Dart Opener

Culver Dart: The definition of aero-cute.
Text and photos by Budd Davisson, Air Progress, '72 (or so),


Dart Down
The wing planform with that tiny round cowl really gets to you, doesn't it?

As I squeezed into the tiny cockpit of Dave Foulke's Warner-powered Dart, I constantly reminded myself of the story he had just finished telling: After totally rebuilding the airplane, he propped the airplane with a pilot on board. The pilot panicked and, for some reason jammed the throttle to the stop, eventually impaling the Dart in a hangar wall, necessitating a second rebuild. I told myself I was not about to become the second guy to break one of Dave Foulke's airplanes. He spent far too much time making this airplane original for me to want to take a chance on bending it up so I put Dave on the left where the only set of brakes were :located.
When rebuilding it the last time he tried so hard to make the airplane original that he called the airport in North Dakota where the airplane was originally delivered in 1938 and asked for the name of the oldest active pilot in the area. He came up with a man who had lived across the street from the airport when the airplane was delivered and, as a kid, stood and watched the machine take off and land many times. That's where Dave got the original design for the black and yellow paint job.
Strapping in, I couldn't help but laugh. I had first seen the airplane two years earlier at Oshkosh and had tried to locate the owner with absolutely no luck. Then, a year later, I saw the same airplane at Blakesburg but the heat, weather and schedule prevented us from doing anything constructive. Then, out of the blue, I received a letter asking me if I wanted to get together to fly the Dart. And it turned out Dave's address was only about eighty miles over the hill, which goes to show you never really know what's in your own backyard.
The first item on the start-up check list was to screw a big spigot handle out of the left side of the instrument panel, which turns on the oil to the engine. Dave always shuts off the oil as he shuts down the engine because that prevents the bottom jugs from loading up. The onboard starter is a post accident addition that puts him more in control of his airplane's destiny. Even though the airplane sets fairly' flat on the ground, compared to some tail-draggers, that little round engine and the fact that the plexiglass keeps you from moving your head very far to the side, makes it difficult to tell for sure what you are taxiing over and into. In fact, it reminded me a lot of my old 195. You could see what was straight in front of you by squeezing to the side, but there was no way you could see anything shorter than a skyscraper on the opposite side of the airplane. So you do a reasonable amount of S-turning to prevent close encounters of the expensive kind.
Dave was continually commenting about how much I weighed, how hot it was, and how short the runway was. And when we taxied down to takeoff, he made sure we were clear off the end of the runway to take advantage of every foot available. We had 2,000 feet in front of us but, the way he talked, I kept looking down to see if we were going to have to pedal to get this thing off the ground or would the little Warner handle the chores. I didn't know what to expect with all this build-up, but as the throttle went forward, it was obvious I shouldn't have expected too much. At an empty weight just a shade under 1,000 pounds, that put us pretty close to the 1,500 pound gross as we were rolling down the runway with only 90 hp chugging away up front. Acceleration was leisurely, to say the least, but the little cornpopper got us off the ground in a decent amount of time; it just wasn't about to yank us up to altitude like a Pitts. But, of course, at the 60-65 mph we were using for climbing, the Pitts would have stalled out several mph ago
Lots of times you look at an airplane, especially an old one, and you grit your teeth, knowing that even though it's a beautiful airplane it may not fly as its looks advertise. Often I've been disappointed with the control response of airplanes but, at this point, as I was straining to get 1,000 AGL, I found the only area in which the Dart let me down was its power. The controls were surprisingly swift and clean. In fact, the ailerons were so nice that it was all I could do to keep it upright throughout the flight. Although the airplane is fully stressed for aerobatics, and has been used many times for that, I didn't feel like playing the acro game with an engine that wasn't about to give me back the altitude I'd have to give up in the entries to maneuvers.
When flying the airplane, I wasn't as aware of the plexiglass as I had been down on the runway. It curves in fairly tight and what is a small cockpit at shoulder height becomes a miniscule cockpit at head height. This is one place where six footers need not apply or risk becoming a hunchback. Also at altitude I didn't notice the heatwave I first felt pouring from the back of that Warner as we brought the power up on takeoff. What I did notice, however, was the large amount of nose coming from such a small source. A good set of Dave Clarks and an intercom system would be a welcome addition if Dave spent much time running across country with a copilot, which he doesn't.
 With the little ninety horse engine, it is certainly no speed demon. Dave's airspeed is nowhere close to being correct but, when we later paced it with a camera plane, it seemed that 85-90 mph was about all we were going to get out of cruise. With a bigger engine, however, cruise is an entirely different story and the same thing is true on climb-out. The 120 horse Ken Royce versions reportedly climb at 1,500 feet a minute on takeoff, which beats the hell out of the 300-400 feet we were seeing. It is really a shame that our business schedules often dictate those important moments of our lives that we should be enjoying, but Dave and I both had to be back to the barn in a very short time to take care of prior commitments.
As we came over the airport and entered downwind, Dave was continually stressing how important it was to keep the speed down to 60 mph on approach. With those long, incredibly fat wings, even an extra four to five mph translates into a huge amount of float, something which we couldn't afford with only 1,900 feet of runway and a lake at each end. As we came down final, Dave worked us down to where we were going for a number one wire, right on the edge of the lake. Having made that approach many times in various airplanes, I was at first a little spooked, thinking we were short. But, the airplane fooled me and was not going to land on the spot that stayed stationary in the windshield. In fact, it would have glided right over that point if we hadn't slipped. Dave says when he's up alone with low fuel, approach speed is really critical for any kind of a normal landing, although it slows to a virtual stop before actually touching the ground. Once on the ground, it tracks straight on its own accord, which is lucky because the tail is pretty short and the heel brakes are next to useless because of their position.
Do I like the Dart? Well, I just sent a bunch of money to Lloyd Washburn for a copy of the original factory plans (Lloyd Washburn, 3958 East Washburn Drive, Port Clinton, Ohio 43452) knowing full well they are anything but up to date. They are, in fact, twenty sheets of drawings that the original airplane was probably built from, so there have been many updates that don't show. I, however, love having that type of thing in my daydream file and will periodically pull them out, and think, gee, wouldn't it be neat to put one of these little dudes together with a 165 Warner or, if I wanted to bastardize it a little, with a 150 Lycoming. There are certainly faster, more modern, homebuilts that I could get involved in, but none came to mind that have the elan and cute-as-a-bug elliptical wings, it would certainly be no more difficult than many homebuilts, and would be much more distinctive. With a few minor modifications you could have yourself a really neat, fully aerobatic cross-country machine that would allow you to pull up to the local gas pumps without fear of having another one pull in at the same time.
The Dart is a phenomenally good looking little airplane in an indescribable sort of way and, fortunately, it flies the way it looks. Well, let me see I figure I'll finish the Howard Pete by the turn of the century and there's the artillery piece to finish and the two midget race cars. So I've got enough time left in my lifetime to build a Dart. At least, I ought to make time. (Ed. note from 2008: guess I was wrong about having enough time.)

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