Man Dreams of Flight With Airplane Built From Scratch, Scrap

Paen Long still recalls the first time he saw an “airplane” in the sky.

It was 1993 and Mr. Long, who was 6 at the time, ran for kilometers to get to the landing site in Svay Rieng province. By the time he reached the aircraft, which was actually a helicopter, it was ready to take off.

Paen Long’s self-built airplane at his home in Prey Veng province (Paen Long)

“I have loved planes ever since that first time,” he said on Wednesday. But from the start, it was the mechanical workings that fascinated him, and that keen interest in flight has led him to take up a very unusual hobby: He is building his own airplane.

A modest vehicle, perhaps, but a plane all the same. It is 4.3 meters long and has an 8- meter wingspan. There is only one seat for the pilot, a plastic chair with the legs sawn off. The body and wings are made of metal from gasoline cans.

If all goes according to plan, Mr. Long should be able to take it for its first flight in April, he said.

But it’s been a long road for the 30-year-old, who earns his living as a car mechanic in Kompong Trabek district’s Prey Chhor commune, in Prey Veng province. “After I completed about 20 percent of the plane, I almost gave up,” Mr. Long said.

With his limited resources, finding the materials and technical information to make it happen was far from easy, he said.

But he kept going.

At one point, he was mired in technical difficulties, which he could not overcome without finding specific mechanical parts. But he located them, he said, at a junk airplane site along National Road 3.

Married with two young children, Mr. Long has struggled to raise the funds for the project. Still, he has so far managed to raise half of the required $10,000.

His project has left some people in his neighborhood scratching their heads—starting with his wife, Hing Mouy Heng. Her concern, however, is not about the time or money her husband spent on his obsession, but about his safety when he eventually tries to take his plane into the air.

“I asked my husband to stop several times, but he really wanted to prove that he could make it. Now, I believe in his plan,” she said.

His neighbor, Lim Seng, at first doubted that Mr. Long’s plane would ever take off. “I asked him if it would fly and he told me that every project must start somewhere and that he trusted it would work,” Ms. Seng recalled. “Now it’s getting close to success, and it may very well fly.”

Prey Chhor commune chief Sek Kheang has always been enthusiastic about Mr. Long’s plane, saying someone from his commune attempting something that new and different deserved his support. “I don’t know whether this plane will be able to fly, but we’ll have to wait and see,” he said.

In the past few weeks, Mr. Long’s project has made it onto social media, and Prey Veng governor Chea Somethy paid him a visit on Wednesday afternoon.

A word of caution, however, came on Wednesday from Keo Sivorn, a spokesman for Civil Aviation. While it is a wonderful project that should be encouraged, Mr. Long should have his plane checked by an expert before attempting his first flight for his own safety, he said.

And, just in case, he added, Mr. Long should try not to take off too close to other planes on his inaugural flight.

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