Articles

Kit Planes & Experimental Aircraft

September 10, 2019


You don’t always need a fighter plane to
pull extreme manoeuvres in the sky. This is the Cri Cri, the world’s smallest
twin engine plane. TIM SENIOR: The Cri Cri was designed by one of France’s top designers / engineers, and as I understand, he designed this in his spare time, as a home build or a kit build aircraft, and when you add pilot and fuel, it only totals 375 lbs. With its special roof platform the Cri Cri
can be launched almost anywhere, on the runway, or even on the highway. All it needs is a speed of 75 mph for take-off. TIM SENIOR: As we accelerate away I call the speed out, and I give just a gentle squeeze on the stick, which allows the nose to raise
up, and the aircraft then climbs away from the roof. The aircraft cruises at 130 mph,
its top speed is 163 mph, it’s capable of doing all aerobatic manoeuvres. The aircraft was developed mainly for the sports market, the private flyer could buy the plans or buy a kit, build it in his garage at home, and go out and fly what’s quite a sporty aircraft. It’s very cheap to run, it use 3 litres an hour of fuel, about 100 of the aircraft are now flying throughout the world. This is the age of the home built plane, constructed from plans and kits, in countless garages and yards, home builds now outsell manufactured aircraft by 10 to 1. They can often outperform their factory made counterparts. WOMAN: It’s a beautiful day for flying today. LEEON DAVIS: Sure glad it’s not windy like
it was yesterday, and cold. WOMAN: And rainy. LEEON DAVIS: Of course one thing we don’t do out here in Texas is complain about when it rains. The last guy I heard of who complained
about when it rains, they shot him! LEEON DAVIS: I have built 11 airplanes, all
original designs, and then I sold drawings on one of the airplanes, there are approximately 75 of them flying. And I’ve always tried to build light, small, compact, economical airplanes that the average person could afford to fly and build. Home builds have much better performance, you have over 600 kits or plans to choose from, and those start at under $10,000. There are some that are running records of over 400 mph, and you can’t get anything like that in a manufactured airplane. The DA-11 is Leeon’s gift to the backyard
flyer, powered buy, believe it or not, a lawnmower engine. LEEON DAVIS: This is 20 horsepower lawnmower engine built by Briggs and Stratton, they first came out with 18 and now we put a new carburettor in it, and developed 20 now. That gives us real good performance, and real good economy, doesn’t burn hardly any fuel. Incredibly this all metal plane weighs just
170 lbs, it flies 100 miles to the gallon, at 135 mph. KEN SHUGART: We’re about to go fly the DA-11 which is quite small, but everything is relative, it flies just like a real airplane. LEEON DAVIS: Let’s go. THE DA-11 gets airborne at 60 mph on just 500 feet of runway. Leeon’s test pilot, Ken Shugart, is surprised by its performance. KEN SHUGART: It’s quite responsive because of its extremely light weight. For its horsepower it’s extremely fast, it’s very manoeuvrable, basically I just sit in here and ride. Leeon worked as a mechanic in the air force, and for McDonnell Douglas, but has no formal training in aircraft design. He taught himself. LEEON DAVIS: I’m dyslexic. Dyslexics don’t do as well with the printed word, and we try and work with our hands, and usually we’re quite competitive, and we strive to excel in what we do. When I get on an airplane I work about 6 days a week, and I work as high as 16 hours a day. Armed with a few simple tools, and a few simple rules, Leeon’s genius is to build planes that easily match the factory built product. LEEON DAVIS: This is my shop where I design and build airplanes, I can do approximately 99% of the work in here. My design tools are a simple calculator and a notebook, and from there I visualise what the aircraft is going to look like. I work with metal almost exclusively, I would build the windshield out of metal
if I could. The worst enemy of an airplane is weight, we have to lift it off the ground, we have to drag it through the air. Power to weight ratio is the most important thing, you can increase the horsepower which will cost you more, or you can decrease the weight
which doesn’t cost you anything. Back in 1946 the industry built 35,000 airplanes and in 1996 they built just over 11,000, and this was caused by the fact the price has just gone up and up and up, and they’ve driven the average person out of the market, and this is where the home build has come in and filled the void. We have a very important place in aviation because right now we’re leading the way. This is the world’s most successful home
build, it’s called the Long-EZ, over 2,000 people have built their own EZ planes. DOUG SHANE: This airplane was built in 1988, it made its first flight. It’s my own personal airplane that I built at home in the garage. It’s since got some 13,000 hours on it and 9 years of flying. It has really been a very
popular airplane. I think the reason it is so popular is the great combination of performance and handling characteristics. It breaks all the rules. There’s a propeller at the back, and a tiny
canard wing on the nose. This special wing is designed to prevent stall, the dangerous loss of lift when flying too slowly. It makes the Long-EZ a very safe plane for
amateurs. The designer, Burt Rutan, also created one of the most extraordinary flying machines ever built, Voyager. Voyager was built for single special flight,
a nonstop journey around the world, without refuelling. BURT RUTAN: The particular materials and the manufacturing method that we used for Voyger had to be low cost because we had a very low budget. It was one of the first airplanes that was built entirely out of graphite epoxy structures. In December 1986 Voyager took off from Edwards Air Force Base in California at the start of a historic 9 day flight. BURT RUTAN: The thing that made the Voyager stand out is that 73% of the take-off weight was fuel. The wings and fuselage were filled with 12,000 gallons of fuel. The two pilots, Rutan’s brother Dick, and
Jeana Yeager, were crammed into the tiny cockpit. BURT RUTAN: In smooth air the Voyager was actually a delight to fly, in turbulence though it became a real bear. When it touched down at Edwards 226 hours later, Voyger had flown 27,000 miles nonstop, there were barely 20 gallons of fuel left
in its tanks. Its success made Burt Rutan the most famous independent aircraft designer. This is his latest creation, the Boomerang. BURT RUTAN: I named the airplane the Boomerang because of the shape of the wing in plan form. It swept forward at the left engine so it
has an asymmetric boomerang, with one longer wing than the other. Very much like the Aboriginal boomerangs. Another radical design with exceptional performance and stability, it’s a one of a kind for Rutan’s personal use. The Boomerang is the very latest in a long
line of prototypes built by a man dedicated to testing the limits of aviation design. He built his ARES fighter just to prove that
a high performance military jet could be developed cheaply. BURT RUTAN: One of the reasons we’ve done so many airplanes is that we tend to not shy away from projects because of risk. We’ll do exciting things, we’ll do pure research, we will go out and build an airplane if we
think it will work. Many of the world’s most extraordinary planes were built just to see if they would work. In 1979 the Gossamer Albatross flew its way into the record books with an incredible human-powered flight. Cyclist and hand glider pilot Bryan Allen
produced enough power, just 0.3 horsepower to cross the English Channel at 11 mph. The huge wingspan was designed to maximise lift with the least possible weight. Its Mylar skin, less than a thousandth of
an inch thick gave the Gossamer Albatross a weight of just 55 lbs. The crossing began at dawn in still, calm
air. In mid channel headwinds cut Allen’s speed in half, he was ready to quit. He climbed a few feet and found smoother air, he decided to push on. After 2 hours and 49 minutes he finally completed the 22 mile flight, gently touching down on a French beach. Two decades later design concepts from the Gossamer Albatross inspired another experimental aircraft, NASA’s Pathfinder. Unmanned and solar powered it flies at altitudes over 70,000 feet. Solar cells covering the entire wing power
the propellers. Storage cells allow the Pathfinder to fly
through the night, in theory this machine could fly forever.

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