Editor's note from the year 2001: At the time I flew this airplane I had probably 500 hours of tailwheel time, but no preparation for a heavier, faster airplane. A couple of hours in a two-place Pitts, which we didn't have in those days, would get most tailwheel pilots up to speed for the Starduster Too
Among the hundreds of aircraft at the Oshkosh EAA convention (1970), one in particular exerted a strange effect on me. I'd walk by early in the morning, and watch how the rising sun accentuated the curves and bounced its rays off the windshield. Ambling by in the afternoon, I'd have to restrain myself from running my hand over its smooth fabric. Its big wooden prop tempted me to yell "Contact!" and swing it into life. Its struts and wires and open cockpits hinted of yesterday, but something about it was definitely "today."
On its spinner hung a sign. On one side, it said "Walk Me," but the other was a hand-lettered history, a small note to those who cared, that this was a Stolp Starduster Too, built by Jim Snodgrass, Racine, Ohio. Cruise: 120 mph. Empty weight: 1,211 pounds. Gross weight: 1,950 pounds. Building time: 26 months. Engine: 205-hp Continental.
As the week wore on, I found that I wasn't the only one who was walking circles that ended back at N4316. Here was a modern two-place biplane just the right size. It wasn't gross and clumsy. Nor was it a shoebox. It was tiny enough to stir up all sorts of Tailspin Tommy fantasies, but it was far from being a homebuilt bumblebee. Here was that rarity of rarities, an airplane that could be both fun and useful.
The Starduster Too is a piece of Lou Stolp's imagination, and, if not another thing is said about him, he designs very pretty airplanes. His airplanes may not be the fastest or the best flying, but they are definitely among the prettiest. Stolp has been punching airplanes out of his Compton, California shop for years, doing all sorts of modification and design work, but it's only in the past decade that his homebuilt designs have gained popularity. His Starduster I was one of his first efforts and has always been highly regarded. His dainty Volks-powered Starlet is vaguely reminiscent of the fantastic Focke-Wulf Stosser. His latest and most ambitious design, the Starduster Too, gained almost instant popularity among the biplane fans and even made a sizeable dent on the mono-plane, hotrod fraternity.
While lying in the shade of a Pitts at Oshkosh, eyeing Snodgrass's Starduster Too, it occurred to me that Lou Stolp doesn't own a straight edge-but he has lots of french curves. Just about the only straight line in a Too are the streamlined tubes in the N struts. While this makes for beautiful, almost elliptical, wings and a flowing fuselage, it also complicates building beyond belief. Because of the curved wing planform, each rib has a shape all its very own; there are no duplicate ribs, which means a different rib-form for each. Also, curved lines mean that you must take a great amount of time laying out the lines and making patterns and jigs to get the right curve at the right time in the right place.
Construction isn't that much more complicated than that of the average homebuilt; there's just more of it. To carry two people in comfort and still not glide like a lead sled, an aircraft needs lots of wing area, which means more weight, which means more horsepower, which means bigger gas tanks-ad infinitum. What you end up with is a homebuilt that is nearly a production-sized project, one not to be tackled without lots of work space and determination. It won't be a one-winter project. As a matter of fact, it took Jim 26 months to finish N4316. Fortunately, Stolp's plans are reasonably complete and accurate.
On my 113th lap of Oshkosh, I realized I was shirking my duty. Every time I passed N4316, there was a crowd of enthusiasts gathered around it, obviously as impressed as I was. I felt I was letting these people down. It was my sacred duty to fly this machine, and, as their collective alter ego, let them get their vicarious thrills through me. I had to fly the Starduster Too.
Jim Snodgrass met the suggestion that 1 fly his machine with a wide grin and a short tour of his creation. As he walked, he pointed with pride at some of the Snodgrass specialties that weren't on the Stolp plans. This includes such items as nickel-plated exhaust stacks (nickel won't turn blue as chrome does), and a lower-than-original turtle-deck outline. I scored some points when I recognized the throttle quadrant as a fugitive from a F4U Corsair, although Jim had removed the supercharger control.
Jim asked one of his cohorts, Les Hughes, to ride up front while l hopped into the driver's seat. Jim preflighted the airplane while Hughes gave me a cockpit check.
To someone who's not used to open cockpit airplanes, every flight in one is an entirely new adventure. Hughes was standing on the ground, leaning over the edge of the cockpit pointing things out to me, while 1 was strapping in. I was doing my best to listen to him and keep my head inside the flight deck, but every so often I'd sneak a peek outside at the airplane I was about to fly. The airplane was almost too much of a distraction to sit in and expect to do anything but daydream.
I was ready to fly the second I climbed aboard, and the feeling of the cockpit only made me want to leave the ground that much sooner. There's absolutely no homebuilt feel to it. It has a quasi-military/antique feel to it, which, combined with the overabundance of space, makes you feel as if you're in a P-6E or a F3B; you are absolutely sure you bear a striking resemblance to Richard Arlen.
