Gary Brearley has had a lifelong fascination with flying. He took his first solo flight at the age of 20 and has been involved with airplanes in some way ever since.

But he had never owned a plane of his own until he decided to build one himself.

This summer, after six years of work to assemble it, he expects to take off from the Bethel Airport for the first time in his Vans Aircraft RV-9A, a single-engine experimental home-built plane.

Brearley served for several years in the U.S. Air Force and later worked as a designer for Pratt & Whitney in Florida. He is a major in the Maine Wing Civil Air Patrol, where he has also been a squadron commander and a wing safety officer.

Originally from New York City, he has had a varied career that included stints as a stockbroker, a laboratory manager in California, and the manager of a commercial and residential building company in Atlanta.

Along the way, he became good at nearly every aspect of building, renovation and repair. It turned out to be the perfect skill set for the life he has led in the Bethel area since the early 1990s. A hands-on “retirement.”


“I wanted to sort of retire,” Brearley said of the circumstances that brought him to Western Maine. “­I wanted to buy an old house, fix it up and run a bed and breakfast.”

An avid skier, he started looking near ski areas for a house to renovate. After a couple of trips to Sunday River in Newry , he decided to purchase the former Tiny Thurston home on Route 2 in Mayville.

Being handy and optimistic, Brearley was undeterred by the scale of the project ahead of him.

“When I bought it, the house had only one bathroom and the second story had been sealed off since 1920,” he said.

He built four second-floor guestrooms and opened the Briar Lea Inn in 1993, eventually adding two more bedrooms on the third floor and installing a total of 10 bathrooms.

Brearley did the renovations himself, from carpentry to plumbing, and a few years after opening the inn he decided to add a restaurant and became the cook.


After selling the Briar Lea in 2005, he became certified as a home inspector and started Acorn Home Inspection Services, putting to use his 25 years of design and construction experience.

He has also worked at Bethel Bicycle, where his mechanical abilities made him a natural at adjusting and repairing bikes.

He continues to be active in the Civil Air Patrol, the auxiliary of the USAF, which has squadrons throughout the country, including seven in Maine.

Brearley said the CAP mission focuses on aerospace education, cadet programs, and emergency services such as search-and-rescue efforts and transporting urgently needed medicine.

“We meet every week in Lewiston and practice search and rescue scenarios every month at different squadrons,” he said. “We have an encampment every summer for the cadets [ages 12 to 18] in the program. It’s a great organi­zation,” he said.

In his spare time, he has spent the past six years working on his plane, constructing first the tail, then the wings, then the fuselage in his Gilead garage.


Recently, when it was time to put it all together, he borrowed space in a friend’s hangar at the Bethel Airport.

With only a few days to get the plane fully assembled, out of the hangar and ready to be tied down on the apron, Brearley was spending most of his waking hours at the airport.

Safety first

During construction, the plane has undergone two inspections by members of the Experimental Aircraft Association, an international organization with several chapters in Maine.

“The next inspection will be by the (Federal Aviation Administration),” Brearley said. “I’ll make an appointment with them, and they’ll look at everything and give the plane an airworthiness certificate.”

Van’s Aircraft of Oregon, the company that makes Brearley’s kit plane, as well as several other designs of experimental, home-built aircraft, was founded in the 1970s by Richard Van Grunsven after he designed and built a prototype for himself. Since then, more than 8,000 of the company’s planes are in use.


“They use top-quality materials and are very well thought of,” Brearley said.

The aircraft, which uses 100 octane low-lead fuel, will fly about four hours before refueling. In that time, it can fly about 600 miles at its typical speed of 150 miles per hour.

It cruises at an altitude of 160 feet, and a computer screen in the cockpit provides “synthetic vision,” so Brearley can see the upcoming terrain on a screen while flying.

A smaller, auxiliary navigation panel will stay on in the event of a loss of power, and the cockpit is also equipped with a navigation radio, a regular radio, and a flight transponder.

In order to fly his experimental plane, Brearley said he needs a minimum of three miles of visibility and no less than 1,000 feet of ceiling, a measurement of the height of the cloud base relative to the ground.

Ideally, though, “I’d like 10 miles of visibility and a 5,000- to 6,000-foot ceiling,” he said.

The plane is a two-seater, but following the FAA inspection, he will be required to fly it solo for 40 hours within a designated perimeter before he will be allowed to take passengers.

“After that, I can go pretty much anywhere,” said Brearley, who has five grown children and seven grandchildren in five states.

“I’d like to fly out and visit my kids in Texas,” he said.

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