August 1, 2013 - Coming to Oshkosh for first-time EAA AirVenture air show performer Justin Lewis was almost like coming home.
Lewis, a 1992 EAA Air Academy graduate, Young Eagle, and Young Eagles pilot, had attended AirVenture for much of the 1990s. And the only thing that has kept him away in the time since was his job as a pilot in the U.S Navy from 1999-2011.
Lewis says his fascination with aviation started as a child. He did all the normal stuff kids do when they're interested in aviation - watching airplane movies and building models. But his interest really started soaring, he says, once his father researched and found out about EAA.
As a teen, Lewis joined EAA Chapter 186 and started going to meetings. And he waited. And waited some more.
He started flight lessons at 14, and then he waited to turn 16 to solo. Next he waited to turn 17 and pass his checkride.
He also waited each year for EAA AirVenture Oshkosh to arrive. It was there in the early 1990s that Lewis first saw the BD-5 microjet, which had been developed in the 1970s by Jim Bede of Bede Aircraft.
"I was inspired," he says. "It's little, it's amazing, and it has all the things that I love about aviation." But the BD-5, dubbed "The world's smallest jet," was also difficult to build and not very safe to fly. After just a few years, Bede Aircraft shut its doors.
But Lewis never forgot about that jet, and finally decided to build his own improved version. Partnering with BD-Micro Technologies Inc., they spent about five years on research and development, updating the BD-5 with today's technology.
The result is the FLS microjet that Lewis is flying at the 2013 fly-in and convention. Until this year, a microjet hasn't been seen at Oshkosh since the late 1990s. In fact, there are only three flying microjets currently in existence, he says.
His FLS microjet is a high-performance, single-seat, aerobatic, low-wing, all-metal, jet-powered aircraft built from an amateur homebuilder kit. It looks like a shiny toy, and at first glance you'd think the 6-foot-1-inch Lewis couldn't fit in the cockpit. But he does - barely.
Lewis says the microjet is fun to fly. "It is so unique," he says. "It is something you have to look at. Plus, the bonus is that I can do high-performance maneuvers and inspire kids to fly."
He also flies the A-10 as part of the 188th Fighter Wing in the Arkansas Air National Guard. Not surprisingly, there is quite the difference between the two aircraft. "The only thing that is the same is that they both have the throttle on the left side of the plane," he says, laughing.
In the microjet, Lewis says he turns around and sees the wings behind him, and above the clear canopy surrounds him. "It's like flying through the air with a jet engine pushing you forward. I've never had more fun."
But the microjet isn't just for any pilot. You need to be a proficient pilot with some high-performance experience, plus get training so you can fly safely and professionally, he says.
Since there is no two-seat trainer, Lewis has developed a standardized training program that not only trains new FLS microjet pilots, but also focuses on responsible flying, cockpit discipline, and proper decision-making.
The key to flying it is its new engine, Lewis says. "It's the brain...and it monitors everything for you."
While the microjet gained fame in the movie Octopussy when James Bond flew it through a building, Lewis doesn't think that's the reason for its popularity today.
"Just look at it," he says. "You think there is no way a person could fit in there. It is so unique. It's impossible for people to believe that anything that small could also have such high performance."
Lewis says he was humbled to bring this new technology to AirVenture.
"It's like coming back to your roots," he says. "It's a combination of my general aviation and military experience, and my familiarity with building airplanes that I got through EAA, that made this possible."
Lewis at a Glance
- Lewis started flying lessons at 14, soloed at 16, and earned his private pilot certificate at 17.
- He graduated in 1999 from the University of North Dakota with a bachelor's degree in aeronautical studies, plus certificates in multi-engine commercial and flight instructing.
- Lewis graduated from Navy flight school and was assigned to the F-14D Tomcat and in 2004 transitioned to the E-6B Mercury, a variant of the Boeing 707.
- In 2007, he was assigned to train in the T-45 Goshawk. He did that for four years, including three years as active duty.
- Since May 2011, Lewis has worked as an A-10 pilot with the 188th Fighter Wing in the Arkansas Air National Guard. His FLS microjet also made its debut performance in 2011 as part of Lewis & Clark Performances LLC.
FLS Microjet Specifications
- Top speed: 320 mph
- Weight: 416 pounds
- Gross weight: 890 pounds
- Wingspan: 17 feet
- Length: 13 feet
- Height: 5 feet 9 inches
- Thrust: 265 pounds