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flyvulcan

Lightning Bug rebuild

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Background to the project:

 

Back in 1991, Nick Jones followed on from his 4 seat speedster White Lightning kit aircraft with a single seat speedster called the Lightning Bug. It created a buzz at the time due to its exceptional performance, achieving (allegedly) over 200 knots with it's 90hp AMW engine.

 

Here is a photo of the prototype:

 

lightning_bug.gif.e5c3ee9e3a251f9c73bc20d922bed10c.gif

 

I wanted to buy one of the kits at the time it was released but my then wife knocked that idea on the head.

 

After only 16 kits were produced, Nick Jones stopped production of the kits due to liability concerns.

 

Fast forward to the start of 2008 and I had been working on the design of a small jet aircraft for about two years with a few more years of design work to go. I decided to take an alternate and fast route to a jet by modifying an existing piston engine design. The design had to be one that would allow jet-like performance. The usual suspects came to mind, i.e. BD5 but the Lightning Bug still held a great appeal to me so I started looking for one of the remaining aircraft or kits. Even though owners of registered Bugs were listed on the FAA database, I was having a lot of trouble contacting them. I finally got on to one owner who only the week before had made a handshake deal to sell his Bug (N63974). Whilst the deal was not concluded, he honoured his handshake deal and his Bug was passed on to its new owner. I contacted the new owner and made him an offer but he has steadfastly refused to sell the aircraft to me, even though I have made regular offers for it over the years. It is in his shed, gathering dust and it will never fly while he owns it (he is well into his '70s).

 

After 6 months of concentrated searching, I finally sourced a kit and contacted the owner. He agreed to sell it to me at a fair price. While negotiating with this gent about the Bug kit which was located in North Carolina, I contacted a few builder assist shops in Florida about doing a bit of work on it before I shipped it to Oz. When I contacted one of the shops based at Merritt Island airport, next to Cape Canaveral in Florida, the guy said "a Lightning Bug? There's one of those in the next hangar". Well bugger me, it turned out to be true! So after 6 months of hard searching, within one week, I had sourced two kits.

 

The owner of the kit at Merritt Island was none other than Johny Murphy who owned the prototype Bug (shown in the photo above). He had force landed the aircraft following an engine failure during the Sun100 air race at Sun'n'fun 1991 but hit a cow during the landing roll and tore off the left wing. The aircraft was a write off but Johny got out ok. He liked the aircraft so much that he took delivery of one of the production kits with a view to building it to race. He never got round to building it and offered to sell me the kit, along with the remains of the prototype Bug.

 

So now I had been offered two kits. During my search for a Bug, I had noted on a forum that there was a bloke in Adelaide called Milton King who had expressed an interest in the Bug a few years before. Since Adelaide is my home town, I tracked down Milton and told him that I knew of Bug kit that was for sale, was he interested? To cut a long story short, we bought both kits and shipped them from Florida to Adelaide.

 

Here is my kit laid out on the lawn of Johny Murphy's hangar at Merritt Island, being inventoried. The prototypes wreck is in the background.

 

501404411_DSC_10701.JPG.24ddcfa15a0ba778dfbfd1c6b22bb33e.JPG

 

1447839145_DSC_10711.JPG.e0976f2abfd108b8e9e4c12693a7c6bd.JPG

 

Milton chose to complete his Lightning Bug stock, albeit with a Jabiru 3300 to replace the original AMW engine which is no longer in production, but regardless, was notoriously unreliable.

 

Here is Milton's project as it was a few months ago.

 

608534481_cowlcanopyphotos023.JPG.49b58a4b1e0dd1236bc9323b0815565e.JPG

 

To be continued...

 

 

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Background continued:

 

My project to convert my Bug kit to a jet has been progressing and is described in the "Komet" thread in this forum. Here is a pic of it as of a few weeks ago. You can see the Bug heritage.

 

P1030768.JPG.24fbb30852f4c23068683bb8c0f72ae8.JPG

 

Anyway, it transpired that my kit was missing a fair bit of hardware. After we bought the kits, I expended a large amount of time attempting to source what was left of the Lightning Bug business in the hope I could pick up the hardware that I needed, along with a set of plans or construction manual since these items were conspicuous by their absence. I eventually found the remains of the Bug business sitting in a hangar at Las Cruces, New Mexico. The owner of the remains sold me the components that I needed and offered me the remains of the business which I politely declined as the asking price was way too high.

