Nov. 6, 2006
Handyman helps with Cokato church addition, builds airplanes
By Linda Scherer
Arden Johnson spent a good part of his summer working on an addition to his church in Cokato, New Life Assembly of God, where he and his wife, Berdine, are members.
However, that project did not keep him from flying his Van’s home built in his free time.
Johnson, who hails from Winsted, flew his first home built plane in 1990.
The plane was purchased through a series of aircraft kits and assembled much like a model airplane.
Johnson has found the home built plane to be a convenient way to travel, having easy access to it right in his own backyard.
For example, the time his son had to pick up a truck down in Waseca. They jumped in Johnson’s home built Van’s Aircraft RV-6A.
“It took us 19 minutes to get there. It took him two and one-half hours to get home,” Johnson said.
Johnson has had his pilot’s license since 1970, and has always been interested in flying, “ever since I was a kid.”
Originally from South Dakota, he came to the Twin Cities to attend school, and while taking flying lessons in Glencoe, flew into Winsted’s airport for the first time. He also found property close by the airport that he and Berdine chose for their current home, moving to Winsted more than 30 years ago.
It was in the late 1980s, before he had retired, that he bought his first home built plane project, one that someone else had started. It was a Richard VanGrunsven RV-4.
The Van’s Aircraft comes with a number of different kits: fuselage, wings, tail section, and the finishing kit, which includes the canopy, wheels, wing tips, and cowling.
To complete his first plane, he needed the “finishing kit,” and so he drove out to Oregon, where the Van’s Aircraft factory is located, to get the supplies he needed.
When he first went out there, Van’s Aircraft, “was located in what was almost the size of a small double-car garage. By the time I built my second plane (RV-6A), they had built a factory in Oregon and were using computers.”
“There are about 4,600 Van’s Aircraft flying now, and they are probably the most popular home built,” said Johnson.
It took Johnson more than two and one-half years to build his first plane. He estimates approximately 2,000 hours of labor to complete a home built.
His second plane didn’t take as many years to build because he was retired and could devote more of his time to the project.
He flew his second plane for the first time July 1994. Since that time, he has flown the plane to Wisconsin, Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Illinois, and Iowa. He has flown as far as California, but not with this particular plane.
He enjoys building the plane as much as the flying, but also feels that home builts are just a much better plane.
“You can’t buy anything like you can build. A factory airplane can’t perform like the home builts do. Home builts can get off the ground quicker, go faster, because it is designed better. Cessna hasn’t changed their designs for 50 years,” Johnson said.
His first plane was sold to a Kansas man. Johnson flew it down there for him.
“The RVs are easy to sell because they have a good reputation. They are strong, and fast. There are some that are faster, but these will land at 60 miles an hour, where some of the others have a higher landing speed,” Johnson said.
Johnson estimates the RV-6A air speed to be normally around 170 miles per hour, but it can travel as fast as 200 miles per hour.
Johnson has his own landing strip and shed in his backyard, where he keeps his plane. It is an enormous area that looks like an airport and visibly shows a lot of hard work in just maintaining acres of grass around the runway.
Johnson worked at the post office for 37 years before retiring, but has found his interests and skills go far beyond the mail room, according to Berdine.
Besides building planes, he has built their home and everything in it. He did the wiring, cabinets, the outside brick, and inside brick and stone fireplace. And according to Berdine, this is not the first home that he has built.
Johnson also likes to fix up cars that have been in accidents; a 2005 Ford pickup is his latest.
“He fixes them up and gives them to the kids or the grandchildren. When we go to visit them, we never know which car to get into because we have had them all,” Berdine said.
Arden and Berdine have four children, Rick, Mark, Bryan, and Pamela (deceased), 10 grandchildren ages 27 to 15, and six great-grandchildren, ages 7 to 2.
Johnson’s love of flying has not diminished over the years.
Johnson said, “Once in awhile, if I haven’t flown for awhile, I’ll just go out and fly to Litchfield or Olivia for breakfast. It is a good way to get around.”