by Alfred Scott
This article appeared in the September 1993 issue of the Falco Builders Letter.
Move over Larry Black, your record building time has been eclipsed by John Shipler, at least in terms of time from date of plans purchase to first flight. Here's a guy who bought the 13th set of plans we ever sent out. That was back in June 1979.
John had already built a 260 hp Skybolt, and he initially put the Falco project on hold until he sold the Skybolt. John didn't find any immediate takers for the Skybolt, so in October 1981 he began construction on the Falco. He ordered up the kits and started work. John always had high praise for the Falco plans and kits, and a steady stream of builders trecked out to his garage in Huntington Beach, California, to see the project.
John Shipler built the Falco in a cramped garage, and we used a photo of his Falco in our brochure to go with the line, "You can build it in your garage, but it wasn't designed in one." The Falco spent most of its construction time on a dolly, so John would wheel it around to make working space, and his wife Lucea would have to crawl under the wing to get to the washing machine.
While the whole project took about 12 years from start to finish, John actually worked on the Falco for six years. There were huge blocks of time in which he never touched the project. At times his work at the local Nissan dealership interfered with the project. John was an auto mechanic when he started the project, and he was subsequently promoted to service manager, and this required long hours at work. He also had some health problems, worried that he might never fly again, and John admits those were some fairly depressing years.
John built the Skybolt as a scratch-built airplane over a five-year period, and he worked almost every night and weekend on the project. "I was younger then", he says with good humor, and he estimates it took 6500 to 7000 hours to build the Skybolt.
With the Falco, John put in about six years of weekends. He never worked during the week, only on Saturday and Sunday. He made all of the wood components and that took a year. After the experience of making components for the Skybolt, John was an avowed kit-builder, and he had a simple philosophy that "if somebody makes it, you buy it."
At the time he was building, we were working on many details of the construction of the Falco, and refining things. As we came out with new drawings, John frequently found that he liked our designs better than what he had just finished, so he spent a lot of time going back and re-grooming things that he had already done. Like most Falco builders, John never kept track of the time the project took, but he says the Falco took about half the time of the Skybolt-he guesses about 3,000 to 3,500 hours.
Finally a couple of years ago, John 'retired' when the car dealership closed, and he got back to work on the Falco and finished it. John sold the biplane earlier this year to a guy in Oregon. He moved the Falco to a hangar at the Chino airport and finally on June 20, Father's day, the Falco flew for the first time. The test pilot was Jerry Scott, a friend and an experienced pilot. Jerry flies an RV-6, which he calls "the Chevy pickup of the air". After flying the Falco for the first time, Jerry says "My airplane may be a Chevy pickup, but this Falco is a f-kin' DeVille!"
John Shipler agrees. The Falco now has 17 hours on the tach, and John says, "The Falco is an absolute dream to fly." The Falco flew hands-off from the first flight and has required not a single trim tab adjustment. There have been a few minor glitches. The tachometer froze up immediately and needed to be replaced. The fuel pressure gauge leaked internally, and John is putting another in the Falco.
"Other than those problems, it has been absolutely flawless," he says. The control surfaces are perfectly in trail, and John said that with the Skybolt he had to spend a lot of time getting things trimmed out.
John Shipler's Falco is the 36th Sequoia Falco to break ground. It has a 160 hp IO-320-B1A engine with constant-speed prop. He has two King KX-155 nav/coms, a King transponder and an Apollo 618 loran.
The loran, unfortunately, does not work. John used an internal antenna and primed the Falco with a duPont paint that has a lot of graphite in it. He thinks this is the source of the problem. I mentioned to him that Wendell Taylor and Dan Garn had a similar problem, they used the canopy frame as the loran antenna, and it worked fine.
The Falco has the Nustrini canopy, and John says he probably regrets using it. He has thinned the seat cushion down a little and is now fairly comfortable. He is 5' 9.5" tall, and he finds it acceptable as it is now, however he is thinking about cutting a pocket in the fiberglass seat.
The interior is finished in grey naugahyde and grey carpet, and with black naugahyde on the glareshield. The instrument panel is painted in the dark grey color we suggest. John says it looks much better than the production aircraft an the Chino airport. "There are a lot of Looky-Lou's out at the airport on Saturday. They can't believe it's a homebuilt airplane, and they can't believe it's made out of wood."
John says, "I've been pretty happy with the performance." The Falco indicates 145 knots at 2-3000 feet. He has a partial nose gear door, gear doors but no wheel well doors at this time. He has the 13-second gear motor and will probably put the full wheel well doors on this winter.
I asked John if he had any problem with the shock absorbers leaking, and he said they initially would go down in a day or so, but he used the tool we have here to hone the valve seat smooth, and then put a light grease on the seat when he installed the valve. Since then it hasn't leaked or gone down in two months.
John is delighted with the handling of the Falco. He put stall strips on the plane and reports that he gets a good buffet before the stall. "The handling is better than I expected, even better than I could have imagined. It's a very stable airplane. I'm just completely impressed with the plane. I could not ever be more satisfied with the airplane." So far he's hasn't looped the Falco, but he has rolled it. "It's a piece of cake as long as you get the nose up."
Prior to seeing his own Falco fly and flying it himself, John Shipler had never even seen another Falco-and still hasn't. Once on a trip to Chicago, he and Lucea went one state out of the way to see Jim Slaton in McCall, only to find that Jim was off somewhere else that day. But now his bird is in the air, Lucea can get to the washing machine without crawling across the garage floor, and the only problem John Shipler sees with the Falco is "what do you build next?"