Miss Sandy is a trim flying machine

Published 2:00 pm Wednesday, June 20, 2007

“Miss Sandy” stands majestically on the tarmac even though she is petite. She’s trim and sexy and strong. She’s an RV-4 plane that will cruise at 200 miles per hour with her 180 horse power engine, and her adjustable pitch propeller. She’s a beauty.

Mike Smith of Picayune grins as he talks about her.

“I named her ‘Miss Sandy’ for my wife, she’s passed on now,” he said on Wednesday. “Sandy was terrified of flying, but after I told her all about this plane she got easier with it. Then when she found out we could fly to Tupelo in an hour, go up there for Sunday dinner and be back that evening, she was all for it.”

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Smith wanted to build a plane, he was leaning toward building a P-51, but wasn’t quite sure about doing all the metal work. Then he flew an RV-4 and fell in love.

“I just had to have one,” he said. “You can order the kit all at once or a section at a time. If you order it all at once, you’ve got boxes stacked all over. When I got my first box in it was about four feet long and wide and about three inches deep. I saw all those rivets and screws and little bitty pieces I thought, ‘Oh, Lord, what have I gotten into.’” He shook his head then smiled. “It took about two and a half years to build her.”

He walked around the tail and pointed to the picture of a woman draped in a blue scarf and little else, “That picture was painted on the nose of a B-17 bomber. I saw it and I just knew it had to go on my plane. I had it airbrushed on. My wife got sick while I was building it and so I just named it after her. The picture wasn’t suited to go on the nose of the plane so we put it on the tail.”

The snazzy colors, black, gray with a yellow nose, sparkled in the bright sunshine as Smith pushed it from the hanger.

“It only weighs 1,000 pounds,” he said.

It is equipped with a full instrument panel and the propeller’s pitch can be changed after the plane reaches cruising speed. At take off pitch, the plane’s engine will run at higher rpms for take off.

“It’s almost the same as putting a car in overdrive,” he said. “Then when you hit cruising speed, you can change the pitch and the engine slows down, using less fuel. It’s very fuel efficient. In an hour it’ll only use about seven and one half gallons of 100 octane aircraft fuel. That would be the same as a car getting about 24 miles per gallon.”

When asked if it would do the loop-de-loops, he said, “Oh, yes. It handles just like a fighter plane. All you have to do is this.” He moved the control stick to the left for about two seconds then released it. “Just that quick and you’ve done a full 360 loop.”

The controls are sensitive and therefore not hard to handle. The navigation is GPS.

“But, if something happens, I’ve got the manuals and these controls are radio tuned to the airports’ transmitters.”

His grandson Cody Smith helped him even though he was 11 when they first started building the two-seater plane.

“He flies with me a lot,” Smith said. “He’s got the best sense of direction of anyone I know. He’ll say, ‘Can we go to Bogalusa?’ I’ll say, ‘Sure’. Then he takes us right to the spot.”

Hands on hips, Smith grins while gazing proudly at “Miss Sandy”.

“I want to build another one,” he said. “I’ve got the bug again. It may be a P-51 this time, we’ll see.”