October 31, 2013 - It's not unusual for a new airplane design to generate some buzz in the aviation community, but a new bush aircraft design, the DoubleEnder, has become an online sensation. The airplane's name reflects its twin Rotax 914 engines, which have been beefed up to 130 hp each, mounted inline with the front end pulling and the rear end pushing. DoubleEnder.
The aircraft is based on the venerable Super Cub, which is also the type New York native and DoubleEnder creator Alec Wild learned to fly in. Wild currently lives in Kenya where he's a bush pilot flying anti-poaching and other conservation missions in Super Cubs. He started work on the DoubleEnder about seven years ago after a decade of bush flying in both Africa and Alaska.
Wild's goal from the outset was to build an airplane that maximizes safety, performance, and visibility for pilots who fly in the inherently dangerous conditions of remote bush flying. Safety has always been paramount, and everything was built around that, he said. For example, the push-pull engine configuration maximizes single-engine performance and also avoids any directional instability during an engine failure.
"This airplane was designed to fly in tight places, where one can't afford any kind of deviation during an engine problem," Wild wrote. "An engine failure is a non-event; you simply push the throttle forward on the good engine and keep going."
He spent several years envisioning what he wanted to build, and began designing it in 2007. "The goal is to fly like I've always flown, only more effectively," he said. "In aviation, there's nothing that hasn't been done. We did not reinvent anything; just looking for the right recipe."
DoubleEnder has evolved through four different wing configurations, three kinds of flaps, two airfoils, three types of roll spoilers, four different ailerons, three horizontal stabilizers, and two vertical stabilizers. Leading edge slats have been in the mix since Day 1, Wild said.
The helicopter-like bubble canopy allows the pilot to see down between his feet, remaining in constant visual contact with the landing spot - an immensely useful advantage in the bush. S-turns normally required while taxiing are no longer needed, and the view in flight is spectacular, Wild said, likening it to being in an IMAX film.
A pair of short YouTube videos, appropriately titled, "Cliff Diving... Alaska Style," are blowing up on the web showing the DoubleEnder falling off the edge of a cliff but recovering in plenty of time, giving a glimpse at the advanced capabilities of the new design. (See the videos below.)
As Wild explains on his website, "It was designed to counter the most common causes of accidents for this type of flying. It was then given the greatest amount of visibility one can imagine, something more along the lines of what is commonly found in helicopters. ... The performance has been maximized and geared toward maneuverability and slow flight. With 260 hp available to the pilot, the power to weight ratio exceeds what is normally found in this category of airplane, giving it extreme performance in regular conditions, while retaining enough power to keep you going in the event of an engine failure."
While the DoubleEnder was not designed as a commercial venture - which might be why it ended up so different than most proof of concept airplanes - Wild believes there is a market for people who would enjoy this airplane. "Safety was a big factor in the design of the airplane, and I feel it would be useful to make that available to anyone who wishes it," he said.
So it's not a project that began with the goal of making money or selling airplanes, but Wild would offer one-off built experimental airplanes, or possibly kits if there's enough interest. Along with the current two-place tandem configuration, Wild is designing a side-by-side version in which a passenger can enjoy the same view as the pilot.
"Someday it will be available," he said. "Bottom line is, if someone is interested in having one today, he should talk to us as we could be interested in building one-offs. As for kits availability, we have considered that, and will most likely do it at a later stage, when the design is fully finalized."
While Wild envisions bringing the DoubleEnder to Oshkosh at some point, it won't likely happen in 2014. He does, however, expect to show it at the Alaska Airmen's Association's Great Alaska Aviation Gathering trade show in Anchorage in May 2014. Wild also mentioned flying the airplane in the STOL competition in Valdez that month.
Here are the DoubleEnder's current specs:
Powerplant: Two Rotax 914 engines (modified to 130 hp each)
Propeller: Warpdrive three-blade, 72 inches
Fuel type: Premium auto fuel or 100LL
Fuel Capacity: 103 gallons (wings tanks - 48, plus optional belly pod - 55)
Endurance: Nine hours with optional belly pod (at max cruise setting)
Range: 970 miles (at max cruise setting)
Cruise Speed: 108 mph
Landing Speed: 36 mph
Empty Weight: 1,500 pounds
Gross Weight: 2,500 pounds