People now fly as a way of transportation," he said. "I just wanted to fly for the sake of flying."
He spent 22 years in the Air Force, 15 of them as a fighter pilot and the rest as an engineer. He flew 325 missions and retired following the Vietnam War as a lieutenant colonel.
After he finished his military service, he worked designing and testing balloons. In 1952, he was a test balloon pilot for General Mills, where he once flew 325 miles overnight. He gave his plane the same registration number as that balloon: N7927A.
In 1974, he came to work for Boeing when they were developing the 767. In 1977 he started his job at Harvey Field.
Ebneter still has no immediate plans for the E-1. It can still fly but he thinks he can make some changes.
"Let's see if I can make it go a little bit faster."
Alejandro Dominguez: 425-339-3422; email@example.com.
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