“We started our aviation career,” she corrected herself, “not career but fun, in March of 1949.”
From then on, aviation was their life.
Leonard earned his pilot's license in August 1949. Rita got her license in December 1951.
They bought their second plane, a four-place Stinson Voyager, in 1950 but sold it in 1956 because it had become too costly.
They joined the Experimental Aircraft Association, an organization for aviation enthusiasts, and learned about home-built airplanes.
With nothing but a set of old automobile tools, a backyard garage and a history of working on cars, Leonard was determined to construct a flying machine. He bought plans and parts, and Rita and Leonard were on a journey back to the sky.
“It was a novelty,” Rita said.
Every day after work they would spend hours in that garage, getting visits from neighbors and others curious for a peek.
Some 2,300 hours and 19 months later, the couple had their first home-built airplane. They later completed a second home-built plane. This second project was a bigger undertaking. Leonard wanted to build a plane of his own design, and that's what he did, spending six years in the process.
Leonard ended up designing three more planes.
Rita said Leonard would have to update his pilot's medical certificate each year, as well as perform check rides every two years. He had all his proper certifications at the time of the crash. Advanced age alone doesn't exclude a person from maintaining a private pilot's license.
Today, Rita is no longer flying, but she maintains her interest in aviation. Though Leonard is gone, Rita is never far from a memory. Her walls, shelves and drawers overflow with old photos, articles and scrapbooks.
“I think Leonard and I probably had one of the most exciting lives in aviation,” she said. “It bonded us closer. We both loved the flying and we loved the association with friends that flew.”