As we were putting together this month’s Plansbuilt Aircraft Buyer’s Guide, which is complemented by the complete specifications and photos for all current and archival plansbuilts in the Online Aircraft Buyer’s Guide at kitplanes.com, I was reminded, by this most elemental type of aircraft building, of an article I’d read not long ago about the work of researcher Janine Benyus, who wrote the book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature and who actually coined the term biomimicry. She also founded the Biomimicry Institute, which promotes the use of biomimicry concepts in various cultural arenas. (You can find more information on her open-source project at www.AskNature.org.) Biomimicry is defined as the design and production of materials, structures and systems that are modeled on biological entities and processes, and the web site is a resource for those who seek solutions, drawn from nature, to design problems. It’s fascinating stuff…really.
Manned flight, which came about as a result of those who aspired to mimic, or perhaps emulate, the peregrinations of winged creatures, is a good example of biomimicry in action. As Benyus has pointed out, nature uses energy, in various forms, efficiently, and we could all learn from it. For example, butterflies surf on vortices of their own creation, and geese draft off of the vortices of the geese in front of them, creating more for those that follow. Many of us have seen red-tailed hawks riding thermals to conserve energy in climb after swooping down on prey. Torpedoes are based on penguin bodies. And the amazing strides we have made in aviation since the Wright brothers could be considered an outgrowth of a deep and abiding respect for the fact that nature has long provided solutions to complex problems, some of which we humans are only now beginning to contemplate.
It is this primary state of nature that is the domain of those who build airplanes “from scratch.” They must source their own materials and components, interpret the design from drawings, and create, in the process, something essentially from nothing—construction of the most fundamental kind. Resourcefulness and innovative strategies are prerequisites for this type of builder even more so than they are for their kit-building brethren. To those hardy souls who are willing to tackle plansbuilt aircraft, our hats are off. We’re glad that this building option still exists, and that there are those who would undertake these challenging projects in keeping with a long and fine tradition.
Last month Amy Laboda wrote about the thriving homebuilding scene in South Africa, and this month we have a flight report from Marc Cook about a South African import, the Sling 2 Light Sport Aircraft from The Airplane Factory. The Sling has been around for a few years over there, but it reached our shores only in 2012, thanks to a new U.S. distributor located in California (you may recall reading a brief about the airplane in the December Kit Aircraft Buyer’s Guide). We’re told that the folks in California may offer the Sling 2 as a rental, so if you’re in the Torrance area and would like to try it out, you should give them a call.
More on Plansbuilts
Also this month, we get a closer look at Bob Barrows’ latest undertaking, the Bearhawk LSA. His previous designs include the Bearhawk and the two-seat Bearhawk Patrol, which test pilot Chuck Berthe sampled in 2010 (see the October 2010 issue for his flight review). The Bearhawk LSA, as writer Jared Yates points out in his article, aims to take Barrows’ aircraft weight-reduction program one step further.
We also have a story of conversion from Sam Buchanan, who built and still flies a Van’s RV-6, but craving more (or perhaps less in this case), discovered the beauty of low-and-slow flying after he completed a Legal Eagle XL. Some have claimed that ultralight flying is the closest one can get to a bird-like experience, and though Buchanan doesn’t make that assertion, he certainly appreciates that sometimes it’s just good to get up in the air, with a minimum of fuss, for some wind in your face. He may be on to something there.
One More Note
For those of you who may be looking for Mel Asberry’s “Ask the DAR” and “Completions,” never fear. They’ll be back again next month. We just didn’t have enough room in this chock-full issue to include them. But please keep your questions for DAR Asberry and your Completions coming in!
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®.