"Planet Bearhawk" is a term coined by my
lovely wife Donna, to describe a place that I go on many occasions
throughout the day. I'm sure many of you are familiar with this state of
mind as the gray matter between your ears soars off into the clouds and
you can think about nothing else. Well, we now have a name for that
I will use this page to place relevant
stories and anecdotes to Bearhawk building, flying and dreaming. Feel
free to contribute by emailing us your contribution. Of course we will
credit you with the contribution of the story. So, you can now escape to
Planet Bearhawk when you need some light reading to take you away from
the doldrums of everyday life.
go to Budd Davisson and the tireless number of hours he has spent
promoting the Bearhawk and developing the kits with his partner, Mark
Goldberg. Without their belief in this airplane, this website and the
joy of building the Bearhawk for so many would not exist, because so
many of us do not have the time and/or skill and/or patience to build an
airplane completely from scratch.
Of course we have to thank Bob Barrows, the
creator of the Bearhawk, for sharing his creation with the rest of the
world by taking the time to draw up the plans and fielding the thousands
of questions he answers every year.
Also, many thanks to Budd and his articles that he
has so graciously allowed me to borrow to place on this website. For a
complete, total flying experience, see Budd's website,
www.airbum.com. If you need a Bearhawk kit or want to learn
even more about the Bearhawk, visit AviPro's site,
Links on this page
The Barrows Bearhawk:
Utility in a Home-Rolled Package
Barrows Bearhawk 260:
A Case Study in Refinement
Mark Goldberg's Bearhawk
Aircraft Ltd. - Plant Tour
Pirep: Bearhawk 232PF, Pat Fagan's Bird
Bearhawk - Combining Utility with Airplane
(will open PDF
AviPro's Bearhawk: Pure and Simple
How to Groundloop Your Taildragger
Tailwheels and the Student - Pros and Cons
Don't do this
airliner crosswind landings
(a 3 Mb movie that will
launch Windows Media Player)
floats taking off from a hard runway
(a 1.5 Mb movie that will
launch Windows Media Player)
The Barrows Bearhawk: Utility
in a Home-Rolled Package
Text and photos by
Davisson - An article from
Aviation, October, 1995
In recent years we've seen utility come to the fore in many of the
new kit designs. However, with a few exceptions, all of the offerings
have defined utility as being two-people carrying only what they need to
get by. This utility has also been available only in kits, so the price
of entry is daunting to some.
And then there is Bob Barrow's scratch-built, plans offering, the
Bearhawk. Bob defines Utility as an airplane with few limitations in the
way it is used. This includes four full-sized seats (the cabin is the
same size as a C-172), 1200 pounds useful load, 55 gallons of fuel
standard, and the ability to hang anything from 150 to 260 hp in front
of the firewall. Now that's a usable airplane.
Barrow's airplane is also unique in today's homebuilt environment,
where the predominant thought pattern seems to be
build-it-fast-and-don't-worry-about-the-cost, because a) it is only
available as plans and b) it emphasizes simplicity and low cost.
The cost of entry required to build Bob's 130-150 mph,
carry-anything-and-land-anywhere airplane is the two hundred bucks for
the plans. Past that, you can spend as much as you like, when you like,
as fast as you like. That's the beauty of scratch built airplanes. You
can spend a couple hundred bucks on aluminum and start hammering out
ribs, or drop a much larger bundle for the entire bill of materials,
which in the Bearhawks' case is estimated at under $6,000, which
includes everything (as in everything!) with only the engine and prop to
Bob did not start out to design an airplane to sell. In fact, the
Bearhawk was originally a project meant to fill his own needs for
utility in his airframe and engine building business. But, we're getting
ahead of ourselves.
First, it is necessary to understand Bob Barrows and how he came to
be sitting under his airplane at Oshkosh answering a million questions
about his obviously useful airplane.
Bob has been a practicing mechanical engineer for nearly thirty years
which included a long stint as Manager of Engineering for one of
Ingersoll-Rand's facilities in Virginia. However, that was only one part
of his dual life. Outside the office, he had developed his own little
airport, where he built airplanes and re-built engines.
Initially, he built a Midget Mustang, then designed and built his own
STOL, single place bird he called the "Grasshopper." He flew that for 15
years before parting with it. Then there was a 260 hp,
symmetrical-everything, Pitts type aerobatic machine. And an RV-3. And a
couple of rebuilt projects.
By 1980 his engine business was picking up and he began to feel the
need for a utility type airplane and he began work on what he then
called the RB-4, which was renamed Bearhawk.
"I got some parts finished, spars and ribs and such, but then I
decided I needed a four-place airplane for the business right then and
bought a rag-wing, Cessna 170 project."
The Bearhawk languished in the backwaters of his project ladened shop
until he decided to leave Ingersoll and strike out freelance in 1988.
"My engine business was doing well, so I wasn't afraid of being out
there on my own."
Confident words from a man with a wife and four kids.
It was at that point he decided to finish the Bearhawk which took
"...oh, I don't know, a year or two..." He acts as if building an
airplane is a monthly occurrence on his little strip.
brings us up to Oshkosh '95, by which time he had been using the
airplane for several years in his business. Bob makes no bones about the
fact that his airplane is a working airplane. Not a show winner or a
machine designed to blaze cross country in formation with the composite
crowd. However, whenever we walked past the airplane on the flight line,
there was always a number of folks asking questions or hanging their
heads down in the cockpit to see how this or that was done.
The airplane was of interest to a lot of people because it was an
airplane that makes a lot of sense. Which is exactly the reason I was
attracted to it. It makes so much sense in so many different ways.
Bob is one of the friendly, more soft spoken types you'll find and
was quick to agree to a flight. He is also just looking for an excuse to
While we were waiting to pull out from the flight line, I spent some
time looking the airplane over. The wings are all aluminum and many of
the details, Barrows is quick to point out, lean heavily on Midget
Mustang/RV technology. This is especially evident in the spars, which
are "C" shaped .032" channels with 1/8" x 1 1/4" straps of varying
lengths riveted to the web face inside the flanges. The straps are
stacked in varying depths and lengths depending on the stresses and are
centered on the outer strut attach point rather than all eminating from
the root as with cantilever designs.
The flaps and ailerons are all aluminum framing with fabric cover and
hang from the rear spar, which Barrows says is heavier than normal for
that reason. The ailerons hang on long, tubing weldments which form
tripods bolted to the rear spar. The flaps, which extend all the way out
to 50į, are simple hinged affairs. Bob says he considered Fowlers but
opted for hinged flaps because of their simplicity and small trim change
The ribs are all hand formed over wood forming blocks with no
stretching done. Instead, they are partially bent over the forms, then
the flanges hammered to 90į while off the form. The resulting distortion
in the rib is removed by fluting the flange between the rivets.
The entire control system, elevator and flaps included, uses cables
and pulleys rather than push rods, although bellcranks do move short
pushrods to activate the ailerons. The bellcranks and final pulleys
mount on steel tubing weldments bolted between the spars.
33 foot wings are skinned in .025" aluminum and use bucked or squeezed
solid rivets throughout.
The struts are aluminum and Bob says the best source for them is
damaged 180/182 Cessnas. His are four inches shorter so struts with
broken forks can be salvaged and used.
The fuselage is good, old-fashioned steel tube, which Bob used for a
"From an engineering standpoint, steel tube is easy to analyze and
the calculations are reliable," Bob explains. "It also offers excellent
protection in case of an accident and is easy for the homebuilder to
build with a minimum of tools and jigs."
In reviewing the plans, I found nothing in the fuselage that was even
remotely difficult or unusual. In fact, the main wing fittings nest a
"U" shaped fitting inside the usual blade-type fitting which not only
gives additional area for bearing strength without welding across the
load path, but gives a huge amount of weld length so the quality of the
weld becomes less critical. There is a lot of this kind of thought
through out the airplane.
Because the fuselage changes cross sectional shape quite often, it
looks as if it is going to be one of those fuselages in which the top
and bottom trusses are built first, then jigged into position and the
side pieces added.
The most complex pieces, actually the only complex pieces, are the
Maul-type oil-spring shocks in the landing gear. Those will require a
little machine work but the result is an aerodynamically clean shock
system which doesn't take up any cockpit space.
When the cowling is opened the first thing you'll notice is the huge
amount of space behind the engine. There's at least a foot of empty
space! But, when there's a 260 Lyc under the hood, that's where the
extra set of cylinders go. The propeller stays in the same position, so
the cowing remains unchanged regardless of which engine is used. The
only changes necessary are putting the battery behind the huge baggage
compartment rather than on the firewall.
The nose bowl, incidentally, is a Pitts Special unit.
When poking around under the hood on Bob's personal Bearhawk, you'll
also notice there is no starter or alternator. One of his friends says
Barrows is allergic to electricity.
When we finally found ourselves out on the taxiway and saddling up
and I was delighted at his door arrangement. First of all, there is a
door on both sides and the bottom half hinges forward, while the top
half is hinged to the bottom of the wing like a Cub. This makes it
practical to taxi or fly with the windows open and your elbows on the
door sill like you were cruising the drive-in on a Saturday night.
The cabin is also extremely tall and full of light, rather than being
dark and crowded feeling. The seating position is very Cessna in its
approach, a fact which allows the builder to use a modified Cessna 172
windshield on the Bearhawk. Both the front and back seat room is the
same as the Cessna 172.
Bob has no seats in his drawings, but adapts existing seats and
tracks to his airframe. His machine uses Tri-pacer seats.
If I had a complaint with the airplane it was having to fly on the
left side with a right hand throttle. Yeah, I know, you should be able
to fly either way, but having a control stick in the left hand and a
throttle in the right just doesn't seem right.
In taxiing, a slight stretch lets you see completely over the nose,
which isn't really necessary but makes it nice, nonetheless. A little
brake was necessary for taxi because the tailwheel springs were
I glanced up at the trim, which is a Cessna-type wheel mounted in the
ceiling, satisfied myself it was where Bob recommended, and started the
throttle in. The engine in Bob's airplane is an 0-360 set up for mo-gas
which he figures gives about 170 hp. As the throttle went in and the
constant speed prop began biting in, the airplane literally lunged
forward. I'm a real fan of machines that start pumping adrenaline right
from the starting line and this is one of them. What a delightful
monster this thing would be with 260 hp!
Bob recommended that I don't force the tail up but let it come up on
its own, which worked nicely and almost as soon as it was up, the
airplane left the ground. Actually, it didn't just "leave" the ground.
