Sequoia 300 First Flight:
by Alfred Scott
This article appeared in the June 1992 Falco Builders Letter.
John Harns taxies out for the first flight in Jim Baugh's Sequoia 300
After the world's longest development time, the Sequoia 300 has finally flown. The airplane was built by Milford D. "Jim" Baugh of Spokane, Washington, and the first flight was made by John Harns.
I really should go back and tell you the entire story about how this airplane came to be. It all started years ago with my Messerschmitt BO-209 Monsun. The Messerschmitt was my first airplane, and it was a wonderful machine. Not unlike the Falco, it had 150 hp Lycoming, tricycle gear, two seats side-by-side and a bubble canopy. The propeller and gear were both fixed, but the plane had delightful controls. It had a control stick and when you moved it, things happened right away.
I bought the Messerschmitt before I knew how to fly and took my instruction in it. I quickly got an instrument ticket and flew it regularly on business trips to Greensboro, North Carolina, where I was developing a couple hundred condominiums.
The Messerschmitt would cruise at about 145 mph and whenever I flew it, I kept thinking about what a delight it would be to have a machine that really moved. There were plenty of big-engined production airplanes, but they all had six seats and were boring aircraft. I thought of the Messerschmitt as a 'Porsche', and I kept thinking of what I really wanted was a 'Ferrari'. Two seats, a big engine, and retractable gear-sort of a two-seat, single-engine Aerostar.
I began to study the alternatives of a move-up machine. The Aero Commander 200D was the fastest American machine. I went to the Reading Air Show and stumbled across a stunning all-white machine with a bubble canopy. Holy she-ut, it was gorgeous, and a ramrod straight, white-uniformed pilot named Harry Shepard told me it flew "just like a P.51." So airplanes don't have to be boring, I thought. It was an Italian machine, something imported under the name of "Waco Meteor", but there were only a couple in the country.
At that time, the most exotic homebuilt was the Thorp T-18, which people called the "Tiger", and they would lie on the ground and take pictures of it. But in reality, it was a small machine and didn't have comfort, range or luggage capacity. Most of the other homebuilts were crude, country-cousins to production machines. There were a couple of fast, one-off homebuilts. The Brokaw Bullet was a very fast, tiny-winged thing that wasn't a practical machine at all.
The most interesting machine, though, was something called Melmoth, built by Flying magazine's Peter Garrison. It was a 200 hp retractable with long range tanks. He flew it to Europe and later to Japan. It began to dawn on me that maybe you could really build an acceptable airplane yourself. Garrison had done it all by referring to a copy of Bruhn's Design of Flight Vehicle Structures. I got a copy and would put myself to sleep by trying to wade through the tome.
In the end, I concluded that this was all over my head. Sure, I could see how you could figure out a few things, but assuming you did build an airplane of your own design, how would you ever know if you had left out some critical calculation? You wouldn't trust an amateur brain surgeon, so why put your life in the hands of an amateur aircraft designer? Particularly a drama major from the University of Virginia where many of the students spent more time drinking than they did studying.
I began to think about hiring an engineer to design a plane, and after reading an interesting article in Air Progress, I wrote the author, Robert Cumberford. Was it crazy to think about hiring someone to design a plane for you, and could he suggest a few? It wasn't crazy at all replied Cumberford, and he suggested a few designers who didn't appeal to me at all. How was I to know that Cumberford, now a good friend and technical editor of Automobile magazine, is as crazy as I am?
Then one day, Dixon Christian, a friend of mine who was always chasing deals mentioned that he had talked to an interesting guy on the telephone. The guy was an aircraft designer, and he seemed to have lots of experience. Fellow named Dave Thurston who had designed the Lake amphibian. Thurston had also designed the Thurston Teal, another amphibian and had sold the design to Schweizer Aircraft, where he was working.
I called Dave Thurston and talked about my idea. Is it crazy to think about designing and building an airplane like the one I had in mind? No, he said, in fact, he was presently designing a sophisticated homebuilt amphibian called the Trojan, with 260 hp engine, retractable gear and four seats. We continued to talk about the project, what it would entail, how much difficulty, etc.
