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Have You Ever Seen a Deere Fly? Conclusion

By Jackye Reynolds, EAA 744120

Jackye Reynolds

Last month in part one of this story, Jackye shared her experiences flying hang gliders and ultralights that have led her to decide to build her own trike wing.

I flew a few more times and was finding myself thinking about zooming off to places farther than my ultralight restrictions would realistically allow. I didn’t have the funds to buy a bigger engine four-stroke trike that I’d have to build a better hangar for or spend more of my flying reserves on county airport hangar rental if one was available. Ding dong! I was going to just work with what I have and what I could learn to do.

So began the evolution or remodeling of my trike, but I faced a minor setback; I broke my wrist in September of 2009, tripping over my own blue tarp on a garden shed project. No more flyin’ for a while, and I’d be limited in my work income with a gimp wrist, too. On another front, I had sent an e-mail to Timm Bogenhagen at EAA regarding the continuation of building a “UL–exemption 103” aircraft into an experimental amateur-built (E-AB) aircraft. He promptly responded and sent back some important information about documentation such as E-AB builders logbooks or a diary with photos. These records would be evidence of my overall building in excess of 51 percent of the aircraft and help qualify it as amateur-built.

Orca tubing
Pile of tubing needed to build an Orca trike wing

I was able to further consult with trike and wing builder Mark Gibson of Manta Aircraft about the E-AB process for building a trike wing. He offers parts and sail-making services as well as builders assist programs “if you want to really know your wing intimately”!

With this invaluable information and service available in the United States for the trike builder, I was able to start making a plan for building my DeereFly trike to be nearly the trike I’d envisioned. Despite knowing where to find most of the basic, necessary FAA forms online, I decided to purchase the EAA certification kit with tips and advice on getting it right the first time. It comes with lots of forms, examples, stickers, and other stuff to help you letter and label important things on your aircraft. I also had fast responses from the government agencies to which I’d sent my N-number requests, so with all the forms notarized and signed, it was easy and quick to get through the red tape. I guess I had feared, because of the prior E-LSA grandfathering backlog, that red tape would always be a perpetual situation as with anything that’s “gubmint”!

During the summer before I broke my wrist, I had been able to do some of the trike carriage modifications. And it was a blessing to know I couldn’t fly anyway because of the cold winter months coming. I had rebuilt the Azusa wheels with new precision roller bearings and used Michelin Classic Scooter tires instead of the “low speed, not for highway use” wheelbarrow tires. I built a new front fork from parts of the old one in order to have the foot pegs inside the new lightweight fiberglass pod from Precision Composites.

On eBay I found high-finned wheelpants and the pod which weren’t fitted with mounting hardware or brackets, so that was all in the scope of my problem-solving process. No longer would the front wheel “Flintstone” friction plate brake be of any use. I found a hydraulic disk brake assembly from Believe Aviation that was designed for PPCs and would fit the bill, but it had a brake handle lever and reservoir. I said to myself, “I’ll figure something out!” 

I’d been to Sun ’n Fun in the spring of 2009 and had opportunities to look at numerous production models of trikes, and other aircraft, too. They all had really nice finishes and professional-looking gadgetry and hardware. I came away with more wants, but few new solutions to my project problems. It was my good fortune to chat with Prowler trike builder Don Cooney of Concept Aviation, though. He reminded me that my fiberglass products may have a light coat of paint covering the inside fibers not protected by a gel coat. He advised I should sand away the paint coat, before any epoxy bonding of mounting plates and brackets. D’oh! This was good information, because I had already started the backing plate bonding process to the wheelpants but hadn’t sanded the paint off in some of those areas. This later became a necessity; I detected some separation signs that required a whole lot of work to do right the second time around! Sometimes my project just had to sit out there in the carport and wait for work schedule lulls, warmer weather breaks, or divine revelation!

I made plans with Mark “Gibbo” Gibson of Manta Aircraft in Magnolia, Texas, to help me build and assemble my own E-AB Orca trike wing. Unfortunately, about 4 weeks later, Gibbo sustained serious injuries in an incident with unseen utility lines during an emergency landing. Scores of prayers and healing energies from friends all over the world were offered up for his survival and recovery. I’m happy to report it was a success,
and he has just recently resumed his flying, in better health than ever and with more insight into the importance of headgear and safety equipment.

It would not be until March that he had the strength and endurance to sit at his sewing machine he calls his ATM machine and begin on the backlog of orders for work he had accepted prior to his accident. I had called him periodically to assure him that his recovery and mental health were paramount to my particular plans. A short while later, I got an e-mail from him saying, “Let’s make a plan for you to build your wing! When can you come here?”

Mark Gibson
Mark Gibson, designer of the Manta trike wings.

A few weeks later, after a little juggling of the schedule and a pleasant weekend road trip with a Saturday stopover in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to visit my Kitty Hawk trip wingman Larry Wallace, I drove into the small town of Magnolia, Texas, and checked into the Super 8. At 8 a.m. Monday morning I arrived at the Manta Aircraft factory, and Gibbo was ready to work! The Manta factory is a well-appointed two-and-a-half car garage set up with a large sewing table, overhead shelves, and work benches. Wow! A real garage industry! “Gimpo” was all smiles and grimaces from some latent pains of surgeries, but still ready to get goin’! “Let’s make it happen!” he said. So we did!

