My First Flight

by Ralph Braswell

This article appeared in the December 1996 Falco Builders Letter.

After a tour in the USAF, I came to Florida and went to work in the Aerospace industry. That was the thing to do in the early 60's. In my spare time I built a Sirocco, it was a French design, all wood airplane. It had Hershey Bar wings and a slab-sided fuselage. The drawings were very poor but fortunately the airplane was very simple in construction.

The next airplane I built was a Steen Skybolt. It was an excellent flying airplane, very slow and very forgiving. I flew this airplane for one hundred hours and hopped one hundred rides, I have them all in my log book. Many of them were first time rides.

I sold the Skybolt and started shopping around for something else to build. I ordered the drawings for Beryl, which has Emeraude wings and a steel tube fuselage. I always prefered tandem airplanes which probably goes back to my Air Force days. I considered building the Beryl until my wife, Judy, intervened with, "Ralph, if you're going to build another airplane, build something you really want."

Who can look at a Falco without wanting one?

Having built a couple of wooden boats and a wooden airplane, and the fact that a freshly opened package of birch plywood smells a helluva lot better than epoxy and I never liked the color white except in women and at Xmas time, I decided on the Falco. I wanted to fly one more good performing airplane so it had to have a 180 hp engine and a constant speed prop. Alfred says the 150/160 hp is best, and he may very well be right. The 180 engine is wider so you have to modify the cowling somewhat. I had a friend with a fresh overhauled 180 for sale and at that time the constant speed prop for a 180 was $1000 cheaper than for the 150/160, besides I wanted an airplane that would go up when I point it up.

I began construction eight years ago. Although I have now flown the airplane, I'm not sure it will ever be finished.

No special skills are required to build a Falco, but it is a work-intensive project. I chose to build from scratch. The only kits I bought were the canopy, cowling and a pre-sawed wood kit from Western Aircraft Supply. My advice is to buy all the kits you can afford, but by all means buy the pre-sawed wood kit, otherwise with the woodworking tools the average homebuilder has, half of your expensive spruce will wind up as sawdust.

The only part of my airplane I'm not proud of is the skin on the flaps and ailerons. I had just received the 1mm plywood, and it was extremely dry when I skinned them. Our high humidity here in Florida caused the skins to wrinkle. I could either rip the skins off and redo them, move to Arizona, or live with the problem. I chose the latter.

I have heard a lot of discussion about various glues (adhesives) recently. Personally, I prefer Aerolite. About 3 years ago, Kermit Weeks buzzed the airport I live on with his Mosquito. The Aerolite is still holding it together, so that's testimonial enough for me.

When it finally comes time to fly, use Sequoia's Flight Test Guide. The preflight portion leaves nothing to chance. A lot of would-be pros will think the guide is overdone, but the old pros know that it isn't. On the first flight you need to be able to concentrate on flying the airplane, not worrying about what you may have forgotten.

Having flown over 30 kinds of airplanes from Champs to F.86's, I chose to make the first flight. The flight was uneventful, thank God. I was fortunate in having a good friend and neighbor, "Corky" Meyers, ex-Grumman test pilot, fly chase in a Mooney. Corky will be the first to tell you that the next time he flies chase with a Falco, he wants something faster than a Mooney.

After landing and sharing champagne, provide by my lovely wife Judy, with our friends and neighbors I stated, "I can fly the tree they cut that sucker out of."

In short, building a Falco is very simple. Take several thousand dollars worth of spruce, glue this to several thousand dollars worth of birch plywood using a few thousand dollars worth of glue. Then invest a few thousand dollars in sandpaper and sand away everything that doesn't look like a Falco.