by Alfred Scott
Eat your heart out, Rip van Winkle, the absolute, unquestioned record for the longest build time on a Falco has now been established by Larry Black. Twelve years is now the standard by which all other pokey builders will be judged, and it was only through perserverence and true grit that Larry managed to stretch it out as long as he did-the last three weeks took him seven months.
How're you gonna top that? Here's an airplane that's just flown for the first time, yet parts of it are half of the age required to be judged as a Classic at Oshkosh. ClassicEze?
This Falco didn't just happen. Larry had practice. He'd already built a Cavalier over a six-year period, and Larry was right at home with aircraft woodworking when the Falco came along. One thing that was obvious to me from the first time I ever talked to Larry was that here was a guy who was going to build a beautiful airplane. He's one of those people, much like Karl Hansen, who spends so much time talking about the finer points of craftsmanship that you know that their whole being is focused on doing things right.
With Karl Hansen, I knew he was building a spectacular airplane from the things he talked about-in fact, Flying's Nigel Moll arrived to photograph it as the paint was still drying. Larry Black's Falco is exactly the same sort of beast, a compulsively, fanatically finished airplane-Larry admits discarding approximately one-third of "an ugly Falco in rejected, self-made components. To begin with, I set myself minimum standards that I would not deviate from. I think I better mention that the kits that I did buy from Sequoia or Sequoia's sub-suppliers always met or exceeded my standards. Everything fit without cutting or modifiction required."
An admitted Falcoholic-"My name is Larry, and I'm a..."-Larry made almost everything himself, one part at a time. The airplane was built on a budget and with a family there were priorities: food, clothing, education, medicine... the Falco came first, of course.
"I want to mention Ann, my special partner and wife for the last 30-plus years," says Larry. "She's the quiet little lady some, or all, of you met at the West Coast Falco gathering. Ann has been a major support in the building of the Falco. She's hit me very few times for messing up the house with dust, shavings, both wood and metal, and smells of the most obnoxious chemicals, all of which are required to build an airplane. We both agree that wood smells nice, but it must be protected. When you build an airplane in an attached garage, you don't only get wood smells."
The early years were simply a process of cranking out parts. At times progress stopped for lack of funds, and various ups and downs of business. Larry had an auto body shop business in San Jose, California, and finally got burned out with the rat race, sold his business, sold his house, moved to Post Falls, Idaho, and bought an electrical kit for his Falco. It was a classic story of 'gonna have lots of time to build my Falco' and in fact he did almost nothing on the airplane when he was 'retired'.
It wasn't too long before he was back in San Jose, trying to pick up the pieces of his old business that he still held paper on and which the new guys had screwed up. It's during these rat-race, got-no-time periods that Larry made the most progress on the airplane-aren't people are logical creatures?
There was a low point a couple of years ago when Larry called me to say that he was going to have to sell his project. Things were pretty bad, and all he needed was a prop, a few instruments and to complete the wiring. But somehow he and Ann pulled through that period, and Larry called me sometime later to say that he was going to finish the plane.
Finally, in May 1991, the Falco was moved to the Frazier Lake Airpark. Listen to how Larry describes it: "I moved it on a trailer that I had built just for the move, and it went without a ding or scratch." See how he talks? "I figured three weeks until completion. The last seven months has been the longest three weeks I ever spent. The final check of systems revealed very few problems, but four weekends were spent on this alone. The airport is 45 miles of mostly city traffic from where we live."
As fate would have it, the hangar where Larry finished the Falco belongs to Stan Weiss, who made some of the earliest wood kits for the Falco. "I haven't had a lump or bump since the Falco has been moved to the airport. Ann was at the airport to help with the unmasking of the Falco and commented, 'It was like opening a Christmas present.'"
In May of 1991, Larry went up to Northern Idaho, and John Harns checked him out in his Falco. At that time, John pronounced Larry capable of test flying the Falco. Larry maintained his currency by flying a friend's Christen Eagle.
"When I felt I was about ready for the FAA inspection, I turned the final inspection portion of the Falco Flight Test Guide over to Walt Weiss (Stan's dad), who is an A&P. Walt spend one day over, under, and around the Falco. He found three bolts not cotter-keyed. The following week, I made my own final inspection and found a couple of minor things. Another friend and airplane builder/pilot from Idaho came down for support and to do his own inspection of the Falco."
