The Rutan Boomerang

This is a regular blog post that updates listeners and viewers on events in the Airspeed world. Airspeed is an audio and video Internet media source that brings the best in aviation and aerospace to media devices and desktops everywhere. If you’re looking for the audio and video content, please check the other entries on the site. It’s all here! In the meantime, enjoy this update about what’s going on in Airspeed’s world.

California-based CFI Ron Klutts is an occasional contributor to Airspeed. He captured this story at AirVenture Oshkosh 2011.

I was admiring the Rutan Boomerang in the Wednesday of Airventure Oshkosh when I spotted two guys who appeared to be working on it. Intrigued, I approached and introduced myself and that’s when I met Tres Clements. He is a manufacturing engineer with Scaled Composites. He lead a team of volunteers who worked over several months to get the Boomerang ready for a tribute to Burt Rutan at Oshkosh.

Unique Design Features

The asymmetric features of the Boomerang are apparent in this view but, as Tres describes the flying qualities, it’s more symmetric than it looks. He discovered during the renovation why certain design choices were made and how they solved aerodynamic problems in an unexpected way. With the CG actually between the two engine pods, use of rudder is mostly not required at high angles of attack. The design cancels out much asymmetry during this phase of flight.

Tres recounted how that was one of the benefits in working on this project in getting to know and sit next to Mike Melvill in Burt’s personal airplane. While waiting for the air show to end, I had the opportunity to hear Mike recount many stories of flying to airshows in his own Long-EZ and later perform aerobatics in the show and his take on the other performers and safety was always on his mind. The wealth of experience he has gained and was willing to share with others was apparent.

Each engine of the Boomerang has a vertical stabilizer behind it so the propwash adds to the directional control. Adding to the asymmetric look is the lack of a horizontal stabilizer on the right side of the engine boom. Why add weight and more control surfaces if Burt says it’s not needed?

Rebuilding the Panel

Tres estimates that the team spent more than 1,500 hours going through the systems to get the Bomerang airworthy again. That included the panel.

Burt used an Apple Macbook as the engine monitoring and data collection system. While the panel still worked when Tres and the team powered it up, the panel needed updating.

Ryan Malherbe from General Atomics helped to make and wire the panel. The center is dominated by a Garmin stack consisting of a GMA 350 Audio Panel, a GTN 750 touch screen WAAS GPS NAV/Comm, and a GTX 327. On the left is an iPad 2 running ForeFlight Mobile HD, supplying VFR/IFR charts and all the airport info and taxiway diagrams needed to keep a pilot informed. An AuRACLE 2120 with dual screens at the bottom of the panel monitors engine parameters.

With room for five and a pressurized cabin maintaining a 7,000 MSL cabin pressure at FL 200, the Boomerang can travel 1,500 miles with full fuel while carrying a payload of 865 pounds, this is a serious go places airplane.

Pictured here are Ryan Malherbe on the left with Tres Clements on the right.

Tres says that Burt didn’t want the airplane just sitting in a museum on static display where it might convey the idea that it didn’t fly or was unsafe. He felt the best way to get the message out was for the airplane to fly and demonstrate it’s capabilities by doing what it does best. To fly and be seen.

So Tres is doing appearances and presentations. He’ll be at San Luis Obispo (KSBP) for the EAA Chapter 170 meeting at Hangar 49 at 11:30 on Saturday 20 August. Tres will discuss restoring and flying the Boomerang and then the chapter will host an after-meeting barbecue.

Photo credits (in order of appearance):

Brandon Inks

Tres Clements

Ron Klutts

Front Seat, Back Seat: Pitts Acro and Transition

This is a regular blog post that updates listeners and viewers on events in the Airspeed world. Airspeed is an audio and video Internet media source that brings the best in aviation and aerospace to media devices and desktops everywhere. If you’re looking for the audio and video content, please check the other entries on the site. It’s all here! In the meantime, enjoy this update about what’s going on in Airspeed’s world.

There’s front seat and back seat. And they mean different things in different aircraft.

In the Pitts S-2 models, the front seat is pretty bare-bones. You have a stick, a throttle handle, and a prop control. On the panel is an altimeter, an airspeed indicator, a manifold pressure gage, a tachometer, and a G meter. And nothing else. Not even a whiskey compass.

And you can’t see much of anything, either. The front seat is up close to the upper and lower wings. You can see forward over the nose through the cobains (the struts that mount the upper wing to the fuselage, not the dead rock star). You can see a little bit around the wings. You can see from side to side when a wing isn’t blocking your view. And the sight gage is about 20 degrees behind you instead of directly at your nine-o’clock.

But here, in the front seat, is where you begin to fly the Pitts. This is where you learn the rudiments of flying this powerful acro monster.

The back seat is better in all but a few respects. You can see much better because you’re further away from the wings. The sight gage is directly to your left. It’s really striking after you’ve been in the front.

But, with the back seat comes a lot more workload, You start and shut down the airplane (and hot-starting a Pitts is MUCH more art than science). The mixture and trim controls are back there. You have to watch the temperatures and pressures. You have to tune the radios and watch the GPS.

