At Last the Real 200-mph, 38-mpg, $2965 BD-5!

(Popular Science magazine, circa 1970's -- Courtesy of Gene Hornung -- Pics at the bottom of the page!)
Les Berven, Jim Bede's test pilot, crawled into the four-foot-high airplane, eased his feet down into the bullet nose, cinched up his safety harness, and lay back in the 23-inch wide cockpit.  Looking like a racing driver in a Formula One, he reached up and closed the canopy.  It cleared his crash helmet by four inches.  When he moved the stubby control stick, mounted on a shelf on the right side of the cockpit, his thumb pressed his thigh.

A mechanic pushed the plane out into the sunshine, not too difficult, because pilot, plane, and fuel weighed under 600 pounds.  Les fired up the German-built two-cylinder Hirth snowmobile engine and revved it to 6500 rpm.  It sounded like a baby banshee.

"Okay," said Jim Bede, beside me. "I can't prove all my claims in an hour.  But at least you'll see my plane can actually fly."

The claims?  The long-wing BD-5 55-hp micro will cruise at 200 mph, get 38 miles per gallon of gas, fly 1215 miles nonstop, is fully acrobatic (with short wings), yet performs almost like a sailplane with long wings.  All through the BD-5's growing pains, aviation experts have been needling Jim about his optimism, telling him it couldn't be done, and even accusing him of deliberately painting too rosy a picture to help promote what they felt was going to be a flat-out bust.

Jet version

Now I was getting an exclusive look at the first production model (other news media have covered the prototype) ready to roll.  In addition, Bede is planning to put a jet engine in the craft that will up its speed to more than 350 mph.  He hopes to fly the jet at Oshkosh's blockbuster show (July 29-Aug. 4) of homebuilts.  Bede's got an eye on the Air Force with this combination.  They could buy one of his planes, he says, for the fuel cost of running a couple of F-4s through afternoon dogfight practice.

Les Berven taxied off down the big concrete runway at Jim's Newton, Kans., headquarters (an old B29 field).  The sky was blue and smogless.  The flat lands stretched off in all directions like an enormous pool table.  Far off, looking like a red-and-white bug, the tiny plane turned into the wind and we heard its engine begin to scream.

"Hold onto your hat now," muttered Bede. The bug moved forward slowly.  It gathered speed, and lifted off.  Then its tricycle gear snapped in like a switchblade.  The plane went skimming past in a climb, resembling an F-104 jet fighter.  "It's not going as fast as it seems," said Bede.  "It's so small, you get the illusion of higher speed." It wasn't exactly standing still.

Half an hour passed.  Then word came over the radio from Berven that his fuel pressure had dropped to zero and his engine had stopped running.  Bede, hearing this, merely smiled.  "No sweat, he's got the long wings.  He could glide to Wichita if he had to." (Wichita was 15 miles!)

Berven circled the field like a sailplane, without power. He S-turned to kill excess altitude.  He landed like a feather and rolled along to the feeder runway serving Bede's test hangar.  The test-pilot turned in, coasted to a stop beside us, and raised the canopy.  "Nuts, I intended to roll right into the hangar," he said.

Pinched gas line

They found the malfunction -- a plastic gas line had pinched shut at the wing root -- and noted a change that would eliminate this problem permanently.  When Berven got out of the cockpit, I got in -- no easy task for a six-foot-two, 200-pound man.  It was a bit like pulling on a heavy topcoat. One thing was certain, I wasn't about to fall out.

Having flown all my life with a center stick I wasn't really happy with the tiny control stick mounted on a shelf at the right side of the plane.  You let your forearm rest on this shelf and move the stick mainly with your wrist.  However, this is a matter of personal preference. Tests conducted by the U.S. Air Force on an F-104 jet fighter equipped with a "side stick" were highly successful.  No dangerous malfunctions of any kind occurred.  The pilots in the test were uniformly enthusiastic. They reported they could control the jet with less strain, and equal efficiency.  Bede's little control stick is positioned in his plane at precisely the angle, and with the same angle of deflection throws, as the stick in the F-104.

What's it feel like to fly?

"It's kind of like being a bird," says Berven.  "I mean, you're sitting up front in that clear plastic nose -- nothing out front but the clouds!  A little twitch of the wrist sends you any place you like.  You get the terrific visibility of a glider-plus 200-mph.  Kind of hard to beat."

The nosewheel is free-swiveling, he explains, so slowing is done with brakes. Touch the left brake; right, right brake.  But aerodynamic control starts at 20 mph, when you can use the rudder.  Directional control is not a problem.  You can see the runway 10 feet in front of the nose, and once you're lined up and rolling for a takeoff there's very little need to use rudder.  Just a touch, at intervals, to keep her straight then a little back-stick pressure with the wrist and she flies off by herself.

