Friday, April 3, 2009

F.R.E.D. the Airplane

F.R.E.D. is an airplane designed and built by Mr. Eric Clutton, who will sell you a set of plans, allowing you to build a copy for yourself. F.R.E.D. has a web site but I don't know its address. However, if you type 'F.R.E.D. the airplane' into your browser it should discover FRED's home and point you toward it.

I hold a set of plans for F.R.E.D. because F.R.E.D. uses a Volkswagen engine. Some of the people building F.R.E.D. want to use an engine having the propeller mounted on the clutch-end of the crankshaft. Eric chose to put the prop on the pulley hub and if you want to change things around you try and find someone who already has so you won't have to re-invent the wheel.

When you decide to build an airplane the normal path is often cluttered with the residue of those who have tried and failed. Mr. Clutton has not only tried and succeeded but the people who have purchased his plans have a surprising rate of completion. That isn't to say there aren't a few travails along the way but that is mostly because Mr. Clutton has chosen a path less traveled.

As a family of birds, airplanes have certain shared characteristics. The bird that most closely matches the F.R.E.D. is one having wide wings that are fairly short. In airplane lingo we would say that F.R.E.D. has a low aspect ratio. Aspect Ratio is nothing more than the span of a wing divided by its width. With F.R.E.D. we have a span of twenty-two and a half feet whilst it's chord is only fifty-eight inches, giving us an aspect ratio or AR of about 4.8:1 For comparison, most light-planes have aspect ratios of six or seven. Aspect Ratio can be important because it reflects how much Drag is generated by the wing to produce lift. A high asprect ratio means your design is rather smooth in aerodynamic terms, whereas a low AR says your wing generates a lot of drag. But I should also point out that all such things are relative. A low aspect ratio was one of the trade-offs Mr. Clutton chose to make, in order to come up with a design that suited his particular set of requirements, such as the ability to easily fold the wings, mount a tow bar, hitch F.R.E.D. to his car and tow him home, where his narrow width allowed him to be parked in a garden shed or a single-car garage.

The days when a city was proud of its airport have faded away. American pilots are forced to drive longer distances to even find an airport. And when they do, the cost of renting a hangar or even space on the ramp, is often several hundred dollars per month. Add to that the premium charged for fuel and we find that a large number of pilots can simply no longer afford to fly. F.R.E.D. changes all that. F.R.E.D.'s wings are easily folded by one person. The horizontal stabilizer is removed and a trailer-hitch replaces the tail-wheel. The owner-pilot need only drop the trailer hitch onto the ball and he's outta there. On his way to the airport, the owner of F.R.E.D. may decide to stop by the gas station, where F.R.E.D.'s ten gallon tank may need topping up. Ten gallons of gas will give him at least two hours of flying with a safe reserve and the emphasis here should be on the flying, because the more you do, the better you are.

With just one seat F.R.E.D. isn't for everybody. Indeed, it is just for you. Take F.R.E.D. out a couple of times a month and you'll be a better pilot for it.