As the project grows and more people both inside and outside of Boeing learn about our unique project one question that they ask very often is “why did you choose a Glasair?”
The answer is usually a variation of “because it is a great and proven airplane and because it is made of composites so it aligns with what our team members will be working on in the future here at Boeing”. That is most definitely the short answer because the process of partnering with Glasair on this project was much more involved.
This project was initially divided into two “phases”. Phase 1 was a feasibility study and preliminary planning performed by the people who are now the project leads. Phase 2, the one we are currently in, involves actually building the airplane. The airframe selection was performed during phase 1 of the project. Before we even got to the airplane selection we had to clear up issues about whether our planned end-user (the Boeing Employees Flying Association or BEFA for short) would be able to insure the airplane, whether the FAA would give an airworthiness ticket to an airplane built by a Boeing-sponsored project, if there were any legal issues involved, what type of airplane would BEFA be interested in, etc. These will all be the subject of a future series of posts. When we finally got all of these questions answered we were finally able to move on to the actual airframe selection.
The answer to the questions above and the goals of the project and our cost constraints led to a set of requirements that our airplane would have to meet. Here is a brief list:
- Side by side two seater (less costly and more kits are available in 2-seat versions)
- Fixed tricycle gear (simpler to build and cheaper to operate, also eliminates the possibility of a gear-up landing 🙂 )
- Engine less than 200 hp (non-high performance airplane)
- Constant-speed prop (a fast airplane would need this to take full advantage of its speed)
- Composite preferred (this is the future of Boeing)
- Range of more than 800 NM (comparable to the BEFA fleet airplanes’ range)
- Cruise speed greater than 140 KTAS (possible with a homebuilt)
- Stall speed less than 61 KIAS (this is the FAA Part 23 single-engine maximum stall speed)
- Aerobatic capable (BEFA wants to use it as a compliment to their current aerobatic trainer)
- More than 200 airplanes currently flying (this is to make sure that the design is proven)
Our research involved going to http://www.homebuilt.org and looking at all of the kits that are currently in production. After this we narrowed down the list to a few kit manufacturers and did some more involved research on each airframe, even visiting a few manufacturers and going for test flights in their airplanes. In the end we partnered with Glasair because they were the best airplane out of all the ones that we considered AND they are backed by a great company full of great people.
The Glasair brand has been around since 1979! They are one of the oldest and most well-established kit building companies in the industry. The airplane that we are building, the Glasair Super II Stretch is a direct descendant of the Glasair I that Tom Hamilton designedin 1979. A look at the FAA aircraft registry revealed more than 500 Glasairs are currently registered. The company has also sold more than a thousand examples of their kit. When we went to their facility for a visit we were very pleasantly surprised by the attitude of all the people working there and they quality and love with which they build their airplanes. They are also based out of Arlington airport so we know that if we scream for help they are only a short distance away. In short, we KNEW we were getting a great company as our partner when we went with the Glasair.
This is without having even talking about their amazing airplane! Builder Chris Yeeles was kind enough to take us for a test-flight in his bright yellow Glasair since the factory airplane was getting upgraded with new avionics. Boy what a ride it was. The airplane felt solid from the moment we hit full power on the takeoff roll to the moment we turned off the runway after landing. The airplane’s pushrod controls help make the control feel extremely solid to the point that it felt like by only thinking about it I could make the airplane go exactly where I wanted it. Maneuvering flight proved the airplane was a joy and easy to fly. Stalls were a non-event with some sharp buffeting and a straight-ahead nose drop announcing its arrival. There was no wing-drop tendency, no unannounced stall, just a well-behaved airplane. Landing was the most interesting part. We came in with some power through the approach and through the flare. With some light braking after touchdown we made the first taxiway. That’s IT? We thought an airplane with this much performance would be more difficult to land. This is an airplane that any pilot could transition to without any difficulty and could learn to fly well and safely.
Aside from the great company and the good flying characteristics of the airplane there are other reasons why the Glasair is a good fit for us. The future of Boeing is in composites since at the size of airplanes that Boeing builds they represent a significant weight savings. Working with a composite airplane at this level will help the team members become familiar with the material and the methods for working with it. Many of the concepts translate into other types of composites easily. The Glasair is also a proven design which is evident in the number of aircraft safely flying and the quality of their build manuals and instructions.
Well, we hope that this has given you a little insight into why we have partnered with Glasair in this very interesting enterprise. We are very happy with the company and very happy with the airplane. We are proud to call Glasair our partner.