By Randy Dufault
The story of Fred Keip’s Sonerai II homebuilt is similar to thousands of other stories found both here at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2017 and across the broader world of EAA. However, what makes Fred’s story special is that the build and first flight of his airplane happened more than 30 years ago.
“Paul Poberezny used to say that the average private pilot flies his airplane 50 hours in a year,” Fred said. “If you take 31 years and divide it into 1,540, that comes out to 50 hours a year. Some years it was more, some less.”
A short introductory flight in a Cessna 170 was all that it took to get a 14-year-old Fred hooked on aviation. Flight training and a certificate followed, but the inconvenience of renting airplanes just wasn’t going to satisfy his flying needs.
Since purchasing a plane seemed to be out of the question, a discovery that he could build one himself was an entryway into the life of he envisioned.
“I discovered this airplane called the Pazmany PL-4,” Fred said. “I was attracted to it because it had a [Volkswagen] engine in it. I had a VW car at the time.”
Fred joined EAA Chapter 18 after a move from California brought him back to his home state, Wisconsin. He still intended to get started on a Pazmany, but a chapter meeting featuring John Monnett and his Sonerai II design changed everything.
“I’m watching this presentation and going, ‘Holy mackerel!’ The Pazmany cruises at like 100,” Fred said. “Here is an airplane that No. 1, looks better, and No. 2, it uses the VW engine. And it cruises at 140 mph — at least that was the claim.”
Fred purchased plans and found aluminum to build the wings. He bought a few other parts and an engine from Monnett, and nine years later, he flew the Sonerai IIL for the first time.
“I built it in my basement,” Fred said. “My wife bought [the house] because it had a fireplace in it. I bought it because it was built into a side of a hill, and there was a 36-inch wide door going out of the basement.”
At one point, the entire airplane was completely assembled, albeit not yet covered, and sitting in the basement.
Over the years and hours, the little red plane’s VW engine did need replacing, and the addition of electric start at that time made the operation a bit more convenient.
“The design is bulletproof,” Fred said. “Maintenance — there is nothing. The only thing you really have to work on is the engine. It’s been pretty much trouble-free.”
Fred’s 31-year-old plane is visiting Oshkosh for the 24th time, and it’s parked just east of Homebuilt Headquarters.