Category Archives: Experimental

The One Airplane Basement

 A Man’s Home is His Castle Hangar

Great effort but planning could have been better.

Reeves spent the past nine years building a two-seat airplane in the basement of hisCumberlandCountyhome. The plane arrived in pieces via mail but eventually it became way too big to get up the steps. So Reeves dug a trench down to the foundation and took out a wall. Reeves pulled the plane out Wednesday using a truck, a chain and some neighbors. Onlookers were drawn to the spectacle by the “Airplane Removal Wednesday” put up on Reeves’ porch. 

Sort of like building a ship in a bottle but he’s in good company. Those who know their automotive history will recall that Henry Ford  had a similar experience. He built his first car in 1896 and forgot to put a garage door in the shed, leading him to demolish the brick wall in order to drive it out.

Begs the question as to how he got the engine or canopy down the stairs and initial engine run up must have been a blast. Bonus: Now he’s got a walk out basement.

To Infinity and Beyond

Tomorrow,  Buzz Lightyear Yves Rossy  and his wingsuit are  ready to cross the chasm of America’s most renowned canyon.

 Swiss adventurer who has flown his jet-propelled wingsuit over the Swiss Alps and across the English Channel hopes to fulfill a dream by flying through the Grand Canyon. Former fighter pilot Yves Rossy plans to attempt the stunt early Friday, though he has not yet secured the necessary approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration.

It all seems so very Evel Knievel-ish.  As long as there have been records, people have sought to exceed them. From fastest pilot to longest wingwalker to highest free fall. Pushing envelopes can lead to new discoveries (else why build an X-1) but the venue suggests otherwise. There’s a lot of publicity to be had and this is a stuntman’s dream. To his credit, he’s been developing his “Jetman” suit persistently and is always breaking new ground with sometimes perilous results. He flew a new version of his jet-powered flight system last year and successfully performed 2 aerial loops, so there’s that.

Plans are to fly over Grand Canyon West. The regular park service takes a dim view on this sort of thing so it’s being handled through the  Hualapai Indian Reservation. Since it doesn’t qualify as an ultralight, it required an experimental registration to fly and after a series of tests, the FAA has given its approval and registration number N15YR to the , um…wing. Check the news tomorrow at 10:00 mountain to see if he made it and check this excellent write up (It is easier to read the actual magazine article) from EAA of the man and his quest to do what many dream about: soaring like a jet without an airplane.

Update: Not yet

an apologetic Rossy stood before a crowd of reporters not in the black jet suit but in a T-shirt and jeans to declare the stunt was called off. He said the same elements that piqued his interest in flying over the massive gorge years ago also meant the flight would be too much of a challenge without any practice runs.”If I do a mistake and half of U.S. television (is here), it’s really bad for you, for me, for everybody,”

It will also scotch a whole lot of endorsement money, especially Breitling, if he delploys the chute before reaching the other side. The call is with the PIC: A superior pilot is one who uses his superior judgment so as not to have to use his superior skill..  

Jet Ski

Jet Ski is the brand name of personal watercraft. This is a jet + skis. Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) member Troy Hartman is devoted to flight and is occasionally — experimental.

 Hartman is also calling his aircraft a jet wing, featuring a rigid wing like Rossy’s that is 50 percent lighter and employs simplicity throughout his design approach including how he will be attached to the wing and how it will be controlled. The professional stuntman, aerobatic instructor, and X-Games and sky surfing champion, who hopes to one day fly with Rossy, inadvertently invented a new sport recently when he tested the engines while on a pair of skis

47 mph at 50% throttle.  This is just the thing I need to whiz by those pesky cross-country skiers that always pass me on the trail. Wile Coyote would have loved this rig.

But where are the brakes?

Very Experimental

Gabriel Nderitu brings new meaning to the word homebuilt. I admire this guy’s drive and ingenuity. I also admire his guts, but if the rest of the thing works as well as the front wheel, he is most certainly doomed. Just because it looks like a plane doesn’t mean it will work like one.

“A bit of it [was] inventing the wheel, and not really looking and trying to copy,” Nderitu told Citizen TV.

No matter how talented a builder, you don’t get to invent your own principles of flight dynamics – if you want to fly and live. Center of gravity matters. So does structural integrity. I suspect he could have acquired a set of plans for a proven ultralight design, and with the fabrication skills he clearly has, made it off the ground.

The results of the first flight are here. I was rooting for the contraption to get off the ground while also hoping it would not kill the aspiring pilot.

Far better to have the undercarriage fail on roll out than the wing spars in flight , yah? Hopefully he will succeed someday and live to tell the story.  A man that motivated deserves to fly.

