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Retired Dentist’s Bird’s-Eye View Of Australia From His Homemade Jet Aircraft

By James Tugwell ABC

Look up on any sunny weekend on the NSW south coast and you may just see a 5-metre-long bright red jet zooming along the coastline.

What you might not notice, as it zooms past at nearly 500 kilometres per hour, is that the jet is homemade — the first of its model to be flown outside of America.

Andre Viljoen Flies His Homemade Jet
(Supplied: Marg Craig Photography)

It took retired dentist Andre Viljoen more than 3,000 hours in his small hangar in Moruya to build the plane from a kit he ordered online.

But when he is gliding 500 feet above the coastline, it is worth it.

"It's probably like being in a very, very fast racing car," Dr Viljoen says.

The Subsonnex jet is the latest addition to Dr Viljoen's aviation collection: he built his previous four aircraft in his garage.

Building homemade planes
From as young as four years old, Dr Viljoen dreamt about soaring through the clouds and he has never outgrown his aeronautical fascination.

He tinkered with model aeroplanes as a teenager and settled for flying remote-controlled aircraft, but always aspired for more.

As soon as he was able, Dr Viljoen began piloting gliders. He wanted his own plane, but the cost of buying and keeping an aircraft was too much.

A joy flight with a friend in Temora, in the Riverina, in 1992 reignited the dream.

Upon returning to the ground, the pilot turned to him and said, "You know this is homemade, right?"

"It just blew me away," Dr Viljoen says. Homemade kits made owning and keeping a plane more affordable.

Dr Viljoen bought his first kit two days later — an RV-6 — a propeller-powered, two-seater aircraft.

He says the process is "surprisingly similar" to building the small model planes of his youth.

"It's really not that difficult. If you can open a can of beer, you can build a plane," Dr Viljoen says.

It took him 21 months of tinkering in his garage and 15,000 rivets, but Dr Viljoen was overjoyed to finish.

The kits are ordered from the United States and come with complete plans. They range in price from $30,000 to $1 million. Dr Viljoen's cost around $230,000 each.

Each of his aircraft is registered with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. While homemade planes fall under the "experimental aircraft" regulations of the aviation authority, the Sports Aircraft Association of Australia (SAAA) website says there is "nothing 'experimental' about them".

SAAA technical advisor Norm Edmunds says kit planes are "very common and very safe".

"The aluminium parts are pre-formed, pre-punched, and pre-drilled so they go together very easily," he says.

"They're very exact and really foolproof.

"The attention to detail they achieve is off the scale — far better than a factory-built aircraft would ever be."

Mr Edmunds says if you can build a letterbox, you can build a plane.

"We have people who have never held a screwdriver who have built an aeroplane," he says.

All registered aircraft in Australia must undergo an annual inspection similar to servicing a motor vehicle.

A bird's-eye perspective of Australia
Constructing his own planes has given Dr Viljoen freedom and allowed him to explore parts of Australia most people never get to see.

When Dr Viljoen was practising dentistry, he would come home from a busy week and study the map of Australia hanging on the wall of his house.

Large portions of Australia are uncontrolled airspace, so no clearance is required to pass through.

He has seen most of the continent from 9,000 feet in his four-seater RV-10.

"Sometimes I would say to my wife 'I'm going to go put my feet in the Indian Ocean this weekend. If you want to come along, you're welcome.'"

"We would fly from here to Alice Springs and spend the night there. The next day we'd be in Broome riding a camel along the beach.

"I would literally just dial in the unique airport code, climb to altitude, hit autopilot, and read a book. It's that simple.

"It opens up some amazing doors for you. It allows you to get to some beautiful spots like the Buccaneer Archipelago or the Kimberley."

Dr Viljoen says outback stations roll out the red carpet for him and his wife.

"Outback Australia is just stunning and the people are amazing," he says.

"My wife will phone the outback stations and offer to bring prawns, fish and oysters if they look after us."

Now Dr Viljoen flies around south-east NSW three or four times a week and the thrill never fades.

"You never forget your first solo flight," he says.

"The thrill I experienced then I absolutely still experience today. It's just a wonderful feeling."

He hasn't ruled out adding more aircraft to his fleet in the future.

"I've learnt to say 'never say never,'" he says.

"I don't think I'm going to build another one, but you just don't know.

"I could get the itch, and who knows what could happen?"

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