David B. Thurston
Dave Thurston had very impressive credentials. He had graduated at the top of his class at the Guggenheim School of Aeronautics at New York University and won the coveted Chance Vought design award. Out of school, Dave worked at Brewster and Chance Vought, and then moved on to Grumman were he stayed for about 14 years. (There's an interesting parallel: Roy LoPresti went to the same school, won the same award, and worked at Grumman. Roy later did some of the design work for Dave on the Colonial Skimmer, the aircraft we now call the Lake amphibian.)
With the outbreak of World War II, aeronautical engineers were in high demand, and engineers with Dave's credentials were rare. He quickly rose to lead projects and in all he was involved in the design of a dozen or so aircraft, among them the Brewster Buffalo export fighter, the F6F Hellcat fighter, three Grumman postwar personal type aircraft, the F9F Panther Jet fighter, the Rigel guided missle, the F11F Tiger Jet fighter, as well as the Lake and Teal amphibians.
Dave was also a Designated Engineering Representative of the FAA, which basically means that the FAA accepts him as an expert and allows him to sign off and approve all sorts of things. Dave was also working on a couple of books for McGraw Hill, and eventually wrote three, Design for Flying, Design for Safety, and Homebuilt Aircraft. His first book, Design for Flying, is a classic and in 1978 Dave won the prestigeous Earl D. Osborn award from the Aviation Space Writers Association, their top award for writing on the subject of general aviation, for the book.
There wasn't any question in my mind that Dave Thurston had all the experience necessary and could design the aircraft I had in mind. He was also rather frustrated with working at Schweizer and wanted some projects to work on in the evening, thus his hourly rate was very reasonable.
So we set to work on it. I formed a corporation named for the airplane, and Dave began the design work, alternating between the Trojan, the Sequoia and his book writing. I had decided from the beginning to sell sets of plans to others to spread the cost of the design work as well as making tooling and a few kits.
Jim Bede had long since come and gone, but he showed to everyone that a market for a kit was there. Frank Christensen had just started marketing the Eagle, and he clearly showed that a quality homebuilt and kit could be built and sold. Rutan was making waves with the VariEze.
There's always been a certain amount of controversy about the proposition of selling plans for a new aircraft. Some people consider it heresy. Obviously it is preferable to the builder to purchase only something that has been fully proven, but that requires a lot of money spent before that stage can be reached. Dave Thurston and I both felt that as long as the purchaser was fully informed about the risks associated with the project, then it was simply a decision for an adult to make. In the case of both the Trojan and the Sequoia, we turned down many applicants for the plans who appeared to us to be naïve or inexperienced. And it never made sense to us why it was all right for a Peter Garrison, say, to build an unproven airplane designed by a Harvard English major (himself) and not all right for someone else to build an unproven airplane designed by one of the true experts in the field having paid the mighty sum of $400.00 for the plans.
So we set at it. The Trojan was an all-metal design. Make no mistake about it, Dave Thurston is a metal man, as conservative a designer as I've ever seen. He still carries with him the old Grumman preference for 'rugged' design. At Grumman, they never used a 3/16" bolt because a mechanic with a hangover might wrench the head off the bolt, and that didn't happen with quarter-inch bolts.
At the time, I was intrigued with the possibilities of a fiberglass airplane. I wanted a machine that would be sailplane-smooth and that was achievable with fiberglass, but Dave Thurston wanted nothing to do with using fiberglass as primary structure. So we settled on an all-metal structure. The wings and tail are of conventional aluminum structure with flush rivets on the outside. The thought of a single rivet head showing seemed like anathema then. The fuselage was to be built of welded steel tubing, with a non-structural fiberglass shell. This would give us all of the aerodynamic benefits of a smooth structure.
