Dave Martin 1938–2021

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Dave Martin
Dave Martin at the controls of his RV-12 in 2011. He had completed a long build series for us called the “Independence Project” that was an exquisitely detailed look at the early RV-12 kit.

Longtime readers of KITPLANES® not only recognize Dave Martin by name, they probably feel as if they know him—his dry wit, strong personality and unerring desire to produce the best, most informative magazine about homebuilt aircraft came through with utter clarity. For a generation of homebuilders, Dave was a guiding light, a clear voice of reason in a sometimes overhyped and under-tested world. He succumbed to cancer on June 12, 2021, but he remains with us through the pages of this magazine. What we are today was set in motion by Dave more than three decades ago.

Dave was in essence the founding editor of KITPLANES®. While it had been started by Dennis Shattuck, he was tasked with managing us as well as Plane & Pilot and Aero, and by the time KITPLANES® was a monthly success, Dave had been brought in as first the managing editor then the true head of the title. From his early training (a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Missouri) and Naval discipline (he flew as the RIO in F-4 Phantoms), Dave quietly built a very well-running magazine, bringing new talent to the mix and imbuing it with his sense of deliberation. His flight tests were the definition of thorough. Dave was open to new ideas, sure, but you could tell by reading the contemporary issues that he didn’t let it deflect the mission much. He had what you would call strong positive static stability.

We loved having Dave and his RV on our December 2011 cover

A Final Chat

A few weeks before Dave passed, I had been intending to fly the short distance down to Independence, Oregon, for a quick visit. But by the time all the stars aligned, Dave suggested a Zoom meeting might be more appropriate. I took that opportunity to loop in previous editor Paul Dye, and the three of us had a marvelous hour of looking back and pondering forward on the topic of Experimental aviation. (I wish now that I had recorded it, but Dave was clearly in the mood for some off-the-record conversation. So we dished.)

Dave recounted how, when asked to come on board full time for KITPLANES®, he responded to Shattuck with a detailed, bullet-pointed list of objections, including that he’d just retired from the Navy and wanted some time off. There were things to build, rain gutters to clean. Shattuck eventually wore him down, and Dave eventually spent 17 years of his professional life building this magazine.

I was honored to be asked to attend a remembrance of Dave near his airport home in Independence, and even more so to be asked to speak briefly. Truth is, Dave and I had a friendly professional relationship even while I was writing about homebuilts over at AOPA. I believe he saw that coverage not as competition but as a way to get the word to a broader audience; he was right.

Airshow coverage sponsor:
Dave and his Spacewalker
Dave and his Spacewalker homebuilt. When he built the RV-12, he admitted that the Van’s would be a better traveling machine.

I did spend some non-airshow time with him for a story in 2011, where I finagled a trip to Independence to fly up to the Arlington airshow in his recently completed Van’s RV-12. It was then that I got a better sense of the man and shared that with the 40 or so present at his remembrance. Our time in Independence included a thorough bicycle tour of the airport and nearly all of the open hangars. Everyone knew Dave. Everyone. Dave demonstrated his skill with radio-controlled airplanes and barely broke a sweat absolutely slaughtering me in ping-pong. We spent a good part of the time talking airplanes and briefing thoroughly for the photos and flight to Arlington the next day. And I do mean thoroughly, despite it being a 200-mile trip in perfect VFR weather.

Dave courageously gave me left seat for the flight up, and I did my best GlaStar/Sportsman pilot routine of overcontrolling the RV-12 in roll. (The high-wingers are stiff in roll.) Out of the corner of my eye, I watched Dave tense and un-tense, make small movements toward the stick and then pull back. In a few minutes, I’d recalibrated and found the RV easy to fly. I looked over at Dave and said, “Hey, I got this, you can relax.” He gave me a hard, quick stare, seemed to nod to himself and left me alone for the rest of the flight. We laughed about it later.

Others told similar stories about Dave. How he was thorough and deliberative in virtually everything he did, but also compassionate. He was able to have a vigorous discussion with someone whose worldview or political bent were opposite of his own, and yet do so without turning to personal attack. He respected other points of view even if he didn’t agree with them. Viewed from today’s cultural perspective, it’s clear we could use more Dave in the world.

He is survived by his brother Richard (who lives in Boulder, Colorado), wife Lois, daughter Laura Barnes (Portland), sons Arthur (Independence) and Daniel (Albany, California) and four grandchildren, Russell and Melissa Barnes, and Ada and Cara Martin.

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KITPLANES Editor in Chief Marc Cook has been in aviation journalism for more than 30 years. He is a 4000-hour instrument-rated, multi-engine pilot with experience in nearly 150 types. He’s completed two kit aircraft, an Aero Designs Pulsar XP and a Glasair Sportsman 2+2, and currently flies a 2002 GlaStar.

5 COMMENTS

  1. I got into the fun and funky world of Kitplanes because of a chance spotting of a Kitplanes magazine on a random stand in a bodega whilst waiting for a buttered roll….and that was it. Dave wrote nearly all of the articles I was interested in (Quickit’s Glass Goose in particular caught my eye) and I subscribed literally the next day. I’ve missed him ever since he retired and am really saddened to hear of this today. My condolences to his family, and congratulations on a life well lived.

  2. Sad to hear. He was an icon in the aviation publishing industry. I had reason to chat with Dave some years ago when I was building my radial-engined Spacewalker, and Dave was helpful with details on his own Spacewalker, particularly regarding CoG. RIP Dave.

  3. A fan of KITPLANES for more than 20 years, with a set of plans of a GP4 still to be built, I feel sad about this news. He will be missed I am pretty sure. There are a lot of good people in this activity, in this way of life. And so his legacy will be an example to follow and for me a strong boost to finish my plane.

  4. Dave wrote articles and pilot reports that captured our imagination and nurtured our enthusiasm for building and flying multiple generations of “daughters,” without sensationalism and hyperbole. His writing is credible and honest, as he was, without being boring. Very few of us can accurately assemble the words to describe why we build a fly our own aircraft, Dave did it within every article. Godspeed, Dave, you have no further need of performing a preflight…

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