That's too simplistic. It acted as if the landing gear and the ground
were like-poles on magnets and the airplane was repelled away, it
separated so cleanly. The takeoff happens so quickly, there's little or
no time to analyze what it is doing directionally. But whatever it was
doing took only a tap here and there to keep the centerline where it
Considering that we were in a four-place airplane, the initial rate
of climb was almost startling. It immediately started up at around 1,300
fpm. With a 180 hp engine the powerloading at gross would be about 12.8
lb/hp which is quite respectable but with a 260 hp, it would be 8.8
lb/hp which puts it in the skyrocket category. With two people and half
fuel, it would be around 6.5 lb/hp which is right up there with the
serious aerobatic specials. What a kick that would be!
We arrived at 4,000 feet in nothing flat and I put the nose down
setting up a 23 square cruise which eventually settled out at about 120
knots, or 135-138 mph. Which brings us to one of the points I liked best
about the airplane: It is ready made for doing all sorts of little
homebrewed mods, beginning with milking more speed out of it. The wheels
and brake assemblies could be faired and an easy 3-5 mph added. Strut
fairings and control surface seals might be another 3 mph. Engine
cooling another few knots.
The airplane's lines are quite clean to begin but Bob's goal was
utility, not speed. Still, the homebuilder could do little clean-ups
here and there and net at least 8-10 mph at cruise. With the bigger
engines there is no reason this thing shouldn't be cruising at 155-160
mph, or even higher, at altitude.
In cruise the visibility is tremendous. The nose is well down and the
glass area is just about right for maximum vis. Those who are heavy into
bush flying or sight seeing might want to skin the doors in Plexi.
The aileron pressures are Cessna/Piper-average with a reasonable
break-out forces and the roll rate is probably about 70-80į/sec, which
isn't lightning fast, but about what you'd expect for an airplane of
this type. I'd be tempted to gap seal the ailerons for increased rate
and either go for spades or move the aileron hinge point back a little
to lighten them up. Don't construe this to mean the ailerons are heavy,
because they aren't. It is just that my personal taste is for lighter,
As it is set up now, the elevator is matched to the ailerons but the
rudder is relatively light and tremendously powerful with only a hint of
break-out force, so coordinating at first takes a little practice to
keep the ball in the middle.
Even before we got in the airplane Bob said he was still
experimenting with various details, one of which was the stabilizer
setting. In doing stability tests we found the airplane would begin to
return to neutral if pulled off trim speed (statically positive) but
then it would begin to gain speed and wouldn't level out as the speed
built up (dynamically neutral). We discussed this in some detail and
after Oshkosh, Bob called to say he had changed the stab setting by 2į
and it had a marked effect on the same tests. Now it was dynamically
positive and if pulled 10 knots off trim would gain less than 10 knots
on the initial down line and would damp out entirely with no phugoid
remaining in three cycles.
We wandered over to an outlying grass field and set up to shoot some
landings. As I made the first power reduction opposite the end, the
airplane's basic clean lines were obvious in the way it held on to its
speed. It took more work than you'd expect for an airplane of this type
to get down to the flap speed of 80 knots.
The first landing was made with half flaps at an approach of 60 knots
which Bob says he recommends for the first few landings, although he's
perfectly happy using 45 knots. The first landing was a non-event
because the airplane settled on in an effortless three point and rolled
straight ahead for a short distance before stopping on its own.
Then I started playing with full flaps and lower approach speeds and
found it took a little more technique. With 50į of flap, the airplane is
really nose down, so with only two of us in the airplane it was fun
trying to get the tail down at just the right moment. Power-off with the
CG that far forward, there wasn't quite enough elevator and I'd touch
main gear first with the expected hippity-hop. The preferred approach
would be slower, with just a little power to keep the elevator working.
When we were all done flying and I was sitting around with a Delta
Charley (diet cola) thinking about it, I found there was alot about the
Bearhawk which I found wildly attractive. In fact, given the
opportunity, I could actually see myself building it. In the first
place, it's no secret I love bush-type aircraft. So that's part of the
I also love the basic simplicity of the airplane and Barrows straight
ahead approach to design. He doesn't complicate anything and, because of
that, it is easy to see how things work and how to fabricate them.
I was thumbing through a couple of back issues of his quarterly
newsletter, Bear-Tracks, and found yet another reason I like the
airplane: His straight-up design approach is followed by a similar
philosophy in supporting his builders. He doesn't waste a lot of time
and effort in designing brochures or fancy graphics, he just gives the
builder totally understandable directions on how to build things with a
minimum of tools. What he doesn't do in gloss and color, he more than
makes up for in clarity and understanding. The newsletter presents a lot
of neat building tips.
The drawings themselves are professional looking blue-lines and show
his background as both an engineer and long-time airplane builder.
And then there is one of the other points about the Bearhawk which is
attractive: It is so simple and well done that it makes a flawless
platform for someone who wants to incorporate their own ideas in
cosmetics, streamlining, interior, etc.
For those who are afraid of doing their own welding (shame on you):
Bob reports several manufacturing shops have contacted him about
building component parts for his builders. So there is help out there
for the faint of heart.
We haven't had many four place airplanes offered to the homebuilder
in the past and none have caught on. The Bearhawk looks as if it should
change that trend. Afterall, think about its name: It's a Cessna Skyhawk
in concept with the brawn and attitude of a Bear. Bearhawk. What a
HOT BEARHAWK NEWS...KITS NOW
AviPro Aircraft, Ltd is now producing a complete line of components
for the Bearhawk right up to a 51% quick-build kit. In keeping with Bob
Barrows' approach, the prices are reasonable. They are working closely
with Barrows in that he supplies the plans and they supply the
components and kits. They can be reached at:
AviPro Aircraft, Ltd
3536 E. Shangri-La Rd.
Phoenix, AZ 85028
Top of Page
Barrows Bearhawk 260: A Case
Study in Refinement
Text and photos by
Nasty! That's the only to describe the wind, as I lined up on Winter
Haven's long runway. Nasty! It had to be gusting 15-25 knots and snapped
from slightly in front of the right wing to behind it. Yeah, this was a
great kind of day to fly a new airplane for the first time. NOT!
On the one hand, it was a shame the day was so bad, because I'd been
looking forward to this flight for a long, long time....for five years,
to be exact, since I last flew the 180 hp version of the same airplane,
the Barrows Bearhawk. This was a new prototype with lots of subtle
refinements and, more importantly, 260 hp driving through a three-blade
prop. The up side to this kind of day was that the nasty conditions
would let me see the airplane at it's worse. There's no tougher
condition than a sometimes-quartering tailwind to find out how evil a
tailwheel airplane can be.
First, some background. The first time I flew the airplane was for a
pirep in EAA's Sport Aviation. At the time, editor Jack Cox and I agreed
that the four-place, straight forward airplane made a huge amount of
sense. 1200 pounds of useful load, good cruise speed, even better good
looks and it could be scratch built, which would allow a builder to get
into the finances of the project at a rate he could afford. That's one
of the downsides of the kit approach: bigger chunks of change are
required to make it happen. With a scratch built airplane, such as the
Bearhawk, you can squirrel away a couple hundred bucks, spend it on
tubing and have enough to build the tail surfaces at your own speed. Of
course, now that AviPro Aircraft, Ltd. has introduced complete kits for
the airplane, a builder has the option of building fast or building
At the time the first report came out in October of 1995, the
designer, Bob Barrows (for more of his background, go back and read the
first report), had sold exactly 12 sets of plans. Once the word went out
on the airplane, it appeared that many others felt the same way Jack Cox
and I had; the airplane scratched enough aeronautical itches that plans
sales really took off. As of this writing, May, 2000, Bob reports they
are closing in on 500 sets of plans sold.
The airplane is fervently supported by the several hundred builders
who are convinced they are building the most practical airplane in the
homebuilt catalog, and they may be right. In addition, the internet has
allowed them to cross utilize their information and thoughts in a number
of ways. If you want to learn anything about the Bearhawk, just do a
word search on "Bearhawk" and it will plug you into at least three
builder's websites and the e-discussion group which is the very best
place to get the most detailed information about building the airplane.
When you get on the e-group for the first time (email@example.com),
log on to the Frequently Ask Questions (FAQ),
as it'll save you from plowing over already plowed ground and wasting
If there is a frustrating aspect to scratch building any airplane,
rather than kit-building (a situation that may change for the Bearhawk
in the near future, more on that later) it is that it takes a longer
time for the first airplanes to start showing up at fly-ins so very few
builder/pilots have had a chance to fly the Bearhawk. They are building
it on faith. In fact, many report they are building it based on what we
said in that first pilot report. That's a pretty heady responsibility
and it was lurking in the back of my mind as I sat at the end of the
runway watching the windsock whip back and forth. Would this new version
of the airplane live up to my memory of the first one and would it
justify the enthusiasm of the rapidly growing group of Bearhawk
Since Bob had only one set of brakes in the airplane and a center
throttle, I opted for the right seat, when we saddled up. When taxiing
out, I was pleased to see the tailwheel ratios (he even built the
tailwheel itself) was dead on the money and the airplane reacted "just
right" to rudder input. Not too slow not too quick. And the visibility
over the nose was great. If I'd had a one inch cushion, the entire
taxiway would have been in view. Without brakes, however the residual
thrust of the smoothly idling 0-540 driving through a Hoffman hub with
Bob's homebuilt composite blades, was enough that I had to ask Bob to
poke the brakes from time to time to slow us down. Oddly enough, even
with the hard wind, I didn't need brakes while taxiing crosswind. At the
time, I didn't think much about it, but now, after the flight, I realize
the airplane was telling me that it had plenty of rudder even when slow.
Time to go flying! I smoothly started the power in being mindful of
what the wind was likely to do to me. I had purposely hunkered down a
little so the side of the runway cut the edge of the cowling which gave
me a definite reference so I'd catch the nose if it tried to move even a
little. The instant the throttle started in however, I nearly forgot
about the runway reference because the acceleration was absolutely
amazing! It really was a rush and almost instantly I felt the tail
getting light. Amid the clamor of an airplane that was obviously
gathering momentum much faster than I was thinking, I unloaded the stick
intending to gently lift the tail off the ground. Then, just as the
tailwheel started to leave the ground, the airplane lunged into the air
clawing upwards at a truly ridiculous angle. The takeoff actually
surprised me by happening long before I expected it. Bear in mind, I
make an average of five takeoffs a day in my Pitts, seven days a week,
yet this airplane surprised me, which is saying a bunch.
