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A One-of-a-Kind Homebuilt Fills LSA Gap

Fun-Kist 1

By Nicholas Wood, EAA 831459, nicholasmwood@gmail.com

Fun-Kist 1

The sport pilot and light-sport aircraft (LSA) rules came with the promise of new, affordable aircraft and less-expensive training. On the surface it may appear that it has missed the mark with the average cost of a new LSA being well more than $100,000 and with rental costs being the best part of $100 per hour. So rather than throwing up our collective hands, what if we take a step back? Perhaps by just broadening our field we’ll see something that’s been around since the beginning of homebuilding, and it’s certainly a cornerstone of EAA’s foundation: experimental amateur-built aircraft that meet the light-sport aircraft definition.

A treasure trove of light, amateur-built aircraft exist in every configuration imaginable, using just about every method of construction and materials available today. Many of the more successful designs have been around for decades and have their roots firmly planted within the homebuilding community. If you browse the homebuilt or experimental categories of any of your favorite aircraft classifieds, you’ll find almost every type available including those rare, vintage, or even one-off treasures.

Names like Mini-Max, Loehle, Corben, Bowers, Fisher, and Evans (just to name a few) are synonymous with homebuilding and have their roots firmly planted in aviation. Many of these aircraft can range from $5,000 on up to $50,000, some having an almost factory finish, and that’s just the ready-to-fly aircraft. If experimental aircraft qualify under the light-sport aircraft rules, they can be flown by sport pilots. Plus owners can receive training in their aircraft. For whatever reason, many builders of these fine examples of experimental aviation move on to build bigger or faster, or they retire from flying. These older planes still need good homes with attentive pilots to fly them and should not be overlooked by the sport pilot in search of the illusive “affordable” LSA. Caveat emptor (Let the buyer beware)—imagine what one might find when looking at planes tipping the lower end, or let’s say the lowest end of those figures.

Fun-Kist 1

Meet Fun-Kist
Weighing in at just 517 pounds, Fun-Kist 1 was built by Victor Stanley in 1997 and received its airworthiness certificate in 1998. Using a Teenie kit and builder’s manual, Stanley scratchbuilt most of the aircraft, resulting in a slightly boxier version of the plane. Advertised as a “one of a kind,” the Fun-Kist 1 (F-K 1) at a glance does seem to resemble the typical Teenie, albeit a highly modified Teenie, with a razorback and rear-sliding bubble canopy.

Joseph Oldham, EAA 1006260, of Fresno, California, recently purchased Stanley’s F-K 1 with the plan to fly under the sport pilot rules. Looking for a single-seat aircraft that complies with the LSA category and was easy on his modest budget, Joseph was attracted to the fully enclosed all-metal construction of the one-of-a-kind homebuilt.

Construction
Stanley began construction of his plane using 6061 aluminum, riveted to hand-formed bulkheads and ribs, incorporating many of the same construction methods of a traditional Teenie. Although the F-K 1 has changed hands a few times in the past years, not much documentation of the original build remains. What we are left with is a comparison between Victor Stanley’s F-K 1 and similar aircraft.

Fun-Kist 1

Fun-Kist 1

The F-K 1 features a robust sprung aluminum landing gear assembly with hydraulic toe brakes and a castering nose wheel. Aileron and elevator controls are operated by push-pull tubes coupled with a center control stick, while the rudder is operated by cables running down either side of the fuselage.

Fun-Kist 1
It’s fun to think that the previous owner was too short to reach the rudder pedals so he added wooden blocks, but they are probably mounted there for additional leverage when applying the brakes.

Another encouraging feature is the fully balanced flight-control surfaces, a testament to the quality and care taken during its construction. The single-seat cockpit is accessed through a rearward sliding Lexan canopy, and the entire aircraft is finished in day-glow orange polyurethane paint. Joseph points out that Stanley had originally incorporated a thick black stripe down the length of the fuselage with large block letters bearing FUN-KIST 1. The previous owner repainted over the stripe and lettering, and Joseph acknowledged that the aircraft does look better this way. Registered in the amateur-built experimental category, F-K 1 still bears its name etched into its dataplate and on a small placard on the instrument panel.

