First Flight of N811LW
by Larry Weldon
Larry Weldon in the left seat for his first ride in the Falco
I grew up on a farm in Tallassee, Alabama, seven miles from where the Tuskegee Airmen trained. Montgomery was only 20 miles away and had two training fields, Gunter and Maxwell. Almost any time you looked to the sky there would be trainers practicing dog-fighting and air maneuvers. I spent lots of time day-dreaming about flying airplanes.
After graduating from high school, I joined the Army Air Corps. After basic training, I was stationed at Ft. Benning, Georgia and was put in charge of a flight line with twenty L19s. My first flight was in one of those planes. It was a thrill I have never forgotten.
After the Army I went to work with the Army Corps of Engineers and was placed with a water well crew. I met Jane, married her, and we traveled around the country drilling wells and studying ground water. The only flying I got to do was coming home to see Jane.
Brett Curenton breaks ground on the first flight
In 1970, I came home and started a water well business. Jane and I have run the business for a number of years, and it is very successful. I finally found time to learn to fly and bought a Cessna 172.
One day at the local airport, I saw a homebuilt airplane advertised called a Falco. I thought it was the best-looking plane I had ever seen. I talked to some of the guys around the airport who had built planes, and they tried to discourage me. They said it was a complex airplane, and it was very hard to build. This did not discourage me.
After a few months, I called Sequoia and asked Susan if there was a Falco near me that I could visit. She told me Glyn Russell was close to completion and was in Decatur, Alabama, about three hours away. I called Glyn, and he was delighted to show me his Falco.
I spent half a day with Glyn talking about the Falco and the construction of it. He said it was complex and time-consuming, and I really needed to talk to Alfred Scott about my skills, to see if he thought I could build the Falco. After returning home, Jane said she was on board to call Sequoia and order the plans. This gave me a green light. The next day I called, talked to Alfred and ordered the plans.
I had a 30x50 air-conditioned and heated building so I could work summer and winter. The plans and construction manual are very good. I built the tail in about three months and gained lots of confidence. I used Aerolite glue in the frame and West System epoxy under the skins. I had a swimming pool to soak the skins in, and I used an air-gun to staple skins on. I used rubber bands to pull the leading edges around and lots of hot water. I used water levels to keep it level and plumb bobs to be sure nothing moved.
I finally came to wiring the airframe and instrument panel. I bought the electrical kit from Sequoia. I was overwhelmed.
After studying the plans for a while, I decided I could do it. Alfred spent a lot of time designing a set of electrical plans that even a well-driller could wire an airplane with. The wiring was the easiest part of the Falco to build. I hooked up the battery, everything worked. No smoke. I used the Sequoia instrument package, installed a Garmin 430 GPS and an STEC 30 autopilot.
I had a friend, Jim Hinz, who worked for GKN Aerospace building composite airplane parts. I asked him to come look at the Falco to see if he would like to help me with the fiberglass, canopy, cowling and paint. He was very impressed with the Falco, and he said he would like to help. Jim is very skilled at working with fiberglass, and he helped me make the Falco look good.
I installed the 180 hp IO-360 engine. We built up the cowl and cowling doors so we have no bumps. We cut out the left bottom cowl and made more room for the exhaust system. We painted the Falco white with blue trim.
I had to move the Falco 20 miles to the airport, with help of the sheriff’s department, everything went well. After placing the Falco in its new hangar, I went by the Falco Flight Test Guide for the final inspection. One complete inspection by me, and two by me and the test pilot. The test pilot had a key to the hangar and he could look at the plane any time. The test pilot is Brett Curenton. He is a CFI, has 11,900 hours in many different airplanes, including the SF-260. I was very pleased to have him fly the Falco. After a visit from FAA by John Burgin, I received an airworthiness certificate. He was very impressed with the Falco.
Now the time had come to crank it up and do the taxi test. After cranking, everything worked except for the tachometer. It had a jerk in it, and I had to change the tach cable. The taxi test went well so we decided to fly in the morning. The next day was July 26, 2008. It had been nine years and 16 days. I was very nervous, and my emotions were running wild. I tried to keep the first flight quiet, but the word got out, and there was a crowd at the airport.
Future Falco pilot, Ean Weldon, Jane and Larry's grandson
Brett made one taxi run. Then he taxiied back to the end of runway, applied full power and the Falco jumped into the air. It was a great feeling watching it fly away. The first flight was 20 minutes and uneventful. The stall clean is 68 knots. With gear and flaps down it stalls at 62 knots. On landing you cross the fence at 80 knots for a smooth touch-down. Brett was excited about flying the Falco, and he wanted to go back up as soon as we could check the plane over.
On the second flight, he flew for 30 minutes, pulled the gear up and did a fly-by with the gear up and then one with it down. Everything looked good, and he made a smooth landing.
The third flight was the most exciting. Brett put me in the left seat, and he let me fly the Falco that I had worked so hard on for nine years. There is no way to explain the emotional feeling you get the first time you apply full power and feel the Falco racing down the runway, lifting off and heading for the sky. I have five hours in the Falco now, and I am enjoying flying more every day. The right wing is a little heavy. I have to put a trim tab there.
I would like to thank everybody who helped make this experience happen. Jane supported me all the way. My daughter, Heidi Weldon came from Birmingham, Alabama, once every month to see the progress of the Falco. She was very impressed with this project. My son, Adam Weldon, helped me set up jigs and move the plane in and out of the shop. Jim Hinz made the Falco look good. Alfred and Susan were very supportive. Bob Brantley came to my shop two times, and he was very helpful. He also gave Brett Curenton flying time in his Falco.
Glyn Russell became a great friend and visited my shop many times. He gave me my first ride in his Falco. I wish he could have lived to see this one fly.
Son, Adam Weldon, Jane Weldon, Larry Weldon and Test Pilot, Brett Curenton
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