I glanced over at the airspeed and we were already blasting through
90 mph with the nose pointed up at an almost scary angle. Bob has said
rate of climb is 1700 feet per minute, but that must be with a full
load, because we were well over 2,000 fpm with two guys and full fuel.
On top of that, I doubt seriously if we rolled much over 250 feet. Maybe
much less. This is where the nasty day worked against us: I would have
loved to have played with short field techniques on a more normal day.
I'd be willing to bet the ranch that using a three-point takeoff and
half flaps, that thing would leap off the ground in some unbelievably
short distance, especially with the wind down the nose instead of coming
down the wing tip. I'm certain that as the throttle went forward, I
could feel the prop blast "blowing" the mid section of the wing and that
most of the wing came up to flying speed as soon as full power was in.
The rest of the takeoff roll was just waiting for the rest of the wing
to catch up.
instant the airplane launched itself and we were rocketing upwards, I
threw a thumbs-up signal over at Bob and yelled, "Fantastic! Absolutely
fantastic!" To say I was loving it was an understatement. Now, THIS is
the way airplanes are supposed to takeoff
During the takeoff roll, I wasn't conscious of making any rudder
movements. This might have been because the right crosswind was
canceling out any torque induced turn. In a straight wind situation, I
would expect the right foot to be keeping the airplane straight with a
slight, constant pressure.
We hit 3,000 feet in nothing flat and, as I pushed over and reached
overhead to roll in the trim, I yelled at Bob (he doesn't believe in
intercoms, or electricity or any of the other "luxuries" most of us do,
which is why his airplanes are so light) that I was going to set up a 23
square cruise. He shouted back (it's really noisy in the cockpit and ear
plugs are a must) that he'd like me to see his normal cruise first.
Before we get into the "normal cruise" thing, you have to understand
Bob Barrows. Bob doesn't think speed is worth anything, which
considering how little effect it has on time actually spent enroute,
he's probably correct. He does, however, think money IS worth something,
so he doesn't think a pilot should spend any more than is absolutely
necessary. This includes keeping the airframe cost down by eliminating
anything costly (he makes his own tail wires out of turned down and
threaded 1/4" 4130 rod and eliminates the clevis forks by threading
thick wall tubing. See the detail shot. Very effective!). He also
eliminates cost by eliminating anything that uses electricity and by
keeping the fuel burn down. Simplicity and low cost are his commandments
in everything he does.
When he set up the "Bob Barrows Low Buck Cruise Configuration" he had
to fiddle with the prop a little as it didn't want to immediately adjust
itself. This later proved to be a couple of blocks inside the hub that
were dragging. His final setting was 19" manifold pressure and 1900 rpm.
This is somewhere well under 50% power, which, as a by product, brings
the noise level way down because it feels as if the engine is at idle.
The speed stabilized at about 117 mph indicated for about 125 mph TAS.
This isn't exactly lightening fast, but, Bob grins his characteristic
grin and defends it by saying, "Yeah, but I'm only burning 7.5 gallons
Considering that a 180 Lycoming in cruise burns about 9 gallons/hour
this is something worth thinking about. I later measured its 23 square
cruise (approx. 60%) at about 155 mph TAS, at which point it's burning
about 13 gallons/hr. Over a 300 mile trip, the speed difference would
save about 25 minutes but the fuel burn would be 8.6 gallons more. At
$2.30/gallon that's $19.78 more. In other words, it cost $1.32 for each
minute saved. Translated into hours saved, that's $79/hour saved. Put in
those terms, it's hard to fight Bob's logic. Using the big 0-540 gives
him unreal takeoff and climb capabilities but lets him run the engine so
far back on the power curve while still putting out plenty of thrust
that he's doing as well as, or better than, a smaller engine in fuel
economy. At high altitude, where the drag comes down but the engine
still has power, the differences would be even more dramatic. Like we
used to say back in my drag racing days, "The only substitute for cubic
inches is more cubic inches."
As I brought the power up to a more real world power setting of 23
square, a couple of things happened. For one thing, the noise built up
considerably. The other is that as the airplane went through about 135
mph indicated (145 mph TAS), the airplane began assuming a nose down
attitude until at a stabilized 145 IAS (155 TAS) the wing was easily 2į
nose down, which means, with the 2į angle of incidence added in, the
fuselage was 4į tail high.
There's been a lot of conversation about this and it's an excellent
example of how airplanes are nothing more than one compromise layered on
another. If you want short takeoff and landing capabilities, the cruise
speed is going to be compromised and vice versa. Obviously to take
advantage of the Bearhawk's power at cruise, the angle of incidence
needs to be reduced, this would bring the tail down 2į which would
result in much less drag and a higher cruise. At the same time, however,
it would hurt the visibility in short approach because the nose would be
higher and, when landing on a short, short runway, the ability to see
and hit the spot is more important than the actual speed. It would also
hurt the takeoff performance unless the deck angle was also increased.
the angle of incidence would have no effect on the wing's nose down
cruising attitude. That is a factor of coefficient of lift which is a
function of the airfoil section. Going to a lower lift airfoil (less
camber) would flatten the wing out and give the airplane much higher
cruise numbers but it would raise the stall speed and lengthen the
takeoff and landing roll, which is also undesirable. Clipping the wing a
foot or so would have the same pros and cons.
After a lot of bantering on the e-group, it looks as if the best
Band-Aid would be to reflex the flaps slightly, as Maule does. With the
huge flaps on the Bearhawk, stowing them at a negative 3-4į would
probably do the trick as it would have the effect of reducing the camber
on a huge section of the wing during cruise, but would still have its
high lift available on takeoff and landing. I'd suggest a method of
adjusting the amount of reflex a degree at a time to match the load and
power available. It could be nothing more than a sliding ring on the
flap handle that bears on a slightly tapered ramp on the floor. The
entire reflex mechanism could be very, very simple. Quite recently a
builder in New Zealand reflexed his flaps 5į and is claiming a ten knot
increase. This seems high, but five knots seems quite obtainable.
I wanted to play with the stalls, so the throttle came back and the
nose went up. Clean, somewhere down around 50 mph, the controls went
soft and the nose nodded slightly down. I kept the stick back to see
what would happen and nothing did. It let me use both aileron and rudder
to control it. With full flaps, the number came down closer to 40 mph
with only a slightly sharper edge to the stall itself. This time, just
for the heck of it, I added a little power and played with slow flight.
It took very little power to hold altitude and keep the needle nipping
at about 45 with nothing in the controls loosening up or indicating the
airplane was about to do anything stupid.
One of the most noticeable refinements from the first airplane was in
the control harmony and feel. The ailerons, which had been a little
stodgy, had been lightened up by moving the hinge point back. The result
is a nice, responsive, Beechcraft-like feel with a little higher roll
rate. I'm an aileron freak and I've got to say that I wouldn't change a
single thing in that area. They are perfect. Ditto the rudder and
It's overall stability profile is very much in the middle of the
envelope, meaning, if displaced on any axis it returns to neutral. It
isn't quite as positive as some airplanes, but it is much better than
most homebuilts and compares favorably with most factory Spamcans.
In level cruise, you're looking down over the nose with terrific
visibility. In turns, however, you're a fair amount behind the leading
edge and it's really not convenient to lean forward to clear for
traffic. However, because your eyes are so far below the wings, you only
have to pick up the inside wing a little bit to clear for a turn. If
(actually, when) I build a Bearhawk, it'll have a tinted sky light with
a shade that pulls forward. With no headliner, you could actually sit
higher for short field work and you'd be able to see over the down wing
The cockpit area, for those who don't know, was sized to be slightly
bigger than a 172. However, the panel is quite a bit lower and you sit
higher so all around room and visibility feels much better than a
Skyhawk. Also, with the cargo door option in the right side of the
airplane, you can put a huge amount of stuff in or, roll out an air
mattress in the back and you have your own three-dimensional camper.
Again, keeping to his goal of simplicity, the airplane has no
boarding steps. Bob has a method of boarding in which he puts his right
leg in the airplane past the control stick, then sits on the seat edge
and brings the other leg in. Bob is also tall and all legs. Those of us
who are crotch-challenged would appreciate a step. I think it could be
nothing more than a simple peg or wedge on the back side of the gear leg
which would allow you to grab the tubing overhead inside, put your left
foot on the peg and pick yourself up to put your leg and butt inside.
That might not work, but it needs something, as I refuse to wear high
heels just to board an airplane.
At some point, we both knew we were going to have to go back land the
airplane. I wasn't too worried, but then it wasn't my airplane.
As I turned final at 70 mph to cover the gust spread with only half
flaps, we could see the wind had gotten worse. I could also see that Bob
was getting nervous and I didn't blame him. The turbulence and gusts
were beating the crap out of us but it wasn't until we were on short
final and we could see how serious the wind really was that Bob, using
the most tactful voice he could muster, shouted, "Do you want me to land
By that time I was zeroed in on the edge of the runway and I shouted
back without turning my head, "What ever you think you want to do, Bob."
Inwardly I was grinning because I could see both of his hands nervously
hovering around both the stick and the throttle. He wasn't enjoying
this. But, I was. And it was too late for him to interrupt the process
safely and still land.
There comes a time in transitioning into any new airplane, especially
in a condition like this, that you suddenly sense the airplane's
complete character and it either does or doesn't work for you. In this
case, while Bob was vacillating about whether to knock me off the
controls and go around or not, I was looking the Bearhawk right in the
face and I was loving what I saw.
The wind was the kind that is absolutely dangerous in a taildragger;
hard, sharp gusts and quartering from the rear. But at no time did I
feel as if the situation was coming even close to the edge of the
airplane's envelope. I was having absolutely no trouble flying the line
I wanted; going for a three point (don't ever wheel land in a tailwind
and I almost never wheel land anyway), canceling out the drift, keeping
the tail behind the nose. The airplane let me do it effortlessly
(depending on your definition of effortless).
As the speed bled off, it took only a little more wing down to keep
us centered and straight. Then the airplane painted itself onto the
runway in a single, flowing motion, right main and tailwheel first, and
stayed there. The airplane squatted over on all three and it wasn't
until we had slowed way down that I had to call for some left brake
because the wind had overpowered the rudder and we were slowly turning
Absolutely no sweat! I'll take luck over skill any day!
A note here: very few airplanes would have given me the control
authority or response to handle that kind of wind as easily as we did.
