Just last week we had the opportunity to sit down with Dave, a 20-year Wood River Valley resident who loves to fly, ski, and spend his time building airplanes. Dave has had a passion for airplanes since he was a young child, he would read comic books that were about planes. As he got older his passion only ran deeper for all things surrounding airplanes. When he was still not old enough to drive he would ride his bike down to the local airport to pump gas for free plane rides. By the time Dave was 16 he had the opportunity to solo his first aircraft and the rest of his flying time is history.
After graduating from high school, Dave continued flying as much as he could afford to while attending college, followed by medical school. In the 60’s, while still in medical school, Dave, like many others, was drafted to go to war. Once back, Dave became a resident of surgery in Baltimore, Maryland, where he bought his first, of many, airplanes. As Dave became a more experienced pilot he began exploring acrobatic flying. As he explained it, “it’s kind of like airshow flying, but very organized.”
Once Dave completed his med school practice, he and his wife landed in Salt Lake City where they grew their family and where Dave practiced in plastic surgery for 25 years. While Salt Lake City was home base for the family, they spent quite a bit of time in the Sun Valley area, skiing, backcountry flying, and enjoying the beauty of the valley. Dave first came to Sun Valley on a ski trip in 1958 and returned frequently to share the love of the area with his family.
After retirement Dave continued working in surgery, this time overseas where he would visit children with cleft palates. Dependent on the destination, he would often fly his plane to these areas for surgery, especially in South America. Dave’s passion for helping others was very apparent when we sat down for this conversation. He has fond memories of those days, and we’re thankful for people like him.
As we dove deeper into our conversation we learned that not only is Dave a skilled surgeon, adventurous pilot, a great friend, husband, and dad, but he has been an adrenaline junky. In 1963 Dave and a group of skilled mountaineers (spanning from the Tetons to Mountain Rainier) climbed Mount Everest. They were the 3rd group to ever summit, the firsts from the West Ridges and the first Americans. Dave was about 800 ft. from summiting when he found 4 teammates who were missing. He had spent the night searching (a few hundred feet below) for his teammates that had to spend the night out in the elements at 28,000ft. For whatever reason, there was no wind that night and they all survived. However, when Dave came across the missing teammates they were in bad shape and had been without oxygen for quite some time. Dave still had oxygen and gave it up so that his teammates could survive. It took all night, but Dave was able to safely get all of his teammates to basecamp. Hearing Dave talk about his experience was incredible!
Nowadays Dave has taken on the hobby of building his own airplanes. About 10 years ago he decided to sell his plane and build a new one. The only issue was Dave had never welded anything before. Lucky for Dave, he had a great mentor throughout the process. The first plane that Dave decided to build was an acrobatic plane, we asked him what the real difference is between an acrobatic plane and a “normal” plane, and he answered with “acrobatic planes are designed to be unstable, they can fly upside down just as well as they can right-side up.” Dave also mentioned that acrobatic planes are built much stronger than the generic plane because of the G loads. “If you pull 9 Gs in a normal aircraft, the wings will fly right off.” After completing the acrobatic plane Dave flew it for a while and then sold it to build the current plane that he’s working on, a single seater backcountry plane.
For designing these planes, Dave essentially combines aspects of a few different planes that he has liked in the past. “It’s really not rocket science, you see what works and you know what works, so you pull those elements in,” Dave’s building a plane now that resembles a Piper Cub, only stronger. When we went to take a look at the planes progress the only thing left was the landing gear. Once the landing gear is on Dave will be out flying again.
We closed out our conversation with Dave, by asking him what he likes most about flying out of Friedman Memorial Airport are. A few things that he noted are; the administration at this airport are fantastic, they care about the small guys as much as they do about the big guys. Also, the backcountry access out of SUN is phenomenal. The many landing strips are described in the “bible” (a guidebook written by local pilot Galen Hanselman). It is not only a great flying book, it is a history of the settlement of central Idaho. A “must” book for those who love Idaho.
Favorite local places to fly into: Sulfur Creek for breakfast, Stanley to the bakery, Upper Loon Creek because of the technical landing, and truly most of the Middle Fork’s backcountry strips. Lastly, we asked Dave where his favorite places to fly are. He responded with “it’s really a toss-up because they’re completely different places, but we’ve enjoyed landing on the Caribbean islands where commercial planes cannot land, and again, the Middle Fork because of its remote beauty.”
We would like to thank Dave for taking the time to meet with us, and if you have any questions for Dave, message us and we’ll pass them along!