Air Force Reservist making name in aviation furniture

Aviation Flying Furniture does speciality pieces on commission

Kurt Eldrup, a former U.S. Air Force reservist who also served in Operation Desert Storm, uses airplane parts to make custom furniture, fans and even a fish tank at his business, Phighter Images Inc., in McHenry.

Kurt Eldrup’s fascination with airplanes probably started with his father’s service as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam war.

That fascination followed him as he joined the Air National Guard, earned a pilots license, and now makes furniture from airplane parts.

Eldrup said he has a strong memory of an “airplane junk yard” his family would drive by on their way to the Chain O’ Lakes when he was a youngster. “There were all of these relics of airplanes and we would drive by this thing every weekend. I think I was hooked,” Eldrup said.

That love of airplanes led Eldrup, 55, to enlist in the Air National Guard for 10 years, from 1986 to 1996. That included a nine-month deployment during Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990. While stationed in Saudi Arabia, Eldrup worked on the ground crew for the planes that would refuel fighter pilots in mid-air.

Back in Illinois, Eldrup was based at O’Hare International Airport for his National Guard duties while working in auto body repair and restoring classic cars.

Still, he had a fascination with airplanes and their parts. He said that eventually led to opening Aviation Flying Furniture. For the past 25 years, Eldrup has taken airplane parts – from wings to nose cones to jet engine parts – and repurposed them into functional furniture.

Eldrup said his first piece was made from part of a wing his father had stored in a crawl space. While attending air shows around the region, he was given parts from a McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II. “I made a few tables and loved them. I loved the detail work and the woodworking.”

One of those first pieces is in his living room. “I look at it and it is horrible. But you evolve” as a designer, Eldrup said.

Now, he has sold commissioned furniture to companies such as Pratt & Whitney and Boeing.

Not every piece is a table or an engine ceiling fan. Even small custom gift pieces, made from parts he’s salvaged and put together for clients, is a part of his passion.

“The custom gifts show what they did in the service and in aviation,” he said. One recent gift was for a man who retired after 20 years in aviation insurance – a panel with rivets and the man’s name.

“That stuff is the fun part,” Eldrup said. “It is all custom and it is all art.”

It also fuels his tinkering habit, he said.

“I don’t do it for the money. I do it to fuel my habit of building things.”

He had been working in a rented space in Lakemoor until November 2022. That is when he purchased a building at 2902 W. Illinois Route 120 in McHenry. The building is not a storefront, but a workplace for the business.

“I never really ventured off to have a gallery” for his work, Eldrup said. Most of his customers find him through word of mouth or by finding his pieces via web searches.

He also admits that after the work he puts into the furniture, “I don’t like selling it. I don’t like the marketing part.”

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