Tom's Flight Dreams

I've topped the winds-swept heights where never Lark or even Eagle flew...


Out of the night that covers me,

      Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

      For my unconquerable soul.


In the fell clutch of circumstance

      I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

      My head is bloody, but unbowed.


Beyond this place of wrath and tears

      Looms but the horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

      Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.


It matters not how strait the gate,

      How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

            I am the captain of my soul.


William Ernest Henley, 1875



Long-EZ N13YV "Invictus" on the day I bought her, March 2, 1990


I am not the original builder of my Long-EZ – that distinction goes to Carlton Kibbler. From what I understand, he had experience building composite sailplanes in California during the 70’s and 80’s. A gentleman by the name of Ferde Grofe (son of the American composer by that name) made the promo movies for Burt Rutan, in exchange for Burt helping him arrange to have a Long-EZ built by an experienced craftsman.


After several years’ building, the plane was ready for first flight in March 1984. The pilot for the first flight was none other than Dick Rutan, who wrote: “First flight. Very nice – you did a real fine job building. Performed aero maneuvers – rolls”. After just 7 hours of flight time, Ferde was checked out in the plane by a CFI as the pilot, including loops and rolls. Not quite the 40 hours of solo time wanted by the FAA, but it worked out OK in this case.


I purchased the plane on March 2, 1990, when it had flown approximately 325 hours. Its registration number is N13YV, but it’s name is “Invictus”, which is the title of a poem by William Ernest Henley. It speaks to the ability of the human spirit to overcome any challenge that they may encounter.


I didn’t have enough money at the time to afford to purchase the plane, and banks were unwilling to loan anyone, especially a 26-year old Naval officer, $30,000 to purchase a plane. Somehow, I managed to convince my mother to loan me the money, under a promise that I would repay her over 7 years.


I bought the plane without ever having flown it (I had been given a ride by Dave Ronneberg in his much-higher performance Long-EZ), but that was enough to get me “hooked”. My first takeoff as pilot in my Long-EZ was out of Santa Monica, and I headed home to Seattle. The trip itself was an experience that almost cost me both my plane and my life due to ignorance of piston/propeller planes in general, and the Long-EZ in particular. Almost all my time to that point had been in high performance military jets, so I wasn’t prepared for the life of a bug smasher pilot.


I made it home and began to learn about my plane, both how to maintain and modify her, as well as to fly her. It is a process that continues today, but I must admit that I really enjoy in equal proportion both the flying and maintenance aspects.


Over the years, I have put far more hours into rebuilding and modifying the plane than it would have taken me to build it from scratch, but I have had the advantage of being able to fly her throughout this time.


For more information about the Long-EZ design in general, as well as the modifications and characteristics of Invictus in particular, click on the menu buttons to the left.

Long-EZ "Invictus" N13YV


Invictus as she appears today over Mt. Baker