If we would have had a better day, I would have never seen that corner
of its character and wouldn't have learned as much about it as I did. I
would have liked to have done some sneaking-over-the-trees short fields,
but I have no doubt it excels in that, because I did those in the other
airplane. It's very comforting to know the airplane can handle bad
environmental situations as well as it can.
more convinced now than ever that the Bearhawk, with any engine, is the
airplane more people should be building. It offers tremendous utility
and comfort in an excellent handling package. Lots of airplanes are
faster, but how many of them are carrying four people and lots of stuff?
And how many can be built as inexpensively? If you scratch build, the
steel and aluminum will cost about $3,500 and that will give you a
complete airframe ready to start bolting the expensive stuff on. Also,
you can buy that material at the rate your money comes in. And then
there is the kit route: the quick build is $25,500 which whacks about
three years off your building time for an estimated 1000 hour build
Do I think the airplane is worth building? I would think that should
be obvious by now.
An obvious question has to do with kit availability. AviPro Aircrarft,
Ltd. is now in full production of kits for the airplane ranging from
complete, quick-build airframes to complete wings, wing components, etc.
for more information.
The Bearhawk is a steel tube fuselage and welded tail with aluminum,
single strut wings.
The fuselage has doors on both sides with fold up windows and a
cargo/back door on the right side. The structure is such that you tack
weld the top and bottom trusses first, jig it up and put the side pieces
in, rather than doing the sides first as with most tubing fuselages.
The tail uses bent up sheet ribs with tubing spars. The landing gear
has a uniquely simple oil shock assembly for each leg that minimizes the
amount of machine work, but works really well.
The plans have no specifications for seats, but the most popular
seems to be the Tripacer seat for the front with a variety of
possibilities for the rear. In truth, almost any kind of seat could be
adapted because the tubing structure would let you mount any kind of
The wings use folded up "C" shaped spars with multiple-strap spar
caps on the main spar. Almost all of the skin rivets are flush and the
struts are shortened C-182 units, although a custom extrusion is
available from Bob Barrows.
The ailerons and flaps are fabric covered aluminum and are actuated
through a combination of cables and push rods, with a minimum of push
rods. There are a number of steel tubing parts in the wings including
the aileron mounts and pulley mounts.
tail wires can be either streamlined stainless steel with clevis forks
or, a much less expensive alternative, is to turn down steel rod as
shown in the accompanying detail photos. Bob is big on building
everything, including the tailwheel illustrated.
The engine can be nearly anything, but Bob likes Lycomings. In fact,
building Lycomings is part of his main business. A Continental would
work just as well but would require building a bed mount for it. A
number of builders are using automotive conversions including the Ford
V-6 and Mazda units. It is entirely practical to build the airplane with
something as small as a 160 hp Lycoming, although the aircraft would
have to be kept light. Flown as a two place airplane, 160 hp performance
would be surprisingly good. That would put the airplane at less than
2000 pounds with full fuel (55 gallons), for a power loading of 12.5
pounds per horsepower which is significantly better than a C-172 at
gross (15 pounds/horsepower). The 260 hp airplane at the same weight is
7.7 pounds per horsepower which is right up there with Pitts Specials.
A note about the airplane's useful load: Bob's 260 hp airplane came
in at a little over 1100 pounds and he's certain an airplane with full
electrics would come in under 1200 pounds. This gives it a useful load
of 1200 pounds. Four FAA sized people weigh in at 680 pounds. 55 gallons
of fuel is about 350 pounds. So your baggage/cargo allowable with full
tanks and seats is 50 pounds. You should know one thing right up front;
no one builds an airplane as light as Bob Barrows. His finish is thin,
his upholstery is painted Ceconite and he has no radios. It would be
very easy to add 100 pounds with upholstery and radios which will cut
down your useful load.
didn't hear it from me, but I wouldn't worry too much about that. The
airplane will carry anything, but, as long as you stay somewhere in the
neighborhood of 2400-2500 pounds gross, you'll be okay as the airframe
is strong enough to handle an extra few pounds. Just don't abuse that
For more information, contact the address below. Plans are $250 and
include all the back issues of Bear Tracks, the builders newsletter.
Subscription to the newsletter after the first year is $16 ($20
Mention you saw it in
Airbum.Com. You won't get a discount,
but he likes to know where his contacts are coming from.
R & B Aircraft
2079 Breckinridge Mill Rd
Fincastle, VA 24090
HOT BEARHAWK NEWS...KITS NOW
AviPro Aircraft, Ltd is now producing a complete line of components
for the Bearhawk right up to a 51% quick-build kit. In keeping with Bob
Barrows' approach, the prices are reasonable. They are working closely
with Barrows in that he supplies the plans and they supply the
components and kits. They can be reached at:
AviPro Aircraft, Ltd
3536 E. Shangri-La Rd.
Phoenix, AZ 85028
AVIPRO AIRCRAFT PLANT TOUR
We took some pictures during our visit to their
plant in Atlixco, Mexico. It's about two hours south of Mexico City in a
nearly new facility.
Click Here for your own plant tour.
There are a lot of pictures, so it has a long load time. Sorry!
Top of Page
Text and photos from High
On December 4, 2003, the newest airplane based at Lakeway Airpark
took to the skies for the first time. N303AP, an experimental Bearhawk,
was designed by engineer Bob Barrows of Virginia. Bob first flew his
original Bearhawk (with 180 HP) in 1993. Plans were made available to
builders in 1995, and to date over 700 sets of plans have been sold.
The Bearhawk is a 4 place, conventional tail dragger design with a
steel tube fuselage covered with fabric. The wings are all aluminum with
flush riveted skins. The ailerons and flaps are aluminum covered with
fabric. It can be powered by engines from 180 HP to 260 HP.
Three men, Lakeway residents Mark Goldberg and Erik Mulloy and
aviation writer Budd Davisson, saw a business opportunity and put
together a factory in central Mexico to produce a Quick Build kit for
the Bearhawk. While building from the plans only can be a multi year
endeavor consuming up to 5,000 hours of work, the Quick Build kit can be
finished in 1000 to 1500 hours of labor. As of the date of this
newsletter, 31 Quick Build kits have been delivered to customers in the
one and a half years since the factory started shipping kits.
Mark Goldberg's N303AP is the first Bearhawk from a kit to fly,
completed after 15 1/2 months of work by Mark and his mechanic friend
Justin Brown. It is powered by a Lycoming O-540A4D5 (250 HP) swinging a Hartzell 84" 2 blade prop. Stall speed is quite low
- under 40 MPH.
Cruise speed is over 160 MPH at 75% power. Airplane watchers hanging out
at the airport have been startled to see the Bearhawk take off in
200-300 ft. and climb out strongly.
N303AP now has about 12 hours of flight time. The rigging has been
tweeked until it just about flies hands off. Lakeway resident Wayne
Wagner has flown the plane quite a bit as well as the owner. Mark
welcomes members of the Airpark association to stop by and check out his
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AviPro Aircraft, Ltd Plant
Text and photos by
Budd Davisson and
AviPro Aircraft, Ltd.
The plant is located in the town of
Atlixco, Mexico (75,000 population). This is about two hours south of
Mexico City. On a map, locate Puebla, south of Mexico City, then go west
a few miles and you'll see it.
This location was picked because of
prior experience in the town with the local labor and many long time
The plant building was constructed in
1996 as a coffee plant. It was leased by AviPro in 2000 and a labor
force of appoximaely 15 individuals assembled. An intense training
program aimed at developing the appropriate skills was launched. All
major tooling was constructed in the U.S. and shipped to the location
along with all required equipment. All of the steel, aluminum and
welding rod used in construction of the airframes is also shipped in
from the U.S.
Drive time from the Mexico City
airport to the AviPro plant is approximately two hours. A really
exceptional bus service is also available that takes you into Puebla and
a twenty minute taxi ride takes you the rest of the way.
Large doors open out both sides of
the plant and a shower/restroom facility is attached on the right. Since
these photos were taken a paint booth has been erected where the blue
truck is parked.
Since these photos were taken there
is another vertical wing jig to the left of the one pictured to help
keep up with demand. The area shown is approximately one-third of the
floor space. Two flat wing assembly tables are out of frame to the
bottom and the shears and breaks, along with the spar assembly table are
out of frame to the left. It may be of interest to note that none of the
buildings or houses in the area are either heated or cooled because of
the area's location in the temperate zone and at an altitude of six
thousand feet. The temperature variation is only 15-20 degrees year
round and generally stays within a ten degree range.
All major tooling was constructed in
the U.S. with designer, Bob Barrow's approval and inspection. He visits
the plant periodically to inspect and help improve procedures. As much
of the fuselage as can be reached is welded in the fuselage with only a
small percentage remaining to be done when it is removed. This controls
welding distortion and provides maximum accuracy.
The firewall station jig is bolted in
place to allow removal of the fuselage. All fuselages are welded with
five-point motor mount bushings already in place to allow all four and
six cylinder engines to be installed with no airframe changes. All
AviPro fuselages also have the utility door option installed along with
the bushings for float fittings.
The welding of all major components
is via oxy-acetylene and the more critical areas are stress relieved.
Smaller components, such as the tail surfaces are TIG welded and stress
Gas welding is used because it is
felt the thermal shocking to the chrome-moly is less and easier to
control. The coating of the welding rods is removed prior to use to
minimize weld contamination and a long-period cool-down cycle for each
weld is part of the welding procedure.
After the fuselage is removed from
the main fixture, secondary jigs are used to attach all ancillary parts,
including fittings, door sheet metal and bushings and tabs required to
attach various systems. One of the customer purchase options is to buy
the fuselage as it comes out of the main jig with only the wing, landing
gear and horizontal tail fittings welded in place. The next level is the
entire fuselage with all welding finished, the landing gear and shock
struts and the entire tail group ready to attach.
All assemblies, such as the rudder
pedals seen here, are welded in hard fixtures. As much of the weld as
possible is accomplished while the assembly is in the jig to minimize
Because of the heavy steel tooling,
each AviPro part is interchangeable with the next allowing all parts,
such as these controls sticks to be used in conjunction with any other
part. The attach points in the fuselage are also installed using steel
Individual components, no matter how
small, are fabricated, bent and drilled using fixtures to ensure
accurate assembly. Nothing needs to be measured so the human element is
Prior to being placed in the vertical
jigs for skinning, the ribs, spars and all internal steel parts are
trued and riveted together on a horizontal jig table. Accuracy
maintained by this method exceeds that of most factories which are
producing light aircraft.
All individual parts on the finished
wing kits (ribs, fittings, etc.) and those on the quick-build kits are
primered prior to assembly. The spar pieces (spar caps, stiffeners, bolt
fittings, etc. are individually primed before assembly.
