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He had quite a hand in this beauty

Meet Adelene. She has a 35-foot wing span, weighs 1,250 pounds and can travel at up to 230 mph.

Adelene is the pride and joy of Spring Hill businessman David Russell Jr., who built the 18-foot Velocity aircraft with his own hands.

Russell, who operates a swimming pool supply and repair business on Mariner Boulevard in Spring Hill, has spent the last year and half _ "2,700 man-hours" to be exact _ fabricating the four-passenger aircraft in his spare time.

The 38-year-old pilot and his family held a christening ceremony for Adelene on Sunday at the Hernando County Airport.

"My wife and I are both pilots," said Russell in an interview last week from the bubble-shapedhangar where he stores Adelene, named in memory of a beloved aunt.

"I've been flying for 14 years. We were looking for an aircraft to take weekend trips with. Factory-built aircraft are pretty much rundown and old. In order to find a new aircraft like this, you doggone have to build it, and that's what we came up with."

Russell isn't alone. Several pilots at the Hernando airport are building new planes or renovating older models, like World War II fighter planes. "It's not that uncommon," said airport manager Edward R. Wuellner.

In fact, more and more pilots are building their own planes instead of buying them because major small-aircraft manufacturers like Piper and Cessna have cut back on production to avoid liability problems. As a result, there is less selection, and models are older, said Anthony Silva, who was an aviation safety inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration for 25 years.

Silva is now retired and living in Spring Hill, but he is designated by the FAA to conduct "air worthiness" inspections on home-built aircraft like Russell's.

"It's really a fine aircraft," Silva said. "(Russell) did a really good job. The two things we look for are the quality of materials and workmanship, and, in this case, they both seemed to be superior."

So how did he do it? Russell, wearing a denim shirt, jeans and Reeboks, pulled out a photo album showing each stage of the process.

He built the frame from a model kit that he bought for $20,000 from Velocity Aircraft in Sebastian, near Vero Beach.

A few years ago, Russell saw a similar Velocity plane on display at an air show in Lakeland. He liked the slick design and aerodynamic capabilities and decided he wanted to build one for himself.

The kit consisted mainly of foam molds, fiberglass strips, a 600-page manual and instructional videos.

Russell built the wings and hull of the plane in his garage in Spring Hill, and then assembled the plane at the bubble hangar, which he leases from Hernando Hangar Rentals.

He had to buy his own tools and equipment, including a compressor and a resin pump for layering the fiberglass around the molds.

The fiberglass, stronger than the type used to make boat shells, is designed to withstand as much gravitational force as a fighter jet, Russell said.

Not included in the kit was another rather important component: the engine.

After many phone calls, Russell picked up a 200-horsepower engine from Air-Tec Inc. in Orlando, which builds and remakes airplane engines. The engine and propeller are in the back of the plane to create less noise and more efficiency.

All told, the plane cost more than $40,000. A similar model from the factory would cost about $80,000, Russell said.

Apart from some help from an aircraft engineer to install the engine, Russell built most of the plane himself. He had experience in metal work and carpentry and had done fiberglass work on Corvettes, so the process was not entirely unfamiliar.

More than 1,000 pieces of sandpaper were used to give the plane a high-quality finish, Russell noted, as he affectionately brushed his hand over the smooth wing.

Adelene passed the FAA's air-worthiness inspection, and Russell took the plane up for its first test flight _ with a parachute _ late last year. By law, he was required to do the test flights solo.

Russell's wife, Michelle, who helped build the plane, was a little nervous, but not Dad, who is also an avid flier. Russell Sr., a former county commissioner, said he was "comfortable with it" because he had seen his son build the plane from start to finish and knew it was safe.

In fact, Russell says his plane is probably safer than most factory-built small planes, which don't always come free of mechanical glitches or loose bolts.

"We know every nut and bolt in this thing," he said, after pulling Adelene out of the hangar onto a wind-swept yard.

How does it fly? "It's like a little Porsche when you get inside, and that's exactly how it drives _ like a Porsche."

Porsche or not, Russell doesn't plan to build any more planes. One was enough.

"I won't do another one," he said. "But I wouldn't exchange the experience for anything."

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