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The Titan All-Metal P-51 Replica Kit, Part One

By Len Bechtold, team-38@team-38.com
Photos courtesy of Titan www.TitanAircraft.com

 

Kiwi Mustang
The 3/4-scale “Kiwi Mustang,” owned and piloted by Titan builder Mike Crene, shot while in formation with a Nanchang (Chinese Yak)  over Marlborough, New Zealand, on January 1, 2008. Engine is a Suzuki V-6 marketed as the “Mini Merlin.” Photo courtesy  Gavin Conroy

Pat Panzera
Len sitting in the V-6 powered factory airplane at the Titan headquarters airport in Ohio during their ’07 annual fly-in.. Photo: Larry Battin

Len Bechtold has been involved in aviation for over 40 years, earning his private ticket after a stint in the U.S. Air Force. The GI Bill of his day facilitated getting commercial and instrument ratings along with certificated flight instructor, glider, and seaplane ratings later in life. A Stinson 108-2 and Cessna 182 served as family aerial trucksters but didn’t satisfy the creative urges carried over from a lifetime of model building and auto racing.

Working for and eventually running Total Engine Concepts, the entry into the Volkswagen-based auto engine conversion business kicked off a career in experimental aircraft engine development. Team-38 Inc. was formed to build the 80-percent-scale P-38 Lightning requiring big, reliable V-engines. The progression into the V-8 business came from a brief involvement with the Stewart 51 prototype airframe construction. Subsequent efforts included development work with Jeff Ackland’s Legend and small-block-powered kit projects, and a few Mustang and Velocity airframes.

A longtime member, sometimes director, and forums coordinator with the Replica Fighters Association, Len can usually be found on the forums roster at various EAA events supporting the CONTACT! Magazine cause and offering advice (from experience) to would-be auto engine converters. Another enjoyable exercise was a two-year term writing the monthly “V-Engines for High Performance Aircraft” articles for two popular aviation magazines.

Recently retired, Len is now concentrating on building his own Titan T-51 Mustang and participating in an engine development program for it. The P-38 project will soon be moving forward.

It’s great to be writing an airplane article again after the closing of Custom Planes and Private Pilot magazines a couple of years ago. Our articles that were titled “V-Engines for High Performance Aircraft” often referenced our Team-38 engine builds for Mustang replicas. They afforded the opportunity to report on reader-built Mustangs including a SAL (Falconar Avia, Inc.) scratch-built project and extensive interviews with John Parker sharing his Thunder Mustang details as flown at the Reno Air Races.

This will be the first of a three-part article on the Titan T-51 and the various engine options that have been chosen by some of the builders. CONTACT! Magazine has always been a great source of engine conversion information, so photos of the variety of these engines being installed on the T-51 will hopefully interest all of our readers. Since I’m in the process of building my own T-51, understand that the opinions expressed here are mine as a happy and maybe even grateful customer. This isn’t a phony-baloney advertising-biased kit review, though mine is still some time away from flying; I’ll be happy to share the ups and downs with updates as we go.

Fact:
Everybody likes the North American P-51D Mustang!

With the P-38 being my personal replica preference, I never thought I would actually be building a P-51 replica of my own, especially given the fact that Mike and Sandy Loehle’s very light offering (as featured in last month’s Experimenter) has been the only kit available that actually shipped as a complete package. I wanted something faster that could actually get me to fly-ins around the country, while working on the P-38 project. Sad to say, no other kit companies we know about have delivered all of the goods right up front, with the cross-country capability we wanted. Wouldn’t it be great if there was some middle ground between the fire-breathing Thunder Mustang and Loehle’s very practical, albeit ultralight-like cutie?

Len presenting an engine forum
Len presenting an engine forum at COPPERSTATE '04

COPPERSTATE ’04 was a momentous occasion for us, sitting in the Replica Fighters Association tent when the first T-51 airplane taxied up with John Williams, president of Titan Aircraft, at the controls.