The labor force is quite religious
and they had a padre bless the entire plant as well as each of the major
The valley in which Atlixco is
located is quite historic and, besides having it's own active volcano,
is spotted with ancient pyramids and spectacular churches. It is well
removed from any of the problems associated with major metropolitan
areas but has a stable climate and work force that has worked very much
to AviPro's advantage.
Top of Page
To keep this thing from rambling on Iím going to try to abbreviate it
and mention high points only, although by the time youíre done reading
this, youíll find it hard to believe itís abbreviated.
Pat took an incredible amount of time and energy to come over, do a
bunch of flying, sweat his butt off and, in general, play the
ambassador role for the Clan Bearhawk. Not many folks would do that
and, I, for one, thank him mightily for it.
We flew about 2.5 hours together and on top of that, he hopped another
five or six passengers, including the AZ Redhead who wonít stop
talking about it.
Pat Fagan of Pearblossom, CA took six
years building his BH from scratch
He has done a terrific job of detail work. Every little piece, like
the fairing strip that captures the side of the windshield and goes
under the front edge of the top door half, is perfectly straight,
edges smooth and rounded, bends just right for the application. The
ailerons fit in the wing with barely 1/8Ē gap anywhere. The engine
baffles are works of art in themselves. The airplane is very, very
well done without being one of those prissy,
I-chromed-everything-in-hopes-of-winning-an-award airplanes built
primarily for going to air shows. The airplane just feels ďrightĒ and
ready to be used.
The three-blade Hartzel in front of the Bob Barrows 0-540 is
impressive looking and the combination runs like a sewing machine. The
vibration level is so low itís almost scary and it starts on the first
blade every time.
The interior is classic Bob Barrows (fabric inside the fuselage
everywhere) but you donít notice the sidewalls are fabric because they
are so smooth and colored to match everything else.
His cooling eyeball vents, fed by NACA ducts, work really well and are
among the ideas to be copied.
I sat with about four inches of headroom and Iím not sure Iíd want to
sit any higher except in serious short field work.
Several people have commented on how much the nose cuts into the
visibility but no one has commented on how quickly the nose tapers out
of view or how the shape of the fuselage lets you move your head to
the side and almost see around the nose. On the taxiway I could see
all but the middle three or four feet of the taxiway by moving my
head. A very shallow turn away from me (I was on the right with the
throttle and stick in the ďcorrectĒ hands) uncovered the entire
taxiway. Iíll bet I wasnít turning much over ten degrees. The airplane
gives the impression of being blind but it really isnít.
Pat has flown my airplane so he now knows what ďblindĒ means.
I was immediately struck with the feeling that the stick was a little
far away from me and I had to reach for it. The seat was fairly far
forward and still I felt that way. Itíll be interesting to see if
others comment. Weíll monitor that because itís an easy thing to
change via linkage or the step in the ďZĒ of the stick.
The entire instrument panel is machine
turned and sprayed with clear lacquer
The overall feeling of the cockpit, especially with the skylight,
is one of open, spaciousness. I just canít think of anything Iíd do to
improve upon the general visibility and comfort. Iím 5í10Ē and 185
pounds. I donít think anyone would feel crowded until they hit around
6í4Ē and 250 pounds, but, if youíre that big, youíre used to feeling
crowded. The two of us definitely were not intruding on the otherís
space and, for you Alaskan types, I donít think heavy jackets would
Taxiing is a simple matter of moving your feet and pointing the
airplane. The ratio was just a little long so it behaves in a fairly
subdued manner and is easy to keep up with. Also, there was no feeling
of inertia wanting to keep the airplane turning. Very easy to taxi. At
least as easy as a Citabria.
Wow, is all I can say! WOW!
This was truly bad day to be flight testing airplanes because we never
saw temps under 95 degrees once and they were usually higher than 100.
The worse part, however, was that we had a 3-4 knot quartering
tailwind most of the time, which really screws with tailwheel
airplanes. It doesnít sound like much, but because of local noise
abatement procedures, I operate in them a minimum of an hour a day,
Iím here to tell you that they make a serious difference in both
performance and handling. Still, that first takeoff stood my hair on
The interior is so subtle and well done
you don't even notice that the sidewalls are Ceconite.
We did a bunch of takeoffs and played with several variations on a
theme. All of them happen so quickly that youíd be hard pressed to get
in trouble before you were off the ground.
I tried a pure three-pointer, holding the tailwheel in contact until
lift off and it vaulted into the air, the nose going up twenty degrees
and putting us at 50 feet and racing through 70 knots before I could
With the tail wind, it was hard to get meaningful measurements, but
after we standardized on a short field technique that put the
tailwheel just a few inches above the ground, we were seeing 250-400
feet, depending entirely on the wind. Pat did one when it must have
been calm because it was noticeably shorter than the rest. Barely 200
feet. Remember this is at 100 degrees (density altitude was 4,900 ft),
although we were only two guys and at full tanks most of the time. All
takeoffs were made at half flaps.
Oil temperatures hampered our experimentation time. In those
conditions weíd easily go up to 240 degrees doing touch and goes. At
altitude (OAT was 97 degrees at 4,000 feet!) they stabilized at
225-230 depending on the power setting. Cylinder head temps came up
during touch and goes, peaking at 410 but most of the time they were
down around 380-390. This says that the cowling configuration will
work in hot weather but the oil radiator, although big, is either too
small or two are needed. This is strictly an AZ thing. Even Patís
airplane would still work well out here if you didnít thrash it the
way we were doing.
The AZ demonstrator is going to wind up with two coolers, one with a
straight ram scoop and maybe a shutter.
Rates of climb never went under 1300 fpm and could be pushed over 1500
feet by pulling back to 75 knots, but the nose is ridiculously high
and that doesnít help oil temps. I kept track and found that even at
100 knots it was stabilizing on 1000 fpm, which fell to 850-900 fpm by
We did some two-way runs down a road that I later went out and
measured with my carís odometer to verify what it showed on the
sectional. Assuming my odometer was right, it was a shade over 10
miles, so we had a good distance to measure things over.
The Bob gave us some power settings to use including an rpm adjustment
formula for the heat. We did two-way runs at 75% and 60%.
At 75% you can really tell the airplane is going fast and is working
to do so. The nose of the wing is really down. This came out to 161
At 60%, the fuel burn dropped by 5 gallons per hour, and the speed
dropped to 142 mph.
At the time, I was disappointed because that didnít match with the 135
knots (155 mph) Pat now appears to be flight planning at. Then I
realized that was because we were at 4,000 feet. With the amount of
power being put out by the 0-540, the drag curve of the airframe falls
off faster than the power curve of the engine so at the altitudes he
usually flies, 8-10,000, the airplane is much more efficient.
Weíre going to continue to say the airplane is a 150 mph airplane, but
it really needs some fairings to go fast low. Also, Pat hasnít played
with reflexing the flaps yet, which may yield some useful gains. To
any who care, Pat has 700 x 6 tires, which are big, but not as big as
Pat used to fly fire fighting tankers for
Aero Union and his BH is painted in a tanker scheme utilizing his BH
We played a little with phugoids, rudder-doublets and some of the
handling stuff and found the airplane is dynamically positive in pitch
but not overly soópull the nose off trim ten knots and let go and
itíll start back to level but is in no hurry to do so. It damps eight
of the ten knots and most of the altitude gained in the first cycle
and then takes another three to totally damp out, but it finally does.
This was at a forward CG location.
Break-out forces (how much you initially push to make things happen)
are just a little higher than Iíd like (I fly a Pitts, so Iím not a
good judge) but the actual aileron pressures and response are really
pleasant. It does exactly what you want it to do as soon as you ask it
without being too quick. The pressures are lighter than Cessna's but
the response and roll rate is much higher. I tried some rapid
reversals from a forty-five degree bank one way to the same bank the
otherway while verbally timing it and I'd say the roll rate is around
90 degrees a second or 30-40% higher than a Cessna. Trim it up hands
off, and you can go to sleep it is so stable.
The rudder on Pat's airplane felt noticeably different than on
Bob's two prototypes. As I understand it, Bob redrew the aerodynamic
balance on all the plans and reduced the size of the balance.
Originally the rudder was extremely light with little break-out force,
but Pat's is perfectly matched to the ailerons and rudders. In fact,
the controls are as well balanced as you'll find on any airplane of
I did a lot of messing around at stall and sub-stall speeds. Clean it
bobbles a little and mushes at about 42 knots. With full flaps (Pat
isnít getting a full 50 degrees) it comes down closer to 35 knots.
Using power to hold altitude, I ran it down under 30 knots and made
turns left and right and it showed no tendency to do anything stupid.
I did some deep stalls (full stall and left the stick nailed full
back) and played with the ailerons and rudder. Both are still working
and with the stick full back I could execute gentle turns left and
right. If I got aggressive with the ailerons you could feel them
nibbling and getting ready to stall.
Since we were going to try some slow approaches, I set it up at 40
knots with power and drove it around trying steeper and steeper banks
and didnít feel it wanted to do anything but fly. I did the same thing
at 35 knots with the same result.
As the airplane goes under 45-50 knots the controls all get softer, as
youíd expect, but thatís largely an illusion as they are still working
but need bigger deflections to make things happen the way you want
One thing that did make slow flight difficult and was to haunt us a
little when playing with slow approaches was that we ran out of trim
at around 60 knots. This meant we were holding increasingly heavier
stick forces the slower we went. The forces never became burdensome,
but they were making it difficult to stabilize at super slow speeds.
Pat has his trim linkage at the very end of the trim arm on the
elevator but has another hole further in. Heís going to move the arm
in, which will increase the trim tab travel and see if that gives him
a slower minimum trim speed. It will make his trim more sensitive but
it isnít very sensitive to begin with so it probably wonít be a
problem. Weíll let him tell us whether it helps or is more trouble
than itís worth.
What else could you possibly want or
Because you sit so far back in the wing, in a normal Bearhawk,
visibility is of the pick-up-the-wing-before-you-turn variety. In
Patís you had to do the same thing, but as soon as a bank over 15-20
degrees was established, you could see over the down wing. It was
great and something well worth doing.
Pat flattened out the top of the fuselage, getting rid of the Bearhawk
Hump, which very much squares off the fuselage lines. This is
noticeable all the way back to the tail but not particularly
objectionable. We (AviPro) raised the stringer line just in front of
the fin an inch to make the fuselage more rounded in that area and
weíre going to look at a way to put skylights in the fuselage without
flattening it out.
