I'm pleased to report to my fellow EAA members that Ireland's first KR-2 has flown at last, and very nicely at that. It took to the air after 4,000 + hours of construction time, spread over four years -- from the first of October 1981 to the 19th of February 1986 -- with me as the pilot. The dream of a lifetime has been realized -- a wonderful feeling.
I am typical of probably most EAA members in having been deeply impressed by aviation since childhood. I grew up building and flying model airplanes, and managed to build and fly a gyroglider in 1971. Based on the Bensen but built from regular materials, it was great fun to fly tethered on windy days and towed behind a car over local beaches. Eventually, I damaged the rotor blades in a bad landing and decided then it would be safer to learn how to fly before building a new set of blades.
My problem was that there were no flying clubs in the area, but, finally, I heard of one being recently established in the next county, some 50 miles away. I joined in late 1973 and soloed the club's only airplane, a Cherokee 140, in May of 1974. I met some people from my own home county there and by 1975 we had formed our own club, bought a used 150 hp French built Rallye and rented a field from which to fly it. By 1976, I had my Private license.
It was about this time that I came across the Rand-Robinson ad in Sport Aviation. I was very impressed with the specs on the KR-2 and decicjed that if I was ever going to build a plane, this must surely be the one. I had seen and heard of VW powered single seaters, but a 2-placer with such a compact airframe seemed too good to be true. I sent off for a set of plans almost immediately.
The idea of sculpting foam appealed to me greatly as I have a flair for eyeballing things and I liked working with wood. I earn my bread at tool and die making, and the metal parts should be fun, I thought. What turned out to be not so funny were the shipping charges on a Rand-Robinson basic materials kit from California to Ireland. The shipping would cost more than the kit! I was disappointed as I could not afford the total costs at the time.
A few more years went by in which I built myself a house and got myself an instructor's rating. By this time our club was flying a Cessna 150 and a 172. One evening at the club, which had moved to a new location, a fellow member brought up the question of homebuilt airplanes. He was quite interested in them, so I passed him on three sets of plans I had purchased over the years -- it was now early 1980. The plans were for the KR-2, Osprey 2 and Teenie Two. A few days later we met again and he seemed quite impressed by the KR and suggested a partnership to build one. A deal was made on the spot, and my new partner, Gerry Collen, managed to work out a very favorable shipping deal. Having been involved in a very successful tool making company he formed some years earlier, he had the invaluable import/export expertise to arrange our shipping ... and the kit arrived in early 1981.
Work commenced on the first of October 1981, after we had gone over to England to see a newly completed KR-2, the first to fly there. We were very impressed with the little plane, and after having a lengthy chat with the builder/pilot, we had some food for thought on ways to improve it. Pitch sensitivity seemed to be the most often mentioned negative feature, so the idea of stretching the fuselage was born at that time. Upon our return home we checked to see if our longeron material was sufficient to do a stretch without splicing .. and it was. So, the plane started life with 11-1/4 inches of extra moment arm length... and that began a modification trend that ultimately would include a speed-brake, wing tanks, dual controls, positive gear latch with warning lights and buzzer, removable front deck and tank (I find this a must), Dragonfly canopy (not only improves visibility but also headroom ... and looks sleeker), plus numerous other detail changes, all of which soaked up endless hours in the shop. I now know why modifications are discouraged in the plans ... but it is very rewarding having successfully incorporated ours.
My partner missed out on much of the personal turmoil, committed as he was to his ever expanding business, but, nevertheless, he took care of importing the endless bits and pieces, long winded phone calls, etc., and even lugged the propeller back from the USA in 1983 while returning from a business trip there. So, as a team we got our plane flying.
Our engine is one of Rex Taylor's HAPI 1835cc engines, 60 hp at 3200 rpm, matched with a Great American 52" x 46" propeller and inhaling through a HAPI Supercarb. I had some frustration tuning the carb until after having reasonable success with the No. 4 needle supplied, I made up my own and I am now running nicely at 3000 rpm static.
I spent almost two months taxiing around the apron and with an occasional run down our 4000 ft. hard surface runway with the tail up ... and on the 8th of February 1986, I got a brief lift-off to a few feet and back on again. It went lovely ... I was convinced ... so the call went out to the inspector to get the final inspection carried out so I could go for it.
The word was out on February 19, 1986 -- EI-BOV had been given its permit. Like all big occasions, Sligo's lazy airport erupted with the curious and their cameras, bless their hearts, but goof this one and posterity gets it through a hundred lens!
It was a distracted pre-flight, but, aw, well, I knew the plane's structure like the back of my hand, I consoled myself. I slid in, latched the canopy and saw the gallery melt into a tinted background. Master switch on ... mag on ... fuel on ... "clear prop!" ... hit the starter and after three blades, she fires ... great morale booster. Electronic ignition on ... quick check all O. K,... check instruments -- lovely.
Taxiing out was pleasantly familiar. I had become accustomed to the bathtub posture, poor forward visibility and the trundling tailwheel. As I weaved to the holding point, however, I was beset by sticky palms and dry lips ... like my first solo all over again -- only this time we are two. Please, God, no noseovers, no swings, no splinters ... and all those bloody cameras!
