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'Bucket list' has Kansas man flying high

10/12/2013

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

Ever since he was a wide-eyed 5-year-old who saw his first airplane, Glenn Rees wanted to fly.

At Saturday's 30th anniversary fly-in for RANS Designs Inc., 4600 U.S. Highway 183 Alternate, Rees got a chance to take to the skies for perhaps one last time.

Rees and his wife, Deb, hooked up a camper to their pickup truck and hit the road from their home outside Silver Lake on Sept. 25 to check off items on his bucket list.

In June, Rees, 67, was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. The couple is taking the trip now before heading back to the doctor to see how an experimental drug is working to fight the cancer.

Among the stops have been a trip to Grand Island, Neb., to see an Indian museum and car museum, and the zoo outside Salina. They have been in Hays since Monday, where they toured Sternberg Museum of Natural History in addition to RANS. Today, they head for Fort Larned.

Rees flew for the first time when he was 17, on his senior sneak. Shortly after he got a job out of high school, he took flying lessons.

"I don't know how to describe it," Rees said of his love of flying. "It's the freedom you have in the air, what you can see from the air."

Rees was thrilled to be in a plane again at the fly-in, which was at the air strip behind the RANS plant.

"It was wonderful," said Rees, who even got to take the controls for a little bit. "I can't describe how it feels."

RANS, which last month celebrated its 40th anniversary for its bicycle manufacturing plant, has been making planes at its plant for the last 30 years.

"I wanted to be an aircraft manufacturer from the very beginning," said Randy Schlitter, founder of the company. "I didn't find any avenues until the FAA created a ... category which allowed us to build ultra-lights without federal regulations or certification."

There are a couple reasons why his business has thrived through the years, Schlitter said.

"I think that we offered plenty of variety of product, very top quality," he said.

"We've got a very good work ethic in Hays, Kansas, so we've been able to have an advantage in the world market because we put a lot of value in our product," Schlitter said.

On Saturday morning, some of those in attendance participated in skills contests, including target bombing. Hal Stockman, who owns two RANS aircraft, took part.

"That's always part of the fun," said Stockman, who is from Elko, Nev., and was at the annual RANS fly-in for the first time.

Stockman said he couldn't afford a certified plane, so he bought a RANS kit and built his first plane himself, with some help.

"A working man can't afford a certified airplane, so if you can build one for the price of a new pickup, you can have yourself a nice airplane.

"So drive an old pickup and have an airplane."

RANS planes are available to customers three ways: as parts where the customer builds it; partially assembled and the customer finishes it; and fully assembled, termed a "fly away" plane by Schlitter.

Schlitter said the plane the customer assembles is most popular.

"There's a lot of people who love building," he said.

Schlitter grew up around planes. His dad, Ray, offered services at two airports, and often they would fly together. These days, Schlitter still puts on a couple hundred hours a year flying all over the country.

"I think it's such a cleaner, more simple way of getting somewhere," he said. "You don't have to deal with the traffic."

As for Glenn and Deb Rees, life is simpler these days. Deb, a hospice nurse, understands all too well what could lie ahead.

"I always thought that was my purpose; I would do something for people at a time that they didn't know what to do," she said. "When he was diagnosed, it was like I knew too much. ... People can go from being really, really well to really, really bad in no time at all. It's been rough, but we talk openly about it."

The couple has been married 12 years, after Glenn's first wife passed away.

"It's tough; I can't imagine life without him," she said.

As for that bucket list, there's one thing left on it, Glenn Rees said.

"I've really only got one thing left -- sky diving," he said. "I don't know exactly when, but I'm going to do it."