T-51
One of the newer T-51s to roll out of a builder’s shop, this gorgeous example by Warren Brull is powered by a LOM-inverted four-cylinder engine that is certified in Europe and has been around for decades. Details next time! Photo: Warren Brull 

What It Is
First impressions of the T-51 for the wannabe Mustang driver are many, but probably the large size is the first thing noticed, and that translates into a practical two-seater. The metal skins, for me, put it in the upper echelon of replicas, and the overall outlines are pretty good. What makes this airplane kit available to the masses, though, is the ingenious use of sensible compromises that translate into a producible and buildable reality.

T-51
Two seater? Yes! 230 lbs of Experimenter Editor fits easily in the back of the early version of the T-51 at Sun 'n Fun a little over a week ago.

John Williams of Titan Aircraft has long been respected for his ability to provide a quality kit airplane product that isn’t only well designed, but is shipped with minimal back orders. Before his Titan line became established in the ultralight heydays of the ’80s, his early foray into the kit business was producing CGS Hawk kits for Chuck Slusarczyk. Of course, the four different versions of the strutless, high-wing, Titan Tornado have been the cornerstone of Titan. 

T-51
The view of the front cockpit, this one sporting the traditional steam gauges that look appropriate in these airplanes. Lots of glass panels are finding their way into these replicas, though, as the cost and weight advantages continue to become more appealing.

The T-51 design team (to be credited fully in the next installment) succeeded in capturing the essence of the P-51, as the photos attest. Both seats are fully functional, comfortable and sized for our present-day, full-figured pilots. The strength and durability have been demonstrated over time with several examples flying in addition to the factory airplanes. Static structural testing has proved the wing strength, along with flight demos and customer-built examples. Interestingly, New Zealand has to top the list as the location of the most completed airplanes. If my numbers are correct, the first 28 or so kits and Suzuki V-6 engine packages were sent there by Dan Hawken when his engine and propeller speed reduction unit (PSRU) development proved ideal for the airframe being produced by John. So, what it is, is a relatively affordable, available, and good-looking P-51 replica, as shown by the photos of the completed airplanes.

What It Isn’t
From years of static judging at the Top Gun R/C scale competition and others, my first impressions of awe turned to noticing some airframe details. First, the original props are too undersized to look scalelike, but the performance is very good since it’s sized to the engine/PSRU combination. With the purchase of Whirl Wind Aviation (propeller manufacturing) by Titan, this issue is being addressed in the form of a custom-made blade planform and a diameter to better replicate the big airplane. Also, the landing gear is just a bit too spindly looking, meaning the tubes are a bit undersized for perfect scale appearance. There are also efforts afoot to correct this now that production has been stabilized.

My last criticism of the prototype I saw at COPPERSTATE was the sheet metal treatment of the top of the nose skins and a lack of forming on the bottom of the cowl for perfect outlines. The belly scoop, while a good outline, was composed of a series of single curved panels that gave a tiled look.

These features stood out to me, no doubt partly because of having been around Jim Stewart’s prototype when he was working out the details of these very same panels for the S-51. His eventually came out about perfect. Bottom line, however, was that although some of the S-51 metal work is leagues above the T-51, the cost to Jim wasn’t only astronomical, but getting reliable, good quality delivery of these compound curved panels took a long time to iron out. When I mentioned the things I noticed to John, his completely anticipated and knowing smile preceded the explanation of the value of each one of the compromises that facilitate a practical, reasonably priced airplane kit. All of my metal work “hits” revolved around the compound curving of the panels in question. John confirmed that the cost of these “improvements” is huge and the tooling (and production) costs would likely make the T-51 project another unobtainable fantasy. The belly scoop is now a fiberglass option, so the aluminum pieces aren’t the only way to go. When painted, it looks great. So, what it isn’t, is a perfectly scaled P-51 with the requisite compound curved cowl skins; it doesn’t have scale, or heavy main gear or a very expensive and complex powerplant. Sounds like a keeper. As the expression goes, “If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck...” Thankfully, this one isn’t a fantasy duck!

