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Building a Berkut

Or what did we get ourselves into?

By Ric and Shari Lee Sandy, Utah U42


Ric and Shari Lee embarked on a 30-year adventure that began with flying hang gliders and has brought them to the point of a nearly complete Berkut. When their landing gear (legs) started to wear out from foot-launched flight, they began to look around to see what their next flying thing would be. This month’s featured project is their journey toward high-performance flight that was discovered by way of a visit to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.

Ric started working for Mountain High Oxygen in the 1990s and was around general aviation aircraft constantly. Since he was dealing with pilots on a daily basis and attending AirVenture every year, he and Shari fell in love with experimental aircraft in general and canard aircraft in particular.

While attending Oshkosh in 1995, the Berkut made a huge impression on Ric. He had been admiring Long-EZs for several years but didn’t know if he and Shari could handle a plans-built aircraft. The Berkut, which has similarities to the Long-EZ, seemed to have that taken care of by virtue of being a kit plane. The idea had been planted.

In 1996 they found themselves in the Los Angeles area on a family trip. They decided to drop in on the Berkut factory (known at the time as Experimental Aviation Incorporated) which was located in Santa Monica.

There were two Berkuts under construction in the shop – Jerry Parrish’s and Misha Kesyan’s. They spent the entire day with the gang, asking questions, watching a wing get skinned and vacuumed bagged, and generally soaking up the whole home-building atmosphere.

They didn’t know it at the time, but the hook had been set. After several months of kicking the idea around they decided to jump in and buy the first of a three-part kit. The “A” kit consisted of the foam for the wings, winglets, and canard, five gallons of Safe-T-Poxy, five gallons of West System epoxy, fiberglass and carbon fiber cloth, as well as carbon fiber tapes. Completing the “A” kit was a set of templates and a set of videotapes to accompany the construction manual. “We are going to build our very own airplane!”

Their excitement was dampened a bit when they opened the crate that the “A” kit materials came in. There was nothing inside that resembled an airplane at all! The “We are going to build our own airplane!” turned into “What on earth were we thinking?” Ric expected it to look more like a Revell model airplane kit that he had built dozens as a kid.

Getting Started
First thing they built was the wing jig table. That required several trips to multiple lumber yards to get just the right grade and quality of wood. The plans stated how important it was to have a nice, flat table to work on. After that, they tackled the practice layups. Much like working on the Rutan Aircraft Factory (RAF) plans, they did some flat sheets and small items to get a feel for working with epoxy.

The couple’s first airplane part was the right winglet. They sanded it to final shape and installed the communication radio antenna. “We then cut some cloth, mixed and spread epoxy, and we had a part! Our odyssey had begun.”

Ric making airplane noises. This is the fuselage in the very early build with only a couple of bulkheads installed.

In the ensuing years, they had many ups and downs as most of us have. There were places where the plans weren’t clear. “There is much to learn and the learning curve is horribly steep. Periods of wild enthusiasm followed by ‘I’m going to sell this
damn thing and be rid of it.’” Fly-ins have really helped their morale. Seeing all of the completed planes and receiving the occasional spirit ride have seen them through these tough times.

First panel test
First panel test
Shari sanding the inside of the baggage strakes. Sand, sand, sand.
Shari sanding the inside of the baggage strakes. Sand, sand, sand.
Shari admiring their work after just completing the wing/spar mating and drilling
Shari admiring their work after just completing the wing/spar mating and drilling
First time on gear
First time on gear
First fitting of the canopy frames and lifts
First fitting of the canopy frames and lifts
Mounting and matching up the engine cowlings to the wings/strakes
Mounting and matching up the engine cowlings to the wings/strakes
installing the engine for the first time
The noisy end; installing the engine for the first time

Building has taught them many things; they have learned to work with fiberglass, carbon fiber and epoxy. Wiring and crimping, routing and trouble shooting. Hydraulic systems, fittings, plumbing. And their current challenge, engine baffles.

They consider themselves as being “dangerously close to being finished.” Ric and Shari were hesitant to say that they thought they would be flying in the first five years. “So now that we are more than double that, it will be done when it’s done.” They will say quite readily, though, that they’re committed to doing everything possible to have their bird at AirVenture 2011.

“We also want to thank the many members of the Central States [canard] Association and the Canard-Aviators e-mail list. Your contributions, comments, and general good spirits have really helped us.”

Lee Berkut Specifications
Berkut kit 49, N540RS IO-540 C4B5, Catto three-blade prop on 8-inch Saber extension, Dynon D10A, Blue Mountain EFIS/Lite, two Microair radios, Microair transponder, navaid autopilot, ACS 2002 engine monitor, Narco 122D ILS/VOR receiver, King KMA 24 audio panel, SIRS magnetic compass, two-place EDS oxygen system, and oil cooler/heat.

About the Berkut
The original prototype – and obvious descendant of the Rutan Long-EZ – was built with balsa instead of foam in the fuselage. The company has evolved into BEDI (Berkut Engineering and Design Inc.). BEDI no longer makes kit aircraft but are producing a drone based on the Berkut design called the Mobius.

Approximately 80 Berkut kits were produced, with a few of these popping up from time to time to be sold, which is a fairly rare occurrence.

Only original kit purchasers are still given support as needed; they can call the designer anytime with questions. If you acquired a Berkut kit secondhand, you have to rely on those in the community to help you. Berkut builders also have their own e-mail list. Some kits have been sold multiple times without any construction taking place.

Berkut 540 General Characteristics
Seats: 2
Gear: Retractable
Length: 5.67 meters (18 feet, 6 inches)
Wingspan: 8.25 meters (27 feet)
Height: 2.29 meters (7 feet, 6 inches)
Wing area: 33.53 meters² (110 feet²)
Empty weight: 521.6 kilograms (1,150 pounds)
Gross weight: 952.5 kilograms (2,100 pounds)
Useful load: 433.6 kilograms (955 pounds)
Powerplant: Lycoming IO-540 (260 hp)
Prop: 67” diameter, 91/103” pitch

Never exceed speed: 563.3 kilometer/hour (350 mph)
Maximum speed: 442 kilometer/hour (275 mph)
Cruise (75 percent power): 370 kilometer/hour (230 mph)
Stall speed: 104.6 kilometer/hour (65 mph)
Range: 2,433 kilometers (1,512 miles)
Rate of climb: 610 meters/minute (2,000 feet/minute)

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