by Alfred Scott
This article appeared in the March 1993 issue of the Falco Builders Letter.
We now have a Falco flying in Brazil. Marcelo Bellodi got his Falco into the air for the first time on February 13.
Marcelo's great-grandparents were Italians who came to Brazil at the end of the last century, and the family has grown working the land. Since 1937, they have had a sugar mill and a distillery. Last year they produced 62,500 metric tons of sugar and 120,000 cubic meters of alcohol. They also have farms where they raise cattle.
Since he was a baby, Marcelo's father had airplanes to go to the farms. They've used Skyhawks, Skylanes, Centurions, C-310, Senecas and now a King Air C-90A. Marcelo says that he has felt like a bird ever since he was born, and got his private license when he was 17-before he got his driver's license. He now has an IFR, commercial and multi-engine licenses and flies regularily.
After graduating as a mechanical engineer from the University of São Paulo, Marcelo started working at the huge Brazilian aircraft company, Embraer. He was a flight test engineer, where he worked on the certification of the EMB-120 Brasilia and EMB-312 Tucano. It was there that he met a lot of people "who love experimental aviation", and they influenced him on starting the construction of the Falco.
Marcelo admits that the Falco was a love-affair at first sight. He says that when he saw the Falco for the first time in a magazine advertisement, he immediately identified with its sensual and sleek shape.
Stelio Frati has always had a strong following in Brazil, and the ever-colorful writer Fernando Almeida wrote a series of articles about the Falco, culminating in a report of flying Karl Hansen's airplane. He called the Falco, "The Best Airplane in the World". Fernando caught a lot of grief from his friends at Embraer who said it was not possible for an airplane to be as good as he described it. There are always trade-offs and compromises, they said.
So at Oshkosh '88, Fernando brought along a few friends who had to see for themselves. Joseph Kovacs was the Hungarian-born designer who moved to Brazil 40-some years ago. Kovacs designed a glider, the Neiva Regente, then later the T-25 Universal, a 300-hp military trainer that bears an uncanny resemblance to the Falco. Kovacs's masterwork, though, is the T-27 Tucano, a turboprop trainer selected by the RAF and many other airforces as a basic pre-jet trainer. Kovacs has always been an admirer of Stelio Frati, and he brought along Marcos Tabacnik, the test pilot for the Tucano.
We decided to conquer South America. We put Joseph Kovacs in Karl Hansen's Falco, and Marcos Tabacnik in Pawel Kwiecinski's plane. When they returned, both men emerged shaking their heads. "Fernando was right," Kovacs said, "It is the best airplane in the world." Tabacnik just kept muttering, "Fernando was right."
Marcelo Bellodi had already begun work on his Falco three years before, and it didn't hurt his feelings any to have Kovacs and Tabacnik come back with their reports. Joseph Kovacs has stayed in close contact with the project all along.
Marcelo decided to do all of the woodwork himself using a local freijo wood. Sometimes called "Brazilian spruce", it is 25% heavier and stronger. After fighting the import bureaucracy and also losing a few thousand dollars with a 'importer' who took his money and ran, Marcelo finally ordered the Sequoia Falco kits direct. He says the disadvantage of being so far away from Sequoia and other Falco builders was compensated by having fantastic partners in Izildo, a skilled woodworker, Silvio, an excellent mechanic, and Joseph Kovacs as consulting engineer. Also Joao helped with the finishing and painting.
Marcelo expected the Falco to be a very difficult task since he had never built anything before-in fact, he was 23 when he bought the plans. He said the beginning was very tough, and it was sometimes discouraging, but the difficulty also made the goal more enticing and the challenge more exciting. In all, it took 6.5 years of hard work at an average of 80 hours a month. His jigs and fixtures are the stuff of legend. Marcelo followed the Falco plans scrupulously, and by the time he finished the project he was absolutely confident he had made the right choice.
In the process of building the plane, he left Embraer to return to his family business, where he works as an industrial manager in charge of the refining process and new designs. Marcelo says that even though everyone says that building an airplane is a good way of getting out of a marriage, he got married in 1990 and his wife has helped him a lot during the construction.
The Falco has a factory-new 180 hp Lycoming IO-360-B1E ($32,000), a full inverted fuel and oil system. There is a full radio stack including a King KX-125 nav/com, a Garmin GPS, a King KR-86 ADF, and a RST marker beacon receiver. The instrument panel is the standard gray used in most business jets. The upholstery is a light blue leather and with carpeting of the same color.
The Falco, registered PP-ZMD, weighs 1,285 lbs empty with the CG at 64.8". The total cost was $125,000 in U.S. dollars-shipping, tariffs and other charges add up quickly-so that makes it come out to about $100 a pound.
The paint scheme is a slight modification of one of ours, and it was created by a girl who works at Embraer. The stripes go up toward the rudder instead of down on the fuselage in an attractive scheme. The plane is painted white with light blue stripes and black trimming.
The first flight was planned for January, but they had a problem with a malfunctioning transistor in the voltage regulator and the standard clearance problems with the exhaust pipe touching the cowling. Marcelo followed the flight test guide carefully, and even installed a video camera behind the right seat to film the instruments.
"After takeoff, I climbed to 5000 ft AGL and did stability and control maneuvers. Everything was going well with good response and fantastic handling. Though I had planned a few partial and full stalls, I only did one since the stall recommended a well-trained test pilot (no warning and fast nose down). The first landing was very soft and with no difficulties."
On the first flight, for some reason he was unable to communicate with the chase plane. The EGT gave no indication due to a faulty calibration-since fixed. Other problems: low suction pressure, high cockpit noise level and no stall warning. Marcelo did the first flight without stall strips, and he does not recommend doing that.
On the positive side, Marcelo reports no oil or other leakage, no vibration during the flight, "fantastic handling, with very powerful ailerons and elevator", and very good numbers on the climb performance with the landing gear down (1400 fpm at 85 kts). The first flight lasted one hour, and on landing Marcelo said he became very emotional when his wife said "Marcelo, yesterday you gave wings to your dream, today you fly on them."
On subsequent flights, he reports that the stall strips give him a warning buffet with no tendency to roll. Stall speed clean is 55 kias, and 52 kias with the gear and flaps down. The handling is "perfect, no wing-heaviness, no tendencies." Without gear doors, he's getting 143 kias at 6,500 feet, 23"/2400 and 17°C. The landing gear takes 9 to 10 seconds to retract. The systems are checking out well with a few minor problems with the avionics.
With about six hours on the Falco, the only problem remaining is that the CHT gets up to the yellow arc on hot days and stays near the yellow even during cruise. Both Joseph Kovacs and Fernando Almeida have flown the Falco and both are very impressed, particularly with the handling as well as with the quality of the construction and the finish.
Marcelo says "I am impressed with the light controls, as in the T-27 Tucano, and with the aileron power. I have no doubt I have the right choice in building the Falco. Thank you for your help during all those years. You are part of my team even being so far."
Congratulations, Marcelo, on getting the 35th Sequoia Falco into the air. May you have many happy years flying your Falco.