Construction Details
The fuselage construction is similar to a Meyers 200 (now Micco) airframe as well as the Mooney scheme of wrapping a chrome-moly structure in aluminum skins. Also like our P-38 replica design, the skins add considerable rigidity to the factory jig-welded steel square and round tube frame. This approach gives the first-time builder a real shot at having a true airframe. The Titan trademark-proven D cell aluminum skin, bonded to the foam core leading edge construction, helps ensure a true wing build. I don’t think even I could twist this thing out of shape. (Len is a good-sized fellow. ~Pat) The front half of the wing including the main spar installation is perfectly smooth and completely bonded in factory tooling, so the most critical portion of the airfoil is guaranteed correct as delivered.

The wing has a slightly clipped look, a concession to performance and maybe materials usage, I would think. The canopy looks great with ample headroom front and rear. We’ll get more into the kit details next time, and hardwarewise, it’s good news. Also, let’s not forget the flying aspect. With modest power by some other replica P-51 standards, this is a sparkling performer – aerobatic capable and a pussycat to taxi, fly, and land. As with any product that morphs by customer-driven capabilities, the frequently updated drawings and improvements can provide quite a challenge to the builder not familiar with the details of the finished product. Read on, though; help is easily available.

Flying It, aka Pilot Requirements
Although a proper tailwheel endorsement is needed (if passengers are to be carried or if the operating limits demand), John and the other pilots are extremely pleased with the ease of ground handling. The visibility over-the-nose (straight ahead) might be limited, but the narrow cowl width and pilot position require only slight S-turns. The easiest part of the flight as opposed to some conventional geared planes has to be the takeoff. Twenty to 30 feet into the run, the tail is already up, visibility is instantly 100 percent, and the wide gear makes straight departures routine. Landings are easier than the other heavy wing loaded replicas because of the slower approach speed. With the big flaps down, stall is listed at only 39 mph for the light Rotax-powered versions, so if we add a little approach speed for the heaviest of configurations and throw in a little extra speed until we really get comfortable with the approaches, we would still be at 50 mph or so coming over the fence. We can do this.

LOM
The LOM isn’t a common engine option, probably because of a lack of advertising, but with lots of integration effort and a slight chin area change, this rugged and well-proven engine will provide economical and reliable performance. Photo: Warren Brull 

Engine Choices Abound
Although not originally anticipated, a variety of engine choices have been installed in customer and factory airplanes. The Suzuki V-6 seems to be the most popular right now, with a complete factory “Mini Merlin” installation kit available (more on that in the next installment). Some builders have found that a niche market developed when they dedicated themselves to fabricating parts of the airframe that they (if not always the factory) felt would be an improvement or required substantial tooling or expertise. We will have several references to this cottage industry in the next issue. If you aren’t interested in getting involved with the engine conversion exercise, welding, or block machining and setup, any number of the main engine or aftermarket guys can provide you with what you may need to complete your project.

T-51
The T-51 Mustang was designed to fly with either the 100- or 115-hp Rotax four-stroke, four-cylinder engine. Either engine can be equipped with a hydraulically operated four-blade propeller. The weight and balance work out well with either engine. Both engines are recommended powerplants, and both are available through Titan Aircraft.

General Specifications
The factory figures cited here are based on the Rotax engine choice. A Suzuki V-6, LOM, Jabiru, or other powerplant and PSRU combo naturally changes some things. Other small auto conversion engines like the Raven and some rotary engines may fit, although modifications are likely. Certified-type engines such as Continental and Lycoming are too wide and aren’t approved.

