Niles grad’s dream takes wingPublished 8:59pm Monday, July 23, 2012
In 30 years since his 1982 graduation from Niles High School, Andy Millin spent almost half that span building a one-of-a-kind airplane.
Six thousand hours and almost $100,000 later, Millin, president of Kalamazoo Software, has been enjoying his Velocity since April, including winging to Jerry Tyler Memorial Airport’s fly-in for pancakes.
The workshop addition built on his Plainwell home in 1996 has been converted to a luxurious master bedroom and tiled bath with walk-in shower and fireplace, his way of thanking his wife, Theresa, for unflagging support.
The Velocity color scheme incorporates her favorite color, purple.
“She let me build an airplane,” he said.
Now he’s an empty nester and, ironically, being a “plane nut” led him into bicycling.
Millin, who has a computer science degree from Western Michigan University, made the momentous decision to build the Velocity in 1995.
“Unfortunately,” he said, “we didn’t have space to do it at the time or the money. Knowing things don’t happen unless you make them, I set the date with my wife that on my birthday (March 3) in 2000, we will order the kit. In the meantime, we moved to Plainwell and a house that had room on the lot for the workshop.”
Construction consumed May through June 2000.
“I’m too excited to be intimidated,” he wrote July 4.
The idea germinated from a Kalamazoo air show featuring a B-17.
His wife surprised him with a ride, which included a year’s membership in the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) and its monthly publication.
“It was all downhill after that,” Millin said.
The Velocity was the “most beautiful plane I’d ever seen and (wanting to build one) was all over but the shouting,” he said.
Last weekend, he flew to Oshkosh, Wis., for the EAA air show, which attracts 10,000 planes and a million visitors.
EAA conducts workshops on such skills as riveting aluminum.
It’s repeating simple steps 20,000 times that summons “flat-out tenacity.”
“It’s not so much learning to build an airplane,” Millin said, “but what you learn about yourself. Could I climb this mountain? I didn’t know. How long it takes is part of the process. It’s not realistic to set a deadline.”
Either he concerned himself with the part at hand or “you start looking around at the overwhelming enormity and get depressed. It’s like rowing a boat across the ocean in a fog and having faith there’s a shore on the other side, even if you can’t see it. I don’t have another one in me now that I know how big the elephant is.”
Millin, who flies out of Allegan Airport, documented his progress on a blog posted with 2,064 photographs so his dad could keep track from Niles. He is the second of Merielyn and Robert’s four children. Brother Gene operates Millin Automotive Repair. Andy played football and baseball for the Vikings. Cousin Jim is Niles’ police chief; his wife, Kelly, is Dowagiac Union High School assistant principal.
Older daughter, Megan, is an EEG technician reading brain waves at Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo. She is also an artist. Chelsea parlayed service in Seattle with AmeriCorps into a position with Asian Counseling and Referral Service.
There might be some business travel applications for the Velocity.
Millin’s business is developing internet apps. Theresa loves to travel and made a list of desired destinations from coast to coast.
“If we go out for lobster, it can be in Maine,” he said.
The first 40 hours consist of a test program in a prescribed area without passengers to check the aircraft for any “bad habits.”
He’s flown clear of that restriction, but remains conservative about expanding the distance envelope. There are things to tweak as well as interior refinements.
Millin packed on pounds during his sedentary slog.
“It was good for the project, not my health,” he said, so he has taken up biking.
“The bike was a revelation. I can’t go back,” he said, looking forward to the Dick Allen Lansing to Mackinaw Bicycle Tour Aug. 29.
They’ll also bike the Tuscany region of Italy now that the master bedroom isn’t a hangar and the cupboard is bare of elephants.