Bud Evan's Volksplane II
A Plane for the
I'm a firm believer that anything that flies, no matter how simple, is far more complicated to build than it would appear, but with the Volksplane, even if it's twice as complicated as it looks, it's still down on a coloring book level. I can almost believe the line in the Evans brochure that says the airplane can be built in six to nine months of spare time. That makes it the ideal airplane for the impatient pilot. (I think I have next winter's project figured out.) Just think how fast two or three guys could put one together.
Of course, when things are sacrificed for simplicity and safety, something has to give, and in the Volksplanes, the first thing that simplicity threw out the window was aesthetics. Safety took care of blazing performance. When the energy source that keeps you in the air may be pumping out as little as 40 horsepower, you don't have much choice but to use a lot of wing (unless you want to fly like a clump of grass). In the VP-I, that means 24 feet of span (27 in the VP-II). That much wing gives leisurely takeoffs and landings, but it adds extra drag to the copious amount generated by the rest of the airplane to keep cruise down around 75 to 80 mph. The long wings don't make for a snappy airshow roll rate either.
But, it flies. It really flies, and although the conditions under which I flew the VP-II were less than favorable, it performed at least as well as many store-bought planes would have.
As I' prepared to hop in, I took careful note of how far my posterior protruded so I wouldn't get it caught in the already spinning prop while I was boarding from the leading edge of the wing. Then I told Beatty to exhale to make shoehorning me in a little easier. One thing to remember when wedging yourself into a VP-II is to prearrange who is going to have both arms inside. Beatty and I forgot until we were ready to take off, and he had to handle the brakes and throttle because my left arm was outside frantically clutching at his jacket.
I wish now that I had been able to fly a VPI with the same 2000cc engine because I'll bet it's an entirely different animal on takeoff. With us two heavyweights aboard, the VP-II didn't exactly surge forward and claw its way into the air, but it did a whole lot better than I expected. The takeoff roll was on the long side, but we were up and away at close to 400 fpm, which isn't bad.
The first thought that ran through my mind as I felt the gear scrub clear of the pavement was, "Rub-a-dubdub, two men in a tub," because I
felt positively naked. The feeling of being "on" rather than "in" the airplane is incredible. The whole machine seems far below you, almost out of your field of vision. Even while sitting on the runway, the airplane hardly penetrates your peripheral vision. What had been an extremely shallow ground angle (9 degrees versus 15 to 20 degrees for most taildraggers) felt slightly nose down in the air.
I was amazed that nobody had told the Volksplane it wasn't a transport aircraft, because that's how stable it felt in cruise. As a matter of fact, it's a little too stable for me. Bash the stick in any direction and the machine begrudgingly gives up level flight and heads in the direction the stick was pushed, but it returns to the straight and narrow almost immediately. Part of this don't-push-me attitude comes from ailerons that are disappointingly heavy and slow. Part of that is due to system friction, but the rest is because the surfaces are just too big—and Evans admits it. He didn't want to have to incorporate a false spar to hang the ailerons from, so he ran them clear into the rear spar, something close to 30 percent of the chord. He told me that anything over about 20 percent is wasted, so he evidently is thinking about rebalancing and lightening up the aileron loads.
For an airplane that appears to set aeronautical engineering back 70 years, the tail group is strangely modern. All surfaces are single-piece stabilator/ruddervator types. Because these kinds of surfaces give very little feedback to the pilot, they have to be fitted with anti-servo tabs to keep them from being too light. Evans and crew did a fantastic job of designing what could have been a very cantankerous type of tail group. It seems to be balanced nearly perfectly and no matter how you fly it, it feels like a normal tail. There isn't even much change of effectiveness at slow speeds, which might be expected. Personally, I expected all the ragged air that was ripping around our heads and shoulders to be raising all sorts of grief with the rudder, but if it was, I couldn't feel it.
Volksplane stalls can't be described, because there aren't any. None of any consequence, anyway. All that happens with the stick in your lap, regardless of attitude, is a little shuddering, and maybe at around 45 mph it will try to stall a little and one wing will drop slowly. Relax pressure, add power, and you're on your way.
Once you've taken off, turned and stalled it, there isn't much left to do in a loaded VP-II but aim it at some distant point and go chugging off on a cross-country. I can't say that I'm wild about the tourist-class accommodations of the VP-II, but flown solo it would be incredibly roomy. Evans doesn't claim his plywood beetle bomb is a normal two-place airplane, but rather says it's "an occasional two-place airplane. It's primarily to take a friend (a good friend) along for a ride." However tight the seating, Evans says he and his Convair engineer friends have gone on dual cross-countries as far away as Tucson—300 long, but cozy, miles away.
I was absolutely positive what it was going to be like to land: very easy. And except for one minor problem, it is. I'd almost be willing to bet that somebody who had just been checked out in taildraggers would do a better job of landing it than a pilot like me who spends all his time in taildraggers. We're so used to pulling into a much steeper ground angle during the flare, for a full-stall landing, that we invariably land Volksplanes tailwheel first, with the mains a foot or two in the air. Because the ground angle is so flat, the airplane can't be full stalled without that kind of embarrassing arrival. It is flown on in a nice flat attitude, which assures that a neophyte isn't going to stall out a couple of feet up.
I'd say the best testimony as to how easy the VP is to fly is the often-repeated story about the VP-I builder at a North Carolina fly-in who set a record of sorts by checking out 34 different pilots in his single-place bird in only a day and a half. There were no problems at all, and everybody thought he was nuts (or extremely confident of his airplane).
There are going to be a lot of people who just can't see the purpose of something like a Volksplane. It can't go busting into TCAs, while squawking "ident" at the top of its voice, and with a maximum cruise speed of 95 mph (75 mph being more economical), a long cross-country is anything over 50 miles. But the Volksplane definitely has its place. It belongs right beside the Cubs and Champs that bring fun into the lives of weary space-age pilots. It's cheap, easy fun—less than $1,500. And in an age when men in dirty raincoats approach you on street corners to sell you a single gallon of gas, you can go chortling around the skies on something less than 3 gallons an hour, getting a minimum of 25 miles to the gallon.
But all in all, the most enchanting thing about the boxy Volksplanes is that even the average, all-thumbs backyard clod can see the end of the project before he even begins. He can look at the plans and easily see that it won't be three years until he can enjoy the fruits of his long nights in the basement. It might not be the six or nine months Evans advertises, but it's certainly not going to take forever. That's the charm of the Volksplane—it's not going to be the work of a lifetime, but it's bound to provide a lifetime of pleasures. BD
Empty weight ................... 640 lbs For lots more pilot
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