Doug Garin used to have a fear of flying.
But instead of avoiding that fear, as so many do, he decided to approach it head on - by taking flying lessons.
"I had a job that said, 'You have to fly over the country,'" Garin said. "I thought, 'Well, if I have to do that I'm going to learn what this is all about in big planes.' So I went out and started taking lessons, conquered my fear of flying and kind of kept going ever since then."
That was 15 years ago and in the time since, Garin's passion for aviation has only grown. In fact, Garin has become passionate enough about flight that he decided to build his own plane - a feat that took six and a half years to accomplish.
"There were times when I had to just stop and say a prayer and say, 'Lord, keep me going on this,'" Garin said. "I'd look at an airplane and think, 'How am I ever going to finish this whole thing?' You have to kind of discipline yourself to just work on the little pieces in front of you instead of the whole thing. It was a little frustrating at times to do that because it was such a big undertaking."
Garin bought the prototype airplane plans from an 81-year-old man in Florida. Across the world, there are about 500 plans out and 50 have been purchased, but not everyone finished the plane. However, Garin's one-seater is now complete and has a wingspan of 24 feet, weighs 520 pounds and tops out at 125 miles per hour. He built the entire plane for less than $15,000.
"The biggest thing for me is the misconception that people who own airplanes are rich, that they drive around in expensive cars and have expensive homes," Garin said. "I want to try and get the point across through this project that it's about having a passion for aviation, a passion for flight. If you don't have a lot of money you can still do it."
Although the plane's plans were already in place, Garin chose how to design it visually. He chose to paint it to appear like the Tuskegee Airmen's (a group of African-American military pilots) planes from World War II.
"They didn't get a lot of recognition. I thought, 'I'm kind of going to do that for them,'" the pilot said.
Garin vividly remembers the first time he flew the plane.
"It was winter out, and there was a lot of snow," he recalled. "I was practicing taxiing but I was going kind of fast and all the sudden a wind gust hit me and picked me up and I was flying."
Since that accidental flight, Garin has gotten in more than 100 other successful flights. And although he has conquered his fear of flying, he hasn't been without a few scary moments in the sky. During training for his pilot's license, He had to do a long cross-country run - three legs of 50 miles or more. The day he did his was a mere 2 degrees Fahrenheit.
"The airport has a policy that they don't rent when it's below zero because it's not good for engines," Garin said. "What I didn't know was it got colder as you went higher. The plane had a little heater and the windshield was barely clearing and I got lost. I said a little prayer, looked out the window and there was Lake Mille Lacs shining at me. I calmed down and flew to Brainerd. You just take it all in pieces until you get it."
In his 15 years of flying, Garin's lengthiest flight was to Texas. He had rebuilt a two-seat airplane and a man from Texas bought it under the condition that Garin fly it to him.
"I delivered it, and it took three days because there was some weather," he said. "At 100 miles per hour it takes awhile, but it's also really neat to go low and slow across the country. It's not like in a jet. It's quite an experience."
And that experience is something Garin encourages others to have as well. The price to obtain a pilot's license runs about $5,700 at Alexandria Aviation, Inc. The airport has a group called the Experimental Aircraft Association, which has about 40 members, including Garin. It is open to any aviation enthusiasts, with an annual fee of about $35. The group meets the second Thursday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at Alexandria Aviation, Inc.
"If you're an aspiring pilot or student, then there are no dues because we want to keep the interest going," Garin said. "Once a year we do the Young Eagles program, where the pilots donate their time, airplanes and fuel to fly kids for free to get them interested in aviation."
When it's all said and done, it comes down to passion for Garin.
"There's just something incredible about flying over God's country in something you built with your own two hands," he said. "Nothing compares to it."