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EAA Experimenter

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What Our Members Are Building

New Life for the BD-5 Fuselage

By Patrick Panzera, Editor – Experimenter, EAA 555743

David Mischke’s BD-5 as seen at the 2010 Arlington Fly-In

In the October 2009 issue of Experimenter, Mike Lecka’s Harley-Davidson-powered project was featured. Since then, Mike has become the caretaker of a very special set of molds used for creating a composite fuselage for the BD-5, and has gone into production, but not only for experimental aircraft. It seems that while certainly available for homebuilt aircraft, there is a market for the BD-5 fuselage that goes beyond experimental aviation—and certainly beyond just the BD-5.

It’s hard to deny that the BD-5 is sleek, compact, and sexy. It’s not news that even Hollywood recognizes this with the use of a plane gracing the silver screen multiple times, most notably for its jet-powered appearance in the James Bond film Octopussy.

But as many of you already know, the plane was well received, with over 5,000 kits sold. However, the company had several problems. According to Wikipedia, by the middle of 1973 the design was complete and tooling was set for production. The engines were the holdup, so Jim Bede offered to ship kits without engines, promising to send the engines later. This seemed fair to many builders as it meant that the builder could build the airframe before the engine arrived.

Some may not realize that Burt Rutan worked for Bede and had a little to do with the BD-5J.

At the time, three Hirth engines were offered: 40, 55, and 70 hp, with the 70-hp version reported as developed by Bede and Hirth and was considered as the baseline engine as the original 40 hp proved to be of insufficient power. In a late 1973 newsletter, Bede suggested the 70-hp model and discouraged use of the smaller engines. Prices had risen throughout the 30 months since the deposits were first taken. Originally priced at $1,799, the base price was raised to $2,599 with the 55 hp, and owners were offered a “trade up” for the difference in price if they had ordered the aircraft with the original 40-hp engine.

When 1974 came around, the engines were still not being delivered in quantity. At that point, unexpectedly, the North American distributor for Hirth engines went bankrupt after about 500 of the engines had shipped. Once again the design lacked a suitable engine, but this time the search for a replacement ended with a Xenoah engine from Japan. Development of this engine was lengthy, and in the end it could not be exported until 1978.

Deliveries End, Bede Bankruptcy
After more than 5,100 kits were delivered, the company stopped shipping. They were effectively bankrupt at this point, with it becoming official in 1979. But by that time, the BD-5 project was long over. During the bankruptcy proceedings it was learned that the money collected from builders was being spent on a variety of projects other than the BD-5. As a result, Bede entered a consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission to cease accepting deposits on aircraft for a period of 10 years.

Many owners stored, abandoned, or sold their incomplete kits, but a few hundred diehard builders finished them with a variety of engine solutions that they either personally designed or borrowed ideas from third parties, former Bede Aircraft dealers, or fellow builders. Having to hunt for an engine was only one problem. The time to build the aircraft seemed to take longer than quoted, as much as 3,000 to 3,500 hours in many cases. Some of this was due to experimenting with engines, but some if it was from the kits being shipped with missing parts that had to be manufactured by the builder.
This led to owners wanting to build and kits being sold at a substantial loss, meaning a potential gain for new builders/owners. While the claim was made that the aircraft could be put together by virtually anyone in his garage, builders generally agreed that doing so without proper skills or specific training could result in a potentially dangerous aircraft. But those who have persevered either love or hate the aircraft with many never being flown.


Fast-Forward 30 Years
At the Sun ’n Fun fly-in a few years back, Mike Lecka was displaying his 2004 88B Harley-Davidson engine, which he has tailored for use in a single-seat sport/racing airplane of his own design. The new aircraft is a low-wing, all-metal pusher that resembles a BD-5 at first glance, except that it has fixed main gear and a manually retractable nose wheel.

Mike’s cockpit as viewed from the rear. Sharp eyes will pick up on the round-tube spar and the solid-aluminum main landing gear.

Although the cockpit area is monocoque, the firewall aft is of tube construction. This project was inspired by an article on Pushy Galore, written by Gary Hunter and published in CONTACT! MagazinePushy Galore also graced the pages of Sport Aviation in the June 1996 issue.

Mike’s Now in Business
Like so many experimenters who have become engrossed with a specific design, an opportunity came up for Mike to get even more involved than he initially bargained, by purchasing a set of molds to create a composite BD-5 fuselage.

Mike’s molds in the back of his semi truck

Testing things out, Mike’s first piece

It’s obvious that the composite fuselage can help speed production of BD-5, but what’s not so obvious is that it can also be used for so many other projects—from aircraft (obviously) to road vehicles (two, three, and four wheels) to watercraft, and (back to aircraft) even cut up and used as a cockpit fairing for many ultralight types. Also for consideration would be recumbent bicycles and all manner of electric vehicles.

It’s almost a no-brainer that anyone wanting to create something like the ElectroClub could start with Mike’s fuselage.

The molds can be used to create fiberglass, carbon fiber, or even carbon-fiber Nomex honeycomb final products, so one can tailor the strength-to-weight ratio to the end-product use. Once cured, doors and access panels can be cut, or the entire shape can be reconfigured.

Canopy frame
The canopy frame.

A canopy frame is part of the package Mike is offering, and the massive canopy, made in Ohio, is readily available for under $1,000.

The standard BD-5 center section, which holds the main gear and wings, will fit easily into Mike’s carbon fuselage. Vertical stabilizer is integrated into the molded part, but in the event the fuselage is to be used for, say, a dual-boom configuration, or any number of non-flight vehicles, it can either be left off during its construction or simply cut off afterwards. The nose gear tunnel would be much easier to build from composite construction than aluminum and rivets; simply copy the Lancair 320.

The fuselage is stretched 11 inches and is one inch wider than the original, but if this deviation from the plans isn’t needed or wanted, it’s easy to revert. It was done that way as it’s far easier to start with something too long and cut it down than it is to start with something too small and make it larger. Odds are this larger cockpit size is a welcome change.

The construction method of the fuselage is described as being “canoe style,” which eases construction, allowing the builder to, in essence, build the plane before installing the top and therefore provide great access to all the systems throughout the build.

If any of this seems interesting to you and you’d like to contact Mike, visit harleykitplane.com or e-mail mike@harleykitplane.com.  


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