Native Vermonter, Vietnam War veteran, and private pilot Pete Laframboise of New Haven has had a long affinity for wings. The owner of Exchange Street Storage, and former owner of Pete's Citgo in downtown Middlebury, 62-year-old Lamframboise literally soars with eagles.
In 1948, at age 2, while toddling alongside his mother on the family dairy farm near Snake Mountain in Bridport, little Pete Laframboise was first bitten by the flying bug. He looked up and pointed skyward to a slow-moving, rumbling military aircraft.
"What's that?" the boy asked his mother looking up at what, to a two-year-old, was a genuine unidentified flying object. "Why, that's like a big bird that carries people in the sky," his mother explained.
"I don't know what plane - a DC-3, a B-17, a B-25, or a B-27," said Laframboise. "But I still remember this like it was yesterday."
From that moment on - and at some deep subconscious level - Pete Laframboise knew he was destined to become an aviator.
Jump ahead now to 1967. America was fighting a brutal jungle fight in Vietnam. Called up by the military draft, the 21-year-old Laframboise did his duty and joined thousands of other G.I.s and headed off to war. It didn't take him long to demonstrate a natural knack for aircraft engines (and automobile engines). He was assigned to serve with the Army's 1st Squadron, 10th Air Cavalry.
As a U.S. Army crew chief, Sgt. Pete Lamframboise flew as a left door gunner aboard an olive-drab Bell UH-1C helicopter. As an expert mechanic, the Vermonter managed some stick time flying the "Huey" while doing maintenance checks. He decided almost immediately to take the big leap and get a pilot's certificate when stateside.
After the Army, Laframboise's interest in flying made him somewhat of an aviation "groupie" at the Middlebury State Airport. He and airport operator and flight instructor Alphonse Quensel would go aloft in the senior pilot's roaring Stearman biplane.
"Alphonse was, without doubt, one of the best pilots in this area," Laframboise said. "He was well liked and respected by everyone in the aviation community. He had an endless supply of flying tales - known as 'hanger flying' for the pilots and wanna-be pilots that stopped by - and sometime would put on a private airshow at the airport just for our enjoyment. For a time he would have a large bowl of baked beans, usually on Friday, for anyone that stopped by."
Laframboise would spend all of his income learning to fly. He couldn't get enough of it. In addition to Quesnel as mentor, instructor Judd Glenn helped the student pilot learn to fly a Cessna 150, a Cessna 172, and an Aero Commander Lark.
"Alphonse was a dealer for Aero Commander planes manufactured by North American Aviation," Laframboise said. "They were brand new and it was fun to fly them. I learned very quickly." On the way to his flight exam at the Rutland Airport, Laframboise logged his fortieth required flying hour.
In late 2005, after flying his own Piper Archer for several years, Laframboise decided to get involved in the new and exciting world of homebuilt sport aircraft.
Beginning back in the 1990s, America's newest sport aircraft became lighter, speedier, and constructed of either traditional aircraft metals such as aluminum or new composite, synthetic materials such as carbon fiber. Engines became lighter and more fuel efficient than their older, less adventuresome cousins.
While considered safe and fun to fly, homebuilt aircraft are not without risk. And because they are not fully assembled by the manufacturer under rigid factory guidelines, homebuilt kit planes have been classified as "experimental" by the Federal Aviation Administration.
In 2006, Pete Laframboise began shopping around for an experimental aircraft to build himself. He joined the Experimental Aircraft Association and began an intense quest to construct, and then fly, experimental wings made with his own hands.
Next week: Building and flying the experimental RV-7A.