Huntsman Alumni Magazine

Fall 2009

Emeritus professor flies high

In August 2008, as the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business met on campus for its annual fall retreat, they were missing one professor. Many sensed he was not completely gone. Some knew he was looking down on them from above. In fact, they saw him go flying by during a break.


(Photo by Steve Eaton)

Phil Swensen, who taught at the Huntsman School of Business for 33 years, retired in 2008 and decided to take in the annual faculty retreat from several hundred feet up. While his colleagues were below envisioning the future, he was flying above the USU campus in a biplane he built himself.

Swensen said that building airplanes has been a passion for him ever since he purchased his first one in 1992. It was a Kitfox, and he guesses he put more than 800 hours into it before it took flight in 1994.

Swensen said that flying an airplane you built yourself can be a little unsettling, especially the first time.

“You get a pretty good sense through taxi tests that it is going to be stable, although you never really know until you get it off the ground,” he said. “There comes a time when you’ve done all you can do, and you just have to go out on the runway and push the throttle forward. At that time, in about eight or ten seconds, you are going to know what you’ve got. That’s always a very high adrenalin moment.”

He said that he loves flying the third airplane he built, which looks like a World War I biplane.

Phil Swensen

Phil Swensen, a Huntsman emeritus professor, loves to take the biplane he built into the sky.

(Photo by Sara Eaton)

“You look out over those wings that are stretched with fabric and you can see the wooden ribs that are underneath them,” he said. “You contemplate the hours you’ve put into building the airplane, and then you realize you are up there a couple thousand feet in the air, hanging on something you built yourself. It gives you a huge sense of satisfaction.”

Swensen has had to sell some airplanes to purchase the new ones he acquired over the years. He still flies his biplane, and he parks it at the airport along with a factory-made airplane that he bought in 2006. He and his son also own an airplane together, and Swensen is building his fourth airplane in the shop next to his house.

“I came to the conclusion that you can’t just have one airplane,” he said. “You need at least one for speed. You need at least one for low and slow.”

Swensen said he loves to see those wheels lift off the pavement as he goes up in an airplane.

“I’ll put music in my headphones and just cruise along,” he said. “It is just a thrill. It always has been; still is. I’ll go up and just bore holes in the sky around the valley.”

For more pictures of Phil Swensen with his airplane click here.