Jackye cutting
Cutting tubing for the leading edges.

I set out my point-and-shoot camera with tripod and my builder’s logbook, and I put on my work gloves. While I was setting out inventory, cutting lengths of tubing and stock, and making myself familiar with his work areas, Gibbo was laying out sail panels and parts, snippin’ and stitchin’, and we just had a grand ol’ gab fest as we worked away the daylight. Gibbo’s lovely wife, Sascha, and family peeked in from time to time but generally left us alone to create a beautiful 12-meter strutted trike wing in 5 days.
At night in my hotel room, I’d try to upload a few pics to some web albums and share “The Manta Files” with various e-groups.

Builder's log
Beginning the builder’s log for the Orca wing
Larger view

On Friday morning we were slipping the sail on the frame and completing all the tensioners and nifty wear-reduction aids that are necessary for a foldable flex wing. After a quick video session, bagging and loading the folded wing on my truck racks, we made our final goodbyes, and I was on the road again!

I rolled back into Tuscaloosa, Alabama, late that night and awakened Saturday morning at Larryboy and Marygirl’s. After a great homemade breakfast of bacon, eggs, and biscuits with Golden Eagle syrup, we headed over to Deerlick Airfield and Wild Pig Resort for a morning flight in Larry’s Geo-powered Aeros trike with the Cadillac emblem on the hood, don’t ya know! It was still a chilly morning, and after about an hour in the air, we’d both had enough; the turbulence was beginning to assure us we’d be smart to make a controlled landing ASAP. Afterward, I was treated to some quality touring of the area and sharing family time with their young-uns and grandkids.

By Sunday morning I was up before the family headed off to church and was rockin’ up the interstate for my home in Raleigh, North Carolina. Those last few hours of driving in rain showers were the worst because my brand-spankin’ new wing might be getting waterlogged and then mildew. Finally, I’m home, I’m reunited with my kitty “Prince,” and I begin the grueling task of trying to single-handedly get my folded wing bundle off my truck and into a dry space out from under my leaky carport. My back really hates me when I do things like that, and it lets me know I’m not allowed another chance to bend over for a couple of days!

It was now time for me to get back on the paperwork path, lettering, labeling, painting, wiring, and detailing again. Multiple logbooks for airframe, engine, and propeller are all part of the typical record-keeping regimen that seems redundant but necessary. I also acquired lettering and labeling supplies from various sources on the Internet, and some were rather excited to see where their craft or handiwork would be applied. The EAA had sent me the experimental fireproof data plate that I proceeded to butcher with my “chicken scratch” engraving. I had to do that one over with the pros that can engrave on steel. It seems some trophy shops and jewelry services just aren’t equipped for that sort of thing!

Finished product
The finished product ready for inspection.

The window of opportunity had finally opened, and I was about to fly out through it! Sizing up my chances of getting an airframe and powerplant certificate with inspection authorization at the flight standards district office in Greensboro, North Carolina, to visit me, or I them anytime soon, just didn’t have much appeal to me. Instead I could schedule it for next week and just an hour drive from home with a weight-shift-control Designated Airworthiness Representative (DAR). His rates were reasonable, plus he was within flying distance once my phase one testing stage was completed. I summoned up my courage, called the DAR, and spoke with him about my need to schedule an inspection for a special airworthiness certificate. I had an E-AB weight-shift-control aircraft. “Well, did you build the wing?” he asked. “You bet your bippie I did, and I got the pics and logbooks to prove it!” I replied. Boy, that felt good! “Well, you send me the paperwork and pictures or drawings, we’ll look it over and schedule for you to bring it here to my shop,” he said.

The inspections went well, and the 40-hour phase one test area restrictions were better than expected, realistically allowing me to fly from airport to airport to airport for a great circular course that I still have yet to complete. My phase one is about over, so I hope to have that trip completed by June 15, 2011. I’ve had a thrill building and flying my new DeereFly trike, and I’m still adding little things to it here and there that make flying an experimental aircraft the best way for me to go.

I contacted someone at the John Deere Corporation with a picture and the caption “Have you ever seen a DeereFly?” The response that came back to me was, “That’s really cute. I hope you enjoy flying it!” I still have no desire to take passengers, but I hope others will realize that the road to experimental aviation isn’t all red tape – it’s more about friends and experiences you learn from along the way!

Jackye and her DeereFly trike after a cold winter flight with a friend in a Phantom.

I’m sorry if I’m boring some of you, but this account has also become an essay about the journey and the people and relationships you develop while building an aircraft. That’s what I’ve learned throughout the building and remodeling projects I’ve done on homes and businesses, and it’s that same family relationship you develop in the company of people with whom you share ideas and aviation thoughts. Just like here and now.

Check out the Manta Aircraft factory website for more information about the complete range of topless folding strut wings that are available as amateur-built kits. Manta also offers trike kits and factory-built trikes and wings. More pictures of the DeereFly project can be found on Jackye’s Flickr page.


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