Former Plant City Mayor and retired civil engineer Randy Larson had dreams of soaring through the skies in his own airplane. So he built one.
Larson, who lived in Plant City for 30 years before moving to a lake house at Crooked Lake near Lake Wales, purchased a kit to build a Rans S-21 Outbound, a two-seater, 180-horsepower all-metal high wing aircraft with exceptional payload and speed range and short-range take-off and landing capability.
The kit was delivered to his home in September 2021. Inside the large crates, thousands and thousands of pieces of airplane parts beckoned him. “When the kit showed up, I opened the boxes and thought what have I gotten myself into,” he said.
The instruction manual, three thick binders, painstakingly broke down the step-by-step instructions to put together the rudder, wings, fuselage and finishings. “I just started at page one and went page by page,” he said.
After 951 hours of build-time spanning almost 18 months, documenting the entire process, the plane was completed. The leftover parts didn’t phase him. “I went through all of them and the plane came with some options where you could do things differently and those parts were for those options,” he said.
Last month, the Federal Aviation Administration issued him an airworthiness certificate, giving him authorization to operate the aircraft in flight. He flew the plane on its inaugural flight two weeks ago at Bartow Executive Airport. “It was great,” said Larson, who flew the test flight with a Southwest Airlines pilot who had experience in that type of aircraft. “We taxied off the runway and went into the wild blue yonder, flying about two and a half hours that day but staying close to the airport,” he said. The plane performed exceptionally well. “It reaffirmed my decision, it flutters like a leaf,” he said. “Even people in the tower were complimentary.” Built for speed and power, he’s heard people refer to his plane fondly as the 3/4 ton truck of the sky, a favorite among Alaskans. Larsen needed a plane with a powerful engine, which this kit came with, because he eventually wanted to put it on floats for use on the lake.
He earned his pilot’s license in his 20’s but the flying bug re-emerged after he retired and moved to the lake house, where his neighbor had a seaplane. “My wife didn’t enjoy flying so for 38 years I didn’t fly,” he said.
An inactive pilot, he took a Rusty Pilots seminar and completed the requirements to make his license current. “I was smitten again,” he said. Another lifelong dream was to become instrument-rated, so three years ago, at 65 years old, he embarked on that journey. “It wasn’t cheap but I enjoyed every minute of it,” he said. “The rating allows me license to punch through the clouds.”
He discovered Rans planes after a 2019 visit to EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The following year he flew to its headquarters in Kansas, where he flew the plane for the first time. “It’s an extremely stable plane and very fast and can cruise at 150 miles per hour,” he said.
Empty, the plane weighs 1,000 pounds and holds a gross weight of 800 pounds. Sticks and pedals in front of both seats mean the pilot can sit on either side to fly. The plane features glass panels, touchscreens, a full autopilot and GPS.
Larson now has five and a half hours of airtime. He’s working on trimming the aircraft, adjusting the aerodynamic forces on the control surfaces so that the aircraft maintains a smooth ride.
Soaring 3,000 feet above the ground, he said the landscape looks small. As he flies over Plant City, he can see the strawberry tower and festival grounds.
He’s planning a two-day trip to Oshkosh. For Larsen, the sky’s the limit, no pun intended, on where he can travel. Roads? He doesn’t need….roads.
“It’s a freedom like you’ll never experience in your life,” he said.