Budd Davisson, Hot Kits and Homebuilts, Sept, 1989

Looking over the long snoot of the Glasair III, my throttle hand wasn't even halfway to the panel before I knew I was in serious emotional trouble. Once again, I felt my heart slipping away as fast as the Speedy G-III was sucking he runway under us. Before I even had the nosewheel of the ground, I knew that this was the start of a too-familiar, frustrating relationship-I was falling in love with something I couldn't have. One comforting thought came to mind: I could at least have a one-night (or a one-afternoon) stand with this stunning beauty.

The reason I felt my emotions being taken from me at such an early stage in my relationship with the G-III was because everthing felt just right, and seldom does this impression lead to an emotional over-reaction, a fact which would be confirmed during the next several hours.

We had lined up on the runway at Oshkosh, watching a Breezy float its way off the ground ahead of us and seeing it turn right in the prescribed manner so as to avoid over-flying the east/west runway. Since our stall speed probably approached the Breezy's red-line, we waited, and we waited some more, until the FAA flag man refused to let us occupy the middle of the pavement any longer, and frantically waved us down the runway.

The throttle started in, then the runway started moving. Suddenly, in a nanosecond or thrice, the runway was blurring, and I tightened my grip on the stick, gently urging it back. Obediently, the nose pivoted up, covering the sky ahead, while the mains remained hesitantly on the ground. Then, before I knew it, the airplane was off the ground. I quickly slapped the gear switch up, my eyes riveted on the Breezy which was wafting its way up crosswind.

The Breezy had turned. so wide that there was only a few hundred yards left for us between it and the forbidden zone. In the interest of keeping the pucker factor within reasonable limits, I brought the power back to 24 square and pushed the nose down, keeping the Breezy in sight at all times. As we zipped past the bug-spattered Breezy pilot, I rolled out of the bank and headed for the
lake, glancing at the gauges as I did. I looked back quickly, even twice, to make sure I was reading them right. To my surprise, even at that power setting and a slight nose-up attitude, I was indicating 165 mph and 1500 fpm up. Talk about rocking and rolling!

Yessir, we're talking about a real love affair with an airplane here!
The Glasair III is what happens when something unbelievably slick hits the homebuilt market with something other than the largest engine available in it; it's generally only a matter of time before someone stuffs said humongous motor under its hood.
However, in the case of the Glasair III, the factory, StoddardHamilton, beat the homebuilders to it. Almost before the first Glasair II RGs started hitting the streets as completed kits, the guys up in Arlington, Washington already had the III in the molds.
It would be easy to say that the III is a hot-rodded II - which it is - but as is always the case, when something is radically hopped up, many more features about it change, than stay the same. For instance, the wing area of the two is identical (81.3 sq. ft.), as is the wingspan (23.3 ft.), which would lead one to believe that it's the same wing, but that's definitely not the case. With a gross weight of 2400 pounds versus 1800 pounds, a red line of 335 mph (that's no typo), as opposed to 260 mph, and -6 and -4 Gs (limit load), you just know it would be safe to bet that there aren't many interchangeable wing pieces.
From the outside, the most noticeable difference is the extra 2.5 feet of fuselage length, part of which is in front of the wing, and part
aft of it. It stretches the airframe out to where the boxy look of the II has been converted into nothing short of perfect.
The interesting thing about the Glasair Ill is that, although it's been only a little over two years since it was first introduced, there already are a number of kit-built planes in the air. That says several fairly significant things. First, it says that there are a lot of guys out there with plenty of bucks, since it would be tough to do a GIII for less than $60,000 (and $85,000 is a lot closer) {editor's note from the year 2000. Make that $100,000, plus the factory has in the process of changing hands after going Tango Uniform). Second, those same guys with the money have excellent taste. Third, the airplane goes together exactly as advertised.
Ten years ago, this airplane would have been a radical breakthrough both in performance and in structure. Today, however, the entire homebuilding market has become blaze' on both scores.--especially in the area of structure. Hamilton-Stoddard was the first company to use the molded composite concept for a homebuilt kit with the original Glasair I. Rutan's method was to build the airplane around foam cores, laying the glass up on the outside. Hamilton-Stoddard hit it the other way around, and the skin and most structural parts are glass-foam-glass sandwiches which are laid up in female molds. This means that the parts supplied are similar to those of a plastic model airplane kit in which major pieces of structure are bonded together to form completed components. The wing of the Glasair series, for instance, comes with the spar already pre-molded into the bottom skin, just waiting for the rest of the ribs and the top skin. This type of structure progresses incredibly fast. But it also means major (as in really big) investments in hard tooling at the factory which, in turn, translates to increased kit cost to the buyer. In the case of the G-III, that means $3350 (or approximately ten percent) up front.

Glasair uses the vinylester epoxy system, as opposed to the polyester system favored by Lancair. There is a raging battle going on between the users of the various systems concerning the effects of skin temperature on the material, especially at the joints where the builder-applied epoxy isn't oven-cured. Rutan is on the side of the vinylester, always-paint-it-white crowd.

