It's Alive!


Thorp S-18

One of the fun things about living at an airpark is that there is usually something aeronautical going on. This weekend, our neighbor down the taxiway reached the momentous point (after years of building) of a first engine start on his Thorp S-18 project. For those of you building modern, prepunched or quick-build kits, the Thorp is a lot more “old school”, and getting to the point of starting the engine is quite an accomplishment. This design is from the days when more projects got sold (and re-sold) rather than completed.

A small crowd built up to help and watch as we chained the airplane’s tailwheel to a tie-down hook, chocked the mains, and had four or five sets of experienced eyes go over the engine compartment one more time. We’d looked things over the night before of course, yet a different set of eyes spotted one more interesting bobble that was easily addressed. A quick safety brief (“everyone stay out of the arc of the prop, and if you need a fire extinguisher, use it!!”), and the owner (John) climbed aboard, looking a little childlike, low in the cockpit, since his cushions are out being upholstered.

After the typical discussion on how best to crank up the fuel-injected Lycoming (three pilots, four opinions…), we gave the all-clear, and off she went, purring like a kitten after a few short seconds of snorts and a belch of black smoke. That new-engine smell of cooking paint soon filled the air as hand signals were exchanged and all observers were happy. Instrumentation was checked, data recorded, no limits exceeded, and we had a clean shut down. Hand shakes all around and only one tiny drop of oil on the temperature sensor that needed one more “flat” of tightening.

Of such days are legends made – the beast comes to life, the proud builder practices taming the butterflies that will visit their stomach on first flight day. The smile on John’s face was enough reward for those standing around in the growing heat of the day – one more step on the road to another flying homebuilt.

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Paul Dye
Paul Dye, KITPLANES® Editor at Large, retired as a Lead Flight Director for NASA’s Human Space Flight program, with 40 years of aerospace experience on everything from Cubs to the Space Shuttle. An avid homebuilder, he began flying and working on airplanes as a teen and has experience with a wide range of construction techniques and materials. He flies an RV-8 and SubSonex jet that he built, an RV-3 that he built with his pilot wife, as well as a Dream Tundra and an electric Xenos motorglider they completed. Currently, they are building an F1 Rocket. A commercially licensed pilot, he has logged over 6000 hours in many different types of aircraft and is an A&P, FAA DAR, EAA Tech Counselor and Flight Advisor; he was formerly a member of the Homebuilder’s Council. He consults and collaborates in aerospace operations and flight-testing projects across the country.


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