Disneyland for Aviators

Airventure began with rain, mud and more rain. Sploshkosh and Aquaventure were used to describe aviation’s biggest event. The most challenging ever according to organizers. Not surprisingly, attendance was down early in the week and fewer planes made the trip. The annual mass arrivals of Bonanzas, Cessnas, and Mooneys just didn’t happen. The phenomenal volunteers rallied, pumping out water, laying sod and bringing in woodchips and it was still pretty great.

 There’s something for everyone who loves aviation. If you were in the market for a new plane, it was one gigantic motor mall with every manufacturer represented. If you want a carbon fiber Cub with Tundra tires, they had it. Aerobatic planes? Pick from a range from top performance to build your own. I was intrigued by the amphibious Icon A5.It was all there, from low and slow ultralights to rocket powered helos and single pilot jets.

 There were hundreds of exhibits, seminars; panel discussions and workshops. It meant choosing among the “must see” since there were up to 30 events all taking place in a single one hour time slot. In between you can admire thousands of planes of every type and description.  Showplanes, Homebuilts, Vintage, Warbirds, Ultralights, Seaplanes and rotorcraft. Who wouldn’t be impressed by rows of P-51’s and T-28’s? Rare planes became commonplace. They had four B-17’s! One guy even proposed on a Flying Fortress.-she said yes. (My wife would have clobbered me if I’d tried that). I also spent a little time with Glacier Girl, whose good looks drew many admirers.

An air show was held each afternoon but planes were in the sky all the time. A flight of F-15’s roared overhead while I waited in line for a sandwich. Look- there goes an F-18 in full grunt. Where did that V-22 Osprey come from? Wow, a flight of T-33’s. A steady stream of planes were arriving and departing until the airshow began.

 Mostly, the pilgrimage to Oshkosh was about hanging out with fellow pilots and aviation fans. I was among friends. Some close and another half million I had yet to meet.

Oshkosh has been named a ‘Tier 1 Event” by the U.S. Navy for its centennial celebration of naval aviation in 2011. A good reason to clear your calendar from July 25-31 next year.

Here’s a one minute video summary : Airventure 2010.

See You at Airventure

If you like anything related to flying you need to be here. This clip explains why:

10,000 planes; 578,000 aviation enthusiasts; 750 exhibitors and 1,000 demonstrations. Just to name a few: 

  • C.E. “Bud” Anderson, Jack Roush, Jim Hagedorn with two Old Crow P-51s
  • D-Day paratroopers Col. Ed Shames and 1st Lt. Fred Bahlau with the C-47 Tico Belle
  • “Max Effort” Air Show featuring DC-3/C-47 formation flights and aerial displays 
  • Christina Olds with the Collings Foundation F-4.
  • The Lonestar Flight Museum’s B-17  
  • Buck & Bill Patillo with 2 P-51s, Sweet & Lovely and Little Rebel
  • World Symposium on Electric Aircraft by GE Aviation
  • Bob Hoover with the Vintage Wings of Canada’ s F-86
  • Salute to Veterans with aerial demonstrations 
  • The Douglas AD-1 Skyraider
  • Daily Air Shows and even one at night

July 26th through August 1st in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. What’s not to like?

World’s Loudest Airplane

It’s not because of the engine either.

As if there already wasn’t enough to see at Airventure, how about a plane with a 1,000 watt sound system?


The owner/builder of a one-of-a-kind monoplane called the Starjammer claims that the aircraft’s custom, built-in sound system can create sounds as loud as 200 decibels, which if accurate would make it the world’s loudest airplane ever. Louder than Concorde was, louder than a Space Shuttle. Elgin Wells, aerobatic performer and accomplished musician and composer from Atlanta, Georgia, built the Starjammer over the course of 14 years incorporating six speakers, including police siren speakers, which play music he composes to accompany his aerobatic performances. Wells says his system pushes 1,000 watts of power through the onboard speakers.

The Starjammer also has 225 super bright LED lights installed in the winds and fuselage, and a smoke system with five streams – one in the center one on each wingtip, and two on the horizontal stabilizer – to create a super-sensory airplane for night air show performances.

I can’t help wondering what was going through Mr. Wells mind when he put this on the drawing board.  (Yes , that’s correct. I want a  sound system that will strip the paint off my neighbor’s house). Had enough of that neighbor’s pesky rap music? Fight back with window shattering rock and roll. Bring your earplugs to Oshkosh!