To answer those who are saying, "Sky lights are entirely too hot,"
I have to reply that I'd agree with you, but not in this case. The
tint of the skylight is such that you aren't even aware it's tinted
from the inside, but not once did I even notice the sun and believe
me, we had plenty. It was a perfect balance of visibility and comfort.
My first landings were all made at 50 knots at which speed the
airplane is totally normal in all respects. Also, since it bleeds off
to well under 40 during the flair, runway control isnít even worth
talking about because youíre moving so slowly. I still donít know why
people ask us about a nose wheel for the airplane. There are very few
taildraggers that are easier to fly.
I started out with three notches of flaps but quickly decided I liked
it better at full flaps because it got the nose down further and the
speed bleed during flair was a little quicker. In many airplanes this
would make the flair timing-critical (you have to rotate just right to
keep from dropping it) but that wasnít the case here. Even at full
flap (something short of 50 degrees, Pat is going to measure and let
us know what he has), power-off rotation from a stabilized glide was
When I got it down to 45 knots, the first time or two I found myself
using a little power in the flair to help get the tail down because I
didnít think it would rotate, but later I found the power wasnít
needed. It had sufficient elevator power left to get the tail down and
this was at a far forward CG location. With people in the back or a
load, it will probably flair into three-point at 45 just like it does
When we got down to 40 knots on short approach things got a little
more difficult because of the amount of backpressure we were holding.
This wouldnít be a factor because the backpressure isnít that high but
it is aggravated by the way the elevator effectiveness changes with
When you get down to 40 knots, the elevator effectiveness naturally
diminishes but itís not anything you notice. However, both Pat and I
did the same thing once a piece. We were shooting for the numbers and
got just a little low and were late putting the power in. The second
we hit the power (just a hint of it but too big of a hint), the tail
surfaces instantly became totally effective and the amount of
backpressure we were holding became too much and the nose shot into
This is a pilot technique problem not an airplane handling problem. If
you hold the nose stable (this is in Student Pilot 101, I
believe), when applying power in this situation, you donít get
balloons. Next time around we didnít do that.
The balloons taught us something, however. When Pat did his, I kept my
eyes in the cockpit (I hate watching crashes in which I'm actively
involved) and studied the airspeed as he recovered. We were a little
under 40 knots when the nose jumped and we started up hill. We were
decelerating through 35 knots on the top and he kept pulling as we
came down while he added power. We went down through 32 knots and
arrived on the runway tailwheel first in what he thought was a hard
landing but which I thought was only a little harder than usual. By
the way, the airplane barely bounced, a sterling testimony to the Bob
What was of some importance during this little whoop-dee-do was that
the tailwind was screwing with us, trying to shove the airplane around
and at no time, even though we were hanging there at 32-35 knots, was
control an issue.
Personally, Iíd bet money that if we had another hour to practice, in
more normal wind and temperature conditions, weíd become perfectly
comfortable making 35-knot approaches.
Because of the goofy wind conditions I was never able to determine a
speed at which it slid over the backside of the drag curve and began
falling for the ground, thereby transferring most glide slope control
to the throttle. In fact, it felt as if there was no such point and it
kept flying all the way down. This will take more investigation.
In summarizing the landings, Iíd say that 50-55 knots should be
considered the normal approach speed and three notches used. We didnít
do any landings with two notches but Iíd ignore it for landing and use
that position only for takeoff.
Incidentally, even though it was 100-103 degrees (runway temps
probably MUCH higher) and we had a tailwind, we still turned off on
the first taxiway after the threshold much of the time and thatís 400
feet. With no wind, even at those temps it would have been a
no-brainer. With 5 knots on the nose we could have backed into that
Iím really looking forward to flying the airplane in more
user-friendly conditions. Weíve established that it has no serious
boogie-men hiding at the bottom end of the airspeed indicator so now
itís time to figure out how best to use those capabilities.
Top of Page
AviPro's Bearhawk: Pure and Simple
Southern Aviator online edition
Have you noticed that the sales literature
of many aircraft manufacturers present aircraft features in terms of
speed, range and payload in their best light, but cannot be met
collectively in all parameters? In other words, the range may be
calculated at economy cruise power, the speed for max. continuous
settings and the payload may be out of sync with maximum seating
capacity and baggage, i.e., you can't enjoy all the best numbers at the
The folks at AviPro Aircraft will tell you up front you can fill all
four seats of the Bearhawk, top off the fuel tanks, add 200 pounds of
baggage and go 650-800 sm depending on power settings. No apologies or
And what is a Bearhawk? Pure and simple it's a rugged, kit-built,
tail-dragging, single-engine bush plane, with a high wing and a number
of engine and propeller choices available. Originally designed by
engineer Bob Barrows in 1995, it's somewhat larger than a Cessna 172,
has huge cargo double doors and is convertible to floats. To date, sales
of Bearhawk plans
exceed 700. More than 200 are under construction, with many close to
flight and 13 completed aircraft are operating in 13 states.
If you're an experienced builder, you can just buy the plans and have at
it. Or you can buy the Quick-Build kit from AviPro and hasten the time
to get airborne. In either case the plans have to be purchased
separately from Bob Barrows for $250.
In order to get a better feel for how this works, I met with Jim
Clevenger at the Kissimmee, Fla., airport. He contracts with AviPro
Aircraft LLC (honcho'd by well-known aviation writer and publisher Budd
Davisson) as the sole quick-build center for the Bearhawk in the U.S.
GAN: Jim, by reputation, it seems like you've flown just about every
warbird and homebuilt there is. Are you ex-military?
Clevenger (chuckles): No, I've just been knocking around a long time.
Flown, built, tested and taught in a lot of stuff. And my wife, Julie,
who's in the business with me, flies as well. She's got a sackful of
licenses and ratings, even flies the TBM Avenger, though I have to help
her out with the rudder on occasion.
GAN: Where are the Bearhawk kits manufactured?
Clevenger: In Atlixco, Mexico, about two hours south of Mexico City. The
facility was built in 1996 and leased by AviPro, which is headquartered
in Phoenix, in 2000. We employ about 22 people there. Distribution and
shipping is done through Austin, Texas.
GAN: We have to ask. Do you get much static from customers about NAFTA
and sending jobs out of the country?
Clevenger: Not a bit. There was some concern in the beginning about the
quality of workmanship, but I have to tell you, these kids are great.
The welds are about the best I've ever seen. We do all the training and
Bob Barrow and I visit the factory regularly to ensure quality control
and make improvements to the process.
Furthermore, all the materials and tooling they use are shipped in from
GAN: Why not tell us about the construction of the airplane?
Clevenger: We construct a tubular steel fuselage frame both for
longevity and crash survivability. It's also easier to repair than
composite. The fabric-covered wings are metal for the same reason. The
only things you'll find in the kits are those peculiar to the Bearhawk.
By that I mean we don't supply the interior, avionics, engines,
propellers, wheels and brakes, nuts and bolts, control cables,
instruments and so on, as they are readily available from well-known
vendors. We do, however, pass along OEM prices on engines and props.
GAN: We're a little confused. It seems like you offer about five kits
with different ingredients and prices.
Clevenger: No need to be. The Quick-Build Kit is priced at $27,700 and
meets all FAA requirements for the 51% rule. It includes a completed
fuselage with no further welding required, ready for cover, stringers
and systems installation. The landing gear and tail are finished, ready
for cover and installation. The control system and surfaces are ready to
install. The wing is finished with only the top skin, riveted at the
front spar, dimpled and drilled, ready for final riveting. Struts are
done and fuel tanks are ready to be put in, less caps. The motor mount
is ready for attachment and the seat frames are finished. Finally, the
utility door and float attachments are standard. And while the firewall
is finished, the nose bowl and cowling are not drilled or final trimmed.
Two options that we also supply upon request are steps for both sides
and 18 gallon auxiliary fuel tanks.
The other kits you refer to allow the builder to buy just what he's
comfortable with. Some people are good welders, others not. Some folks
are good at doing wings, but not landing gear installations. So we make
it easy for them them to purchase subassemblies they're not comfortable
attacking by themselves so they can concentrate on other areas where
their capabilities are better served.
GAN: What are we talking about in build time?
Clevenger: With the Quick-Build kit, a good average might be 1,100 to
1,300 hours. Obviously, first-timers are going to run longer and
experienced builders are going to come in under that. If a person wants
to scratch-build the airplane from plans alone, build time could run
2,500-3,000 hours or more. In either case, that doesn't include time
spent on plush interiors, exotic avionics or wild paint schemes.
GAN: How many kits have you sold?
Clevenger: As we speak, 34. We're now running about one a month.
GAN: And Kissimmee is the only Quick-Build completion center in the
Clevenger: Yes and no. People can have their kit shipped here and we'll
help them over the rough spots for a price, depending upon how much
assistance they need. Or for a fee and expenses, we'll go to their
location and do the same. One thing I might mention here is a CD
produced by Russ Erb and available for sale. It has a tremendous amount
of information about building the Bearhawk. There are also a couple of
Bearhawk websites where builders can exchange information and get
assistance, plus a newsletter by Bob Barrows when you buy his plans.
GAN: Which engines do you recommend?
Clevenger: Generally the Lycoming 250 hp O-540-A4D5 at $33,556 or the
Lycoming 180 hp O-360 A1A at $22,995. Those are OEM prices and include
the starter, alternator, magnetos, carburetor and engine-driven fuel
pump. If the builder buys from us, we require a 35% deposit and the
balance a week before shipment, transportation and insurance paid for by
GAN: How about props?
Clevenger: It depends on the engine. A Hartzell prop is only available
on the Lycoming O-540 series. Otherwise, heavier counterweights or a
McCauley prop is required. Bob Barrows says as long as you're not
pulling more than 250 hp and 2,700 rpm, the 84 inch diameter prop gives
better performance than the 80 inch unless ground clearance is a
GAN: How about deposits and delivery times?
Clevenger: A deposit on any kit is $1,000 except for the rib/spar
component kit, which is $500. A deposit establishes a delivery position,
which right now is about five to six months because of the backlog. If a
buyer cancels, 50% of the deposit is refundable.
GAN: So what's a builder looking at investment-wise when all is said and
Clevenger: Without putting a value on his or her build time, we estimate
$45,375 on the low end with a used prop and mid-time engine, to $54,850
for an overhauled engine and prop, to $81,450 for a bird with new engine
and prop ó plus avionics.
These numbers will vary up and down depending on the engine and
FLYING THE BEARHAWK
As we strolled toward N509RF, due for delivery to a Texas customer a
week later, Florida's 90į temperature and 100% humidity prompted a
rather abbreviated walkaround inspection so we could blow some prop
blast through the windows at the earliest opportunity.
