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« - Chronicle Of The USAF A-10 Culture | Main | A-10 Deception Canopy Painted On The Aircraft Underside »

The First Electric Airplane - The BD-5 Micro At Oshkosh 1971!

Jim Bede and a big crowd with the prototype BD-5 at Oshkosh 1971

 C’mon, work with me here a little - I’m not talking about electric propulsion, we’re just starting to get that figured out… I’m talking about how the BD-5 Micro electrified the homebuilt airplane world in 1971 when it first showed up at Oshkosh.  It hadn’t even flown when it was on display that year, but as these pix show, interest was very high.  In fact, by the end of August 1971, 800 orders had been taken, and by the end of that year: 4,300!

 It’s pretty clear that today the experimental airplane movement is in pretty desperate need of an airplane to come along and stir the imagination like Bede’s little Micro did.  And let me be clear, whatever this new airplane is, it desperately needs to be wrapped in the truth.  Truth about performance, truth about ’build-ability’ and truth about how easy it is (or isn't), to fly.  I’ll admit I’m still a really big fan of the BD-5, but in those early years, the little red V-tail pusher didn’t really spend much time leaning up against the truth tree.

 These pictures from Oshkosh 1971 are a story all by themselves.  When I was trying to find a useable pic of the prototype V-tail BD-5 last year, I scoured the internet with very little success.  There just aren’t very many out there, and even fewer that are really good.  And then I was flipping thru an old photo album when my eyes almost fell out.  Turns out I've got my own pix, and they’re actually really good!  I’m pretty sure I’m even the one who took them, as a 10 year old! 

 So, today I ran these 3 thru Photoshop and got them looking remarkably crisp.  I hope you grasp some of the history that they display.

The 2-stroke snowmobile-style engine system revealed in the prototype BD-5

 The pic above is interesting because it shows the engine compartment with the cover off for all to see.  The BD-5 was ahead of its time on several accounts, and the idea of using a 2-stroke snowmobile-type engine was one of them.  Given all the complications that were to follow related to the engine systems alone, I’m surprised they were so willing to let it all be seen like this.  Maybe even Bede didn’t realize he was already in over his head.  It’s also cool to see that Bede (in the white shirt, sunglasses and EAA hat) was letting people try the Micro on for size.  You also get a really good look at the aluminum tube main spar for the wing.  Bede had used that feature on the BD-1 which later became the American Yankee.  He also incorporated it into all of his other designs as far as I know.

 This prototype BD-5 was actually an aluminum skeleton under-structure with fiberglass panels giving it the beautiful shape.  It wasn’t much later when all that was changed to an aluminum skin over more traditional formers and stringers.  The V-tail disappeared too.  In reality, pretty much everything changed before they really had a frozen, completely viable airframe design.

A crowd gathered to watch the BD-5 engine run!

 This pic above doesn’t really need much else said, it’s pretty much off-the-scale-cool seeing the prototype BD-5, with the V-tail, before it had flown, at Oshkosh 1971, with the engine running, and a crowd of eager onlookers of all ages.  Wow. 

 As I pointed out in my previous post about the BD-5 program, the BD-5 dream just couldn’t make the leap to reality, and thousands of people who thought they were gonna be screamin’ around the sky in a Micro never got to.  Some think that’s a good thing as the airplane also wasn’t the easiest to fly due to the side stick controller, the low seating position, and the relatively high performance.

 All this brings me back to the need for a really great, affordable, buildable, beautiful experimental airplane for the masses… an ‘electric’ airplane, tho it might not be electric powered.  I’ve got some ideas (don’t I always?) on how we might find that airplane.  I’m gonna think them thru a little more, and then I might toss my idea out there and see if anyone responds.  I’ll give you a little hint: I’ll be looking for a team.


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Reader Comments (3)

very interestingly ...

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermoto

im grasping,im grasping!!!!, cool pics ,how could bede screw up a good thing with 4000 plus orders???

October 29, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbum

The BD-5 was great if you worked at the NTSB.
The stall spin factor too much for low time guys, very sad. :(

April 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLionel

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