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The men who built a flying machine

Father-son team win championship for their plane at Arlington Fly-In Air Show


by: JAIME VALDEZ - David Charno and Jon Charno proudly pose in front of their grand champion aircraft.Flying high above the cloudy Oregon sky in a plane they built themselves, father-and-son team David and Jon Charno make their way to the coast for breakfast.

After the eight years they spent building the aircraft, they are happy for its completion and proud of the outcome. Looking back on all those years of building, they never would have guessed that they were creating a champion, but that’s exactly what they did: At the Arlington Fly-In Air Show July 11 in Arlington, Wash., they won the grand championship in the custom kit-built aircraft category.

The victorious Charnos, from Lake Oswego, keep the plane in a shared hangar in Aurora and often fly it around Oregon, even just to go out for a meal or to visit the beach for the day.

Their interest in airplanes stems from a long family history of experience in aviation.

Jon, 30, has been passionate about planes his entire life. He’s been riding in them since he was 2 years old. After graduating from Lakeridge High School, he studied airplanes in school for years before becoming an aircraft mechanic. He has experience working on small airplanes, warbirds and corporate planes and is also a pilot. His father, David, who’s been a pilot for 36 years, is certified to fly production airplanes and has owned several others.

David’s father was a World War II Marine Corps fighter pilot, and his father-in-law owned two airplanes and often took David along for the ride.

It was always a dream for the two men to build their own plane, so about three-quarters of Jon’s way through school, David asked if he would like to build a plane for him. The Charnos chose to build a Van’s Aircraft RV-7 designed by Richard VanGrunsven, and they built the entire plane themselves.

Jon ended up doing about 90 percent of the work while David pitched in when he could. With David’s background as a pilot and Jon’s knowledge about mechanics, the pair was able to create a masterpiece. by: JAIME VALDEZ - Jon Charno takes the RV-7 plane he built out of the Aurora airport hangar.

The aircraft, built in Jon’s spare time, is like a sports car that has a small frame, big engine and capacity for seating two people. With its 14,000 rivets and a 25-foot wingspan, it flies 23,000 feet up in the air, soaring above the Pacific Northwest’s mountains and valleys at 200 miles per hour with its casual aerobatics.

Jon and David use the plane all the time, often just to look around or to go to other air shows. There are about 100 airports in Oregon, and so the father and son often eat at the restaurants near the small ports. They described how all airplanes have their own mission, and this RV-7 is just for fun. It is lightweight and climbs fast, whereas the last plane the Charnos owned was like a station wagon that was slower and meant for taking on vacation.

Although the RV-7 may have been created for the sake of fun, the father and son decided to show it off at the Arlington show, where there were about 50,000 people and many big sponsors. There were hundreds of other contestants in the kit-built category. There were more RV-7s than anything else entered, so they weren’t expecting to win.

“We never started out with the idea to build a grand champion,” David said. “We just wanted a safe airplane. But as we went on, we noticed ours was better than anything else out there, so it evolved into a grand champion.”

The Charnos’ plane was indeed unique. All the planes in their category were custom made, but while many other contestants farm out the work, Jon did all the avionics work himself. The kits for building planes allow for the creation of the airframe, but that’s the easy part. After that, Jon had to hook up the engine, avionics and fuel system and paint the plane. He also built the glass cockpit with high-tech computer screens.

“Anybody can build these (kit-built planes) with the basic techniques,” Jon said, “but the craftsmanship takes skill.”

The Charnos’ plane clearly exudes that skill, as it is carefully constructed to be both safer and better looking than what someone could buy pre-made.

This is the first show in which the Charnos entered a plane, and since they won the grand championship, they cannot compete at Arlington with the same plane again.

Jon has recieved much recognition for this accomplishment, as it is rare to win the first time up and he is the youngest contestant to win an award.

Through his work with the plane, which is now named the “RV-7 Jon Charno,” Jon has earned a great reputation as a craftsman who will get the job done efficiently and correctly and has gained much respect among plane owners in the community.



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