Malta couple takes to the air in build-your-own plane

Gary and Isabelle Kovarik on their Malta farm with the ultralight plane they built from a kit.
Gary and Isabelle Kovarik on their Malta farm with the ultralight plane they built from a kit.

MALTA – Isabelle Kovarik loves to fly.

"I've wanted to fly since I was a kid," she said. "But my parents didn't want me to for the same reason most parents don't want their kids to. They were petrified of flying. ...If we hit turbulence, I would be bouncing up and down. It's like a roller coaster."

About 12 years ago, Kovarik's husband, Gary, gave her flying lessons for her birthday. Her enthusiasm was so infectious she persuaded him to join her.

After flying a Piper Warrior, the couple from rural Malta discovered a Van's Aircraft Total Performance RV-12 at an air expo in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

"We were intrigued," Isabelle Kovarik said.The single-engine, two-passenger, all-metal plane is classified as a light sport aircraft, which the FAA limits to 1,320 pounds.

"It's a unique kit aircraft from Van's Aircraft Corp.," said Tim Hunter, a Sycamore pilot and director of the Experimental Aircraft Association Young Eagles Program. Pieces in a kit aircraft are pre-cut and drilled, he said, and the buyer just puts the pieces together.

Hunter added that such planes only require a driver's license to fly and do not require an FAA medical certification.

"It's a great aircraft for folks that like to fly locally," he said. "They are limited to the weather at hand, meaning if the weather is bad ... they can't fly that aircraft."

Gary Kovarik began building the plane in October for a "winter project." He said it took about eight months, and he believes it may be the first light sport airplane built in DeKalb County. The kit cost about $65,000.

"It was amazing watching it go together," Isabelle Kovarik said. "It helps you understand how everything works."

After getting official approval, Isabelle Kovarik said it was "a huge adrenaline rush" when her husband flew the Van's for the first time. She said they wanted to make sure everything worked before taking their maiden flight.

At 750 pounds, Gary Kovarik said the 100hp VANS RV-12 weighs about half of their first plane. It has a wing span of 30 feet and is 22 feet in length. In the air, the plane has a 10,000 foot ceiling.

"It's more susceptible to the wind, but more nimble," Gary Kovarik said.

Once he fills the 20-gallon tank at the Mobil gas station, Gary Kovarik said the plane can fly 500 miles, although Isabelle said they usually stop after a couple of hours. The couple alternates who flies on long trips.

"It's a blast," Isabelle Kovarik said. "It's like driving a Ferrari compared to a minivan."

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