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Originally published September 16, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 19, 2007 at 1:58 PM

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Passion for planes keeps pilot coming back to Renton Municipal Airport

On his first attempt to fly around the world, Bob Dempster, of Seattle, learned that aviation fuel was virtually nonexistent on the eastern...

Times Southeast bureau

On his first attempt to fly around the world, Bob Dempster, of Seattle, learned that aviation fuel was virtually nonexistent on the eastern tip of Siberia in Russia.

Dempster and his navigator, wife, Diane, were flying the last leg of the 1996 journey when they ran out of fuel and had to ship their Piper Super Cub back to Renton.

The tale is one of many Dempster is known for. Regulars say he is one of the Renton Municipal Airport's most dedicated aviation enthusiasts.

"There's just a wealth of very smart, talented individuals out here," said Ryan Zulauf, manager of the Renton Municipal Airport. "People like Bob are at the heart of everything."

As the city discusses plans for the airport, recreational pilots want to make sure they will always be welcome to fly in and out of Renton's public airfield.

Unlike many businesses clustered around the airport, plane buffs like Dempster populate it mostly on weekends and off-hours. The group is diverse, composed of people who work in and outside the aviation industry.

Some people call these die-hard fans "weekend warriors," but many, like Dempster, shrug off that label. They just love to fly.

A self-professed wild card, he has had several careers during his lifetime. He has a master's degree in fine arts, and his business card has also read "teacher," "researcher" and "designer." But through all his careers, Dempster has made room for his passion: aviation.

These days, he works from a hangar at the south end of the airport. His house is two minutes from his workshop and spends just about every day at the airport.

"This is bigger than a hobby," said Dempster, who describes himself as the sort of guy that gets distracted easily. "It's too out of control for that."

His most recent project is a replica of the 1924 Seattle World Cruiser which he plans to fly on his second attempt around the world in spring of 2009.

Dempster says the new project is a bigger, more significant way of traveling around the world. This time, he is building the plane from scratch and will follow a similar route as the 1924 circumnavigation.

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Progress isn't always obvious, but Dempster says that even small gains feel good. Sanding a piece of wood just right or receiving a new part from the welding shop — it all counts. Things take time when you're working from scratch, Dempster said.

Dempster will donate his plane to Seattle's Museum of Flight when he completes his journey.

He formed a nonprofit organization in 2001 to assist in financing the project.

An history buff most of his life, Dempster has decorated his shop with black and white photos of famous names in aviation history. He would love it if his name were among them, but he knows he won't be the first to fly around the world in a homemade plane.

His motivation is simple: "I want to celebrate the original flight. I want to give my community a reminder of something special in history."

For more information on Bob Dempster's project visit his Web site at: www.seattleworldcruiser.org.

Karen Johnson: 253-234-8605 or karenjohnson@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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