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RagWing Mann

By Don Downie Kitplanes November, 1996
"Reprinted with permission of Kitplanes magazine. Copyright 1996. All rights reserved."

The man behind RagWing Aviation is Roger Mann, a 31-year-old homebuilder who has parlayed two slow-and-low designs into an expanding home business. Mann's initial two kits are for a single-seat, three-quarter-scale Pietenpol Air Camper and a Pitts-like wooden biplane with folding wings. At latest count he has delivered over 440 sets of plans for the Ltl' AirCamper and 250 for the biplane Special (named after the 1945 Pitts Special).

A dozen sets of plans have gone to Canada, four to Spain, three each to Australia, New Zealand and Germany, and one each to Japan, England and Denmark. He also supplies both designs in kit form with quick-build options and says that either kit can be built in 350 hours. Plans are $125 for the biplane Special plans and $70 for the Mini Air Camper. Kits are $2500 for either design excluding engine and prop. Add a Kawasaki engine and the cost is $4350.

Mann also has plans tor six other replicas that he has built and flown. These include a two-place, side-by-side open cockpit parasol trainer (RW-3) and a cabin version of the same design (RW-8), an agricultural Duster (RW-7), Church midwing replica (RW-4), Heath parasol replica (RW-5), and an open-fuselage (RW-9) Motor Bipe that is becoming popular (18 sets of plans to date) because it can be built in 150 hours. Mann advises that he will assemble kits for any of these other designs on special order.

RagWing Aeroplane Company is a family enterprise he shares with his wife, Michelle, and his three small children. He says that a few close friends come in and help when he is overloaded with orders. A newsletter is published six times a year by Bob Dick while Terry Houser is now doing some test pilot chores that Mann formerly did alone. "I want to be known as a guy who sells plans, kits and parts," he said, "rather than as a company whose only goal is to make profits for its stockholders."

Mann chose the scaled Air Camper Ultra-Piet for his first design because, in his words, "lt's easy to build, requires no special tools and is the most affordable design anywhere. What makes it even better is having the luxury of flying under FAR 103 rules. The Mini AirCamper weighs just 252 pounds."

Mann's most memorable flight to date was on the first flight of the original Ltl' Air Camper. "I had so much confidence in the plane," he said, "that the first flight was performed out of a 400-foot, radio-control-model airfield located 4 miles down the road from my home. A friend flew along beside me in his miniMAX, and when I locked my fingers behind my head to prove it would fly hands-off, he just grinned. When I first showed this airplane at Sun 'n Fun in 1993, people started asking me to draw up plans, and soon I was in a part-time business."

Brakes are not included in either RagWing design; they can be added, but they put the weight over the ultralight limit as does the folding-wing feature on the biplane. While maneuvering on the ground at Sun 'n Fun' s Paradise City, Mann had a Kolb cut in front of him, and it was either grab a tire with his hand and stop rotation of the wheel or buy a rudder for the Kolb.

"I have my workshop in my home and have just added a 24x36-foot building that increases my shop area by three times," he said. However, he is in the process of moving into two new wooden 28x48-foot Quonset hangars on the Tokena Airport at Townville, South Carolina, with its 1500-foot grass strip, which is a 20-mile drive or flight from Mann's home.

Mann uses Wicks and Aircraft Spruce for metal and hardware, but he buys his own Finland Birch plywood and northern white pine in bulk loads. He and his wife mill the wood to size. They also have built a mold for nose bowls where they can make fiberglass layups. Mann reports that he receives detailed questions from only about 25% of his kit purchasers. "Most have built planes or models before and find this project much like a large model," he said.

His Air Camper has a dummy radiator that replicates the one used on the Model A Ford-powered original. The fake radiator can serve as a 4-gallon fuel tank whenever the 5-gallon limit for ultralights is removed. To keep costs down, his Ultra-Piet has only two instruments, rpm and CHT.

About the Designer

At age 14, Mann started a KR-2. The fuselage is still hang- ing in his grandfather' s barn, uncompleted since the time Roger discovered girls. While in the U. S. Air Force for a four-year hitch, he eventually became a crew chief on F-4Ds and F-15s.

Mann well remembers an back seat F4-D ride awarded him for being Airman of the Month. He received his A&P from Wayne Community College in Seymore, North Carolina, while in the service. At the same time, he helped on several home-built projects: VP-I, KR-I, Excel helicopter, Lancair and Pitts.

After leaving the Air Force, he built a Hi-Max, three miniMAXs and a two-seat Hi-Max that he developed himself. He worked as a turbine inspector for Textron and branched out on his own in early 1994 when his job was terminated.

He taught himself to fly in his first miniMAX but does not recommend selfteaching. While he was "crow-hopping" his first Hi-Max, a passerby saw him and two days later bought the plane before Mann had ever flown it. "I built my next miniMAX in three months and promised myself that I wouldn't sell it until I soloed," he said. "After a few weeks of crow-hopping I finally soloed and since then have flown many different makes of ultralights. I now have over 500 hours of flight time and am signed off as a certified ultralight pilot and a basic flight instructor." Mann plans to use his two-place Ultra-Piet for demonstration rides.

Mann spent only $2200 on his first three-quarter-scale Air Camper including covering with Stits fabric and Latex house paint, instruments (a tachometer and CHT) an used a Kawasaki snow-mobile engine. He has since added an engine hour meter and home-made slip indicator.

When it comes time for engine installation, Mann describes the projects as "90% complete with only 90% left to do." Here the builder has the choice of several engines: Rotax 227, 447 or 503, Hirth F27, Mosler and half-VW homebuilt engines. Mann recommends the Kawasaki 340 or 440 with a K-Drive belt reduction system. Full four-cylinder VWs, the Rotax 503 or the three-cylinder Chevrolet Sprint engines are possible for the heavier, beefed-up experimental versions. He experimented with a four-stroke 25-hp Kohler V industrial engine used in ground power units for welders. After 41 hours, the engine threw a rod and "exploded in the air." Mann was drenched with hot oil and received superficial burns but landed safely. Now he is using a half-VW engine.

The Disney Inspiration
The company name of RagWing dates back to a Walt Disney television series over two decades ago called "The Sky`s the limit." One segment depicted the building of a two-seat biplane "RagWing" from a relic found hanging in the rafters of a barn. Roger saw the film at a young age and was so impressed that he can still remember the aircraft in considerable detail.

"This movie is what really started my love affair with aircraft," he told us. "I have always wanted to build a copy of the Disney plane," but I have never seen the movie again. If anyone still has a copy, I would dearly like a duplicate. RagWing is more than a name to me. It's not just one person. It's a feeling of a friendship with others and with the air." KP

RagWing Aviation,
1705 trail rd
Belton, SC 29627
Phone (864) 338-1335
Info packs $3; with video, $15. Bimonthly newsletter is $6 per year.


© 2006 Ragwing Aircraft Designs