First Flight:
Jonas Dovydenas


by Alfred Scott

This article appeared in the June 1991 issue of the Falco Builders Letter.

How to get a 10' bird through a 9' door. Jonas Dovydenas's Falco is birthed.

On Memorial Day Sunday, June 2, Sequoia Falco number 30 took to the air. This one belonged to Jonas Dovydenas and the first flight was made by Easy Al Aitken.

Jonas began his Falco at roughly the same time as Steve Wilkinson six years ago, and he worked on the airplane in fits and spurts, taking large blocks of time off for other activities, including two trips into Afghanistan to photograph the war. At some point in the process, Jonas realized that the construction was not going as quickly as he would like and that -- while he enjoyed building the plane -- what he really wanted was to get the bird in the air.

Jonas started talking about hiring a homebuilder to help him on the project. I told him I thought it was a mistake to look for a homebuilder -- most have learned more bad habits than good, and are essentially slow-working hobbyists who can't turn out work on an efficient schedule. Instead, I suggested he look for a machinist. On first blush, that might seem absurd, but machinists are used to working from drawings and are trained to turn out work quickly and efficiently. And in the depressed Northeast, there must surely be lots of machinists out of work.

Jonas Dovydenas

So Jonas ran an advertisement in the local paper, the Berkshire Bugle, for a machinist for a 'special project'. Keith Fox answered the ad and was a well-qualified machinist. Then Jonas told him the project was to build a wooden airplane. Keith was a little brain-scrambled by this revelation, but quickly settled down when he started looking at the blueprints and the partially completed Falco. The more he thought about it, the more interesting the project became, and he quickly signed on.

From then on, the project proceeded smoothly, with Keith working at a steady schedule, and with Jonas working part-time on it. One of the advantages of this sort of arrangement is that there's always something going on, and Keith's activity on the project made Jonas keep up his pace as well.

Finally, this spring the airplane was finished, and it was down to the last minute engine-installation and final-inspection process. Jonas bought a factory-new IO-360-B1E and had the engine converted over to the configuration we use. He ran into substantial problems with the injector. The engine ran very rich, and after much ado, head-scratching and telephone calls, he finally found that the idle mixture thingamajig was misaligned on the shaft, apparently at the factory.

With this problem out of the way, the final inspection went along without a great deal of difficulty. Jonas had long since decided to let Al Aitken to the first flight. For one thing, Jonas was not qualified to be test-flying a new airplane, and Al has been anxious to do a first flight in a Falco for some time.

For those of you who don't remember, Al Aitken is a graduate of the Patuxent River Test Pilot school. That's a course that our government charges over $700,000 tuition to other governments to give to their pilots, and surprisingly Al Aitken had never done a first flight of an airplane before.

Anyone who thinks that a test pilot is a white-scarfed, hot-shot, hormones-for-brains macho type has simply never met a test pilot of the modern school. They approach their craft with well-thought-out plans to minimize risk, and apply the lessons of years of experience on how to get the airplane into the air and back in the safest possible manner.

Keep 'em on their back. There wasn't actually anything wrong
with the airplane, but this is something real men just have to do.

The adage is "Plan the flight, and fly the plan." Never deviate from your plan of what to test. Thus, Al had worked it all out as to what would be tested and in what order. Each item was listed on the flight test card and checked off. The final inspection of the airplane and fixing little squawks took most of the day. High speed taxi tests showed the airplane to be a normal Falco, with elevators and ailerons which were amply effective before liftoff speed.

Then late in the afternoon, Al finally took the Falco out to the end of the runway and took off. A good first flight is an uneventful, boring affair, and this flight was everything you could ask for in that regard. All of the handling and stall tests showed it to be a normal Falco, with good stall warning and no untoward characteristics. Jonas and Bob Bready watched as Al brought it down and landed. Jonas said it was so smooth you couldn't tell when the tires touched the ground. Dusk was approaching and since Al had to leave early the next day, he took Jonas up for a short flight to familiarize him with the plane.

