10 March 2010

Before the Rutan Voyager: The BD-2 LOVE ONE

Although he had his career begin at North American Aviation, Jim Bede's real passion was for light aircraft- more importantly, light aircraft that were within the reach of most Americans at a time when ownership of even a two-seat Cessna or Piper was out of reach for most private pilots. In 1961 Jim Bede formed Bede Aviation to produce the BD-1, a two seat low wing monoplane that would be kit built, something that had never been tried before in the general aviation market. Changes in the business plan at the time pushed him to offer the BD-1 as a fully-built aircraft instead of a kitplane. The new company was called American Aviation but a conflict between Jim Bede and the shareholders resulted in Bede being forced to relinquish leadership of his company. The BD-1 became the AA-1 Yankee with Russ Meyer as its president. Russ Meyer would later go on to become president of Cessna and American Aviation was acquired by Grumman in 1972 and the AA-1 would set the pattern for a series of light planes from the company in the 1970s.

Jim Bede, however, decided to refocus his efforts on one of his other aviation dreams- to fly around the world, solo, nonstop, and without refueling. Long before Burt Rutan's Voyager accomplished the same feat but with two pilots in 1986, Jim Bede started work on his aircraft twenty years earlier in 1966.

Using a Schweizer 2-32 sailplane as the basis for what he called the BD-2, he fitted it with a modified 225-horsepower Continental IO-360 six-cylinder piston engine in the nose that could run the prop at low power levels. The wings were sealed to form a large fuel tank and special wingtips were added to the BD-2 to increase the aspect ratio of the wing, increase its fuel capacity and ease ground handling. Additional fuel tanks were built into the fuselage as well. During the flight tests, Jim Bede demonstrated that at 20,000 feet, the BD-2 could cruise at 135 mph using only 20 horsepower which amounted to an impressively low rate of fuel consumption. With a takeoff weight of 3,000 lbs, it was an impressive feat of creative engineering.

Bede christened the BD-2 "LOVE ONE" for Low Orbit Very Efficiently No.1" and managed to stay aloft in the BD-2 for over 70 hours flying back and forth between Kansas City and Columbus, Ohio in 1969 before an electrical fault ended his flight having only covered 9,000 miles- while short of what a global circumnavigation would have entailed, it was still an impressive feat for such a small aircraft.

He never attempted the round-the-world flight in the BD-2, having gone back to his ideas of kitplanes. With the more successful BD-4 and BD-5 designs, he would go on to fame as creating the modern kitplane market.

Source: Air Enthusiast, Volume 4, Number 2, February 1972. "Mr. Bede's Dreamboat" by John Fricker, p69-72.

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