It makes sense to start out in the front. For one thing, as long as you have a talented and trusty IP in the back, you can pretty much just climb in and go, thus making lessons a lot more efficient. You learn to be very technical and precise with your airspeed and other elements of landings because you don’t have a lot of outside stimulus to tempt you to just wing it. And, if you’re not very precise with your feet just yet, you have a very short arm from the center of yaw and you aren’t going to make yourself sick on the early flights by failing to be coordinated (although your instructor will likely suffer kidney damage if you’re really wild).

You have to get pretty good at landing the Pitts from the first seat before you move to the back. Landing a Pitts from the front is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. You line up on the runway and set airspeed for precisely 95 KIAS. At about 50 AGL, you make one last check for deer on the runway and begin the flare. You lose all visibility in front of you. You just wait for the runway edges to sneak into your peripheral vision and then hope that you sink in a landing attitude until meeting the runway a little above stall speed.

If you don’t see both runway edges after a few seconds, it’s time to go around. It’s not hard to land left or right and I can easily imagine taking out an entire row of runway identifier lights.

If you get it down, then it’s full back on the stick to keep the tail down and you tap dance down the centerline while sneaking your feet up onto the brakes to think about slowing it down.

This is what you need to do reliably before you move to the back seat.

Once you get to move to the back seat, you have a new learning curve to deal with, but that happens fairly quickly. And then you can get on with the business of flying acro with better visibility and situational awareness.

There are any number of reasons for starting out in the front seat, but I buy the one that has to do with the instructor. Landing a Pitts from the front seat is very hard. But I would imagine that recovering somebody else’s bad landing (or other botched maneuver) is even harder in the front seat. Thus, when you go to the back seat, your IP is necessarily moving to the front seat. It would be a really good idea if you had made most or all of your major screw-ups in the front seat (while the IP can have an easier time recovering from the back) before moving to the back seat and putting your IP up front where things are not only harder, but where your IP isn’t likely to be called upon urgently until you’ve already served him or her a crap sandwich from which you’ll be expecting him or her to help you escape.

The shots in this post were taken during my last practice session at Ray before going to Jackson for the IAC Michigan Aerobatic Open. I’ve since done the first flight of my back seat transition and I’ll get some stills and video of the transition flights soon.

In the meantime, the Pitts just gets cooler. I can feel a genuine addition coming on!

Return from AirVenture 2011; FOD Re-Revisited

FOD and I are back from AirVenture Oshkosh 2011. The washing machine and dryer are humming away upstairs. The camping equipment is drying out on the porch. The memory cards are hemorrhaging their content onto several hard drives. The Airspeed crew vehicle still bears such dust and mud as has been able to stick to the vehicle over the course of the nine-hour drive yesterday.

This is the third year that we’ve hit the Russell Military Museum on the way to and/or from Oshkosh. And we’ve taken a picture of FOD outside the gas station at Exit 1A each year, obscuring one of the Os in “FOOD” to make “FOD.”

Airspeed correspondent Ron Klutts and photographer extraordinaire Jo Hunter got up for a flight in the new Remos model and I’ll have some content up from that ride shortly.

In the meantime, it’s now all about getting ready for principal photography for Acro Camp 2 at Ray Community Airport. It’s less than 30 days away and the real work begins now.

Look for maybe one more Airspeed episode before Acro Camp and possible some additional pictures and other content. And then there’ll be a content blitz during the actual camp!

My Movie Ate My Podcast! – Audio Episode Show Notes

These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen to the show audio by clicking here: Better yet, subscribe to Airspeed through iTunes or your other favorite podcatcher. It’s all free!

By way of getting some content up into the feed, I though it might be a good time to sit down with Will Hawkins, director of A Pilot’s Story and talk about both his film and my film, Acro Camp. We’re each coming down to the final stages of editing our respective films and this conversation turned into a good discussion of what independent filmmaking is and can be. Especially when it’s independent filmmaking about aviation!

Check out A Pilot’s Story at Check out Will and Rico’s production company at

And, of course, follow progress on the Acro Camp films at!

Technical note: The mic on my headset didn’t connect properly, so my voice is being picked up by the built-in mic on my Mac. Not the best audio quality, but a good conversation nevertheless.


Firebase Airspeed – OSH 2011

It’s Friday here at Oshkosh and FOD and I have checked off several of our traditional activities. Most important is the annual Bell 47 helicopter ride from Pioneer Airport. This is FOD’s fifth AirVenture. I first brought him when he was five.

We like to get an aerial shot of the campground each year and mark the campsite in a photo like this. We’re again camping with the myTransponder crew and lots of other social media mavens from both hemispheres. I’m very grateful again this year to have access to Home Sweet Road, myTransponder’s Class A motor home, which is providing the electricity to power the laptop for this post and the air conditioning that makes conscious thought possible. We’re at Lindbergh and 48th this year, kitty-corner from the WiFi hut. If you’re so inclined, please stop by and say hello!