Al Aitken checks his flight test plane as Bob Bready looks on.

With Al gone, the problem remained to fly off the hours on the plane and to continue the flight testing. Jonas needed 5 hours in a complex airplane before he could fly the Falco and still be blessed by his insurance company. Local instructors showed no interest in flying an airplane that had only flown one hour, so finally Jonas got five hours of instruction in a Piper Arrow, and then started flying the Falco.

Jonas had already flown in the Corporate Disgrace as well as Jim DeAngelo's Falco, so he knew what sort of handling to expect. I've seen people grossly over-control the Falco at first, but Jonas did not have that problem.

"It's a ridiculously easy plane to fly," says Jonas. Particularly after flying the Arrow. "A bigger pig has never been made. It's under-powered. There's not enough elevator and rudder authority so it's difficult to land in a cross wind. With the Falco, you can put it right on the numbers, and it seemed very natural from the beginning."

With the Arrow you have to shove on the pedals on a cross-wind landing, but with the Falco you just apply pressure. "It's an intuitive thing. You get the feel of it, and that's what you do. I don't know how much rudder I've giving it."

N873DX has a 180 hp engine and weighed in at 1,125 lbs in all-black primer. Jonas says, "It's amazing how it accelerates -- more like a car than an airplane." Initial climb is about 1500 fpm, and "It's astonishing how quick you can reach five, six thousand feet." Jonas gets a steady 1000 fpm at 90 knots and 25/2500.

The Falco has a slightly heavy right wing, and Jonas says that if you slow it down gradually, you can reach a 1000-fpm descent but that it will not stall. It settles down at 50 knots and sinks like crazy with the engine idling, but it does not have enough elevator authority to stall. Give it a little power to blast some air over the tail, and it will stall easily.

For some reason, Jonas says he doesn't have enough elevator trim. There's supposed to be 30mm of travel in the system, and he only gets 24. This causes him to run out of up-trim in a climb, but it trims out all right in level flight.

Jonas has been flying the Falco with no gear doors and hasn't made any careful notes on the speed. He remembers getting roughly 150 KIAS at 7,000' with 2400 rpm and full throttle. When I last spoke to him, he had 13 hours on it, and he continues to find the Falco a delight -- "That's the easiest f-ing airplane to fly I ever saw."

With Steve Wilkinson's problems with instruments from IFR, I asked Jonas about his experience. He said, "I had less bad luck. They took forever to ship the instruments, but my only problem is with the fuel pressure gauge. It has a built-in extra 1/2 psi, which I don't care about. In the beginning, it used to peg the fuel pressure needle on takeoff, but now it doesn't do that any more. I don't know why, and I didn't do anything to fix it. The other instruments work fine."

He has also had some minor problems with his battery or regulator. Jonas got some sort of sealed deep-discharge battery and after 15 minutes the voltage goes to 14.1 to 14.9 volts. He thinks it might be with the special voltage regulator that came with the battery. His engine has a lightweight starter, which saves 9 lbs and which cranks the engine over faster than a standard starter.

Jonas is the second Lithuanian Falco builder to fly -- Tony Bingelis is the other -- and was actually born in Lithuania, though he left at the age of five when Stalin's army marched in. Jonas's father was a well-known writer and political leader who was sentenced to death in absentia. Today, Mr. Dovydenas is alive and well, and he lives just down the road from Jonas and Betsy in Lenox, Massachusetts, also home for the famous Tanglewood summer home for the Boston Symphony.

Jonas and Betsy's house is a wonderful old Berkshire 'cottage', originally built in the early part of the century as an escape from the summer heat for NYC tycoons whose idea of a cottage included a living room that would easily enclose the average cottage of normal proportions.

Right now Jonas is flying off the required twenty-five hours and is looking for someone to paint the plane. There may be a problem in getting it painted by Oshkosh, so it's always possible Jonas will bring it out in black primer. I asked Jonas what color he was going to paint the Falco, and he said he was thinking about "yeller".