Pontotoc man wins innovation award for homemade aircraft

·3 min read

Jun. 6—PONTOTOC — When Maxwell "Max" Crausby built an RV-6A experimental plane and added a baggage compartment, he didn't think it was anything special.

But the folks at Van's Aircraft did.

On May 22, Van's awarded Crausby the 2021 Innovation Award for "the only RV-6A with a baggage door."

Van's Aircraft is an American kit aircraft manufacturer, founded by Richard "Van" VanGrunsven in 1973. Van's RV series of aircraft, from the single-seat RV-3 to the latest RV-14, are all-aluminum, low-wing monoplanes of monocoque construction.

Crausby, 90, got interested in airplanes when he was just a boy.

"The first ride I took in an airplane I was 11 years old," said Crausby, who was born Oct. 1, 1930. "They was out here flying in a hayfield about a mile up the road, and old nosey me wanted to know what they were doing. I paid $2 for that ride."

Just a few years later, when he was about 15, Crausby earned his pilot's license, then called a student pilot certificate.

"Daddy used to say he got his pilot's license before he got his driver's license," said Karla Parham, one of Crausby's daughters.

For several decades, Crausby worked as a licensed aircraft mechanic at the Pontotoc County Airport.

But in his spare time, he followed his passion: building homemade experimental airplanes.

"The first plane I built was a one-seater RV-3," Crausby said. "I built my own parts from scratch, but not the engine."

He completed the RV-3 in October 1977 after 18 months of work. He kept the plane for almost nine years before selling it to a United Airlines pilot in Chicago.

When asked why he enjoyed building airplanes, Crausby just shrugged his shoulders.

"I don't know," he said. "What makes a doctor want to cut on people?"

The second plane he built, an RV-4, was a single-engine two seater, called a tandem. It took him almost three years to build, and it earned him a prestigious award.

In July 1986, the then-55-year-old Crausby was one of 10 people in the country win the Experimental Aircraft Association's Wright Brothers Award at the Dayton International Air Show.

The award is presented annually to honor outstanding airplane builders. He was the first Mississippian to win the award.

"It's the most coveted award," Crausby said at the time. "I'm very proud and thankful. It's just a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

At the time Crausby won the Wright Brothers Award, he was in the process of building a second RV-4. He ended up selling that plane in the 1990s to a friend, Charles Richey of Tupelo.

"This plane was built to fit Max," said Richey, who houses the plane at the Pontotoc County Airport. "I'm a bit bigger and taller than he is, so I had to change the cushions in the seat to lower them."

Richey said he only flies the plane in the area now, but in the day, he regularly flew it to Texas, Wisconsin, Florida and Oklahoma.

"Max and I have been friends for years," said Richey, 82. "I was always over here when he was building something. I'm going to tell you something about Max Crausby. I don't know of nothing he can't do."

The last plane Crausby built was the RV-6A that won the Van's Aircraft award last month for the unique luggage door. Crausby sold that plane in late 2020 to a couple of guys in Ohio.

"The boys who bought it knew it was special," said Crausby's wife, Jane. "Max didn't know it was special — he just did it. But they thought enough of him to have him recognized for it."

Crausby said he quit flying when he was in his 80s. He misses almost all the aspects of it.

"I never enjoyed flying over the ocean," he said. "I never was comfortable with that."

ginna.parsons@djournal.com