Jet Glider

A jet powered glider was featured during the 2009 Airventure air show and while it worked flawlessly, I thought it somewhat strange. Normally you put jet engines on things you want to go fast, like planes, cars and outhouses. Gliders are supposed to …glide. Still, the glider I previously flew required towing and I thought it would be good to have a back up plan if you found yourself far from home base and running out of thermals and altitude. Schleicher developed a self powered motor glider which has a self stowing prop. Not a bad idea if you run out of lift or don’t have a tow plane. But back to the jet engines: Desert Aerospace is working toward  certification of the self-launching sailplane. (Sailplane is a high performance glider)

BonusJet features a jet engine that can be retracted into the fuselage for high performance cross-country soaring. The jet engine can be extended and restarted in flight. The start sequence is fully automatic, requiring only the flick of a switch by the pilot.

Jet engines are typically very reliable but don’t have the ability to provide instant power in a pinch. They take  time to spool up.  We’ll see if the idea takes off. It has the potential to be the highest performing civilian glider of all time. A military version has been around since the 1950’s. While the Dragon Lady is a handful to fly, it’s been a terrific success.

 The rocket powered model has already been tried and it hasn’t had strong reviews.

Personal Jets

Having enjoyed time in the L-29 I can safely say that “low cost” and “jet aircraft” really don’t occur in the same sentence. This is even truer when developing a Personal Jet.  While there is argument on the definition, some have termed the more recent VLJ (Very Light Jet), as one with a gross weight under 10,000 pounds. A Personal Jet has a gross weight under 5,500 lb, which is substantially smaller. The L-29, a war bird, isn’t really either one but since it’s less than 12,000# , doesn’t require a type rating.

Many start the design process searching for a low cost solution. The engine out of an L-29 is relatively inexpensive, assuming you can find one that you or anyone else would be willing to sit on top of. There is usually a good reason why the engine is cheap, thus the issue with finding parts, as well as someone qualified to work on it. Further, given the age of the technology, you can figure the thing needs an equivalent of a toilet bowl for a fuel delivery device (the whooshing sound is the fuel dollars being sucked down the drain). It makes the J-79 look efficient.

Then, you need to determine what you want the airplane to do. If you don’t care about range and only wish to bore holes in the sky around your local airport, then you might develop a decent sized airplane, but you’ll never go cross country in it. The rule of thumb for any jet aircraft, in order for it to have anything approaching a realistic range, it must have as a very minimum the same amount of fuel on board in pounds as the engine is rated for static thrust, in pounds also. The L-29 flys only two hours in cruise but anything more strenuous makes it a much shorter flight.

So, assuming you find a 1,200 pound thrust engine, (The L-29 Motorlet engine is 1,800 pounds of thrust) you will need to carry between 1,000 to 1,500 pounds of fuel. If you’re building a  Personal Jet, then you may be lucky to achieve a thrust to weight ratio of .25 and while that’s OK, it’s not anything to brag about. A larger engine will require larger fuel tanks and a larger airframe as the design evolves into something ever larger. Then it weighs more and the engine that seemed plenty powerful isn’t so much.  Small wonder there’s not too many of them around. The most recent personal jet effort was the ATG Javelin and it was a nice looking little F-18. Unfortunately they went bankrupt in 2008.

If you want a short history, look here  . None are in existence but it indicates why VLJ’s, with their range and capability, are more commercially viable. And those aren’t anywhere near what I’d call inexpensive.

Build it and They Will Crash?

This whole idea of building your own bird  has intrigued me.  I’m a member of the EAA and the project our local chapter had begun was restoring a Stinson, as opposed to a kit plane. I think it’s great for those with perseverance and a hangar, making flying more affordable (affordable being a loose definition here). I’m in favor of anything that increases the pilot population. Apparently, amateur builts can also decrease the pilot population:

Kit-built planes accounted for 18 percent of noncommercial plane accidents (in 2008) even though they logged less than 5 percent of the flight time.. The accident rate for kit aircraft, including amateur-built helicopters, is more than seven times higher than for other noncommercial aircraft.

The Lancair leads the pack in this area and was called out in this FAA safety advisory that was just released. Not because it’s a bad design. It’s just a really fast plane with high stall speeds and high wing loading. Without the appropriate experience and training, you can get in big trouble.  On a related matter, the Mitsubishi MU-2 had a horrendous safety record for years. This eventually led to strict,  specific, recurrent training requirements imposed by the FAA. The result: an almost spotless record over the past four years.

The recently released 2009 Nall Report is pretty hard on experimental/ amateur built aviation.  Accidents are out of proportion to the total number of airplanes built and hours flown.  Experimental and amateur built aircraft had an accident rate almost 5 times higher than certificated aircraft and a fatal rate of 7 times higher per hour flown.

The amateur builts have accident rates involving mechanical problems and unexplained losses of engine power that are about double that of certificated airplanes. This makes me much happier with a Lycoming up front in the factory builts. “Experimental”  aircraft should not involve experiments with powerplants. More mentoring and oversight are needed. If you’re interested, the AOPA has the 2009 Nall Report here.