Is There Life After Falco?

She flies!

After we had completed the bulk of the test program, I applied for an area restriction exemption to be able to fly to Mangalore, Australia's major homebuilders fly-in which is rather like a very small Oshkosh. With the new permit in our pocket, we departed for Mangalore with 11 hours on DJD, flight planning over the top of Mt. Kosciusko, Australia's highest mountain. We were very relieved to have perfect weather all the way, as I was apprehensive enough with a new plane, let alone having to deal with bad weather as well. The flight over was fantastic, arriving early to minimise any problems in heavy traffic (well, heavier than our home country airport), and from the moment we landed we were bombarded with questions from participants wanting to know about the Falco. I must admit I didn't tire of answering questions. It was great that Stephen Friend and Ian Ferguson also flew in, so we were able to have 34 of the Australian Falco fleet together. We were also privileged to pick up the award for Best Timber Aircraft for 2001 and have the plaque proudly on our cabinet at home.

During the construction of our Falco, the final speed it would achieve and weight was very important to me. Now that she is in the air and I am enjoying flying it so much, the actual speed doesn't seem to be an issue any more. To date all the flying has been done with no clam doors on the front leg, nor has it got the triangle cowl door on yet. We only have the basic gear doors, ie. round holes and 12 doors on the mains. The canopy is the standard one, but I did do the cowl modification and the closing of the spinner gap right from the start (check cowl mods on Sequoia's web site).

Drew and Stephen after landing for the first time

I was delighted with DJD's final empty weight of 562 kgs (1,236 lbs). It was 559 at first with a nose-heavy centre of gravity so I changed to a larger battery which helped a little, but we are still a little nose heavy. If Judy flies by herself, she will have to carry 24 kgs of luggage to be legal (in a no-fuel configuration). We purchased quite a few of the kits and scratch-built things like the fuel tanks, the fuel system and brake system. Also the flap torque tube, the wing fairings, gear doors, seats, rails and belts we assembled ourselves. The actual building time I didn't record very accurately but estimate between 4,500 and 5,000 hours over a 5 12 year period. We installed a reconditioned standard IO-360-B1E fuel injected constant speed engine. The plane is painted in two-pack 1999 Ferrari red with adapted Modena stripes in gold.

All of the test flying has been done at, or close to, maximum weight and early performance figures are as follows:

Take-off distance 300 metres to clear ground and 700 metres to clear a 50-foot obstacle-this in still air and not trying too hard, i.e. standard take-off not short field, with climb out IAS of 90 kts.

Stall speeds in clean configuration, no power are 59 kts, and with gear down and flaps 55 kts.

With 15"/2100, the speeds are 55 and 53 knots respectively.

At the moment we are still running the engine a little harder than what we will probably finally cruise at, but as an indication at 6500' and OAT 8°C the IAS was 158 kts at 24" and 2425-on my calculations this is a TAS of 175-176 kts.

At 8500' and OAT of 9°C (we were farther north and warmer), the IAS was 155 kts at 23" and 2400. This is a TAS of 179 kts.

The fuel burn for the above on a trip of three hours calculated out to 37.5 litres/hour. This included a take-off at sea level and climb to 8500'.

The Falco is sensitive and responsive but definitely not a hard plane to fly. It is a pure pleasure to handle. If I had an early criticism of the Falco, it would be that it hits turbulence fairly hard even in the green IAS zone. Our previous homebuilt plane was a Zenith with cruise of 110 kts and a lighter wing loading, so I'm only comparing it to that and not to a Mooney or the likes.

We have had a few little teething problems since the initial test flight. One was the front leg hitting the mixture control on full retraction which was relatively easy to fix. Fine tuning the gear-down travel with the limit switch was, and still is, a tricky problem and has popped the circuit breaker a number of times. This is with using the suggested new position for the micro switch in the nose bay.

Rex Koerbin, the local LAME and technical counsellor and Drew in the Falco.

The main problem we encountered with the Falco was my fault, and I hesitate to mention it, but if talking about it helps another builder, then I'll wear the embarrassment. As there were no drawings for the actual battery door installation, I chose to try something different to the piano hinge system which I noticed in photos of other Falcos. I used a strong fibreglass channel, formed on the top inside of a fibreglass door, which clipped in under the timber frame at the top. The door was secured at the bottom with countersunk machine screws through countersunk washers into nut plates in timber blocks. I was pretty proud of the smooth aerodynamic finish.

All was well even up to VNE, but after five hours of test flying, the door decided to part company from the aircraft and wrapped itself around the tail plane at 160 kts where it pounded away like crazy, punching a hole through the skin. This understandably caused considerable concern for myself as pilot and the instructor next to me, as all we could see was a red and white thing flapping furiously on the tailplane, and we thought the damn thing was delaminating. We headed for the nearest strip and landed without incident, but needless to say we now have a door, strengthened with ribs and with a full hinge line and hopefully no more problems.

Apart from these minor problems, everything is up to expectations or better. We love it!!

Judy and Drew Done