defines a "ragamuffin" as a scruffy child. In my mind
this doesn't mean that the child is unhealthy or handicapped but
only that the child has smudges on his or her face and isn't wearing
the best clothes that money can buy. Keep this definition in mind
while I describe my Rag-A-Muffn...
happens to be an ultralight aircraft. I call it this because it
doesn't wear the best paint. It wears latex house paint And, it
doesn't have what is considered to be the best powerplant - a Rotax
503. Instead, it uses the readily available and mass produced Kawasaki~
~ engine. The complete and total cost to get Rag-a-muffin flying
was $1,644.99. Yes, that is in 1995 dollars. Serving as an EAA Technical
Counselor, I've been around homebuilders long elnough to know what
their most important questions will be. First, how dependable and
affordable is the engine? Second, how strong is the design? Third,
is the coverng system safe and how long will it last?
I will cover
these questions in the following text which will describe how the
Rag-a-muffin evolved while mostly covering the costs involved. A
"how to build article" would be another story on its own.
I have been
marketing plans to home-builders now for a few years. During this
time my main business was in legal ultra-light replicas of famous
homebuilts such as the Air Camper, Pitts, Heath Parasol and Church
Midwing. These aircraft, being replicas, sometimes caused problems
in construction. For instance, the Air Camper has a rounded fuselage
bottom which makes the landing gear more difficult to attach. The
Heath replica has a landing gear braced with wire which necessitates
adjusting after several landings. Now replicas are great and nostalgic
and I wouldn't give up any one of mine, but many builders are not
concerned with replicating and would rather build for ease of construction.
Along with that, the next concern I have observed is cost and availability
to purchase building materials locally. This allows builders to
pay for their project slowly and saves money on ship ping charges.
All that I can say here is? read the remainder of this article,
which will describe how my Rag-a-Muffin was paid for down to the
last nut and bolt.
My first expenditure
was $425.00. I visited a flightpark 60 miles away from my home which
has many Phantom ultra-lights. Because of the Phantom's aerobatic
capability, many Phantom drivers remove their Kawasaki engine packages
which were supplied by their manufacturer and replace them with
engines with gearboxes. The reason is the belts would sometimes
slip going through a loop. That certainly won't be a problem for
this design. I have owned eight Kawasaki engine packages and have
only had a belt slip once before take off. Tightening remedied the
problem. Also, I now have 400-plus hours behind Kawasaki engines.
I have purchased these engines for as low as $150 and as high as
$750. I purchased the engine first because I knew this would be
the biggest outlay of cash. My total for this engine was $430, including
$5 for gas for the trip. What I received was a Kawasaki 440A 35
hp belt reduction and propeller along with all of the required parts,
includin~ carburetor, muffler and fuel pump. The best supplier I
know of for these engine is J-Bird in Kewaskum, Wisconsin (414/626-2611).
have very few instruments cluttering my panel. I consider the minimum
to be tachometer, EGT and wind gauge. The tachometer will make certain
that there's enough power to take off of my 400-foot grass field,
and the exhaust gas temperature is used to tune the carburetor to
prevent the engine from overheating. The wind gauge helps me stay
above the stall speed of 26 mph. I ordered the tachometer and EGT
which totaled $99, including shipping and handling. I built my own
airspeed indicator and slip indicator from articles which I have
seen in several magazines. I built these from leftover scraps of
aluminum, tubing ball bearings and piano wire, so there was no cost
and will not be counted in my total If I had to purchase materials,
my guess would be approximately $15. To complete the powerplant
package, I added a throttle lever, cable, gas tank and fuel line.
For the throttle I used one a friend had given me. To build a similar
one would cost about $5.00. To purchase one would cost $35. The
gas tank, fuel line and bicycle cable was purchased at a local hardware
store and totaled $1 1.43.
To get started
on the airframe requires wood. I visited Carter Lumber Comp. which
is just an ordinary house builders supply store. I purposefully
went somewhere that I hadn't shopped at previously. I asked to see
their molding grade or clear Northern White Pine or Spruce. I was
shown wood standing vertically in two bays. One contained I X 2's,
while the other contained 1 x 4's in 8 to 16 foot lengths. Since
these are actually only 3/4 inch thick I knew that only a table
saw would be required to cut the 3/4 x 3/4 longerons and spar caps.
I explained my intentions to build a flying machine and asked if
I could take the time to inspect the wood, with the promise that
I would leave everything as I found it. A go-ahead was given as
long as I agreed to bring them a picture for their bulletin board.
I spent the next hour and 45 minutes going through both bays inspecting
the wood according to an article by the late Noel Becar that appeared
in the March 1995 issue of EXPERIMENTER.
I came away
with 16 boards at least 12-feet long at a cost of $1.10 and $1.70
per foot. The wood had a few random knots and was the clearest and
tightest grain of the bunch. Total cost was $282.24. This is enough
for the complete project.
Next on the
list is plywood. A complete plywood list is one sheet of 1 /4's;
7 sheets of 1/8 and 1/6's. All is Finland or Baltic birch. Sheet
size is 2-1/2 feet x 5 feet This can be shipped by UPS and weighed
68 pounds. This saves any trucking charge. Cost was $225.00 plus
shipping which totaled $235.50. You can purchase this from your
favorite supplier. Plywood suppliers are listed in the Yellow Pages
under specialty woods.
