Young boys often harbor huge dreams. Growing up in Venezuela, Jorge Bujanda grew up enamored with two things: becoming a doctor and flying airplanes.
But unlike most kids, his youthful ambitions became reality through an interesting and ambitious path that he mapped out at a young age.
Dr. Jorge Bujanda has been in the medical field for more than 40 years and is currently the Vice President of Quality Management for U.S. HealthWorks. He’s a valuable member of the company’s medical team and works out of its corporate headquarters in Valencia, California.
In his spare time, Dr. Bujanda likes to fly his four-seat Velocity XL airplane. But what makes the flying so much more enjoyable is that he built his airplane from start to finish; an arduous process that took him nearly seven years and over 5,000 hours.
In 2003, with the backing of his wife Ygebor, and their children – Daniel, Francisco, Melissa and Alan – the daunting task of building an airplane became his objective.
“Although very rewarding, building an airplane is a huge project. I spent most weekends not going anywhere because I was in my garage working on the plane, and that is something you can’t rush,” Dr. Bujanda said. “I received lots of support and understanding from my family; they sacrificed as well. Now that the airplane is built, it’s something we all enjoy.”
Building airplanes is actually nothing new. At age 7, he was following instructions and carefully putting together plastic model airplanes.
At about that same age, the resourceful youngster used his aunt’s typewriter to craft a letter that he mailed to airplane dealerships. The successful ploy combined both his ambitions.
“I composed a letter asking for catalogs, saying I was a physician interested in purchasing an airplane,” Dr. Bujanda said. “After that, I remember receiving catalogs from manufacturers like Piper and Cessna for years and using their photos as posters in my bedroom. I have been interested in aeronautics as long as I can remember.”
His route to becoming a doctor took a more traditional path than flying. Jorge was born in Bloomington, while his father attended Indiana University on an American oil company scholarship. Jorge spent very little time growing up in the U.S. because his family returned to South America.
He eventually followed his dream, attending medical school in Venezuela. He received post-graduate training in internal medicine at a university hospital that also treated injured workers. That was his first exposure to occupational medicine.
After practicing in Venezuela for years, Dr. Bujanda moved with his family to Los Angeles in 1989. He began working for Advantage Care Medical Group, serving as both Director of Quality Assurance for its eight clinics and Medical Director of its Medical Legal Division.
When U.S. HealthWorks acquired Advantage Care in 1996, Dr. Bujanda assumed a similar role. Currently, he is responsible for the company’s overall quality program, participates in several medical and operational management committees, and is a permanent member of the Medical Executive Committee.
While enjoying a successful medical career, the desire to fly still remained. A gift from his wife eventually moved him to building and flying radio-controlled models. At some point, Dr. Bujanda had randomly picked up a Kitplanes magazine and realized he could build an airplane. The seed was planted!
Years later and after months of research, Dr. Bujanda purchased a kit on June 25, 2004. He spent two weeks of supervised building at the Velocity Aircraft headquarters in Sebastian, Florida, becoming familiar with the use of composites. Eventually, all the parts were transported by trailer to his spacious garage at his Southern California home.
The garage became his sanctuary, the place he would slip away to during most weekends and some weekday evenings. This huge undertaking of meticulously assembling a plane piece by piece was certainly a labor of love.
In the early stages of that process, Dr. Bujanda also had one other major task – learning to fly. He took flying lessons, and eventually earned his private pilot’s license in 2005. He continued flying regularly for the next six years, sometimes visiting Velocity to fly planes similar to the one he was building.
Dr. Bujanda finished assembling his plane in a hangar at Fox Airfield in Lancaster, a 15-minute drive from his home. After the required final FAA inspection, he was ready for the big day; the first official flight.
Conditions were ideal on Sunday, November 27, 2011; no wind, blue sky, with some light clouds. Followed by a chase plane for safety purposes, Dr. Bujanda climbed to 6,000 feet, got to a speed of 160 miles per hour, and gave his plane a good workout during the 30-minute test flight that concluded with a smooth landing.
The aircraft, named “Dr. Tuky” by his children after the “George of the Jungle” toucan character, had passed the test with “flying” colors.
His friend Craig Woolston, piloting the chase plane, radioed this message to Dr. Bujanda once he had safely landed: “Congratulations Dr. Tuky, you are now an airplane.”
Although he had remained focused on the airplane’s performance, it was still an emotional flight for Dr. Bujanda as both builder and pilot.
“There is no way to explain it,” he said. “I was all business up there and had to stick to a plan, testing instruments and controls, and making sure everything was working as expected. It didn’t hit me until I was on the ground. I was flying my homebuilt airplane. How cool was that?”
It’s very cool indeed. After 40 hours of flight testing, “Dr. Tuky” was allowed to take passengers.
The weekends are now much more pleasurable for Dr. Bujanda, who often flies to different destinations in California. He flies to visit relatives and friends and frequently flies his daughter (Melissa) to and from the University of Nevada in Reno. “Dr. Tuky” has even been used to calibrate weapons systems for the military.
“Since its first flight, ‘Dr. Tuky’ has flown 150 hours and landed 200 times; and there’s still a line of people who want to go up with me,” laughs Dr. Bujanda. “No words can explain going up 10,000 feet in the airplane you built, have breakfast with your family 300 miles away, and walk away from it back home before noon.”
It’s a pretty cool feeling for a man who is currently living out his dream.