From AirVenture 2008 – As promised in a recent post (Backyard Flying: Fun & Cheap), I ambled down to the lightplane area at the south end of the EAA AirVenture site to try on Valley Engineering’s Backyard Flyer. It fit!
To most people that may not be a big deal, but for a long time I’ve represented what is only now a growing part of the population–pilots taller than 5-foot-10 who weigh more than the 170-pound FAA standard. Call me the 99th percentile. I’m 6-foot-5 with a 38-inch inseam and sleeve. On the scale I’m a Part 103 legal ultralight–254 pounds empty–and I wear size 15 shoes, when I can find them.
If I’m lucky, during the 30 some odd years I’ve been a pilot, if I fit in one of 10 new airplanes I try to fly, I’m lucky. So, finding a new airplane I fit into is a big deal. And finding one that fits that costs $17,500 ready to fly, with a BRS chute, I’m in happy flying heaven.
You read that right: $17,500. And that’s with the four-cycle 40-hp Big Twin engine with electric start, alternator, and battery. If you want the backyard flyer with a trailer that doubles as its hangar, you have to write a check for $25,500.
During my fitting I met Gene Smith (that’s him on the left, in the cowboy hat), a former crop duster of 21 years experience who started designing and building ultralights in 1993. They also make engines for sport planes, like the Big Twin that’s in the Backyard Flyer, and Culver Props, which their engines turn.
As you can see, there isn’t much to the Backyard Flyer. The fuselage is welded heavy wall 6061-T6 aluminum tubing. The throttle is on the left lower fuselage tube and the instrument panel has an airspeed indicator and a Micro tach. But it has some ingenious features, like the flaperons that droop when you apply full back stick and remain effective when stalled.
With a thick 27-foot-10 wingspan, Gene says the Flyer gets off in 100 feet. It tops out at 63 mph, cruises 55-60, stalls at 23, and lands not much faster than stall. Those numbers seemed pretty close in watching it fly during the evening demo.
With me sitting comfortably in the black-webbing seat, I’d lose a bit of cruise because my knees would be sticking out in the breeze. But, pshaw, who cares. I’d be off the ground flying around, having fun going no place. I gotta get me Valley’s home field, a grass strip outside of Rolla, Missouri.
As promised, it takes less than two minutes to pivot the wing 90 degrees to its storage position, and it even has a nifty tab on the rudder post to secure the wingtip. If you’re tall, just remember to watch your head.
All in all, however, there is one thing I need to think about. Should I be flying an airplane that weighs less than I do? The Backyard Flyer weighs 249 pounds empty, and has a max gross of 600 pounds. I’m not worried about the structure or my safety. It’s the principle of the thing. Hmm, maybe I can burn off a few pounds at AirVenture. I’d be okay flying an airplane that weighs as much as I do. — Scott Spangler