Lightning-fast roll

Berven. has rolled the airplane numerous times, and here's one place the neophyte should exercise caution.  Not because the plane won't roll, but because it rolls too well.  It rips around like lightning, and if you aren't careful you may find yourself rolling twice. In the hands of a cool pilot, this is OK.  But if you should get disoriented and start a high-speed dive and just sit there -- you could be looking at a speed well past the red line in a few seconds.

From the looks of things, the BD 5 may become one of the favorite acrobatic planes, along with the Decathlon, Zlinn, Pitts Special, and Chipmunk.  There's already talk of forming a four-plane acrobatic team using BD-5's -- a sort of poor man' Blue Angels.

Easy touchdown

Landing the BD-5, according to Berven, is simple, no problem.  In fact, it's easy.  He comes over the fence at 75-85 mph, touches the runway at 65.  "I have found that the best way to land the BD-5," says Berven, "is to descend to about one foot off the ground at flare speed and hold it there (power off), gradually easing back on the stick until the top of the instrument panel is on the horizon. Then I just hold that attitude and the airplane lands itself.  There's no problem about depth perception. The runway is so close I could almost reach out and touch it."

Berven has landed in many a stiff crosswind (Kansas is famous for them).  He uses the standard "slip" method, and says he can handle winds up to 20 knots, which would put many other planes in the hangar, waiting for calmer weather. As a pilot with acrobatic experience who has flown an F-100 Super Sabre, I felt qualified to fly the BD-5.  But no dice. "Put yourself in my place, Frank," said Jim Bede.  "We have what appears to be a million-dollar baby here. I'm sure you're a capable pilot.  I'm a capable pilot myself (Bede holds the world's record of 70 hours aloft without sleep) and I haven't flown it yet.  This is our first real production airplane.  Nobody -- not one single person -- has finished a BD-5 except us.  Come back this summer.  You can fly it all day."

I stopped arguing and accepted a cockpit checkout as the best onboard situation I was likely to get.

As for the Hirth engine, with its 6500 rpm at 75 percent power (the normal cruise setting), I was leery.  I've been flying light planes for years and looking at 2500 rpm max on my tach.  Bede said no sweat.  You could run this Hirth engine all day at 6500 rpm and not hurt a thing.  It has no valves, rocker arms, cams, springs, and the other moving parts found in standard, four-cylinder American lightplane engines.  If they aren't there, as Bede said, how can they break?

The oil pump can't break, either, because there isn't any.  You put the oil into the tank with the gas.  It's a special synthetic oil that burns so clean, a carbon problem is rare. "One of the best things about the Hirth," said Bede, "is its low maintenance.  All that's necessary in a top overhaul is to change the piston rings. The Hirth guy did it here at the plant in 71/2 minutes." Bede added that you can buy a new Hirth engine and install it in the plane for $500.  It costs up to $500 for a major overhaul on a tired four-cylinder job.

Engine improvements

Characteristically, Bede hasn't been able to let the Hirth alone.  He's improved it, and the German concern has adopted his innovations: dual ignition (two spark plugs to a cylinder), a capacitor-discharge system instead of old-fashioned points. The device stores up a terrifically hot spark, like a strobe light, and shoots it to the plugs, making positive firing absolutely certain. What really appealed to me was the BD-5's two sets of wings.  The wings of the short set -- 14 feet, 3 inches -- are stressed for the roughest aerobatics and speeds up to 270 mph. The long set -- 21 feet 5 inches -- are for long range, quick liftoff, and the kind of sailplane glide Berven had demonstrated. Those wings slip on and off the powerful tubular center spar in 10 minutes.

Cost of this super sprite?

Only $2675 complete; long wing, 40-hp Hirth engine, even the paint! (Short wing also, $200 extra.) The BD-5B flight-test model with 55-hp engine costs $290 extra (see spec chart).  The 70-hp engine costs $430 more.

But wait a moment, there's a catch.  You have to build the BD-5 yourself out of a zillion bits and pieces.  Unless you're patient and like to cut, fit, and rivet, forget it.  Bede freely admits you'll need at least six months, maybe a year, of nights and weekends to complete the job.  However, he does make things as foolproof and easy as possible by sending you a thick I how-to-do-it manual that goes into every fine detail. (Editor's Note: The average construction time of a BD-5B is 3,000+ hours, quite a bit more than 6 months or a year of "nights and weekends.")

Most parts and drawings in the manual are full size.  No need to scale down or rack your brain.  Trace the shape off the manual and transfer it directly to the aluminum.  Bede has not tried to cut costs by sending you large bulky sheets hoping you'll be able to get four or five parts out of each sheet without messing it up.  He sends you one piece of aluminum per part. If you do goof up (and even an expert does at times) Bede has a warehouse full of replacements he will ship promptly at minimum charge.

