If Kevin Phillips had his way, he’d be flying to work today.
But Phillips, of Phillips & Sons Heating Cooling & Electric, has to wait until his self-built kit helicopter can take the air. He’s waiting for an evaluation from the Federal Aviation Administration before he can train with the aircraft and prove he can safely handle it.
The chopper, a two-seat RotorWay Exec162F, has a top speed of 115 mph, cruises at around 100 mph, has a maximum altitude of 10,000 feet and can run for two hours on 17 gallons of high-octane unleaded fuel, Phillips says.
It’s taken more than five years to finish, but Phillips, 49, built the helicopter without hiring help. Classified as an experimental aircraft, Phillips had to construct at least 51 percent of the helicopter on his own.
The $60,000 kit was advertised to take about 400 hours to build. Phillips said he stopped counting after 1,500.
“If a person dedicated 100 percent of their time to it, they may come close to that billed time, but when you work on it on the weekends and then at night, you still have to maintain a family life and a business and all that stuff,” Phillips said.
“You can’t devote as much time to it in long stretches as people would probably like to.”
The 22-foot RotorWay arrived at Phillips’ Woodlake Road home the day after Thanksgiving in 2005 in eight large, wooden crates hauled from Arizona.
Phillips cracked open the crates on New Year’s Day, using a construction manual and step-by-step videos to guide him through the building process. He worked from a shop outside his house.
An avid builder of remote-controlled choppers and old Coca-Cola machines, Phillips decided to take on the kit after he saw an ad in one of the RC helicopter magazines he regularly gets.
He’s spent “very little” time flying helicopters but has taken some fixed-wing flying lessons.
“I went to Indiana to just take a ride in one and got the opportunity to basically have my hands on the controls a little bit, not much,” Phillips said.
“But it’s kind of eerie because the model helicopters are so much the same as the full-size helicopters. You’ve just got a little bit more at stake to lose with the real ones.”
The helicopter’s cab is a tight squeeze and includes all the avionics one would expect with aircraft of any sort. Phillips can read the gauges, which tell the helicopter’s speed, altitude and fuel supply, among other vitals.
He won’t have to radio before taking off in Franklin County, but he’ll need to notify Bluegrass Airport if entering Lexington airspace.
But for now, the red helicopter stays parked either in Phillips’ shop or on his front yard. He’s sending paperwork to the FAA so it can inspect the chopper’s air-worthiness.
Once the helicopter clears the FAA’s inspection, he’ll haul the RotorWay on a special trailer to West Plains, Mo., and take lessons at Orv Neisingh’s Show-Me Helicopters.
The red helicopter is definitely a conversation piece, Phillips says. Other drivers often gawk as they pass him hauling it down the road, and some pepper him with questions about it at stops.
But Phillips would rather fly the chopper than haul it.
His ultimate goal, he says, is to fly to work as often as possible. After all, there’s enough property at his Woodlake Road home and Chenault Road business to take off and land.
“Behind this whole process that I’ve been doing, my intentions are to fly it to work every day that I can,” Phillips said.
“It’s something unique.”