Swansea man builds biplane similar to one that crashed, killing his father

News-DemocratMarch 1, 2014 

When Tom Braun finishes the Steen Skybolt biplane he is building in his garage in Swansea, he will have the duplicate of one his grandfather built back in 1980.

That original doesn't exist anymore because it was destroyed in a crash in May 1985 in a cornfield next to a landing strip near New Baden.

Tom's father, Tom Braun Sr., was killed in the wreck. Tom, 11 at the time, was injured.

He recovered and despite the trauma has never lost his love of flying.

"I've been working on it for about a year and a half," he said. "I'm about 75 percent done."

Braun, 39, works for Jet Aviation St. Louis at St. Louis Downtown Airport in Cahokia. He learned the sheet metal, welding and fabrication skills from his grandfather, the late Al Braun.

"I still have happy memories of working out here with him," he said.

Braun decided to build the plane to honor the memories of his grandfather and father. He bought a set of plans and started the fabrication in the same garage where the original plane was built, he said.

Some parts of the plane he needed to buy, like the engine which comes from a Piper Malibu. He said the engine has 1,200 hours of flight time on it and will be good for another 1,200 before it will need an overhaul.

He also bought a propellor, a clear canopy, the tail wheel and the landing gear.

He is working on the fuselage and rear wings. The two bottom wings are done and stored in the basement. He still needs to build the upper wings.

The two-seater has a built-in camera and all the necessary navigation equipment. He has planned out a red, white and blue paint scheme similar to the original family plane.

Braun said the biplane is considered an experimental or home-built aircraft and until it racks up some hours in flight, is limited to a small radius of flying.

The plane will have to be inspected by the Federal Aviation Administration to get an airworthiness certificate.

Braun said he has no lingering scars from the crash.

"I was scared the first time I went up after that," he said.

But he got his own private pilot's license in his early 20s.

"It's in the blood," he said.

Have a column idea? Call Wally at 239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email: wspiers@bnd.com

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