"Oscar Victor, cleared to one-one-zero -- call ready," I mimicked to an empty rack. Didn't need radio anyway, had the airport to myself. This was the gig of the year. I lined up ... throttle, trim, mixture...etched in my mind were a few details I read about in newsletters: watch the CHT in climb and don't idle on prolonged glides. I was aiming to hold an extra 500 rpm on approach to play it safe.
I suddenly felt regressive ... my kingdom for a nosewheel! I did have 5 hours of taildragging in an Aeronca Champ ... 3 years ago ... I consoled myself. I enjoyed taildraggers, but the little Champ was sold ... still, I didn't want to miss this test flight.
Hatches, harness ... well, here we go! Throttle slowly forward to 2500 rpm .. speed building fast ... be alert for swing ... stick slowly forward ... the tail rises ... steady now, prop clearance is 6 inches in the horizontal ... mesmeric white lines rushing at me ... the line weaves a little -- ease in left pedal -- easy does it ... a glance at the ASI shows 45 knots ... coming up, we're off already -- hello-o-o, ailerons!
I had a little left aileron in at liftoff, so I eased the stick to neutral ... beautiful! On up the hill we go, eighty on the clock and a whopping 1000 on the VSI. A belated scan of the engine instrument cluster showed a disquieting 400+ F on the CHT ... (censored)! Nose down, power back to 2800 rpm, hold 800 ft. for a gentle left hand sweep downwind. Great! The CHT is below 400" ... 110 kts. on the ASI ... gear down on this flight ... try a few turns, play with the pitch a little -- beautiful! I'm over the airport now ... bank left ... look over that tiny wing at all my friends 800 ft. below ... what a feeling!
My thoughts then return to reality. Can I get it down safely? If only I had more taildragging time, I wouldn't worry so much. I never even came close to a groundloop in my short taildragging career... so, let's have a shot at it, I decided on long finals . . with a little power. Wow! Getting this bird below 100 takes an effort. I'II try the speedbrake ... one notch -- 30" ... that's better. Nursing it back towards 80 ... hold it at that ... chop power when I know I can make it ... hold it off in ground effect ... ease it down on the mains ... gently ... wait for the tail to settle, then stick back all the way ... watch the edges of the runway, keep it straight... slowing down ... I feel I've got it made, but with a tailwheel they say you have to be stopped before you can be sure.
Down to taxi speed, I do a gentle 180", backtrack swing onto the taxiway and head for the ramp. This is the moment you really feel good. Fuel off ... ignition off ... master off ... all the cameras ... wonderful!
I flew twice more that day -- 40 minutes total time. The next day I retracted the gear for the first time. It worked fine, and has ever since. I am now approaching at 60 to 65 knots solo and 70 dual. My shortest landing roll to date has been 1000 ft. into a 10 knot headwind, and I now go for three pointers, feeling her on after roundout. I have a cowl flap and side gills to help cooling in the climb. The stall comes clean at 40 knots indicated -- no warning, just mushier controls as you get near. The break is just a gentle nose and a little right wing drop. This is with a little power, 1500 rpm, because I'm afraid of losing the engine, even though I have a starter.
I can make very steep turns without using the rudder... and I've had it up to 180 knots indicated without a quiver. It flies straight as an arrow -- never needed any ground trimming. Needs a little nose down trim with two up. I have flown it at 1000 pounds and it takes a bit longer to raise the tail and get off, the rate of climb is halved -- 500 fpm (from sea level). Most of my friends I've let fly it from the right seat go through a little porpoising session (right after liftoff) before they manage to tame it down.
Cruise speed at 3000 rpm is 130 knots indicated ... but I usually fly around locally at 110 knots.
That's a brief look at Ireland's first KR-2. My next ambition is to get to Oshkosh someday ... but unlikely by KR-2! The little motif I painted on the front decking is of a chick ascending from an eggshell, wings spread, circled by a rainbow and with the word "Kittyhawk" completing the circle below. Before the first flight, a workmate's asking, "When is 'Operation Kittyhawk' taking place?" was the incentive ... along with the fact that my little girl, Colleen, was having her birthday on the 17th of December in 1981, the year the plane was started. She was, of course, my first passenger.
Following are some of our KR-2's specifications:
Wing Span -- 21' 4" (8 extra inches) Length - 16' 3" (21 extra inches) Empty Weight -- 600 pounds Heaviest Weight Flown -- 1000 pounds Aileron Balance -- 100% Elevator Balance -- 50% Rudder Balance -- 50% Top Speed -- 140 kts. (161.2 mph) ind. at 3300 rpm Cruise Speed -- 120 kts. (138 mph) ind. at 3000 rpm Stall, Clean, Solo -- 40 kts. (46 mph) ind. at 1500 rpm Fuel Consumption -- 2.99 Imperial gallons at 3000 rpm
I have flown the KR-2 about 25 hours at this writing, and to sum up, I'd like to say that if anyone manages to complete their project and get it flying successfully, they not only have an aircraft to be proud of, but also a wonderful technical education ... and much more. I personally owe much to Sport Aviation magazine and EAA.