Somehow, as we were blasting past that Breezy, at Oshkosh, none of the background information about the airplane was on my mind. All I could think about was, er, was - actually, I wasn't thinking about anything at allI was just sitting there, soaking in the entire experience. We wanted to get into some clean airspace so we could fool around, but first we had to thread our way through the mess of airplanes which were inbound to the airport. So we kept it low and slow (180 mph!) until we were ten miles out, at which time I squeezed on 25 square and pointed it up, watching the VSI work its way around to a solid 3100 fpm and I was still at 170 mph! This Glasair III has got to be the performingest civilian machine ever built. In actual fact, in most departments, it could run away and hide from all of the Warbirds, with the exception of the Bearcat, which is the only US fighter capable of out-climbing it.

The most magical thing about all of this performance is that it's so easy to manage. While the control pressures are reasonably light, the response is instantaneous, and seems perfectly proportional. Want a little roll? Use a little stick. Want a lot of roll? Use a lot, etc. And I wanted as much roll as I could get. So, no sooner had I put the nose on the horizon at 6500 feet, then I yanked it up into a series of aileron rolls, and then slow rolls. Then whatever fractions of them I wanted to make; four points, eight points, the G-III did them as if it had been digitally controlled by computer. The only problem I had with those maneuvers was keeping the airplane from gaining altitude.

The most mind-blowing point in the flight (actually, there were quite a few) was when I flopped the G-III over on its back and cross-checked the altimeter with the nose so as to know where the level inverted flight was. I was pulling about 23 inches, which translated to about 65 percent. While hanging upside down, I glanced at the airspeed and couldn't believe where the needle was pointing: it was happily nailed to the narrow space between 235 and 240 mph, at 6500 feet and little more than 23 inches. Later I put the appropriate temperatures and other stuff into the little calculator and it came out to 263 mph true. Stoddard-Hamilton literature says 269 mph with those power settings, so it is probably absolutely correct since I was only approximating the manifold pressure.

As I dropped the nose inverted, then rolled out, the speed went past 250 indicated. Increasing the "G" to about four in the pull, I glanced out at both wings and did a really poor imitation of a vertical roll. I was off in every direction, but the airplane kept going uphill anyway. I pulled over the top, handed the controls over to Bob Herendeen in the other seat, and he sucked it up into a vertical with a noticeably crisp halt before hammerheading out. Nice, really, nice!

Bringing the power back to idle, I pulled the nose up and waited until it slowed, which happened much more quickly than I had expected because I'd forgotten what a marvelous speed brake a gigantic propeller makes. I held it there until the speed worked its way down to 80 mph and then a buffet set in before it broke gently at about 77 mph indicated. However, the break was nothing unusual and the instant the elevator was released, or the power applied, the airplane was flying again. In a dirty configuration, only the break became sharper.

During the few times we weren't going either up or down, or around and around, I found I could let the G-III take care of itself without worrying that it would do anything out of the ordinary. Its stability in roll is quite a bit closer to neutral than on any of the other axis. In both pitch and yaw, the airplane heads back towards straight and level immediately, almost no matter what you do with it. In pitch, it would take two cycles to go level and in yaw, only one cycle was needed.

We headed a few miles south of Oshkosh, into Fond du Lac, to shoot some landings, and I should probably mention that the flight wasn't without a few nervous thoughts on my part. I always have a terrible time slowing down high-performance airplanes without hanging some "G" on them. However, with the G-III, all it took was bringing the power back; that fat prop took care of the rest. The airplane decelerates at least as easily as a Bonanza, and much easier than a Mooney.

On downwind, we got the gear and half flaps, and I made a wild guess as to how far out I should go before turning base. I kept it a little tighter than usual, figuring that the III would settle quickly, but I was wrong, and I came very close to being too high. Fortunately, this is one of those airplanes which has so much drag, when everything is hanging out, that I could drop the nose and shed 100 feet without gaining much speed. We used about 105 mph on downwind, and bled that off to 95 mph on short final.

I hadn't noticed that I was sitting a little low in the airplane until it came time to break the glide, and I realized that I was looking through the very bottom of the windscreen where it's slightly distorted. So, on my first landing with the G-III, I was a bit higher than I should have been. Still, the airplane mushed through the last couple feet in ground effect, and gave me quite an acceptable landing. The next time around, though, I had a much better idea of where I was, and the airplane landed as easily as any Bonanza.

All in all, I was amazed at the wide envelope of the Glasair III and the fact that it required practically no talent to fly it adequately. I'm no hot-shot, high-performance pilot, but the airplane seemed very comfortable to fly from the very beginning. I'd say that almost anybody who can handle a Mooney or Bonanza (which is just about everybody) would find the G-III an easy airplane into which to transition. The only thing which might surprise a pilot who flies this Glasair for the first time is the way it blasts down the runway on takeoffabsolutely amazing. It is, however, a highly wing loaded airplane and asks that you remember that at all times, when you're in the pattern. It's essential that you fly the right numbers on final, as it is probably very unforgiving of getting it low and slow. VERY unforgiving.

The G-III is one of the very finest of the Hot Homebuilt breed. It's an incredible combination of raw, brute performance and mild, well-developed manners. This airplane has set a standard for utility, performance and out-and-out fun which will be hard for any other design to match.