Watford City pilot builds his own plane

Local News

Why catch a flight when you can build your own? That’s exactly what one Watford City pilot is doing.

“When I was young my father had a private pilot’s license and he took me flying just a few times,” Ariston Johnson said.

But just those few times were enough for Johnson to get hooked on aviation.

“I always wanted to learn how to fly but never really had an opportunity until I moved back to Watford City. I was born and raised here and I moved back in 2011 and I had access to an airplane and access to a flight instructor and I got started,” Johnson said.

Johnson eventually got his private pilot’s license and bought his first private airplane.

“I bought a Piper Arrow. I got my instrument rating. I got my commercial pilot license last year. I have other ratings now and I have about 600 hours in the air,” he said.

His fascination steady rising off the ground.

“When I was young, dad was interested in building a kit fox, which is another type of a kit plane. He bought the VHS cassette video that they’d give you for marketing purposes and we watched it and I thought we could do that, but that never came to fruition,” Johnson said.

But years later, using the experience he developed in and around the cockpit, he decided to take on his and his father’s dreams.

“I decided to build this kit plane,” he said.

Johnson began building the Van’s Aircraft RV-14, from scratch.

“It’s not quite like a Lego set, but it’s close. Follow the instructions,” he said.

He says the kit itself costs a little over $30,000.

“That shows up in a crate on a truck. You take it home, open the crate, you inventory all of the parts and the bags of rivets and bolts, and then you have to buy tools of course to do this it’s not something you build with a screwdriver and a hammer, but you end up with a pretty cool collection of tools and you just start working on it,” Johnson said.

The project in whole took around three years to complete and, of course, it had its difficulties.

“It’s a huge project. It’s a daily struggle to remain motivated, but at the end, you can look back and see it was a very positive experience,” he said.

From start, even to his first flight on March 13.

“The first time you fly the plane that you built, you have this just unstoppable smile and it’s a feeling like no other,” he said.

And that same feeling is what he encourages others to chase after in life.

“My advice is if you’re going to attempt a project, think you can. Have that attitude all the way through,” Johnson said. “There will be times when you think you can’t, but get over it and keep moving forward and someday you’ll get to the end of the project and look back on a tremendous experience.”

Johnson says he’s flown his hand-built plane a total of three times so far and is looking forward to getting those who helped him along the way in the cockpit so they can enjoy the experience too.

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