What Our Members Are Building and Restoring
The M-19 "Flying Squirrel"
Oscar Zuniga, , EAA 237232
I wish I could say that my M-19 closes a full circle with its presentation in this inaugural issue of Experimenter, but it doesn’t. In the late 1990s, the magazine EAA Experimenter ran a story by builder/designer Marvin Barnard on his simple and economical plans-built “Flying Squirrel.” Marvin was a no-nonsense experimenter who wanted to build and fly economically and safely, and he designed a beefed-up version of the Peris JN-1 ultralight that would get him in the air in the experimental-amateur built category for under $3,000, as I recall. I read the article, bought one of the first sets of plans that Marvin offered, and have been working on the airplane ever since. It would be great to say that I’ve completed the airplane and am now flying, but it’s still under construction.
Marvin Barnard flying the prototype into the ultralight area during the last AirVenture he attended before he died. He had added a sort of camouflage leaf pattern to the paint. It’s rumored that the marshals along the flightline stopped him and chewed him out for walking barefoot on the flightline to and from his airplane. I’m not kidding...this boy was “country” (in the very best way). Navy vet; served on the USS Forrestal. I plan to honor him by painting my airplane with some of the Forrestal markings, as oddball and corny as that sounds.
The Flying Squirrel fell perfectly into the gap between my dreams and my actual abilities as a builder. My dreams were to build a fast, economical composite KR-2S, but my actual abilities and experience were limited. I had never worked in fiberglass, never done much more woodwork than cutting 2-by-4s and plywood for household projects, had no welding or metal-forming skills, and was just beginning to learn aircraft construction techniques from Tony Bingelis’ manuals and my Sport Aviation and Experimenter archives. The KR was intimidating in its construction but alluring in its affordability and performance.
Enter the Flying Squirrel, which offered the same composite construction techniques as the KR but with far simpler structures, systems, and finishes. And Marvin built and flew his Squirrel for less than $3,000! To a busy and financially challenged father of five, this sounded like the perfect project, and I jumped in with both feet.
Marvin himself was a barefoot backyard mechanic who only wanted to fly, not win awards. He designed the Squirrel to be built using simple methods and materials, and he minimized the use of costly turnbuckles and clevis ends on the fittings, preferring to use fixed assemblies with carefully measured cables and geometries that wouldn’t require much adjustment. On his own airplane, he formed all the strut and brace tube ends by heating the 4130 tubing in a backyard fire and hammering the hot, glowing ends flat on an old truck bumper that he used as an anvil. His completed airplane carried just enough latex house paint to cover the rough spots, and not even all of those. He made no effort to conceal the quick-and-dirty nature of his project, but he completed it, registered it, and flew it regularly, thus experiencing the true essence of experimental aviation. Isn’t that what flying is all about? Once you’re up in the air, the paint job is completely forgotten and nobody sees the little imperfections!
My airplane, N2069Z, was intended to be the first plans-built example, and it may yet be, since no other Squirrel has flown since Marvin began selling plans more than 10 years ago. Although he has since died from a heart condition, while he was active he conducted many test flights in his airplane, trying out various improvements and enhancements while still maintaining the simplicity and efficiency of the design. He also answered my constant questions as I worked through the construction manual and details to prove out the buildability of the design. In another attempt to reduce building costs related to the wing spars, he constructed and load-tested a composite wing spar to failure, and his work has led to the design of the composite spar that will go on my airplane. My wing ribs are CNC cut from the same 3/4-inch extruded polystyrene foam building board that is used throughout the airplane, but rather than mating to solid wood spars (expensive), they will be used in conjunction with built-up composite spars that will cost less than graded solid wood and will be simple to fabricate.
Everything ahead of the firewall is conventional. Marvin first flew his prototype behind a smaller engine, but performance was less than stellar, and the design ended up with the 1835cc VW conversion as being the perfect balance of power and cost. The higher-displacement VWs require a stroked crank, higher-output oil pumps, and other tweaks to keep them reliable at higher power outputs, and it just isn't necessary in this little single-place. My own 1835 was obtained from a builder in Florida whose hangar had collapsed on his airplane, totaling it but leaving the engine untouched. It has a single Slick magneto, no electrics, the proven Zenith carb, and is about as simple and affordable an engine as can be found in the 50- to 60-hp range.
The airplane is completely scratch-built. The engine is just about the only subassembly that might be used off of another airplane, but everything else is handmade except for standard hardware items. There are no kits available, although Wicks Aircraft Supply was an early partner with Marvin in developing a materials list based on the list that he included in every builder's manual. That list is still a good starting point for anyone wanting to build a Squirrel. Marvin worked as a prototype fabricator for a large industrial corporation, so he had the skills needed to make the various fittings and components that are used in the airplane, but it's all standard 4130 steel or 6160 aluminum, and Marvin made extensive use of hardware store materials in his prototype Squirrel. It is not a demanding or intricate design, and nothing on the airplane is really critical as to fit or finish. Tight and square construction will make it fly straight and trim out nicely, but there is no elaborate jigging or trammeling required in the construction. This airplane embodies Paul Poberezny's early dream of simple, affordable, home-buildable flying for the weekend enthusiast and provides the experimenter with a very satisfying platform from which to launch those dreams.
I hope to be able to update this story next year, titling it "The Flying Squirrel is Flying!" In the meantime, if anyone is interested in the plans/manual, they are available from Justin Drake, who acquired the rights to the design and who also owns Marvin's prototype airplane. Further information is available at Justin's website, http://www.m19flyingsquirrel.com/, or from my website at http://www.flysquirrel.net and the associated builders' e-mail list.
This column is dedicated to those who are still in the building process. We want to see your project. Please consider sending us a write-up and some photos for inclusion in this monthly feature.