Affordability and the AMU
Larry Stein, a flying buddy and Mooney owner, simplifies airplane expenses using the aircraft money unit (AMU), a term often mentioned within the Mooney owners’ group. The value of an AMU is $1,000, somewhat like scientific notation, and helps take some of the sting out of our aviation spending requirements. Applying these innocuous little guys to the T-51, the complete kit minus the usual engine, prop, paint, and instruments, makes the cost 54.9 AMUs. The factory states that a complete flying example can be constructed for under 80 AMUs. Several partial kit packages are available if you want to buy as you build. Individual builder preferences, materials on hand, and the ever-popular scrounging activity will naturally have a big impact on your bottom line.

This price point, airplane performance, and ease-of-construction combination has proved itself. As of November 2007, when I picked up my kit at the factory (a highly recommended, popular, and fun thing to do), it was assigned serial number 119, and sales are still strong. An important aspect of the sales numbers for a prospective customer is that the deliveries are as promised; the company seems to be on a good financial foundation, and builder assistance is a phone call away. There’s a lot of information available from the builders’ e-mail group, with the earlier kit builders sharing their experience, tips, and photos. New Zealand dealer Ivan Campbell has produced a two-CD album with hundreds of construction photos and a brief, written construction sequence narrative, all of which are included in the kit.

Next Time
We’ll have multiple engine options and airframe build-in-progress photos for the next installment. Personalized nose art is another great opportunity for creativity and showing pride in owning a truly unique airplane. We’ll give the details of how to get just the image and message you want airbrushed by an outstanding artist in the form of a simple-to-apply decal that comes delivered in the mail.

Hopefully we’ll have the opportunity to get some stick-time soon for a mini-flight report, and we hope to have time for an extensive interview session with John and his crew. If the photos from a couple of the aftermarket suppliers arrive in time, we’ll show you some of the great options available from them, along with the factory option offerings like drop tanks! Until then, start socking away your AMUs so you can join the fun. In a year or two, we should be able to amass a pretty decent squadron of T-51s on the flight line of the Replica Fighters Association at many of the air shows. Five T-51s were in the ultralight area at Sun 'n Fun 2010.

It has been said that there are two types of airplanes – warbirds and targets. Cessna drivers, check your six!

Titan Aircraft
1419 State Route 45 South
Austinburg, Ohio 44010
440-275-3205
www.TitanAircraft.com
E-mail: info@titanaircraft.com

T-51 Mustang Kit and Modular Kit Pricing
(subject to change)

T-51 Mustang Kit: includes items listed below

$54,900²

Outer Wing Panel Kit

$10,450

Center Section Kit

$17,600

Fuselage Kit

$15,950

Tail Kit

$7,700

Finish Kit

$7,700

Crating charge for freight shipments

$1,200

Shipping to home destination

Call for quote¹

¹ Call Titan Aircraft at 440-275-3205 for latest quote on shipping costs from Austinburg, Ohio.

² Light-sport aircraft version doesn’t include retractable landing gear system

$48,400

 

Specification

Value

Empty weight

850 pounds / 385 kilograms

Gross weight

1450 pounds / 599 kilograms

Length

23’-6” / 7.16 meters

Height

9’-2” / 2.8 meters

Wingspan

24 feet / 7.32 meters

Wing area

118 square feet / 10.96 square meters

Cabin width

24 inches / 60.96 centimeters

Cabin head room

48 inches / 121.96 centimeters

Cabin leg room

46 inches / 116.84 centimeters

Fuel capacity

23 gallons / 87 liters

Engines

Rotax 912S

Power

100 hp / 74.5 kW

Kit price

$54,900

Velocity never to exceed

197 mph / 316.97 kph

Cruise speed

150  mph  / 241.35 kph

Stall speed

42  mph  / 62.75 kph

Range

720 miles / 1158.5 km

Climb rate

1200 fpm / 6.1 mps

Takeoff run

300 feet / 91.44 meters

Landing roll

300 feet / 91.44 meters

Ceiling

16,000 feet / 4,876.8 meters

 
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