"I arranged to meet the FAA inspectors at January 24, 1992. In talking with the inspector, there seemed to be an air of reluctance. Apparently they had seen a piece of s--t a couple of days prior and made no bones about it. At 9:00 AM on that day, it appeared two FAA inspectors fell in love with a Falco! The inspectors did not bring the paperwork with them to give me an airworthiness certificate. They looked over the Falco, expressed satisfaction, and said, 'We didn't plan on giving an airworthiness certificate until the first week of February.' They told me there is a lot of typing and paperwork, and asked if I could be at the San Jose FSDO by 2:30 that afternoon. I received the certificate at that time!"
"On the following day, Saturday, Stan Weiss made his final inspection and found a couple minor things. I want to stress the importance of having others inspect your work and airplane. Did anyone ever wonder where they left that hammer, only to find it in their hand?"
"After these final inspections, taxi tests were performed. Checking the aileron, elevator and rudder authority proved no instability problems. On the second-to-final run prior to flight, a brake line broke at an over-torqued fitting. After the repairs were completed, one more taxi run was made. No problems were found, so the next run was the first flight."
"The Falco was on rails, however the indicated airspeed on takeoff was 200 knots, and I stabilized the climb at 150 knots indicated. The airspeed indicator was not cooperating! I had another plane flying chase, and we determined that 150 knots indicated on the Falco was 120 mph."
I spent an hour aloft and did approach to stalls and shallow turns to get a feel for the Falco. Our Falco flew as close to hands-off as one could expect. Hands off, a very slow right roll began about one degree every two seconds. I picked up the right wing with light rudder pressure, and on taking my feet off the pedals as soon as the wing started to lift, the wing continued lifting through level to left at approximately one degree every two seconds."
"The Falco has a good feel, and I felt quite comfortable with approach and landing. If landing was eventful, it was from the applause and cheers from all who watched. The rest of the day, I spent coming down off a very special high."
"The next day we troubleshot the airspeed indicator problem. The problem turned out to be that I copied the installation drawing exactly, but the pitot and static on my airspeed are reversed to the drawing. Hooking up reversed at the airspeed indicator caused everything to work properly except that the airspeed read backwards."
"I flew the Falco for 24 minutes on Sunday, but due to low ceilings, I wasn't able to explore stalls and slow flight safely, so I returned and parked for the day. On the following Saturday, I went up and retracted the gear. Low ceilings again prevented any slow speed work, so I just flew around for a half hour. I had set the limit switches too precisely on the ground, so the gear coast brought everything tight as verified by the emergency crank. When I put the gear down, the down limit switch was set so precisely that the switch didn't engage, so it popped the breaker. I landed and adjusted the limit switches."
"I was able to indicate 140 knots at 22 squared with the gear retracted, and I was able to fly for approximately 30 seconds hands-off with no tendency to turn either direction."
Larry reported that he developed an over-voltage problem, which turned out to be a bad post on the back of the alternator. Something was broken inside the alternator, and it caused intermittent operation.
This is now Sequoia Falco number 32, and it's christened N572AB in honor of Ann Black who put up with it all. It has a 160 hp engine with constant speed prop and weighs 1,292 lbs empty. The panel is equipped with dual nav/coms, glide slope, transponder, marker beacon and a II Morrow 602 loran.
Larry is now flying the Falco with a complete set of gear doors-everything-and is sticking with the A-model gear motor (as is Jim Slaton who also has full gear doors). He likes the seven-second retraction time and hasn't had a problem with a circuit breaker popping. He guesses that he picked up 8 to 10 knots with the doors, but he hasn't tried to get really hard performance numbers yet.
Based on the photos I've seen and from listening to people who've seen it, it's clear that Larry and Ann's Falco is right up there with the best Falcos. The airplane is white with black and brown trim stripes. As you might imagine from a guy who used to paint cars, the paint job is immaculate-you can sight down parts of the airplane and never see a jiggle in the reflections.
But the part I always like is hearing a builder talk about the handling and the way the Falco flies.
"Well, Larry, do you like it?" I asked.
"Oh God, I love it. It's just a delightful flying airplane, and I never felt anything that accelerated like that on 160 hp. That airplane just really, really flies nice. It's so smooth."