A Magnificent Obsession


In appearance, he is the anti Johnny Cash. A shock of white hair and a dapper uniform consisting of a white button-down shirt, white slacks and white suede bucks. Don Wall wants to present himself well to the public in honor of the designer of the one and only kit aircraft he ever built, the single-place BD-5 Micro designed by Jim Bede.

Wall is one of many who have been intrigued by the BD-5, but he’s one of few who have actually completed one. A kit company bankruptcy and failure to find a reliable engine didn’t help. In fact, Wall’s kit had changed hands several times before he got ahold of it, partially built. Although the design was introduced in the early 1970s (the kits back then cost about $30,000 including the engine, so you can imagine the appeal), Wall didn’t start working on his project until 1995, toiling on it every day for seven years. Once he set his mind to building, he determined that if he started it, he was going to finish it, which he did in 2002. “So many become disenchanted…” he said.

This isn't an "undercover" project. A thunderstorm was about to roll through.

The building was difficult and time-consuming, Wall said, and he was grateful for the help of his friend Dick Olson, now deceased. He had never built anything in his life, but he had been fascinated with the BD-5 since reading about it in 1972. “It’s a captivating airplane,” he said. “It’s so limited because of it being a single-place, but the design is fabulous. Some aircraft just have an appeal to them… it’s more than 40 years old, but it’s like it’s timeless.”

Wall had flown a Beechcraft Bonanza for 30 years, but he didn’t want to do the first flight in the BD-5 because of concerns about his age (he was 70 at the time), the skill required to fly the aircraft and because of potential liability issues. “Age changes you,” Wall said. “Your values change, and you get more cautious.” With its French micro-turbo 220-pound-thrust engine and Experimental status, the BD-5 is difficult to insure, especially when you’re not using it on the air show circuit. “You can’t get insurance on a plane like that,” Wall explained, “or if you could, it would be prohibitively expensive.”

Still, in 2004, two years after its completion, the BD-5 had its first flight when Wall’s friend Harry Barr agreed to take it up. Barr has many flight hours and jet time (he also owns a P-51), and the two have been friends for more than 50 years, so he seemed an apt first-flight pilot.

Barr took off, did a low pass, flew for a few minutes, and landed. “He was probably a little conservative,” Wall said, “but it went great.”

That was the BD-5’s first and last flight.

“Harry wanted to fly it again, but we just haven’t done it yet,” Wall said. When asked whether he wasn’t curious about how the aircraft would perform throughout the flight envelope, Wall said, “I know how it will perform from that first flight.”

Every year since 2002, Wall has brought his BD-5 to AirVenture and made it available at the Bede Corp. booth. And he says he’ll continue to do so. Asked whether he has any long-term plans for the aircraft, he answered, “Not today.”

Those of you who are connoisseurs of the James Bond film series may recognize the BD-5 from a scene in Octopussy, where it is flown through an open barn. In his exchanges with people at AirVenture, Wall says many of them remember that scene and comment, “Isn’t that the plane from that James Bond movie?” The 1983 film rekindled interest in the BD-5, but still few of them have flown, and Wall estimated that perhaps five or six were currently flying in the U.S.

All told, building the BD-5 has been a satisfying experience, Wall said. “It’s one of those things you do once in a lifetime, but I wouldn’t want to build another.” So, whether he ever gets around to that second flight or not, he’ll continue to bring the BD-5 to AirVenture as long as he is able. “If I didn’t bring it, people would never see this airplane,” he said. “And I want the world to remember.”





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Mary Bernard
Mary Bernard - The product of two parents with Lockheed Aerospace careers, Mary grew up with aviation, prompting her to pursue pilot training as an adult. Her father, a talented tool-and-die maker and planner, instilled in her an abiding interest in how things are built. For more than a decade, she has been a contributing writer and Managing Editor for KITPLANES®.


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