Vincent man’s business takes off

WILLIAMSTOWN – Business is soaring for a local company.

Within 12 months of purchasing a bare bones aircraft frame, Rick Gray with the Ohio Valley RV and Rocket Builders Assist Center will have that plane equipped with high-end avionics, an engine and comfortable seats . Itwill be able to do barrel rolls and fly up to 200 miles per hour.

Gray’s business is based at the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport.

“I probably have three years worth of work here,” he said.

That three years of work consists of three planes, one of which is an RV-10 under construction.

Gray, who lives in Vincent, said he gets calls everyday from those interested in purchasing a plane or building their own and that the time frame is a long one filled with many parts.

“It can get just completely overwhelming (looking at it as a whole),” Gray said. “Look at it one part at a time. Before you know it that big pile of parts starts getting smaller and smaller and smaller and the airplane starts getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and one day you realize your garage is empty because the plane’s at a hangar. It’s really fun.”

Gray said that for many people who don’t work on planes full-time, it can take five to seven years to complete a build.

“A lot of people start them and don’t finish them,” he said. “Things change and they move on to other things.”

He added that anyone can build a plane if they put their minds to it.

“It’s a matter of having the time and taking the time to do it,” he said.

Gray said his customer base is local and around the world. He has buyers in Arizona, England and Brazil.

Airport Manager Jeff McDougle said Gray’s customer base is astounding.

“It’s amazing where his customers come from,” McDougle said. “All over the world.”

Gray said there are a few differences between his planes and certified planes like Pipers and Cessnas.

“The most expensive model I make is about $50,000,” he said. “The equivalent of a certified brand new is going to be double.”

Gray said another big difference between certified planes and the kits he builds is the customization available.

“Certified Pipers and Cessnas are built by companies like Ford and Chevy (for cars),” he said. “They come from the factory and you’re limited with what you can do with them. (With mine) the sky’s the limit. We’re allowed to do anything we want.”

McDougle said the planes that come out of Gray’s shop are something to behold.

“I think it’s pretty neat because the type of aircraft manufactured is not the type of aircraft you usually see at an airport,” he said.

Gray said the price tag for many is not an issue, even considering how steep it is.

“The RV-10 (frame) runs about $55,000,” he said. “The engine is about $55,000. The avionics are $100,000 and the interior is $10,000. It all adds up.”

Gray said he charges by the hour and in an average month puts in many hours.

“I work 160 to 200 hours a month,” he said. “Last month I worked 185 hours. I do not work on Sunday. I go to church on Sundays.”

Gray has always had a passion for planes.

“When I was a kid back home in New Jersey I used to ride my bike to Pitman Airport,” he said. “It was a little grass strip. It had some old biplanes there. I would hang out there and I would poke my head into the old hangars and talk to the guys about their airplanes. I’ve always liked airplanes.”

Gray said he joined the Marine Corps, but after he got out his passion for planes re-emerged.

“The first thing I did when I got out was I got my pilot license,” he said. “Back in 2000, I got the thought I was going to build an airplane.”

Seven years later in 2007, Gray started to build his first airplane in the basement of his home. He opened his business at the airport in 2009.

McDougle said Gray took over what is an old fire station at the airport. He said it’s not uncommon for individuals to have hangars at the airport, but Gray’s case is the exception.

“You’ve got, at most airports, airplane mechanics or flight schools (that have hangars),” McDougle said. “I don’t think there’s anyone else in an airport in West Virginia who does (what Gray does).”

Being in a plane crash two years ago has not slowed Gray or his business down for long. After being in the burn center at The Ohio State University Medical Center for more than a month, he started a slow healing process. Shortly afterward, Gray made the decision to own a Pitts Special plane to get over his new-found fear of flying.

“It’s a pilot’s plane,” he said. “It’s super maneuverable and its sole purpose is to do aerobatics. I’m so busy flying the airplane I don’t have time to think about my accident; I never have a minute to think about it. It says ‘Doctors Orders’ because it was my therapy to get better.”

Gray said it is a great experience to provide someone with their ultimate dream.

“Aviation is something that’s in people’s hearts,” he said. “It brings them a thrill and excitement. You’re fulfilling someone’s dream and that’s what makes me happy; being a part of that is very satisfying.”