Good Life

Local pilot builds himself a set of wings

A view of John Corneal’s one man jet on Tuesday at University Park Airport.
A view of John Corneal’s one man jet on Tuesday at University Park Airport.

In a hangar due east of the University Park Airport, the baby pictures were flying fast and furious.

If you’ve ever shared an office, a name — or heck, even a sidewalk— with the proud parent of a new jet, then you probably already know the drill. John Corneal scrolled through a series of finger-friendly snapshots of airplane parts, first in boxes, next hanging on the walls of his garage, then ... well, we could be here all day.

“There it is being loaded up for the paint shop. ... There it is at the paint shop,” Corneal narrated.

I’ve wanted to build a jet since I was a kid.

John Corneal

A chiropractor by trade and a pilot by avocation, Corneal has earned the right to brag a little. One-man jets do not grow on trees — this one came from a quick-build kit — and everything from the patriotic color scheme to the custom avionics in the console bear his signature.

And not just on the checks.

Building a jet is research intensive, labor intensive — really just intensive — requiring as much effort as you’d want to put into anything that’s going to keep you from being depressurized at 14,000 feet in the air. Corneal took classes on sheet metal work and wired many of the electronics himself.

“I’ve wanted to build a jet since I was a kid,” Corneal said.

How fast it goes is irrelevant. This makes jet noises.

John Corneal

There’s not really a secret origin story here. Growing up, the most exotic form of transportation that Corneal’s family owned was a Ford Falcon. He wants to build planes because he wants to build planes.

If you absolutely have to hang it on something, consider the freedoms at stake. Corneal keeps another plane — a four seat Moony Ovation — in the same hangar, convenient for spontaneous trips to climates where summer has already touched down.

“We’ve gotten in that plane and flown to the Outer Banks for the day and then been back for dinner,” Corneal said.

The jet scratches a different itch, located somewhere in the same hard-to-reach spot as a two-seat Lamborghini. At the right altitude, the plane can cover about 275 car miles on a 40-gallon gas tank. Family excursions to Disneyland would be ill advised.

This is about something else, a high-pitched whine pitching between hangars, building to a dull roar that might just call attention to a distant speck canvassing the sky.

“How fast it goes is irrelevant. This makes jet noises,” Corneal said.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready