Steve Wilkinson sold his Falco in the summer of 1999.
I began my Falco project (in 1985, as I remember) on a whim-truly an impulse purchase. As an aviation writer, I stopped to see Alfred Scott one day, on the spur of moment, during a trip back to New York from Florida in my Piper Comanche. I was always looking for things and people in the airplane world to write about.
Now, I knew how the homebuilt-kits business worked. I'd been an editor at Flying Magazine, before becoming a freelance writer, long enough to know that as a kit merchandiser, you promoted your airplane-which might not yet even have flown, much less gone into kit production-loudly enough that somebody sent you some money, and you quickly converted that money into 1/some profit, and 2/the materials that the purchaser had ordered. If you did that enough times, you eventually were able to even develop a stock of some parts, though the expensive items invariably required a buyer gullible enough to pay in advance.
Well, what I found at Sequoia Aircraft, in Richmond, Virginia, was a kit merchandiser who had already converted dollars into airplane parts. Scott showed me a warehouse filled with shipset after shipset of Falco parts-enough, probably, to build 50 airplanes that very day. I was hooked by that and by the beauty of the plans. (I have a friend who does industrial consulting, and after seeing the plans for my Falco, he admitted that he'd seen nuclear powerplants that didn't have systems blueprints as good.)
People invariably ask me, now that they see the completed and flying airplane, whether I found the Falco-building experience a positive one. It's a very easy question to answer, for I tell them that I enjoyed every second of the process, found the experience totally delightful and fulfilling, and haven't an iota's worth of regret. (I'm lying just a bit, of course, for there inevitably were brief moments of frustration, incomprehension, incompetence...but never more than the tiniest interludes, and never ever a feeling of, "I wish this were different..." or "I wish I hadn't had to do that...")
They also, inevitably, ask me how long it took, and all I can tell them is, "Six calendar years from first piece to first flight, but I have absolutely no idea how many hours it took. After the first few days, I stopped keeping track." To me, logging the hours of such a pleasant, rewarding process would have been rather like keeping a stopwatch running while reading a splendid book, so that you knew how many hours it took to read it. If anything, I was sorry when the building process ended.
I did keep compulsive track of the dollars, however, and I can tell people that if they were to build a Falco today in the same manner that I did-no shortcuts, no brothers-in-law in the avionics business, no making my own pieces of tubing from the Stinson out behind the barn, every kit and part purchased at retail, the paint job done economically but professionally-I can make an informed guess that it would take about 100,000 of today's dollars to build a Falco, finish it, and equip it with an overhauled engine and a suite of good but not dazzling avionics.
So what do you get for that? In my case, a utilitarian airplane that cruises at a verified 175 knots and that will fly for 3+45 to 4+30, depending on altitude and power setting. (I have a built-in oxygen system and have cruised the airplane as high as 21,000 feet.) It's an airplane that I can make excellent use of for business trips of up to 1,000 nm. About 90 percent of my Falco use is for business. Being an aviation (and automotive) writer of course makes this a lot easier to accomplish than it would be if I were a software designer, say, or a neurosurgeon.
I've flown 115 different types of aircraft, from Aeronca Champs to a Lockheed Constellation, and I can confidently say that the Falco is the easiest to fly, in that it's the most restful-to-fly type that I've used. Certainly it's "harder" to fly (in terms of the required ability) than a Cub or a 172, but not by much. But in terms of stress-how tired you are at five in the afternoon after flying cross-country all day-I've never flown an airplane to equal the Falco. I suspect it has a lot to do with the superb visibility, though certainly the lightness of the controls, the airplane's stability and the lack of troublesome systems (cowl flaps, complex fuel system, turbo, etc.) and the cleanness and simplicity of the cockpit all help.
I don't fly the Falco very much, but when I do, it's ready to go in moments and it's dead-reliable: I've not once had to cancel a flight because of a mechanical problem. That's important to me because of the amount of business use I put on the airplane; nobody wants to hear that you missed the meeting and screwed up everybody else's schedules because the flapmotor broke or the landing gear wouldn't retract.
And in that regard, I can put my finger on the most exciting moment of my Falco-building adventure: not the first flight but the first time I powered up the airplane on the ground and ran every system but the engine. Despite its complexity, despite the seeming miles of wire and multitude of motors, relays, breakers and switches, every single blessed thing worked, and worked as it was supposed to.
That says not nearly as much about me-a first-time airplane builder without much of a background in complex do-it-yourself projects-as it does about the plans, organization, support and builders manual that surround the airplane. With a Falco, you can't go wrong.
Stelio Frati and Steve Wilkinson at Oshkosh '95
Steve Wilkinson is a freelance writer in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York. Telephone: (845) 534-7601, fax: (845) 534-5101. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Building a Falco, Part 1
Building a Falco, Part 2 Notes from the Sideline
Building a Falco, Part 3 First Flight: Steve Wilkinson
Building a Falco, Part 4 Moving Day
Building a Falco, Part 5 Why I Fly a Phony Warbird
I Came, I Saw, I Lost Flight of the Falco
The Awe-Ja-Magic Fly-In Pancake Breakfast If They Could See Me Now
My Dual-GPS Falco A Fate Worse Than Death? Dear Senator Inhofe
Falco Finale Flat Six Building an Airplane Teaches Valuable Life Lessons
I Built This Plane Myself, Really I Did, and It Flies!
Gold-Plated Porsche Man and Machine
Susan Crandell and Steve Wilkinson biking in Nova Scotia