By Polly Keary, Editor
It takes a lot to scare Ken Berger.
Several years ago, he crashed a plane into Lake Louise high in the Wild Sky wilderness, returned to extract the plane from the bottom of the lake, rebuilt the plane and flew it again.
And this summer, he took to the air in a craft that had never been flown, built from scratch by someone who had never built a plane in his life; namely, himself.
“It’s pretty exciting,” said Berger, who, despite his measured and thoughtful speech, is no stranger to excitement. The Monroe attorney and former city councilmember is preparing to attempt his 30th summit of Mount Rainier next summer, in time for his 60th birthday.
The plane he built is a SeaRey LSX, made from a kit.
“You order the kit from the manufacturer and it doesn’t include a bunch of the parts,” said Berger. “You have to order those parts from elsewhere, and it’s your job to assemble it all.”
Berger was inspired to take the task because he so enjoyed rebuilding the plane he recovered from the lake.
Building the kit plane was no small task. It took exactly three years and three days from the September day he started in 2013 until he made his first flight.
Nor was it inexpensive; the kit starts at $34,000 and requires a lot of extra parts. But now Berger has the small two-seat amphibious plane in the air.
He admits that the first flight was a bit nerve-wracking.
“There’s a lot of pucker factor,” he said.
He could have hired a test pilot, a person who specializes in taking planes out for a first flight after a careful inspection and sometimes training specific to the plane.
But Berger, who has been flying for about 10 years, decided to do it himself, and since then has logged about 40 hours in flight in the small aircraft.
That completed Phase 1 testing of the plane.
In order to get the plane certified for airworthiness, it now has to undergo a thorough examination from an inspector from the Federal Aviation Administration.
“You can get it certified as an experimental airplane and you are given an airworthiness certificate that has some conditions on it; for instance, you can take one or more passengers, but it can’t be for commercial use,” said Berger. “They don’t let you take paying passengers.”
It took a lot of work to build the plane and was rather an expensive hobby, but Berger said it has been a lot of fun, and is still more economical than his larger, six-seat plane.
“SeaRey planes are quite fun, really,” he said. “I’m enjoying flying in it quite a lot. It’s very small and nimble and inexpensive to fly.”