Clevenger first opened the huge utility doors and pointed out that the
rear two seats could be reversed for extra cargo space, at the same time
moving the center of gravity forward. He also mentioned the CG has 12
inches of travel, i.e., it's almost impossible to get the aircraft out
of the envelope. Next he pointed out the overhead wing tanks, each
holding 50 gallons. If optional auxiliary fuel is ordered, these tanks,
each holding nine gallons, are mounted in the outboard wing panels.
Fuel quantity is measured from the cockpit by sight gauges attached to
the fuselage walls above either entry door. Not exotic, but practical,
inexpensive and accurate. The cockpit windows open fully to latch under
the wings, making the Bearhawk an excellent camera platform. The former
Cessna 170 windshield is now formed and trimmed through AviPro.
After engine start, we taxied to Kissimmee's runway 15 without any need
to fishtail as visibility over the nose is excellent. Turning Lycoming's
250 horses loose, the tail came up immediately and we were off in a few
hundred feet despite the density altitude, floating upwards at 70 mph
IAS and 1,300 fpm. Climb was then flattened to 80 mph with 1,000 fpm up
to 3,500 ft.
Setting up 75% power (24 in. and 2,400 rpm), we clocked 130 kts with a
fuel burn of 14.5 gph. Though the roll rate is agile, this is definitely
a rudder airplane.
Coordinated turns definitely take some practice, but Clevenger assured
me it would only take an hour or so to get the "feel" of the Bearhawk.
Next he demonstrated a few stalls, clean and with the massive flaps
lowered. With feet off the rudder pedals in each case, the aircraft
dropped a wing, easily picked up with aileron. But when the stalls were
executed with the ball centered, the nose merely mushed downward until
back pressure was released.
We next flew a couple of inherent stability maneuvers and found the bird
to be very stable in every axis. No autopilot required. A sagging wing
can easily be picked up with a touch of rudder.
Returning for landing, the approach angle was dramatic when the huge
flaps were fully lowered. Carrying a little extra for the thermals, we
flared at about 50 mph for a perfect three-pointer (Clevenger's, not
mine!). When I asked him about tailwheel conversions, he responded seven
to 10 hours should do it for someone who's never flown a taildragger
Overall, I was impressed with the Bearhawk. It is a well-designed,
honest, no-nonsense (or unpleasant surprises) utilitarian that offers
excellent field performance as well as acceptable speed, range and
useful load for the price.
Top of Page
How To Groundloop Your Taildragger
Judging by how frequently it is performed, the Groundloop is indeed a
popular maneuver. The Groundloop is an extreme low-level figure that
is highly acrobatic in nature, which may be executed in many exciting
variations. It is customarily performed as the last figure in a
sequence, but I have seen the Groundloop attempted as a preliminary or
It is rarely scored however, because it is most often performed out of
the Judges' line-of-sight. Also, the Groundloop is categorized as a
surprise maneuver, and therefore nobody is really prepared when it is
In fact, the figure is not considered genuine unless Judges, spectators
and the pilot-in-command are all surprised! The many interesting and
dynamic variations do not have a Degree of Difficulty or "K" attached,
but rather are rated on the International HC* scale.
The Groundloop is one of the earliest recorded aerobatic figures. It
was performed on virtually all of the taildraggers dating back to
aviation's infancy. The maneuver really came into its own during the
Golden Era of the Groundloop which was when the cross-wind landing was
invented. Previous to this, circular landing fields were the norm and
the pilot simply eye-balled the windsock, and landed into wind. However,
it was soon discovered that a short, straight landing strip could be
plowed out, and now there would be lots of room for hangars, clubhouse,
and an expansive cocktail lounge.
Once everyone saw how much fun this new land-use concept generated, it
was adopted internationally. The daily Groundloop displays were an
instant hit, and helped cast the new idea in tarmac.
Most Groundloops are weathercocking related phenomena. This means that
at least one main wheel must be touching the earth, and a wind is blowing.
Traditionally, the maneuver is started in a cross-wind; during the
landing roll-out the tail is allowed to be blown down-wind. At this
point there are a variety of options that can be exercised depending on
your inputs, and the maneuver can take off in almost any direction, and
finish in a variety of attitudes. Groundloops that occur under calm
conditions are more rare, and require vigorous control inputs, so you
really have to work at it to get a decent one.
Groundloops can be generated anywhere from 5MPH to flying speed. When
executed at high speed, the figure covers more territory and generally
spawns the most interesting variations.
High-wing taildraggers probably Groundloop the best because the
upwind wing is more exposed to the breeze. The high-wing also enjoys a
longer arm to really accelerate things once the maneuver starts. If the
airplane is designed with the wheels forming a small triangle
(short-coupled), and in the hands of the right pilot, this could be a Groundlooping champion.
ESSENTIAL BACKGROUND KNOWLEDGE
Avoid the study of the following subjects: a) Cross-wind Landings and
Take-offs. b) Ground-Handling in winds.
Avoid seeking instruction on these subjects, for it will greatly reduce
your chances of producing a truly World-Class Groundloop. Also, you
might want to have a good line ready in case someone raises one of these
subjects in conversation: "Cross-wind Landings, heck, wasn't that about
lesson 5 on your Private License? I'm way beyond that.
To be successful, we must prepare both pilot and aircraft.
To perform good Groundloops, the best preparation is no preparation.
The aircraft can be prepared in a variety of ways to ensure consistently
good Groundloops. First of all, the main wheels should be shimmed to a
toe-in condition. If the wheels are adjusted to track straight ahead or
are shimmed slightly toe-out, the tracking will be too stable to assist
your attempts at Groundlooping. Keep the tire pressures different from
one another. If you know the direction of the cross-wind, reduce the
pressure on the up-wind tire before going flying. And remember, it isn't
necessary to change the tires until you can see the second ply of fabric
showing; a blow-out can be the start of a dazzling Groundloop.
Avoid the hassle of taking off those trouble some wheel-pants by putting
a drop of Loc-tite on the screws. Now you have a good excuse not to
inspect the brakes. So, when the brake fails on one side or the caliper
pinches through a rusted disc, you will enjoy a splendid groundloop.
At the back end, you can start by loosening the fitting that holds the
tail-wheel spring to the fuselage. Just back the nuts off a few turns.
Also back off the nut that attaches the tail-wheel casting to the
spring. Now, slack off the steering springs a couple of links so the
chains sag. And while you're at it, cut off that lock wire that some
conscientious Engineer installed in case the chains break. From time to
time they break on landing and produce a thrilling, and rakish
Cramer-like lurch. Fantastic!
These simple mods will produce a delightfully loose rear-end that feels
like it's on ball-bearings.
The little tail-wheel is best left alone; over time it becomes worn
into an interesting cone-shape by the effects of slipstream, P-factor
and gyroscopic effect. These left-turning forces create more wear on the
starboard side of the tire, and soon you have a beautifully unstable
little demon back there to really help you out.
Install the push-to-talk switch in a remote area of the cockpit. When
the tower talks to you on the roll-out, you can look down into the
cockpit to locate the button, and when you look up, you may be treated
to the wonderful green-and-blue kaleidoscope of rotation about the
Once the pilot and aircraft are prepared, it's a little like shooting
fish in a barrel; there's really nothing to it. There are several things
you can do to get the Groundloop going, but really the best thing to do
Just let it happen. If you are landing or fast-taxiing in a cross-wind
and you want a Groundloop... you guessed it- do nothing.
Taxi with abandon. As a pilot, you are a free-spirited individual, and
this can be best displayed by a carefree jaunt down the taxiway. Just
let go of the stick and use the hands-free time to organize your maps
and sequence cards. If the tail-wheel comes off the ground, you're going
a little fast. Maybe you'll want to use the time to put on your
seatbelt, polish the
inside of the canopy, re-tie your shoelaces or perhaps light up a smoke. Taildraggers have the right-of-way, so you won't have to stop suddenly.
When cleared for take-off, start bringing the power up as you swing
out on to the runway Of course you'll want to shove the stick forward
quickly to get that tail up (you can't get it up too soon). If the plane
will fly at 50, hold it on until 65. This technique spreads out the
landing gear and brushes off some rubber, but everybody does it and it
looks cool. If you get rolling quickly, any cross-wind won't matter. Now
rotate as you would a 767.
Haul straight back and blaze into the blue.
On the approach, keep it low and fast. If the airplane lands at 50,
cross the fence at 100. It's best not to have a planned touchdown point
because that can interfere with the free-spirited nature of the flying
event. Start fanning the rudders through 500 feet, and keep it going
until you've cleared the runway. The fanning technique is to let the
airplane know who's boss. Get the plane down to the runway as soon as
possible, and force it to land with plenty of forward stick. The
fast-landing method is good for all weather conditions, especially
quartering tail-winds. Once the plane is firmly on the ground, let go of
the stick, but keep fanning the rudder to cool the tail-wheel assembly.
Taxi in as you taxied out.
1. 45-Degree Overland Express.
This one is best done at about 40 MPH. The airplane is allowed to
weathercock slightly, the upwind wing and wheel are allowed to rise
about 3O degrees and the plane swings into wind. At 45 degrees off the
runway heading, sharp downwind brake, full aft stick and aileron into
wind are added to stop the Groundloop. The plane is now headed off
This is useful for taking a short-cut to the washrooms after a long
2. 90-Degree Quick Turn with Prop Curl.
Use the same technique as above, except at about 20 MPH. When you
stomp on the downwind brake, also shove the stick forward. Even though you are traveling slower, the gyroscopic effect of shoving the stick
forward will give you that extra 4 5 degrees of rotation. The tail will
rise briskly. As soon as the prop touches the runway, pull hard back on
the stick and apply both brakes. This was how the original Q-Tip
Propeller was invented. If you've done it just right, you'll probably
have a much more efficient prop.
The Prop Curl can also be done straight ahead. Taxi at about 10 MPH
while tucking in your shirt or cleaning your sunglasses. Keep your hands
off the stick and slam on the brakes. Voila! Also try this while
maneuvering the tail-wheel over an obstacle. For a more dramatic Curl,
hold the stick forward and add a burst of power.
3. Pitts Special Twin Arcs.
Start the Groundloop from the roll-out at about 25 MPH. Remove all
cross-wind inputs and allow the airplane to weathercock. Move the
stick forward to at least neutral to lighten the tail-wheel and reduce
its directional control. The little biplane will rise up on the downwind
wheel and begin a concise pirouette. The downwind wing-tip will hit the
runway and begin scribing an arc of red butyrate, Dacron and plywood.
