Stumbling across the Falco
Some years ago I was trading email with my friend Carl Ludwig, a clever engineer from my hometown of Cornwall, NY. Carl has flown a Beech T-34 Mentor for years and recently added a Czech L-39 to his hangar. I said I 'd always wanted to build an airplane. He said, "Some of those kit planes are nice. Count on spending some time constructing them." He mentioned that his friend Steven Wilkinson, who also lives in Cornwall, built a Falco. I had never heard of it, but he mentioned that it was designed by the same guy who designed the Marchetti SF-260.
I was so shocked to hear that someone right next door to me had been building a plane in his barn the whole time I lived there, and I had no clue. Turns out Stephan was a writer for Air&Space, Conde Nast Traveler, Car & Driver, and several other magazines. He was one of the early Falco builders, and his contribution to its place in the world as a kitplane is formidable. His Falco started as a writing project: a chronicle of the process. In fact, his first flying lesson started the same way. "What's it like to take a flying lesson? I don't know, but it'll make an interesting article."
Well it only took about 30 seconds to know it was the plane for me. Originally a certificated production aircraft designed in Italy by Stelio Frati in the 1950's, it was born again as a kit in the late 1980's, courtesy of Alfred Scott, who went through the plane with an engineer and who sells the kits. Made entirely out of spruce covered in birch plywood, it looked classic and remarkably contemporary. All this resonated with me tremendously. My dad built several wooden boats when I was a kid, so I liked that. I liked the authority and history of it being a "real" plane. I embraced the complexity of it. The idea that it might take ten years wasn't daunting at all.
Larry Black and his Falco
The first contact in California I made was Larry Black, who built a gorgeous white Falco from scratch. From scratch meaning he like, milled the landing gear components by himself out of aluminum. I went for a short flight with him out of Frazier Lake airport, a grass strip close to Hollister. The controls were very light, the plane flet very nimble to me, despite having nothing to really compare it to. Now that I own a glider, I know the stick forces are very similar - very delicate, very light and responsive.
I was ready to start building. That was in 1999. I bought the tail kits and then, like an idiot, tore apart a 1967 Volkswagen Beetle to do a pan-off restoration, thinking I could get it overwith quickly and start building the plane when it was done.
Since then, I got married, had two kids, bought a house and picked up two BSA motorcycles. Now I had a three car garage full of old greasy machines that didn't run. Clearly (except for the three car garage part) I wasn't moving in the right direction. Last year we finished a complete renovation of the house, and with that done, I didn't have any more excuses to do something- either finish the VW or start the plane. I shipped the Bikes to my dad in Vermont and in January, with the force of New Year's resolution, painfully sold the bug to a restorer in Concord. After media blasting the body for a small fortune in 1999, the guy who eventually bought it told me that the body wasn't worth fixing. He planned on dropping a '66 body on my restored chassis.
But if felt good to get rid of it. I suddenly had enough room in the garage to open up the Falco plans, pull the tail spars down from the rafters and start drawing centerlines. For a while there I'd mention to people that I was building an airplane (knowing full well that I was really just intending to build one). After a while, I downgraded to saying I was "hoping to build" an airplane, and I'd think to myself, maybe I'm just one of those guys who buys the tail kits and forgets about them, always dreaming of it, never actually buckling down and doing it.
In January of 2005, I was building an airplane.
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