|Ragwing Heath Replica RW5|
Well folks, in my odyssey to find the aircraft for the next generation I have searched high and low. I have spent hours upon hours at the library, searching the internet, visiting air museums, and of course attending air shows. I have read magazines articles by the dozens and even large hardbound books.
Many aircraft come and go from my attention and frankly don’t make the grade for my list. Some of these aircraft are quite popular, such as the ubiquitous Cessna 172. It doesn't make my list because frankly it's boring. It's the same Cessna they have been building for years and years with slight cosmetic improvements and ever more expensive power plant and avionics. I realize it's the workhorse of General Aviation and it deserves a place of honor but frankly it just doesn’t stir my blood. In the next century of flight many, many planes that we are so excited about today will ultimately fall by the wayside.
What does it take to make this elite list? Well first of all, the airplane should be fun. I know that sounds rather lighthearted but dadgumit, flying should be fun. If you aren't having fun, then what's the point? The plane should be not only fun to fly but fun to build and maintain. Your time with your plane should lower your stress not elevate it.
|Ragwing Special II RW26 by Roger Mann has 2 seats!|
The plane should be pleasing to the eye. Now I know some of you will think back to my article on the Colomban Cri-Cri and perhaps raise an eyebrow. I agree the Cri-Cri defies convention and does not have classical lines. But in the air, in its natural element it's as graceful a thing as I have ever seen. Other planes such as the beloved Bowers Flybaby look good from any angle. The BUG and GOAT gliders of Mike Sandlin have a grace that reminds me of the very first days of flight when all a pilot had to judge his speed was the sound of wind hissing through the wires.
|Cri-Cri vs. Mirage, my moneys on the Cri-Cri.|
Kitplanes are another path but unfortunately the kits nowadays cost nearly as much as certified aircraft. When one looks at it a kit is just building your own plane with a few shortcuts added to make it easier and faster. This perceived ease and speed come with a big outlay of money. I hope you dear readers have this kind of money but alas, I do not.
This leaves the humble plans built aircraft. Not just any plans built aircraft though. You see it should be a plans built aircraft that is designed with simple ordinary materials that can be found affordably most anyplace.
|Mike Sandlin's GOAT glider.|
Materials like wood and not always so called 'aircraft grade' spruce. Many different kinds of wood can safely build an aircraft. Take the time to learn about them. Another material is steel, good old steel. Yes it takes some extra tooling and learning to work with it. But nothing out of the range of the average garage tinkerer. Cloth coverings work just fine and have since the dawn of flight. Many record setting aircraft are covered in fabric, this material of yesterday is still valid and for the same reasons. It's lightweight, inexpensive, and fairly user friendly. I personally think that the Wright brothers sorted out the best materials to build an aircraft right out of the gate. We have been fine tuning ever since.
Aluminum is fine and is on most planes. Titanium, leave it for those fellows at the Lockheed Skunkworks. We need that stuff to fight the evil terrorists so don't waste it on your airplane. Composites, well I believe that composites can build an affordable plane I just see little evidence of it in the real world. I tell you what, if you are building an affordable composite plane write an article about it and I will post it here for my thousands of readers to judge. You never know, you might become the next Burt Rutan.
My final prerequisite for an airplane for the next century is community. An airplane ought to have a group of kind folks who love it and spend time helping others. You cannot really rely on a manufacturer for community. You see those of us who have been watching the aircraft industry for a while have noticed that unfortunately these companies often come and go. Aircraft designers, no matter how great, are mere mortals and they pass on. Hopefully they leave the legacy of their work to a community of people who love it. People and companies are born, grow old, and die, but community is forever.
|N500F the prototype Bowers Flybaby stolen from Ron Wantajja's site. These guys are community!|
People who are getting it right: