Test Falco F.8L

by Mano Zeigler

This article appeared in the "Sommerausgabe" 1960 issue of Motor Revue, a German magazine devoted to cars, planes, motorcycles, etc. The author, Mano Zeigler, deserves mention. We include the Motor Revue description at the end of the article.

People with the proper touch know the difference between driving as a means of locomotion and driving as an art. For the latter, special vehicles and special people are necessary. Flying is no different. Generally speaking you can characterize air trips as flying, but when real flyers meet they speak of piloting. To follow this track carefully, observe a sparrow and a swallow in flight.

Bear these considerations in mind as we approach a plane designed by a man-an Italian-who was entirely concerned with the art and glory, as well as the delight, of flying.

Stelio Frati is a very well-known Italian aircraft designer and sculpturer. In 1952, he built a very sporting turbojet-powered airplane of wooden construction with a 350 pound Turboméca-Pallas turbine and turned it over to the Italian Air Force for testing. Although the Air Force was very happy with the pretty little machine and considered it as a trainer, they said "No" to series production. Thus the Caproni plant, under whose roof the F.5 was created, also said "No". Stelio Frati then went to the small Aviamilano factory and built there a new plane, with all the care of a groom seeking his lost bride. This one has conventional propeller drive. It was the Falco F.8L, the beautiful daughter of a beautiful mother.

As with women, beauty alone means absolutely nothing in airplanes. Stelio Frati carefully balanced power with elegance, and form with maneuverability. A so-called zero series of twenty Falcos was completed at Aviamilano before matters ceased to move smoothly there, and Stelio Frati found his way back to the Caproni works in Trento. They had gone independent in the meantime, under the Aeromere name, and are run by the clever aerodynamicist, Sergio Delli Zotti. Between them, they gave the Falco its final touches, producing the plane we see today on sale and in flight.

The Falco F.8L is a sports car of the air in the finest sense of the word. It is well-balanced, racy and solidly quiet. With the Falco the Italians created something nearly unique. The plane is made entirely of wood, yet looks as if it were all metal. You must look very closely to be sure. The plane is actually cut and fitted together in a manner normal with wooden airplane construction, being assembled of many wooden parts. Neither the tail nor the wings with the normal ribs, main and auxiliary spars are unusual. Even the rudder, of light alloy, is absolutely conventional. The Italian flair only appears as they attack the finished product. A plastic filler is sprayed over the wings and fuselage and so neatly re-worked and smoothed that little hint is left of the wood. This smooth surface is sprayed with an aluminum lacquer, resulting in an almost completely unblemished surface that gives the metallic impression and simultaneously aids in reducing surface friction. In addition, this happy combination of wood, plastic and aluminum lacquer has an important advantage for private plane owners. Wood damage is easier and cheaper to repair than damage to metal. It is often unnecessary to exchange entire assemblies, and those spot repairs that occur can be covered invisibly. With reasonably proper care, there is no decisive disadvantage in this type of wooden structure while the advantages of the repair and mending are strongly in the majority.

The Falco rests and rolls on an oleo-sprung and suspended tricycle landing gear which retracts electrically. The effective hydraulic brakes are particularly pleasant when landing on small fields, and the steerable nose wheel, controlled by the rudder pedals, is notable for amazing ground maneuverability.

The Italian love for pleasant detail is particularly obvious in the cockpit of the Falco. The sliding canopy which blends nicely into the tail barely interupts the beauty of line. Canopy pull and lock are easy to use, as are all the other detail controls necessary in takeoff preparation. This Falco cockpit is a showpiece of well thought-out arrangement, installation and easy accessibility. It begins with a well-formed stick, and the solid seats are not tiring, even on longer flights. There is a new, adjustable and very quickly-worked seat belt.

The instrument panel is effective both for its easy readability and, in particular, for the sensible placards used for all the necessary switches. Ignition, landing gear and flaps are electrically operated by means of small silver toggles, and a pointer indicates flap positions. You are reminded of the landing gear by light and horn signals which are easily noticed. In its standard version, the Falco includes these instruments: rate of climb, altimeter, magnetic compass, fuel gauge and the usual engine gauges. A radio set can be installed in the middle of the panel, between the two seats, where both pilot and co-pilot can reach it easily.

The excellent balance of the Falco shows itself on takeoff from the home field in Trento, which is not the best. The Lycoming 0-320 of 150 hp has no special job in lifting the light machine from the grass. It climbs swiftly between the steep rock walls of the Etsch valley, and the few strong gusts which rocked the wings were shrugged off by the Falco, like a girl tossing her pigtails. The Brenta range looms on the horizon, misty, steep and apparently only a stone's throw from the airfield. It is a pleasure to feel the Falco climb and to see the threatening rocks retreat as we glide over them in the free blue sky.

In the seat beside me the chief pilot for the Falco, Ernesto Zanlucchi, a man as happy as his name, blinked in the bright light. We are both old pursuit pilots and couldn't resist loops, rolls, Immelmans, dives and a few more rolls and loops. It was a program as they say but never constricted. It was the joy of flying like the swallows...

Rolls are completely without shudder-like in a jet-and loops are as easy as waltzing over a polished floor. This plane glides like a feather and flits like a butterfly. It reacts to your call like a fine horse, and the rudder needs no curb. All this can easily be explained on technical grounds by the very good stability around all axes, by the rudder that must have been balanced on an apothecary's scale, and by the almost perfect aerodynamic form of the airframe. Yet who thinks of the technical details during such a flight?

They are even more firmly fixed in your memory after the program and during the precise test flight. They confirm the sensations of the aerobatics. The Falco holds its course despite its dainty form and can only be diverted with difficulty, once trimmed. If your hand is stick-sensitive, you should rest it on one knee rather than on the stick. This is no trick, because in the absence of sharp gusts the Falco maintains heading and altitude by itself. A violent kick on the rudder pedal will swing it twice or at the most three times at the hips, as if unwillingly, before it quickly returns to the original heading. She stalls at first with a slight shiver in the tail, and then tilts forward. Sometimes there is a slight inclination to the side which can be counteracted without difficulty. All this, and the good sideslip stability, is not surprising after the experiences in stunt flying the plane. It is surprising, however-and immensely quieting-to feel the willingness, despite the ship's temperament. This is unique in the current circle of sport planes, considering the relation of design and price.

The Falco has a top speed of 200 mph, to make it the fastest plane in its class today. The cruising speed remains a very respectable 175 mph, and top economy is achieved at 155 mph. These are remarkable figures for a two seater with a child's seat and a consumption of around $3.50 worth of fuel and oil per flying hour, or about $2.50 per 100 miles. Assuming 500 hours a year the hourly costs, including all fees, insurance, maintenance and airport charges, run some $13.00, or $6.50 per passenger. The per person cost (with child aboard) for 100 miles is around $4.15. This is approximately half of the first class railroad rate in Europe, at four times the speed.

Trento's "home mountain", the Bondone, is now white in April as the lofty peak of Palon throws its wide slopes over the already-blooming valley. Four lifts boost the skiers uphill, to be countered by the appearance of fleas jumping on a white wool blanket. Our swooping Falco hugs the slope and pulls up over the caterpillers so that heads duck. It is a game on the first step between heaven and earth, a real game where schooled hands and an efficient plane dare danger to prove the dependability of good design. On the other side of the Palon the narrow wings tilt; the glow of the propeller is wiped out in the mist of the approaching valley. We bank around the small field, flip switches for flaps and landing gear, drop to 95, then 85 and finally to 75 over the field. The tricycle gear touches down at approximately 70 mph, and we chug neatly along the rough ground. Zanlucchi has made this flight a thousand times, but the black eyes of the no-longer-young Italian glow like those of a proud boy.

MANO ZIEGLER, 51, has been up in the air since childhood. At four he dove from the 3-meter board, at eight he wrote Manfred Baron von Richthofen to ask if he could fly with him, and at 16 he ran across a six-inch wide bridge guard rail-which cost him eight hours in the student pokey. At 21, he learned to fly sailplanes, wrote his first newspaper article and joined the Olympic team as a high diver. He was student world champion in high diving in 1932 and 1934. A motor journalist from 1935 to 1939, he learned to fly during that period and was a flight instructor during the war. From 1943 to the end of the war, he flew the rocket-powered Me.163 ("powered egg") in the Experimental Group 16 and Pursuit Squadron 400. In between he wrote several novels and books, including one on marriage. He was released from a Russian camp after the war ended and played-after returning to Berlin-the part of Spitta in Hauptmann's "Ratten" in the first theatre to reopen there. He gave a short guest performance as a high-wire artist with the Camilla Mayer troupe in Berlin, walking the 80-foot wire for a newspaper, without any training. Then he wrote and directed a literary cabaret until 1948 and was a Volkswagen salesman after the currency reform, returning to writing and flying, as soon as flying was resumed. Currently, he is editor-in-chief of "Flug-Revue" in Stuttgart. In this capacity, he made his first supersonic flight a few weeks ago in an English fighter. The funniest thing about this life history -- it's all true.