Fun-Kist 1

Engine
Power is provided by an 1835-cc, 60-hp, four-cylinder, air-cooled VW engine converted for aircraft use by Mosler, which has since gone out of business. Featuring one of the simplest of cooling systems, the aluminum heads and a portion of the cast-iron cylinders peek out each side of the cowling. Ignition is handled with a single magneto running off the back of the crankshaft. A waste-spark electronic ignition sensor picks up the crank angle from the stock VW distributor drive, completing a fully redundant ignition system. Mosler used a steel prop hub bolted directly to the pulley end of the crankshaft, and with this example, the flywheel was omitted since there is no electric starter motor. Mounted on the back of the engine is a cast aluminum accessory case that not only acts as an attachment point for the engine mount, but also supports the magneto.

It’s encouraging to know that these auto engine conversions, commonly referred to as alternative engines, lend themselves to light aircraft like F-K 1 as affordable alternatives to certified aircraft engines. With parts costing far less and readily available off the shelf, it’s easy to understand how experimental aircraft owners like Joseph can be attracted to aircraft like F-K 1 and the VW engine that powers it. Although Mosler has been out of business for decades, there are many respectable VW engine conversion suppliers throughout the country, several of whom will support owners of orphaned conversions like the Mosler and HAPI.
 
Fuel System
With a lone header tank mounted between the instrument panel and the firewall, fuel is gravity fed to a Zenith carburetor mounted just below the engine. A common fixture found on many converted VW engines, the Zenith is a popular choice with respect to both automotive and aircraft applications.

Fun-Kist 1 metalwork
The craftsmanship that went into the metalwork is clearly visible in this photo, but one has to question the use of the 90-degree PVC pipe elbow—there’s no doubt it’s light and it works but…

A heat box (muff) is channeled down the outside of the cowling on the right side, completely enshrouding the number one cylinder’s exhaust pipe, and is plumbed back inside the engine compartment supplying carb heat when called upon.

Fun-Kist 1
One noteworthy feature is the use of a Curtis quick-drain as a primer. The pilot’s operating handbook calls for a short blast of butane from a cigarette lighter refill canister into the quick-drain that’s threaded into a welded bung on the intake runner on one side of the engine. Sure enough, it works well!

Just in front of the Zenith hangs a remotely located stock VW oil cooler that takes advantage of cooler air fed directly into it through a rectangular inlet in the lower front half of the cowl. This provides pre-heated air to the carb, thereby potentially reducing the risk of icing. Also taking advantage of off-the-shelf parts, the Mosler conversion uses a standard automotive-style oil filter that screws into the lower front portion of the stock VW case just behind the cooler.

Aerodynamics
Another unique detail on F-K 1 is its winglets, or fences, as Joseph called them, although tip-plate may be a better term if they were properly designed. Constructed from what appears to be textured aluminum house siding and sharing a similar shape to the wing, each tip is finished with these fences that are thought to improve handling characteristics in the slow-flight configuration, which prevents loss of lift at the wingtip.

Fun-Kist 1

The truth of it is that to have this effect, they would have to be much larger. As it is, they probably neither hurt nor help—but it would be a fun experiment to find out. The elevator control surface on the tail also includes smaller “fences” serving more as a gap seal than a span-enhancing device.

Joseph Oldham
Joseph Oldham, EAA 1006260, proud new “papa” of Fun-Kist 1.

Bringing It Home
When Joseph Oldham began flying in 1974 he was just 22 years old and on the path to fulfilling a childhood dream. As economical as Cessna 152s were at that time, he eventually had to shelve flying to make room for a career and a family. About two years ago, while satisfying another childhood dream, Joseph experienced a one-hour back-seat flight in a P-51 Mustang, awakening his need to pursue aviation again. After returning to flight training, Joseph earned his taildragger endorsement in a PA-12 Super Cruiser.

