Posted on Thu, Jun. 09, 2005

Tales from the sky

Mercury News

You think car commuters have stories? Plane commuters have them, too.

Craig Arcuri's story is about how he got into the personal plane commute in the first place.

He'd missed two flights and an important meeting while standing in San Jose International Airport's security line for 2 1/2 hours. He got a little grumpy, and suddenly found himself facing two San Jose cops.

``I stood there with my arms folded and said, `This is it. I have to change this,' '' recalled the 45-year-old president of NBS Design, a Santa Barbara-based printed circuit board company with an assembly plant in Santa Clara. ``I have to move the business headquarters and uproot the employees and my family -- or come up with Plan B.''

Plan B was Better: take flying lessons and shuttle himself to San Jose's Reid Hillview general aviation airport three times a week.

Scott Randolph's story has more to do with the speed limit -- as in, planes don't have one.

How quickly Randolph drives home to Aptos from his Redwood City office after work ``all depends on how many CHPs are out.'' It can be unpredictable -- and expensive.

So a year ago he started flying instead. ``There's certainly no speed limit'' in the sky, said the 36-year-old software engineer, who contracts for Electronic Arts. ``Ok, there is,'' he admitted. But he'd need a commercial plane to fly that fast.

Way up in the air, he can steer clear of road whizzers -- like himself? -- lane crossers and the like.

``When 'm up in the plane, it's all about me... There's really no other guy up there to speak of.... You feel you're part of the world instead of part of the rat race.''

Of course, the fly-to-work commute doesn't always go smoothly -- or fast.

On David Millett's first try in April, the 15-minute flight went well. After arriving at the Palo Alto Airport from Oakland, he started pedaling to work on a collapsible bike he bought online.

Halfway there, the pedals fell off.

He had to call a cab. And it didn't show up for 15 minutes.

``It blew my commute,'' he said. ``I was a little late for my second day on the job.''

Millet continues to fly to work two or three times a week. But now he takes a taxi for the last stretch instead of busting out the bike.

``Six miles is a long way to go on a bike for me. I'm 49. And besides, when you get to work, you're all sweaty.''

Nowhere to put your money? Invest in a plane.

When the stock market was sliding, that's exactly what Gary Guthrie did. And not just any plane -- a 1967 Mooney M20E, the sports car of the sky.

He restored it and modified it. And for the past eight years, it has been zipping him from his Martinez home to his Mountain View job and back. And it has saved the 46-year-old a lot of after-work headaches.

``In the evening, almost no matter when you leave, it's somewhere between an hour and a half and two hours when you drive, depending on who decided to crash that day,'' said the chief engineer of technology at General Dynamics AIS. ``It's all miserable -- 237, over to 880, to 680, the Sunol Pass. It's all bad.''

Flying as managerial training?

Sure. Maybe, just maybe, the flight to work helps Leonard Iventosch, a Network Appliance vice president, start the day as a better manager.

``It keeps my ego in check, that's for sure. I'm not going to get too full of myself after spending an hour listening to air traffic control telling me what to do.''

Iventosch, 49, moved from the Bay Area 13 years ago because he was spending more Saturdays with bathroom tiles, cans of paint and rolls of carpeting than with his three young kids.

``I spent all my weekends fixing up my house because we couldn't afford to buy the kind of home we wanted,'' he said.

So he bought a nicer home spread across seven acres in the Sierra Foothills community of Colfax. The family now has a basketball court and a waterfall swimming hole in their backyard.

Bruce Whetstone has his wife to thank.

For his 39th birthday, Janice Whetstone, sent him soaring. She bought him his first flying lesson.

``My wife thought I actually spent way too much time at work and needed a hobby,'' he said.

Now, the 52-year-old certified pilot flies to his Mountain View software job every week from their gold rush town home in Jacksonville, Ore.

Ironically, it frees him up to stay at the office longer because he doesn't have to worry about catching the last commercial flight home. ``If something does come up at work and I'm delayed for a few hours, it's no big deal.''

Then there's Jim Bray, who literally does it his own way.

The 42-year-old Lockheed mechanical engineer has been building a two-seater airplane in his Pine Grove home's garage over the last two years.

He hopes it will be ready in August to shuttle him and his wife, Vicki Bray, each day between their mining town house near Yosemite to their Silicon Valley jobs.

The four-cylinder engine airplane kit cost about $23,000 -- considerably less than what they would have paid for a ready-to-fly plane with similar performance and fuel economy, Bray said. The Vans RV9A aircraft will get about 30 miles per gallon -- far better than the couple's 16 mpg Durango.

Right now, Bray is finishing the electrical and fiberglass work on the aluminum riveted fuselage.

``I can't wait to fly home every day,'' said his wife, a 46-year-old administrator at the Santa Clara County Board of Realtors. ``I think it may catch on.''

Contact Nicole C. Wong at or (408) 920-5730.

2005 and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.