News: Airman, pilot, plane builder: Airman completes lifelong dream
Story by Staff Sgt. Nic Kuetemeyer
SWANTON, Ohio - The hangar is quiet at the moment, but it is easy to see that much work goes on here. There are tools on the floor underneath the aircraft, waiting to be picked up and used again. Because it is unpainted, all of the shiny, hand-drilled aluminum rivets can be seen. In this state, it looks like a sort of prototype. Especially because it has “Experimental” stamped under the canopy.
This plane was hand built, and the man who built it stands next to it with a combination of pride and adoration on his face. It needs some tweaks here and there, and needs a few more bits of fiberglass, but it flies. Its builder needed to finish it before he had to move it in pieces again, but the entire project took a little longer than planned.
As Chief Master Sgt. Jeff Trabold, airfield manager at the 180th Fighter Wing in Swanton, Ohio, closes one chapter of his career and opens another in the Air National Guard, he has also completed a 22-and-a-half-year long dream of building and flying his own kit airplane.
Around the same time as Trabold became a licensed pilot, in September of 1991, he was helping an acquaintance of his build an airplane. Trabold said he had also attended the Experimental Aircraft Association convention in Oshkosh, Wis., an annual gathering of aviation enthusiasts, that summer.
“I’d been helping this gentleman build his plane so I got the idea that I could do that too,” Trabold said. “I didn’t think it would take 22 years.”
He thought the project, a Vans Aircraft RV-6, would take about 10 years, but various challenges extended his schedule. Job changes, moving around the country, and active duty tours all took up precious time, said Trabold.
“And then family, I had my first boy in 1998,” said Trabold. “Everything just slowed down after that.”
“Chief Trabold's vision and hard work have truly been inspirational,” said Lt. Col. Timothy Moses, Operations Support Squadron commander. “While many aviation buffs enjoy flying around and tinkering with airplanes, Chief Trabold took his passion to new heights by actually using his own hands to build his RV-6.”
Trabold, whose family lives in Kalkaska, Mich., has had more time than ever to work on his plane because he currently works full-time at the 180th FW, approximately four hours away from home.
“When I came down here in November 2011, I brought it down in parts and did the final assembly here,” said Trabold. “I think because my family is up north, I had more time to work on it down here. My wife basically told me it wasn’t coming back in the garage; it wasn’t coming back unless it was flying.”
His wife is the understanding sort though. Trabold was always careful to keep the plane from becoming a burden on his family.
“I had a separate checking account that my drill pay went in to,” said Trabold. “That’s what I did for the longest time. I wanted to keep family income separate from hobby income.”
Perhaps that’s why Trabold’s wife even helped him put in the almost 10,000 rivets by hand.
“This lofty goal is something that most general aviation pilots shy away from due to the extensive costs, time commitment or lack of technical knowledge,” Moses said. “These challenges did not blur Chief Trabold's vision to press on, cross a few speed bumps and create outstanding results.”
Though he has enjoyed his time with the 180th FW, Trabold is looking forward to his transition to the 110th Airlift Wing in Battle Creek, Mich. this month. His previous deployments and career changes have prepared him for this move. This new position will bring him closer to home and he plans to take his plane back to Kalkaska.
“Change is never easy, but I’ve done it a lot of times,” said Trabold. “It doesn’t scare me. I went up to Battle Creek and drilled with them. I met a lot of really nice airmen up there.”
Though his career started with his enlistment in 1990 with the 131st Fighter Wing in St. Louis, Mo., Trabold changed jobs many times. But for the past 22 years, one constant in his life has been this airplane. Now it will go, as a complete plane, back home with Trabold to Kalkaska, Mich. Trabold has humble, yet fitting, plans for his first flight in his new airplane.
“I think the first will be to take it home to northern Michigan,” said Trabold. “That’ll be its first flight.”
Moses continued, “As his commander, I have been impressed by his airplane, his work around the squadron and his dedication to the 180th FW airmen. I am proud to say that Chief Trabold fully epitomizes what the 180th Fighter Wing Chiefs are made of - good ole' fashion hard work, commitment and excellence!"