Even though this was a new, completely unproven airplane, from the beginning Dave and I were interested in building a very conservative design aerodynamically as well as structurally. The typical problems you see with high-performance airplanes are tiny wings and tail surfaces. In particular, the tail surfaces of many airplanes are very small, and this makes for a fast airplane. The price you pay for this is marginal stability and control at low speeds. We wanted none of that and happily accepted the speed penalty of large tail surfaces and a long tail arm.
This balanced-design goal is all in stark contrast to the high performance singles that have since hit the homebuilt market. Swearingen built the SX-300 by the clever device of using a stabilizer for a wing, and the Venture folks mistook a Czechoslovakian cartoon for an engineer's drawing. When he came to Oshkosh, Stelio Frati sneered at the tiny tails of the 'racing' airplanes, and launched into an animated lecture that people always talked about his quest for speed as if it were speed-at-any-price. He was interested in building fast airplanes, to be sure, but ones that a normal person could fly, thus all of Frati's aircraft, like Thurston's, have ample tail areas. As someone once said, you can never have too much tail.
In those days, I was infected with a combination of enthusiasm, naïvete and fearlessness that can be both dangerous and annoying when I see it in others today. With relatively little sense of the difficulties involved, we began with the idea of building the airplane with a turbocharged 320 hp Continental Tiara engine and with a fully pressurized cockpit. We abandoned both quickly in favor of a turbocharged 300 hp Lycoming and no pressurization.
I have since come to see the wisdom of doing one thing well, but along the way we considered and variously proposed a tandem two-seat version and a four-place Kodiak version as well. Looking back on it, it's amazing to me how obnoxious an ordinary person can become when fully charged up with enthusiasm. I would do drawings of various paint schemes and-it's very embarrassing to admit this now-I would actually send them to people, including the press. I managed without the slightest bit of effort to annoy Peter Garrison into snarls by letter, while others would bite their tongues politely.
Thurston, however was a voice of reason and kept me out of any serious trouble. Looking back on it, once you accept that that the venture is sane-which I'll grant you requires a leap of faith-the basic design decisions I think were fine.
We collected a diverse group of builders. There was an insurance agent out in Oregon who had been a stress analyst during the war. Chuck Davis was the maintenance manager for a fleet of helicopters in the Louisiana delta. Jim Dulin was a corporate pilot who delighted in barrel-rolling a P-Navajo with the boss in the back while on instruments. A former spray pilot with more time in tight turns than most of us have total time, Jim was a delight, a scruffy little Woody Guthrie type with an Oklahoma drawl who used to camp out at Oshkosh with somebody else's wife. He was later killed in a motorcycle accident when his dirt bike flipped over and he hit a pole. He had seven different airplanes, including a one-of-a-kind Curtis Pitts racer that now hangs in the EAA Museum. I miss him even today.
Jim Dulin and Alfred Scott pose proudly with the Neuman N2,
perhaps the worst homebuilt ever to appear at Oshkosh.
There was Mike Perry out in Seattle, a window-display designer who helped us at the Oshkosh booth for a few years and who had a penchant for group sex and who occasionally would write me Bede-name-calling letters while drunk demanding complete electrical system drawings with a carbon copy to The Aviation Consumer-this from a guy who hadn't begun the fuselage. Butch Harbold in Charlotte hired an old-time homebuilder named Gene Livingston, who had built 35 homebuilts, to build him a Sequoia. IBMer Bruce Horvath signed on, as did a homebuilder up in Alaska named Dick Wright, who had a fleet of Beavers and who built a 4500-square-foot log cabin with a liftup first floor to get the plane out.
Dick likes things in twos. I have a photo on my wall of him flying two airplanes at once. He has a disassembled Cessna 180 on floats strapped to his Beaver. "California pilots" would fly their float planes up to Alaska and land in some little lake they couldn't get out of, and then Dick, for a king's ransom, would go in and rescue their plane. He has also started two of our planes, both a Sequoia and a Falco, though neither has progressed very far. He also has two wives, one in Anchorage and one in Florida. They both know about each other and don't much care. It's a long story.