Building & Flying An Airplane In Retirement

by Dave Weiman
Published in Midwest Flyer – December 2018/January 2019 issue

Bob and Joan Zaleski spent most of their careers working and living in the Chicago area. Bob started flying when he was 17 years old, and flew with the airlines for 36 years beginning with Ozark Airlines in 1978, which was acquired by TWA in 1986, then subsequently acquired by American Airlines in 2000. He retired as an American Airlines Captain flying the MD-80 with more than 25,000 hours. Joan was an aviation insurance broker with NationAir Aviation Insurance and is a 150-hour private pilot. They met at DuPage Airport in West Chicago, Illinois in 1976, where Bob was Chief Flight Instructor at Planemasters, and Joan worked in the office. They have been married for 39 years and have one daughter, Lauren, 34. The couple retired in 2014, and packed up and moved to Naples, Florida, where the next chapter in their lives began.

Shortly after retiring, Bob and Joan went to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, as they do each year, where they discovered the “Sling 2” – a two-place, low-wing, all-metal aircraft with tricycle landing gear. The aircraft is powered by a 100 hp Rotax 912ULS or 912iS engine, or an optional turbocharged 115 hp Rotax 914, equipped with a three-blade Warp Drive Inc propeller. The airplane features a sliding canopy, two 19.8-gallon fuel tanks, and standard equipment that includes a glass cockpit.

Bob and Joan met the manufacturers of the aircraft, Mike Blyth and James Pitman of “The Airplane Factory” of Johannesburg, South Africa, at Oshkosh. Blyth and Pitman flew the Sling 2 around the world twice to prove the aircraft’s capabilities. Following Oshkosh, Bob and Joan flew to Torrance, California for a demo flight at the manufacturer’s U.S. dealership. They were so impressed with the airplane that they wrote a check on the spot, then went back to Naples to rent a hangar to build and house their new plane.

“The building process turned out to be much more satisfying than either of us had imagined,” said Joan. “We settled into a weekday schedule of packing up the dog and a lunch, heading off to the airport, and working until the late afternoon sun reached far into the hangar. There were other days when we watched the sun set and the runway lights come on.”

Bob and Joan said that the greatest benefit of building an airplane at an airport is that there are always willing and able helpers around when a few extra hands are needed. “The day we attached the wings to the fuselage reminded us of an old-fashioned barn raising,” said Joan.

Bob said, “the Sling 2 is like a Cessna 172 at half the gas and twice the fun! Flying this airplane is like flying a little Mazda homebuilt…it’s that sporty.” The Sling 2 comfortably seats two people with enough room in the cargo compartment for their beloved dog “Holly,” a 12-year-old Shetland Sheepdog.

“It’s a serious cross-country aircraft with a reliable engine,” said Bob. Bob and Joan’s Sling 2 is powered by a 100 hp Rotax 912is engine, cruises at 115 knots, and has a range of 900 nautical miles. The aircraft has a rate of climb of 900 fpm, a service ceiling of 12,000 feet, and stalls at 45 knots. “And I can attest to the fact that it is strong based on the number of rivets it has,” said Bob, who holds an Airframe and Powerplant Certificate.

“It’s amazing the level of sophistication there is in a homebuilt.” Avionics-wise, Bob and Joan’s Sling 2 features dual Garmin G3X Touch™ Flight Displays, a Garmin GTN 635 Touchscreen Navigator, a Garmin G5 Electronic Flight Instrument System (EFIS) as a backup directional gyro and horizontal situation indicator, and a Garmin autopilot.

The aircraft took two years, four months and eight days to build, and cost $105,000, including paint. Dream Scheme Designs of Geneva, Illinois, created the paint scheme, and Hawk Aircraft Painting in Tampa, Florida, painted the aircraft. The aircraft took its maiden flight on May 8, 2017. It was the second amateur-built Sling 2 to be completed in the United States. Since then, Bob and Joan Zaleski have logged some 300 hours, including several trips back to the Midwest. Their aircraft was displayed at the manufacturer’s exhibit at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2018.

When not flying, Bob and Joan Zaleski are involved with EAA Chapter 1067 helping others to realize their dreams of building and owning a home-built aircraft. Joan is chapter president.

So, if you are retired and have the time, skill and interest to build an airplane as Bob and Joan Zaleski did, go for it. But for those of us who lack the time, skill and confidence to build an airplane, the Sling 2 is also available ready-to-fly. There are also two four-place models to choose from – the Sling 4 with the turbocharged 115 hp Rotax 914 engine, and the new Sling 4TSi with the new 140 hp turbocharged 915is engine.

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