In the two years since Bill Scheltema finished building his airplane, he's won two awards, including one that he refers to as his "Oscar." Scheltema was presented with a 1-foot-tall statue of Charles Lindbergh for having the best home-built airplane at the Experimental Aircraft Association Air Venture Oshkosh in Wisconsin last summer. The fly-in event is the biggest in the world.
Then, in April, the 76-year-old entered his plane, the "Scheltema Mustang II" into the Sun n' Fun Fly-In competition in Lakeland, Fla., and won the "Best Low Wing" award for home-built airplanes.
"Everyone told me, Yeah, you've got a winner there,' " Scheltema said. "One lady said, Boy, you've got the best-looking airplane here.' "
The two-seater experimental aircraft was built mostly from scratch in his Norton Shores garage. Scheltema bought his own tools and parts, and used a drawing to assemble it, based on a printed guide.
A painting of the winged horse Pegasus graces the tail of his shiny red and white aircraft. The wings of the plane fold up, allowing him to keep it in his temperature-controlled garage instead of renting space at the Muskegon County Airport.
For many years, Scheltema attended the Oshkosh air show just to see the planes. Last year was the first time he was able to enter.
"It's kinda like a big show and tell," he said.
His wife, Beatrice, 76, said she didn't expect it to take Bill 20 years to finish the plane.
"I thought maybe 10 years," she said. "It kept dragging on and on.
"But I always knew where he was."
The whole family was thrilled when they learned of Bill's awards, Beatrice said.
"I was real proud of him," Beatrice said. "I was real happy for him because he worked real hard for it."
Scheltema started flying in 1958 and earned both private and commercial licenses, landing him a job as a pilot for company that sold and repaired aircraft. He also worked for Muskegon's Continental Motors, testing engines and flying planes across the country. After getting laid off, Scheltema ran a wallpaper business for 15 years.
He always knew that someday he would enter his plane in competitions. Now, after winning two awards, Scheltema isn't sure if he'll enter any more.
"I don't know what I have to win anymore," Scheltema said.
He does plan to continue showing his plane at fly-ins like Oshkosh this summer.
There's not much work to be done on the plane, besides regular maintenance. Scheltema flies it about once a week, often taking someone from his family along. He said his favorite thing about flying can be likened to piloting a motorboat when the water is calm.
"Every little turn you make seems so perfectly smooth," he said. "The feeling you get ... on a beautiful day ... (It's) hands-off and just look out around."
Photo - Scheltema family
Bill Scheltema shows the two-seater experimental aircraft he built -- mostly from scratch in his garage. It took him 20 years to build the plane.
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