"Contact. Brakes!" My daydreams were fractured and I reached up to put the mags on "both," standing on the brakes with my toes. Jim grabbed one blade of that big, beautiful, wooden club, gave it a healthy heave, and the airplane was suddenly breathing.
Because of the total lack of forward visibility and the closely packed planes at Oshkosh, l was glad I had a wing-walker at each tip to keep people out of my way and to warn me when I started to run over a gas truck or something. The steerable tailwheel was very effective, and we needed very little brake to maneuver in the close confines. The tailwheel was so effective that I recalled what Jim had said: ". . . it handles like a Luscombe on the ground." On the way through the grass to the runway, the reasonably narrow, stiff gear did feel like an old 8A's all right.
A lot of the runway disappears when you line up on the centerline, so 1 made sure I was straight before slowly advancing the power. Although there was little torque, the acceleration was really unbelievable. I pushed with my left hand until I felt some resistance to the throttle. Surely that was all the throttle it had. We were still accelerating like a dragster when I felt Hughes reach up and move the throttle ahead another couple of inches to the stop. Boy, this thing goes!
As the tail came up, I suddenly became very busy. It needs attention with the sneakers to keep it headed straight, and again t thought " . . . like a Luscombe . . ." The rudder is quick and fairly sensitive, but it breaks ground so fast that there isn't enough time to get really shaken up.
Open cockpit is the only way to go at Oshkosh! As I started to turn onto crosswind, I could check the entire pattern just by turning my head. This time traffic was light as I counted only nine airplanes ahead of us in the pattern-at times I've seen as many as 20!
Open cockpit may be the way to go, period! Not just at Oshkosh, but everywhere.The Too's cockpit is comfortable, and the noise and wind level is entirely satisfactory, and visibility is unexcelled.
The way the Starduster Too had accelerated on takeoff, I expected a fantastic climb rate. Not that there is anything wrong with an effortless 1,000 fpm, but I kept hoping it was going to live up to its fighter feel, and little by little, as I felt the aircraft out, the fighter image dimmed. I found the ailerons to be transport-heavy, requiring two hands to get any kind of a snappy roll rate. The Too is a great little airplane, but it's not an early '30s fighter reincarnate.
As we entered the practice area, I dropped the nose to pick up speed and pulled up into a slow roll. It went around well enough, but I had to keep my shoulder working to keep the aileron bent in or the roll rate would slow down, leaving me hanging from my seat belt. Then I slowed it down and snap rolled a couple times. I was really surprised at how slowly it went around, but it still started and stopped with razor sharpness. Usually when an airplane snaps that slowly, it has a mushy recovery, but not so the Starduster Too. The snap roll is normally a roughish maneuver, but in the Too it is a very gentle, precise thing.
Its slow flight and stall characteristics are very biplane like. It flies rock solid up to a sharp buffet zone, and then, if you persist in asking for too much, it stalls quickly, dropping a wing.
Most biplanes have a much higher rate of sink at slow speeds than people realize. With two wings, struts, wires, cockpits, and two heads hanging out, there are all sorts of things for the wind to grab onto and slow the airplane down. This is one reason most smaller biplanes need a little power on final to overcome all the drag tending to steepen the glide. The Starduster Too doesn't have quite as much of this characteristic drag, so it doesn't seem to settle nearly as badly as some of the other homebuilt biplanes. Of course, it is a lot bigger.
As we came back into the Oshkosh beehive, the visibility was again welcome. Hughes shouted back at me to hold 85 mph on final and I tried, and tried, and tried. Keeping 85 mph in a low-power glide means that you have to hold the nose in what appears to be a higher than level attitude. It was so uncomfortable motoring around with the nose in the air that I had closer to 95 mph when I broke the glide. That extra 10 mph really showed because we floated like a T-Craft while I was trying to hold a three-point attitude a foot or so off the runway. I had killed all the power in an attempt to stop the float, so when it finally did stop floating, it stopped with a bang, dropping us six inches or so onto the pavement.
The second the tires felt the surface, my feet started working fast. Snodgrass was again right, it felt just like a Luscombe in a crosswind-quick and light. As we made little short forays off the centerline, one side or the other, the tires would scream in protest. I'm sure we weren't that far out of line, but the tires screamed anyway.
There was no problem getting the tail back where it should be, but I had to do it quite a few times. On later landings, I found it easier to keep in line, but the tires still squealed and we still meandered. The rudder is really effective, but you have to stay on your toes because I'll bet if you get the Too very far out of line it'll turn around and bite you faster than you can think about it.
The Starduster Too flies as well as it looks in nearly all ways except in respect to the ailerons. It has been said that much of the force needed is caused by the weight of the double ailerons, but it feels more like system friction since this characteristic doesn't seem to change on the ground or in the air. Aside from that one small gripe, the Too is the perfect airplane to toss your frau into and fly off into the sunset.
Also, the Too has the side benefit of making you several inches taller when you step out of it. I noticed this when I pulled into line at Oshkosh, moved the mixture, and yanked off the helmet and goggles. I looked around at the gathering crowd and realized I had been given the opportunity they all longed for, to play with Jim Snodgrass's homebuilt time-machine.