The Decision

I first encountered the Bowers Flybaby design through Ron Wanttaja's postings in the rec.aviation newsgroup. Pete Bowers original prototype Flybaby (N500F) was then being operated by a flying club attached to Ron's EAA chapter. He used to thoroughly annoy most of the readers of rec.aviation by posting the cost of each year's annual inspection and maintenance total. The fact that a year's total maintenance cost for N500F was equal to an hour of two's rental cost for your typical spamcan, would make the steam really come out of the ears of those paying to annual their Arrows, Cardinals and such.

Ron would also liberally sprinkle the group with postings extolling the joys of flying a simple machine. Stick and rudder, and no radio or nav equipment. He'd periodically post the text of a article "Nouvelle Classique" he'd written for the February 1989 issue of KITPLANES. Taken together all his postings describe a plane that is 110% fun, dirt cheap, and dead bang simple.

I knew I wanted a simple and cheap project, that I wanted to scratch build, that I didn't know how to weld or rivet, and that I didn't like the sound of composite construction. I would consider an aluminum plane but I'd prefer to stick with woodwork.

Two events cinched my choice of the Flybaby as a project. The first is simply that I came into possession of my grandfathers shop and more woodworking tools than you could shake a stick at. The second was a windstorm that hit Seattle in early 1992. N500F was kept in an open hangar in which there was also an eight foot tall tool cabinet. The wind blew the cabinet over crushing the wing of the plane. Ron posted the details of the incident to rec.aviation. He later posted the details of the repair. By the end of April the plane was good as new after an outlay of $150.00.

I knew that two place Flybabys existed. I was told that there were both side-by-side and tandem variants, and that while the designer speaks ill of the side-by-side version, he is conspicuously silent on the tandem. I also learned that a tandem version frequently appeared at Oshkosh.

I ordered a set of Flybaby plans, and set about learning to fly taildraggers. When the plans arrived I lost a week or so of my life studying the plans and building a 1/10 scale model as a learning exercise. I talked to the designer by phone and asked about the tandem design. He said a lot of things of the form "Never use cement blocks as jackstands, and when you do always make sure the holes go up and down." Mostly he emphasized the need to use the more expensive larger 800x4 wheels to absorb the greater weight, and suggested that the larger polar moment of inertia might call for more tail volume. He also mentioned that the guy who built the tandem had a "Russian sounding name".

I called EAA and got a list of all the Bowers Flybabys that they knew about. The list was 98 names long. I looked for Slavic or Central European spelled names combined with addresses close enough to Oshkosh so that one might reasonably fly there regularly. I started working the phones and eventually called Vic Meznarsic near St. Louis. He had indeed built a tandem Flybaby, and he also knew of another built by Harold Matteson from near Pittsburgh. Both men followed much the same course. They each built a 65 Hp single place Flybaby, and then built a second longer fuselage and installed the same engine, landing gear, wings and tail on that. They had both stretched the fuselage forward of the wing. Vic flew his solo from the aft seat while Harold flew his solo from the back, but flew from the front when carrying a passenger.

Harold is a retired engineer so I was able to get right down to stress moduli with him, and we had several long phone conversations, and he sent me some sketches and photographs. Harold unfortunately has lost his medical and his plane is now in the Ohio Museum of Flight at Port Columbus Airport, OH. I eventually visited the museum and looked the plane over, but by the time I got to Columbus I had already finalized the fuselage design.

To my knowledge these are the only two tandem Flybabys in existence. I plan to assign mine serial number three as an acknowledgment of these although each plane was developed and designed separately. I haven't yet seen Vic Meznarsic's plane though Harold did send me a photo of it. I keep careful watch on all the Flybaby arrivals at Oshkosh each year and keep my eyes open for design ideas to incorporate.

Vic Meznarsic's Tandem Flybaby based near St Louis.

Harold Matteson's Tandem Flybaby now in a museum in Columbus, OH.

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