PTT, Dave Unwin
Some of AERO'S weird but not always wonderful offerings
Just what is it about aviation that seems to attract so many dreamers, charlatans, snake oil salesmen and Walter Mittys? From the hundred–hour PPL who insists on flying the club 150 attired like a Typhoon pilot (a surprisingly popular trend as some recent letters in ‘Airmail’ would suggest) to the bloke sitting in a mouldy Portakabin with a borrowed handheld transceiver who behaves as if he’s ‘Heathrow Approach’ − I just don’t get it.
And, having recently returned from the Aero at ‘Friedrich shop’, I’m even more confused, for along with the various permutations of composite two-seaters, both high and low wing and side-by-side or tandem, and each powered by a Rotax 912, there were a couple of designs that were... well, distinctly different−and could only have come from the most vivid of dreams (or perhaps they were nightmares?)
Displayed somewhat incongruously amongst some fascinating and futuristic electric aircraft in the E-flight expo was the appositely named Discopter Lufttaxi (see p.13−ed). Looking like something straight out of a 1950s sci-fi ‘B’ movie this curious contraption promised to out-perform both helicopters and aeroplanes alike! I must admit I was intrigued. Most aviators are aware of the hoary old aphorism (usually attributed to Colin Chapman) to “simplify, then add lightness,” yet the Discopter appeared to have been constructed from a combination of second-hand Armco, redundant crane booms and bits of old bridge. Consequently, although it appeared very robust it must presumably be extremely heavy, yet it was plastered with ‘Do Not Touch’ signs. Perhaps it was made from a new and exotic alloy, possibly an ultramodern amalgamation of titanium and Duralumin, and was consequently not as heavy as it looked? Intrigued, I gently touched one of the crudely welded seams. It was made from heavy-duty steel! Goodness knows why they were worried about people touching it. Forget ‘bulletproof’−the thing could probably shrug off a direct hit from a 20mm cannon shell! Two design flaws were immediately apparent even to my untrained eye: the not inconsequential issue of providing control longitudinally and laterally didn’t appear to have been addressed (there were some sort of vanes, but I imagine the effects of gyroscopic precession would’ve been colossal); and, even more fundamentally, it really wasn’t obvious how the pilot and eight passengers accessed the cockpit.
At the other end of the Messe (in fact in pole position in the main entrance) was the EAC Equator amphibian by Renaissance aircraft. With its smooth composite construction impervious to corrosion, a single pusher propeller sensibly placed high on a pylon to keep it out of the damaging effects of seawater spray, and a practical retractable tricycle undercarriage I’ll admit I was nearly fooled, as from a distance it did look quite believable.
Upon closer inspection however I soon realised that the instrument panel had been created after a trip to the local aircraft scrapyard. In fact, I’m not entirely convinced that all the instruments scattered randomly across the panel were from aircraft. Furthermore, controls for operating the engine and propeller, and even the elevator, rudder and ailerons were conspicuous by their absence. However, it was only when I read the spec sheet on the nearby display board did I realise that the machine in front of me was offered in a truly dazzling number of versions, from a ‘2-seat high-performance trainer’ to a ‘20-seat allround[sic] commuter’. It was claimed to be both ‘STOL & very long range’ and could be powered by either one or two engines, installed in both pusher or tractor installations, including avgas- or diesel-fuelled piston engines up to 475hp, or a 1,350shp turboprop. Obviously, it would be certified to FAR Part 23 in the ‘Normal’ category, and with its 340kt top speed, 5,000nm range and 36,000ft ceiling, the Equator really did appear to offer something for everyone. According to the spec sheet it was also ‘pressurised or not’.
Of course, this sort of thing is not new. From William Henson and John Stringfellow’s Aerial Steam Carriage of 1842 to the Moller Skycar, aviation has always attracted some... shall we say ‘imaginative’ designs. During the mid-1970s Pilot’s late and muchmissed Editor James Gilbert wrote the appositely titled The World’s
Worst Aircraft– and if you can track down a copy on the internet I highly recommend it. From the astonishing Christmas Bullet (it was designed by a doctor of medicine and shed its wings on its first flight, killing the pilot) to the Caproni Ca.60 (which had nine wings but no tail) it is a book that delights and dumbfounds in equal measure.
Finally, although the Aerial Steam Carriage never got past the patent stage (British Patent Number 9478, if you were wondering) in 1933 a steampowered aircraft was built, possibly delighting both steam enthusiasts and plane spotters. The Besler Brothers bought a 150hp engine from the Doble Steam Motors Co. of Detroit, installed it in a Travel Air 2000, and it flew! I bet the pilot was well chuffed.
A couple of designs were from the most vivid of dreams
Pilot’s Flight Test Editor operates a Jodel D.9 from a farm strip and has logged stick-time on everything from ultralights to fast jets