Local pilot Jack Dysart flies his plane over the rugged mountain peaks of North Routt County and the Zirkel Wilderness Area. Dysart built the Lancair 360 in about 10 years.

Photo by John F. Russell

Local pilot Jack Dysart flies his plane over the rugged mountain peaks of North Routt County and the Zirkel Wilderness Area. Dysart built the Lancair 360 in about 10 years.

Steamboat resident flies his Lancair 360 after decade of construction

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Jack Dysart realized about 10 years ago that he needed a hobby.

He didn’t have a huge amount of mechanical aptitude. But in a counterintuitive twist founded in a passion for flying and experience as a pilot since 1972, the Steamboat Springs resident made a bold choice. He decided to build an airplane.

“I had never rebuilt a car motor,” Dysart said, describing the learning curve as “incredible.”

Nearly a decade later, after a cost in the neighborhood of $150,000, after about 4,000 hours of labor, and after overcoming thousands of obstacles large and small, Dysart’s two-person Lancair 360 shines in his hangar at Steamboat Springs Airport. He and his wife, Carole Milligan, have taken it on local flights and to more distant destinations including Texas, Montana, Oregon and Wisconsin, where the plane won a workmanship award at an Experimental Aircraft Association event last summer.

The nearly 1,300-pound plane has an engine with about 180 horsepower that can generate airspeeds of about 230 mph, Dysart said. That’s much faster than the 150 mph reached by the Cessna 206 that also sits in his hangar, and which Dysart compared to a sport utility vehicle.

“This is more like a Porsche,” he said about the Lancair, which he said could get to Missoula, Mont., in less than three hours and to San Antonio, Texas, in less than six, including a stop for lunch and refueling.

Getting the plane ready to fly took Dysart more than seven years. Completing the final paint job and other finishing touches took another two years or so. For five of those years, the under-construction plane sat in Dysart and Milligan’s garage in Steamboat.

“I have to say there were moments when I probably would have wished he wasn’t building an airplane,” Milligan said last week. “Having your garage filled with an airplane is not always convenient, but by and large that was OK. It was less convenient when he was spending three days a week down in Denver.”

Dysart found an extended network of help through sources including airplane mechanics and a reliable test pilot who was invaluable in achieving Federal Aviation Administration certification.

At the very beginning of the process, he and Milligan took a trip to Lancair International Inc.’s factory in Redmond, Ore., where Dysart persuaded staff to let him stay for a week and get a feel for the level of construction that would be necessary.

Lancair mechanics guided Dysart through the first, essential phases of construction.

“I knew the engine, the wheels and the frame were all going to be going in the same direction when I landed,” Dysart said. “That was important.”

Dysart drove the plane to Steamboat in a U-Haul truck, Milligan said.

Dysart, a 63-year-old who served with the U.S. Navy for 40 years, said he never approached the project from the mind-set of building an airplane. Instead, he focused on the small, individual projects he did each day — including hours of sanding, “a lot of gluing and screwing” and sometimes fabricating a unique tool he needed to build a unique part.

“There’s a lot of little details that you sometimes spend hours working out,” he said. “It’s a very creative process.”

Milligan said Dysart’s focus on the effort didn’t overbearingly affect their life together.

“He was pretty good about really not completely limiting himself to building an airplane. We still did some travel, and we still did things,” Milligan said. “There are many people who, when they are building an airplane, that is all they do. But usually that’s for a year or two years.”

Dysart is a leader of the Steamboat Springs Civil Air Patrol, vice-chairman of the Routt County Democratic Party and active with groups including Emerald City Opera. Milligan said Dysart’s approach to building the plane mirrored his approach to local affairs.

“He’s got a list of things he knows he’s going to do, and he sort of marches through it with a plan. Of course, it often takes longer than he thinks, because he tends to wear rose-colored glasses,” Milligan said. “He’s not somebody who procrastinates; he’s not somebody who gets frustrated — very often, anyway — by glitches in things. He just works through them methodically. And that, of course, helped him a great deal with the airplane.”

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