Mojave's thriving aerospace community spawns home-built airplane hobbyists – Los Angeles Times

By day, Justin Gillen works on a satellite-launching aircraft with a wingspan longer than a football field.

But in his spare time, the Scaled Composites project engineer tinkered for 2 ½ years with his hobby: a Tango 2 airplane, which isn’t much larger than an SUV. Now Gillen flies the plane — which he’s dubbed the Tango Time Machine — as far away as Oshkosh, Wis.

More than 40 years ago, legendary aerospace engineer Burt Rutan moved to Mojave to take advantage of the cheap land and open spaces.

Today, the company he founded, Scaled Composites, builds sleek and unconventional aircraft in hangars and facilities right in town. The hallway of the Mojave Air and Space Port is lined with photos of one of Rutan’s most iconic designs: the Voyager aircraft, which completed the first nonstop flight around the world without refueling.

Over the years, other aerospace firms followed Rutan into the desert. And the rising concentration of pilots and engineers spawned an unusual band of hobbyists: home-built airplane enthusiasts.

At least a dozen flight buffs flock to hangars on nights, weekends and during any spare moments to build full-scale airplanes, either from scratch or with parts provided in a kit. Some of the completed craft, many of them thousands of hours in the making, are used for air races or casual flying.

“The nice thing about Mojave is you can do anything you can think of,” Gillen said. “As long as you approach it from a reasonable safety aspect, nobody’s going to stop you.”

For Gillen, 37, plane building helped distinguish him as an engineer at Scaled Composites, provided a way to escape the desert — and gave him a side gig. Along with former Scaled co-worker Elliot Seguin, he is a test pilot

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