FAA inspections

Building an airplane yourself is a serious. job.  To insure the BD-5 is built right, Bede reminds you in his instruction manual to call in your local Federal Aviation Authority man to make inspections at various points. The FAA man must also make a final inspection when you complete your craft before it is permitted to fly.  This is for your protection, and there's no charge for any of it.  Finally, before you depart on that high-speed coast to-coast economy run, the FAA re quires you spend at least 25 hours testing your new plane near your home airport.

Only "aircraft-quality" material is permitted in the BD-5.  No saving nickels and dimes on little items that might screw up and put the entire airplane in difficulties. The main wingspar of the BD-5 (Jim’s trademark in all his planes) is a big thick aluminum tube that looks like a barrel. The wing ribs are close together for extra strength.  Not only are the joints secured by rivets, but they are smeared with a special black gook called Proseal, which costs $23 a Pint, then pressed tight.  The Proseal is like a weld.  But it also has a rubbery consistency and soundproofs, weatherproofs, and makes every seal rock solid.  There are, of course, some airplane sections that are so critical they can't be trusted to the skill of a homebuilder.  These parts are preformed at the factory. They include ribs, spars, channels, fuselage bulkheads, and trim-tab panels.

Factory help

If, after you start to build your BD-5, you run into a problem, your local BD dealer (who's gone to school at Wichita to learn the tricks) can usually straighten you out.  However, expert advice is available every day, except weekends, by calling the factory.  Bede knows how hard it is to build experimental airplanes, and how important it is to build them safely. Until now, the homebuilt-airplane situation has been a slapdash business.  Some "genius" came up with a plane that looked good.  Neighbors noticed it, wanted to build one like it, and the designer gave them a sketch and a lot of verbal advice.  They got out the tools and started building a reasonable facsimile of the airplane.

This kind of thing is very dangerous.  Even  well-designed planes can be temperamental when rigged wrong, and someone skillful with tools may not be experienced as a pilot -- able to deal with a sudden emergency in his homebuilt.

Bede's plane, however, has been thoroughly flutter-tested, static-tested, stall-tested, and drop-tested.  The parts are standard.  Every key part is stronger than necessary, providing a comforting safety factor.

Hire a mechanic

And if you are a man who must have a BD-5 but don't have the patience to screw a light bulb in straight, buy the kit and hire a top mechanic to do the job for you.  It's perfectly legal, provided the mechanic does not set up an assembly line and go into manufacturing on a mass scale.

Bede provides a small light plastic "hangar trailer" to keep your little beauty out of the weather and to tow it to the nearest airport.  The plane is available with optional electric starter, heater, and miniature instruments (if you can afford them) in addition to the standard panel: airspeed, altimeter, tach, compass, and engine gauges.

BD-5 sales are brisk

Jim has put the homebuilt business on a mass production basis.  He's got $200 deposits on 4300 planes already, and new orders are rolling in steadily.  Barry Goldwater has a kit on order.  So does Richard Bach, author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull.  A Navy Blue Angel, a vice-president at Lockheed, and an Air Force general all bought kits.

Bede has distributors all over the United States, in Canada, Switzerland, South Africa, England, Pakistan, Japan and Ethiopia.  New Zealand is negotiating for rights to manufacture the plane and sell it ready-built in much of Southeast Asia.  The reason for the plane's success isn't hard to see.  Where else can you get a vehicle that carries you 200 mph for 11/2 cents per mile?

Are you ready for takeoff?

Before you take your first solo flight in your BD-5, check out in an airplane that requires skill to fly properly.  Then flying the BD-5 will be a cinch. One thing is sure.  Nowhere in this inflated high-priced modern world are you likely to get the kind of bargain Jim Bede is now offering you in his mini-transport-sailplane-fighter.

BD-5 Specifications

 Maximum speed (sea level) 213 mph
 Cruise Speed (7500 feet) 210 mph
 Rate of Climb (sea level) 1480 ftm
 Service ceiling 3,000 ft.
 Fuel flow (75 percent power) 5.5 gph
 Miles per gallon (75 percent power) 38
 Optimum range (30 min. reserve) 1215 mi
 Takeoff ground run 670 ft.
 Takeoff ground run (over 50-foot obstacle) 830 ft.
 Landing ground run 530 ft.
 Landing ground run (over 50-foot obstacle) 830 ft.
 Stall speed (full flaps) 55 mph
 Stall speed (clean) 62 mph
 Maneuvering speed 140 mph
 Lift /drag ratio 21

(55–hp engine and long wing)

How the BD-5 jet will perform

Currently in development is a jet version of the BD-5.  The power plant will be a French Sermel TRS-18 jet engine that will up the 5's cruise speed to 350 mph.  Although there will be no cabin pressurization, an oxygen system will be included.  Service ceiling will be about 32,000 feet.  Rate of climb will be a whopping 3500-4000 feet a minute, and the airframe will be stressed for six g's.  Range will be about 900 miles at 16-gph fuel flow.





Web Author: Juan Jimenez
© 1999 by Juan Jiménez - All rights reserved.