Joseph posing in front of the PA-12.
Joseph posing in front of the PA-12.

It didn’t take long for Joseph to discover the benefits of flying under the light sport rules and their increased affordability. From that point it became clear that owning a special LSA (S-LSA) or a qualifying homebuilt was in order. Possessing some mechanical background and skill would be necessary when considering maintenance and upkeep. Finding a homebuilt that met his requirements - simple to operate, simple to fly, and simple to maintain - is written all over the F-K 1.

When I asked Joseph why he chose an experimental over the hundred-plus S-LSA available, his answer was quick and confidant: “They just cost too much.” He continued to explain that for him, owning a plane was a luxury. Unlike the need for a reliable vehicle for work or the family, his airplane would not be depended upon for anything other than punching holes in the sky and chasing down the ever-elusive hundred-dollar hamburger.

After looking at his logbook and reflecting on the 35 to 50 hours logged in the previous year while renting aircraft, Joseph couldn’t justify investing that sort of money in recreational flight. With the affordability of a homebuilt, he felt he could meet his own personal mission for flight with a minimal investment and with potentially zero depreciation if and when he were to sell the F-K 1. “The cost of a new factory LSA would be a burden on my family, and I didn’t want that. My mission for flight is simple; it’s to enjoy myself and fly.” Joseph also explained that he really had no intentions for great cross-country distances in his plane, and F-K 1 is designed to cruise easily at 90 mph, which is perfect for keeping pace with friends flying out to lunch in Cessna 172s and Tri-Pacers.
 
Joseph said he took a gamble in purchasing his plane, since he had to make his decision to purchase without actually putting his hands on the plane and inspecting it first. He did find a short video online showing F-K 1 taxiing and performing touch-and-goes. Joseph followed his gut, and on Veterans Day, November 11, 2009, F-K 1 arrived at its new home in California, having spent four days strapped inside a rental truck during its trek from its previous home in Tennessee.

Fun-Kist 1 arriving at its new home.
Fun-Kist 1 arriving at its new home.

The arrival of this new plane on the airfield made quite a ruckus. I remember arriving at the flight school where I work and being asked by multiple people if I had seen the new “thing,” also referred to as a “whatchacallit” and “whatzit.” Fellow pilots from one end of the field to the other made their way to Joseph’s hangar for a look. If there is one thing to be said for my local airfield it is that the homebuilder spirit is alive and kicking even if our collective knowledge for varying designs is nil. Tossing homebuilt design names out to those describing Joseph’s plane to me, most would shake their heads and say they had never heard of a Teenie, or a even a Volksplane and they were sure that wasn’t what it was called.

Fun-Kist 1 arriving at its new home.
Getting it together.

Reconstruction
Joseph had talked himself in and out of buying the plane, so when F-K 1 arrived and was assembled, the arduous task of poring over the aircraft with a homebuilt-knowledgeable airframe and powerplant mechanic/friend resulted in a happy union between the new owner and his plane. Although F-K 1 had already been rigged and taxied, some minor work is needed before Joseph will be comfortable behind the controls. For the most part F-K 1 appeared to be well-built and in better than fair condition. Some hardware needs to be replaced (upgraded), and a single rivet had departed the fuselage near the wing center section. While the sliding canopy was in fine condition the forward windshield was showing signs of stress where the Lexan was riveted in place. Other troubling areas included the mounting of the small battery for the electrical system just behind the carburetor, below the engine, near the firewall and use of automotive grade, or grade eight bolts attaching the motor mount to its firewall.

Since taking delivery of his new homebuilt, Joseph has been spending his weekends working with F-K 1 to bring the plane closer to his own personal standards. The battery has been relocated to the center of gravity point just in front of the pilot seat. Its compact nature doesn’t seem to be intrusive for the pilot. Bolts for both wing-attach points as well as the engine mount have all been upgraded to aircraft-grade AN hardware.

