This past weekend I was able to view a Fisher R-80 in person for the first time. It’s a nice looking airplane and everything seemed to be falling into place. Then came an in-depth conversation with the builder/pilot. The following concerns came to light:
- Build time was significantly longer than advertised, roughly 2,400 hours as opposed to 700. That’s twice what I was hoping for.
- Stall speed seems to be in the 45-50 mph range. That’s 10-15 mph higher than advertised.
- Cruise speed (75% power on a Jabiru 3300 motor) is about 70-75 mph, about 10 mph less than advertised.
- The aircraft flies with a pronounced nose-high attitude, and level flight could not be maintained without using maximum elevator trim.
Each one of these points in its own is a concern. Each could be enough to dissuade me from building an R-80. Before making any decisions I wanted to hear from other builders and pilots, to find out if these are common faults with the type. I scrounged the internet for the contact information of as many R-80 builders and owners as I could find. In the end I found 10 email addresses, and sent each one a very brief survey. A couple of the emails bounced, a few more have not yet been answered, but I’ve gotten 5 responses. They all tally with what the local builder found.
- Build times range from 2400 to 7000 hours
- Stall speeds range from 45 to 55 mph
- The nose-high attitude is a universal trait, at least when built to plan. Some builders opted for a higher angle of incidence of the wing, I’ve not yet heard back from any of them to find if it made a difference.
- Empty weights came in about 150-200 lbs higher than advertised, in some cases leaving as little as 180 lbs of useful load for pilot, passenger and baggage.
- Stall behavior is to “mush” at a descent rate of over 1,000 fpm. The aircraft does not drop its nose nor self-recover from the stall. A close watch must be kept on the VSI at low altitudes.
All of this is bad news for this 80% scale Tiger Moth. I haven’t made a firm decision yet, but I’m certainly entertaining all options at this point. I would like to see if the problems can be overcome aerodynamically… that’s one of the great things about building an experimental plane, you are under no obligation to follow the plans. But, it’s always possible that it cannot, or that it would take too much work, or that the improvement can’t be assured without building the plane anyway. If that’s the case, I’m afraid I’ll have to walk away from this project altogether.
Ok, long-ish update. First off, I’ve finally located (thanks Carter!) a flying school where I can learn to fly purely in tailwheel airplanes. Dual in a Cessna 170 and solo in a Citabria. Even better, it’s in sunny Southern California, so if I decide to go this route I can go down there for a few weeks and fly pretty much every day until I’m done. That means no long weather-induced training breaks, and less re-learning stuff I already mastered just because it’s been two weeks since the airplane or instructor were available. The other bonus is… I’ll be a lot more confident banging around in certified airplanes than I would be in my “baby” R-80 (and it’s easier to find a DPE to sign off in a 170 than an R-80). Going the school route could throw off my timing for the R-80 project, so I’m still playing with different schedules in my head but it’s a strong contender.
Even so, the cost to operate the R-80, and the sheer fun factor of scooting around in an open-cockpit biplane means that this whole project is still in my plans no matter what. Which means I need to start taking advantage of every learning opportunity I can when it comes to home-building airplanes. First, this weekend there is a big aviation trade show in Puyallup, lots of classes and vendors and other interesting things, so I expect to spend both days down there. I may also take time out to stop by and get my first look at a real Fisher R-80 in the flesh! Later this year will be the Arlington Fly-In. Years back this was a pretty big event for builders with lots of good classes and workshops. It has dwindled a bit but I still hope there will be some worthwhile classes happening. Of course Oshkosh is a great place to go for this but it’s not at all cheap. Due to having family in the area I can attend Sun ‘n Fun much more cheaply, but it’s coming up fast and I’m not sure the financial gods will allow it. If not this year, next for sure!
And that finally leads me to the only real interesting bit of this update. I’ve been scrounging the internet for good learning resources as well and came across a YouTube channel called HomebuiltHELP. They’ve got a ton of videos, I’ve watched a dozen so far that piqued my interest and they’re amazing. Not the quality of the videos, that’s sort of mediocre, but the content. Lots of really great tips and tricks, ideas, inspiration, and know-how. If you’re reading this because you have any interest at all in someday building an airplane, you should definitely check them out. In my next post I’ll discuss one or two really great ideas I saw and how I might apply them to the R-80.
In addition to a local fully completed Fisher R-80, I’ve recently been introduced to several other Fisher Flying Products kit builders in the area. Some built their kits decades ago, as they were learning to fly, and have since moved on to other aircraft. Others are in the process of building right now. I’m really looking forward to visiting a few of the in-progress projects and checking out how it’s done.
Fisher Flying Products seems to be a really great kit-maker. The plans that they provide are full scale, so you literally lay a plan drawing out on a table and then assemble the parts right on top of it. You can theoretically purchase only the plans from them and then source or make all of the parts yourself. But they also offer two levels of kit. The first is your basic laser-cut wooden parts kit, just like building a balsa-wood airplane. The second is their quick build kit. This comes with several of the sub-assemblies already put together for you, including the fuselage sides, wingtips, tail, etc. It allows you to build your aircraft faster, but you still need to do some assembly and then of course there’s the installation of all of the equipment and covering with fabric and painting and all that.
Personally I’m leaning towards the basic kit. Fabricating your own parts can be a pain in that you have to find a good trusted source for the raw wood, and even so you will still have a certain % of loss as you cut into a piece and find a void here or a crack there. That hassle, plus the extra time required, I don’t feel is worth the rather minimal savings over just purchasing pre-cut parts from Fisher. On the other hand, I’m unconvinced that the quick build kit would save me enough time to be worth the increased cost, and there’s a part of me that would very much prefer to assemble (and thus, inspect) each and every part myself.
Either way, it will soon be time to begin concrete steps towards this goal. The first need is a place to build, and since hangars at PAE have a very long waiting list, my first move will be to put my name down for one. $100 deposit and a year or two wait. Once that’s done, the next thing on the list is to get a set of plans. I’d like to have lots of time just studying the plans, figuring out my engine choice, making any adjustments or alterations I want in the aircraft itself, etc. I need to know dimensions of the instrument panels so I can plan that out, dimensions of the firewall and fuselage so I can plan the most Tiger Moth-y engine installation, etc. The plans will cost me $400 but that will then be credited to me when I purchase my first set of parts.