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Little Dipper Reborn 70 Years Later

By Randy Dufault

  • Little Dipper
    Only one Lockheed Little Dipper existed, and then only for six months, before Al Eke's replica of the 1944 design flew earlier this year.

July 23, 2015Everyone has a favorite airplane that they want to own at some point in their life. But when only one example of the type ever existed, and that example was destroyed six months after it was built, acquiring one becomes a unique challenge.

For Al Eke of Lino Lakes, Minnesota, a 1962 article in Air Progress magazine made such an impression that he knew he had found his favorite, Lockheed’s Little Dipper.

His dream of owning one came full circle earlier this year when a replica of the plane that he designed and built took to the air.

“The article described the airplane very thoroughly,” Eke said. “It was spectacular. The prime characteristics are the kind of flying characteristics that you can only get 50 years later with an ultralight.

“You can take off in less than 100 feet, land in 100 feet—just spectacular. It flew like nothing else in its era.”

Lockheed built the single-seat, all-aluminum design to sell to the U.S. Army as an aerial motorcycle. The concept was that individual soldiers could launch in Little Dippers, fly over some obstacle and land in a very small space. The airplanes would be constructed so inexpensively that they could be abandoned on the battlefield.

The only example of the type flew in 1944 and was powered by a 45-hp, two-cylinder Franklin engine.

The program was discontinued and the prototype was destroyed before the Army bought off on the idea. Lockheed still owns the rights to the original design and they would not release any drawings or plans. Eke only had the in-depth description given in the Air Progress article, some specifications, and a few photographs to work from as he launched into his Little Dipper project.

“I had to design the whole thing. I knew what it looked like, I had a description of it, but I had no plans,” Eke said, adding, “My problem was that I could design it, but when I got done it had to look like the original. That put another level of design [constraint] on top.”

Eke’s version of the plane uses a wing structure similar to the popular Van’s RV designs. In the end the plane ended up a bit heavier than the published specification for the original.

“I think engineers at Lockheed had a little more confidence in keeping things light,” Eke said. “I built it heavier just because I’m not willing to risk it. If I did it all over again I suppose I could build it lighter. But when you are building an experimental thing, you don’t want to experiment too much. After all, you have to fly it.”

Part of the additional weight is a heavier engine. Eke opted for a four-cylinder, 65-hp Lycoming. It’s more common than the original Franklin and the additional horsepower helps with the plane’s heavier weight.

“It flies well,” said Jack Smith, also from the Minneapolis area. Smith has been flying the Little Dipper and flew it here.

“It climbs a bit slow, but once you get it into level flight it handles real well,” he added. “It’s pretty stable. We figure the airspeed at cruise is about 90 mph.”

Eke doesn’t have any particular future plans for his body of research on the type. But he is willing to help with information and drawings if other fans of the design are interested in building an example of the single-seater.

“I had absolutely no excuse for building it,” Eke said. “I just thought we needed one of these.”

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