The Phillis Phalco Werks
I'd had the idea of building an aeroplane running around in my head for some time. After getting my licence in 1989 and hiring the usual range of 35 year old single & twin engined aircraft, the thought building and flying my own aeroplane was very appealing.
I'd completed a five year project in 1994 designing and building a Jaguar powered roadster (it looks a bit like an SS100, for those who know the marque) The natural extension therefore was to combine my love of flying with my liking for "building stuff"; but what to build?
I read all I could find on the subject of homebuilding and it seemed that the way to go was a fibreglass kit. The glossy magazine advertisements made it all look very straightforward; Tab "A" into Slot "B" kind of thing, how hard could it be? In 1999 I had the opportunity to find out when I spent several months assisting a guy who was building a Velocity.
I learnt an important lesson from that experience. The average kit at that time was exactly that . . "average" . . and not particularly good value for money. After parting with some serious cash for a box of bits it still required considerably more than that much again, plus far more work than you're led to believe, to get it into the air.
Hmmm . . where to go now.
Building from plans seemed to be the obvious choice but there weren't many that I particularly liked. Of all those available the Falco was an immediate standout; it had excellent performance and the looks to go with it, but it was made of matchsticks for God's sake!
After some consideration however, the idea of building in wood became more appealing, particularly when I recalled one of the less desirable aspects of working on the Velocity. Going home each night with itchy bits all over from impaling oneself on microscopic shards of fibreglass took the fun right out of it.
An RV was considered briefly but once again it's a kit and thus required a not inconsiderable upfront outlay. I hasten to add that unlike some others on the market I think RV's are good value, but there are just so many of the damn things.
So . . I wanted something a bit different and by now I'd convinced myself that it should be made of wood. After narrowing down the options I sent off for the promotional literature on the Falco and the GP 4.
The GP 4 certainly had the performance and appeared to be a lot easier to build than the Falco, an aspect that really appealed to my impatient nature, but it didn't have the "pizzaz" that only the Italians can give to an inanimate object.
For the mundane, practical engineer in me however, even that was not reason enough. I was eventually swayed by the fact that the Falco was designed by an aeronautical engineer to certifiable standards and had been manufactured as a production aircraft. There was absolutely no doubt that it would fly and fly well, without the fear that part way into construction the designer would suddenly announce that it was necessary to revise the size of the horizontal stabiliser, or have to extend the fuselage to overcome a C of G problem, etc. etc.
I ordered the Falco plans in June 2000 and after finally finding rented hangar space started work in February 2002. As luck would have it in early 2003 developers built a series of new hangars at Jandakot, my local airport just five minutes from home. I took the plunge and purchased one of these, thus securing a permanent workshop and eventual home for my Falco.
I'm now two years and about 1300 hours into the project and am still enjoying it as much as when I sliced up that first piece of wood. There have been changes in attitude (I'm nowhere near as impatient as I used to be!) and confidence. I can now throw an expensive piece of spruce on the bandsaw and rip it apart with nary a thought. Not so when I nervously marked, checked, remarked, rechecked, etc. to make that first cut, way back in 2002!
To date I have completed all the 2024 components, the tail assembly (stabiliser, elevator, fin and rudder), all the fuselage frames, the spars (main, front, aft and flap/aileron) and all the wing ribs. I'm currently finishing off the flap / aileron assemblies and it will then be on to assembling the wing.
Due to the poor exchange rate between the Aussie and US dollar I've been compelled to fabricate as much as I can rather than buying the kits, but those I have purchased are of fine quality. If I'd been able to buy them all I'd probably be about two years ahead of where I'm at now. . . ie. just starting out !
I'm now looking forward to the exciting part that's soon to come of assembling all the components I've been laboriously making and getting an airframe happening in my hangar.
There's a long way to go, but I'm now reasonably confident that I've acquired the skills necessary to see it through, although I still have problems bending that 2.0mm plywood !
Rob Phillis is an engineering manager in Perth, Australia. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wood components Flaps Wing