Fun-Kist 1 arriving at its new home.
The battery relocated into the cockpit.

Materials for the F-K 1’s forward windscreen have been precision cut from stock Lexan and drilled for mounting, but while removing some of the surrounding components, Joseph discovered that the fuel lines should be replaced and that a wire routed from the starter switch and the firewall was unshielded.

Comparing F-K 1 to Cal Parker’s original Teenie Two, the finished project is bigger in every area. Empty weight is 517 pounds as compared to the 310 pounds for a Teenie built to spec. With a 23-foot wingspan and 16.3-foot length, F-K 1 has more than 4 extra feet of wingspan and is 4 feet longer in length. F-K 1 operating handbook calls for a 780-pound gross takeoff weight, and there is no space for baggage, netting 263 pounds for pilot and fuel, or roughly 200 pounds for the pilot with a full fuel tank. Another slight difference is a 10-gallon fuel tank that is only 1 gallon more than a stock Teenie. With the Mosler 1835-cc VW conversion up front, F-K 1 is estimated to burn between 3.5 and 6 gallons per hour on 100LL, taking away from some of the benefits of owning an experimental homebuilt aircraft. And while a Teenie is advertised to cruise easily at speeds in excess of 120 mph with a full canopy and cowling, the added weight and size of F-K 1 results in a reasonable 80 to 90 mph cruise speed in level flight.
Once F-K 1 is back in the air, Joseph plans to fly the plane to local Fly-ins and other such events. “I love flying an airplane to a show or gathering and being part of that group.”

Conclusion
Is there something to be learned from Joseph Oldham’s experience buying an amateur built experimental aircraft? We have now discovered that there are affordable alternatives to flying factory-built light sport aircraft; it’s just a matter of how comfortable you are with getting a little dirt and grease under your nails. “This plane was obviously constructed very well by Mr. Stanley, and it shows that it has been taken care of over the years,” said Joseph, who is eager to fly the plane soon. Having received the plane in the second week of November, he has set a goal to have F-K 1 back in the air by Christmas, but only if he is fully ready. He’s still adding new coats of varnish to the weathered prop, but progress is moving along quickly.

Having listened to Joseph talk openly about his purchase experience as well as what others like him have experienced with their respective secondhand homebuilt planes, I still feel confident that when I find the right one, I won’t hesitate at the idea of owning and flying someone else’s dream. These aircraft are out there, and they still need good homes. And while factory-built S-LSA have brought some of the costs associated with flying down a little (and that’s debatable by many), some newer pilots will need to keep an open mind when considering aircraft ownership. Thankfully there are EAAers like Joseph Oldham who can (by experience) introduce it to them and teach them about experimental aircraft.

New sport pilot students will definitely find advantages around my local airfield, one doesn’t have to look far to see the spirit of homebuilding alive and active around almost every corner. I guess Don Pellegreno was right in the December 2009 issue of Sport Aviation when he said that we can thank our “aviation parents” Paul and Audrey Poberezny for that.

Joseph Oldham may be reached at j.oldham1@sti.net.


Cal Parker’s Teenie Two (Sport Pilot Eligible)

Engine

VW (only)

Empty weight

310 pounds

Fuel

9 gallons

Wingspan

18 feet,
19 feet 10 inches w/wingtips

Length

12 feet 10 inches

Gross weight

590 pounds
normal 550 pounds

Useful load

240 utility category
280 pounds standard category

Climb

800 fpm

Stall speed

48 mph

Cruise

3/4 throttle 110 mph 2-1/2 gph

Top speed

level 120 mph,
up to 140 mph with full canopy & cowl

Tricycle gear

350 x 4 tires & wheels

Very simple construction.
No metal working or riveting experience needed.

 

 
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