A complete bill
of materials is now available which simplifies purchasing metal
and hardware and helps consolidate shipping charges. Since I did
not have this at the beginning of the project I spent slightly more
on four shipments, but all metal and hardware can be purchase from
two companies - Alexander Aeroplane and TEAM Inc. The U-channel
required to make the brackets and flight control hinges are purchased
from TEAM. The remaining materials includes 6061 strut tubes, axles,
cabanes, cable, thimbles, nicropresses, 4130 strap, nuts and bolts,
pulleys, glue, etc., and all can be purchased from Alexander Aeroplane.
Total cost of metal and hardware plus shipping was $305.92.
By the way,
all brackets and fittings are a cut, drill and fit operation. If
you can operate a hack saw and a hand drill, you can build all metals
items required to complete the aircraft. There is no welding at
all unless you need to mount your muffler in a different way than
it was originally installed. I had to have the exhaust manifold
reversed, which cost me $10 at a local muffler shop.
Seat belts were
purchased at the local auto salvage. I got a set out of a new pickup
with only 8500 miles on it for $15. On the way home I visited the
local county airport to see if anybody had changed tires recently,
and they had. I obtained a pair of 6 x 6 McGreagors just for the
asking because they were only going to use them to put at the tiedowns
in the grass in order to keep lawn mowers from running over the
ropes. The tires were worn beyond limits for certified aircraft,
but had no cuts. Thcey arc 6ply tires and ultralights normally use
2ply so there was enough tread to last a lifetime on an ultralight.
I ordered a set of rims and tubes from Northern (I-800-533-5545)
and had them delivered for $54.47.
To finish up
the landing gear I needed a tailwheel. A stop by Grainger (1-800-225-5994)
discovered the same identical castor as supplied by Loehle Aviation
for use on their P-51 and Sport Parasol. The part number is 4x951,
If vou have
been keeping close track, you know that all that is left to be purchase
are the finishing supplies. Another order was put in to Fisher Flying
nProducts for 35 yards of fabric and cement, which was shipped for
$139.50. There's been lots of debates about the best way to finish
an aircraft. Most people will use what they are comfortable with.
Fisher uses black latex as a base, then covers it with automobile
paint. My process is to fill the fabric with the color I'm using
as my finish coat. During a stop at Sherman Williams and I purchased
one gallon of Eaglet Beige, one quart of Flowtrol conditioner, one
pint of red acrylic enamel, one gallon of spar varnish, three brushes
and acetone. Total cost was $58.67.
To protect the
fabric from ultraviolet damage, I purchased a large bottle of "Son
of a Gun" - you know, the same stuff you use to protect your
classic car's dash. Cost was $8.87. I have used this system with
great results on nine ultra-lights and recommend it for low cost
and saving weight. As a side note, this system generally only adds
8 to 12 Ibs. for the entire system. The finish isn't show quality,
but it wasn't meant to be; remember, it's a ragamuffin.
The only other
cost other builders will incur in this project is the $70.00 (now
only $54.00) for the plans which I now make available.
As far as strength
is concerned, the Rag-a-muffin uses the tried and true Pratt truss
and plywood gusset method of construction with absolutely nothing
out of the ordinary. Any veteran home-builder can look at the plans
and recognize that the basic structure goes way back. Model builders
will also feel very comfortable because the building method is best
described as a large scale model.
What is out
of the ordinary is the fact that this aircraft cal1 be built day
in and day out for as less than $2000 complete and ready to fly.
I can foresee people customizing their 'Muffins and driving the
investment way up. Others will build one quickly just to have something
to fly while they are building their dream machine. With such a
low investment for a completed flying machine, it would be very
hard to lose money, and most people should even be paid back for
their time involved in building.
involvement with ul-tralight aviation I have met people just like
me who have to save for weeks just to purchase a set of plans. I
believe, like many others do, that if aviation is going to survive,
it must be accessible to everyone. I believe the Rag-a-muffin or
Ragwing Para-sol (for lack of a better name) are a step in the right
direction. I know they will not suit everyone because some people
just don't like parasols, but, hey, give me time, I'm working on
that problem, too.
For more information,
detailed plans on the aircraft, covering system or engines, Please
feel free to contact me at:
1705 Trail Rd.
Belton, SC 29627
Phone/Fax (864) 338-6092
Note: address updated
Please call anytime. The design has been flown for over 100 trouble-free
hours, with four diffrent engines tested, including a 1/2 VW. A
video is also available ($15) showing the plane being weighed and
flown off my 400-foot grass strip.
Engine, reduction and
propeller (used)............... 430.00
Engine Instuments (new)......... 99.00
Gas tank, fuel line and
throttle cable ................. 11.43
Northern White Pine ........... 282.24
Aircraft Plywood .............. 235.50
All metal and hardware .........305.92
Muffler welding ................ 10.00
Seat belts ..................... 15.00
Rims and inner tubes ........... 54.47
Tailwheel castor ............... 14.39
Fabric and cement ............. 139.50
Paint and Supplies ............. 58.67
Fabric Protection ............... 8.87
Total cost 1664.99