Without hesitation slam in full upwind aileron, as if to attempt to lift
the lower wing. The downwind aileron will shoot down and describe a
beautiful red arc parallel to that made by the wing-tip. Pull the stick
full back, push full downwind brake with full rudder and a burst of
power to erect the plane.
These little red arcs are very artistic and will attract a good crowd
in the evening following the days flying.
4. 180-Degree Pirouette with back-track
This one is best attempted in a light high-wing with narrow bungee
landing gear, a Cub will do. The maneuver works best in a quartering
tail-wind. This figure looks difficult, but is really pretty simple. It
works best if the pilot does not interfere.
Get the weather-cocking started in the usual manner. Move aileron
out-of-wind and push the stick forward to get weight off the tail. 20
MPH is fine. As the up-wind wing rises, the center of gravity swings as
a pendulum toward the lower wing. About the time the down-going wing
smacks the runway, the center of gravity will have swung to the outside
of the downwind wheel.
Apply this brake hard. Now it's as if you had two upwind wheels
because the center of gravity has migrated outside via centrifugal
force. So now it wouldn't matter which brake you applied, the effect
would be to increase the rotation of the Groundloop.
The wing-tip smacks off the tarmac, the brake completed a full
180-degree turn, and fast-taxi back to the button.
5. Groundloop with Bunt.
This is certainly one of the more dramatic figures in the Groundloop
family. You'll want to be traveling a little faster to get this one. Say
35 MPH. The figure should start slowly then get faster and tighter as
rotation sets in.
A dry runway is necessary, and a quartering tail-wind from the left is
best. Once rotation starts, shove in full down-wind stick and full
forward elevator. This will really tighten up the rotation. Now add full
brakes and full power. The tail will shoot upwards and the airplane will
do a kind of shoulder roll right on to its back. This is really
low-level inverted, and you should ensure that your belts are very
tight. This figure should be reserved for the last flight of the day.
The Groundloop has been around for almost a century and I'm sure it
will be with us forever. And to keep it alive, all we have to do is be a
little complacent, a little cock-sure and in a little hurry. Most
important, one needs a thorough misunderstanding of weathercocking,
cross-wind take-offs, landings and ground-handling. Sounds pretty easy
Enjoy your spin-around
Top of Page
Tailwheels and the Student
- Pros and Cons
Text and Photos by
an article from
It's interesting to see what's been
happening to the tailwheel of late. For one thing, what had been an
anachronistic contrivance designed primarily to prevent an airplane from
grinding a bare spot on its posterior, is now being re-valuated in terms
of its teaching value. What can the tailwheel teach a student that a
nosewheel can't, if anything?
As someone who has been instructing in
tailwheels almost exclusively for 35 years, you'd expect that anything
I'd say from this point on would be anything but unbiased. But you're
wrong. I'm not going to say that everyone should learn on a tailwheel or
that you can't learn to fly as well in a nosedragger. I'm not going to
say that because I don't believe that. If a person is taught correctly
in a C-152, he or she is going to be nearly as good as someone taught in
a Cub. Yes, there will be certain differences in that the 152 driver
won't be accustom to being blind on landing, but in today's world, is
that really necessary?
Now go back to where I said, "...if a
person is taught correctly in a C-152..." Now, underline the word
"correctly and let's define the term.
"Correctly" when interjected into the
tailwheel Vs nosewheel controversy means that the student will be taught
to coordinate with the rudder at all times and he or she totally
understands adverse yaw. It means that when landing, the airplane is put
gently on the main gear, nosewheel clear of the runway and it rolls out
that way. A crosswind landing will be with zero drift, on one main gear.
The takeoffs will include gently lifting the nose wheel clear, then
letting the airplane run on the mains until it flies itself off. If
that's the way you were taught and that's the way you still fly, then
the only thing the tailwheel is going to give you is quick feet and an
appreciation for being able to see over the nose.
Do all students and/or pilots fly that
way? Not by a long shot. Not by a very long shot. Why don't they?
Because an airplane like a C-152 doesn't require that kind of aviating
to be a satisfied, if not truly happy, camper. Its adverse yaw is
minimal so the instructor has to work hard to get the student to use
their feet in the air because the need for coordination is so subtle. On
landing, it's not critical the airplane be straight on touch down so
crosswinds are no sweat. Just get it down and the geometry of the gear
will sort it out. Takeoffs can be anything you want them to be as long
as you have the speed. Just drop the hammer and go.
Finesse, coordination and accuracy have
to be forced upon the nosewheel student by a dedicated instructor
because most nosewheel airplanes just don't require those qualities to
be flown safely. In a nosewheel airplane, the instructor is the single
most important ingredient in teaching the student to fly properly
because the airplane has made it easy to simply get up and down.
And then there's the tailwheel
airplane, the lowly Cub/Champ/Citabria/etc.. Here the instructor is also
important, but in the tailwheel airplane he doesn't have to work as hard
to teach the basics because the student quickly learns the airplane
simply won't go where he wants it to unless he or she masters things
like coordination and attitude control. The very basic skills on which
all of aviation is built, coordination, speed control, attitude and
directional control are absolutely necessary to keep the airplane from
becoming a crumpled ball of fabric and tubing on the side of the runway.
Getting it up and getting it down isn't really as hard as the horror
stories about tailwheels make it sound, but to do it consistently means
you've mastered the basic skills of aviation. How many pilots can
actually say that? Not very many.
There is the mistaken idea that
learning to keep a taildragger straight on landing is the primary
benefit in learning to fly a tailwheel airplane. That's not only wrong,
but is miles from the truth. Improved directional control is only a
tiny, tiny portion of what a taildragger will teach you.
Here's an interesting fact: back when
we were working Champs right along side Cherokees, it took about eight
hours to safely solo most students in either airplane. Today, to
transition a medium-time pilot from nosewheel to tailwheel often takes
almost the same number of hours because he has to learn the basics all
Let's look first at the tailwheel
airplane in the air, where it doesn't make any difference which end the
little wheel is on. If the airplane has a tailwheel, regardless of when
it was built (excluding birds like C-180s, 185s, etc.), will have
vintage handling. It will have much more adverse yaw than a modern
airplane because adverse yaw has been engineered out of modern designs.
Push the stick sideways on any tailwheel bird and the nose very neatly
moves the other direction unless the rudder is being used. It doesn't
move a little. It moves a lot and the student quickly tires of sliding
around in his seat and gets his feet into the game for self survival.
Therefore, long before the tailwheel comes into play on the ground, the
pilot is learning to coordinate simply because he has to.
Hopefully, while in the air, the
instructor will point out the way the pilot's butt is telling him
exactly what the airplane is doing. The adverse yaw is strong enough
that side pressures on the pilot's rear end are noticeable and provide
valuable input for proper coordination.
Then there's the landing. Actually, the
basics of a proper landing are the same for any airplane, tailwheel or
otherwise: a). It should be landed as slowly as practical, b) the nose
and the tail should be in line with the direction of travel and c) it
shouldn't be drifting sideways. That's all there is to it. The big
difference between nosewheel and tailwheel, however, is that on a
nosewheel airplane any, or all, of those factors can be screwed up and
the airplane will eventually wind up going straight. The landing will be
successful, if not pretty. On a tailwheel machine, however, let any one
of these factors get out of whack and the landing is going to be an
adventure. Count on it!
The geometry of a tailwheel airplane is
such that the center of gravity is behind the pivot point of the two
main wheels. On a nose gear machine it is in front of the mains, like on
a child's tricycle. If the CG is kept right on the line of travel,
either airplane will roll straight (more or less). However, if the tail
is sideways or the airplane is drifting, the CG is no longer in line
with the line of travel and inertia makes the CG want to continue going
in a straight line. On a nosedragger, that swings the nose back in line.
On a taildragger, the inertial of the CG tries to bring the tail around
so that the CG will assume the most stable position which would be in
front of the main gear. In other words, a taildragger's most stable
position is going straight backwards. This is not necessarily the proper
way to end a landing.
It only takes a few trips around the
pattern before any student or pilot figures out that his life is a
trillion percent easier if he or she plants it on the runway at minimum
speed, with all three gear touching (wheel landings are another story),
with the tail directly behind the nose and with no drift. If that's
done, practically all tailwheel airplanes will roll straight except for
gently trying to weathervane into the wind. If it's put on crooked or
drifting, it'll start swerving the instant it touches. Like we said, the
airplane, not the instructor, tells you it's a good idea to do it right.
What happens almost immediately is that
the student/pilot starts to notice little things he never noticed
before. For one thing, he'll start seeing what the nose is actually
doing just prior to touch down. Tiny little drift angles he never saw in
his Cessna/Piper/Beech now assume gargantuan proportions. After
touchdown, for the first few hours of practice, the nose will have to
move a fair amount sideways before he sees it and corrects. After just a
little practice, he'll catch the nose movement the instant it starts
and, in so doing, again make his life much easier. In other words, his
visual acuity gets much better. He's seeing more of what's happening in
Since the severity of turns and swerves
on the runway are a function of the speed of the aircraft squared, just
a little extra speed on touchdown results in greatly aggravated ground
handling. So, the student learns quickly, if he holds it off until it's
done flying, he doesn't have to work so hard to keep it straight. He
also learns to appreciate a good wind down the runway.
Most, but not all, taildraggers cover
the runway with the nose at the moment of touchdown so the pilot has to
get his visual cues from the side of the runway. This makes him more
aware not only of what's happening somewhere other than on the
centerline, but makes it easier to see the drifting, assuming he isn't
staring at just one side.
Does the taildragger produce a better
pilot than a nosewheel airplane, all other things being equal? No, not
really, but it is seldom that all other things are equal. It takes
enormous effort for a nosewheel instructor to produce a student as good
as any which come out of tailwheels. It can be done, but usually isn't.
If a pilot gets comfortable with the
tailwheel, he will have raised virtually every part of his flying skills
several notches without even realizing it. Then, when he gets into a
nosewheel airplane, he'll be surprised at how much better he is because
he is aware of so much more of what is going on around him.
Oh, yeah, there is one other advantage
to being able to fly taildraggers: many of the most interesting
airplanes have a tailwheel and who wants to be automatically excluded
from flying so many neat airplanes just because the little wheel is on
the other end.
Flying a taildragger isn't hard. It's
just different. And it'll make you a better pilot in spite of yourself.
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Don't do this
Things not to do
with an airplane. Remember, these people were professionals.
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Airliner, done right
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