 

Milton and I decided to finish our aircraft to find out whether the Bug would actually perform as advertised. If it did so, we entertained the thought of putting it back into production. This was just a pipe dream however.

 

Then in 2011, the owner of the Bug business offered the remains for sale. Milton and I were interested but the price was too high. He couldn't sell the stuff and in the end, Milton and I made him an offer for the stuff which he accepted. So Milton and I became the owners of all molds, tooling rights and spare parts inventory for the Lightning Bug. Here's a pic of some of the stuff we got (there's a lot more than in this photo!).

 

DSC00824.JPG.8d410715e58f14eb71b652900c94b64a.JPG

 

We decided that while it would be nice to ship it all back to Oz, the main market would be in the US so we left the stuff there. We came to an arrangement with Lanny Rundell (who owns the Turbine Legend business) who had built 3 Bugs back in the early '90s and he has become our partner in the Bug business.

 

To progress the program, we needed a Bug to test thoroughly, in case we needed to make any changes to the design to make it safer. One major modification required was in the area of the powerplant. The engine that the airframe used in the '90s was a 100hp AMW two stroke which was both unreliable and in any case, is no longer in production.

 

I continued to attempt to buy N63974 from its owner but he steadfastly refused to sell it. Pity as that is a nice aircraft. Here it is.

 

1951036112_LightningBugN63974.jpg.40f59e94736fdabdb95086e68694d964.jpg

 

Then good old Barnstormers came to the rescue with an advertisement for N44XM. Here is a pic of it from a few years ago.

 

d8af_1.jpg.2a6dd4b7b934228c4fa7a3b66168b394.jpg

 

and here is a photo of it which was provided to me at the time of the sale.

 

820201252_N44XM3.jpg.2b912a0574c375c85813ee7614127bcd.jpg

 

Milton and I successfully bought the aircraft and Lanny drove 800 miles to load it on a trailer and tow it back to his facility where its' restoration was to begin.

 

So that's the background to getting Lightning Bug N44XM. Subsequent posts will detail the restoration process that Lanny has undertaken, ready to get it back into the air. Standby for details in the next few days (I have to go flying for the next two days...).

 

 

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Good read, well put together mate, looking forward to seeing it fly :)

 

 

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Don't worry Doug. With the Bug being in the US, it won't affect my work on the Komet which I am aiming for a first flight later this year.

 

My role in the Bug program is of support. I source all the components Lanny requires to restore the Bug and I am sourcing suppliers of kit components, setting up the website, organising promotional material, liaising with engineers about mods to the Bug design to improve structural integrity/ease of building etc, etc... There is a heck of a lot to do to set up such a business!

 

However, in amongst all that, I have not lost focus on the Komet, which with its commonality of parts with the Bug, could well be the follow-on product. 004_oh_yeah.gif.82b3078adb230b2d9519fd79c5873d7f.gif

 

 

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In its current form, with only 40 square feet of wing area, its stall speed (allegedly 54kias with full flaps - this figure will be accurately determined once we have N44XM flying) precludes it from any RAAus category.

 

We expect that most appeal for the aircraft will stem from its top end speed. This is what will differentiate it from all the other single seat kit aircraft out there. If we get a cruise of only 160 knots out of it, we probably wouldn't sell any kits so this level of performance would not warrant production. If we can get a minimum cruise speed of 180 knots out of it, then we feel that we will have something that will interest enough folks to make production viable. A former owner of N44XM got 196ktas straight and level out of it with its 100hp AMW engine. When fitted with the Rotax 912ULS combined with the right fixed pitch prop (and we are looking at IFA options as well - we feel that IFA will be the prop of choice for those that can afford it), a cruise of 180k+ could be possible.

 

We have toyed with the idea of having detachable outer wing panels to bring the stall speed down into the RAAus regime and giving it a fixed nosegear. This would give us the ability to potentially offer a ready to fly LSA (in Australia only which doesn't limit top speed). We feel that an Aussie LSA version could still have a decent turn of speed ie above 150 knots, but who wants a single seat LSA costing probably close to $60k even if it cruised at 150k? Not many we expect. Certainly not enough to warrant the development costs.

 

So initially, the Lightning Bug will be limited to a kit offering, to be built under Experimental - Amateur Built rules.

 

I have to stress that the decision to go into kit production will largely be determined by the results of the thorough flight test and refinement program that we will put N44XM through. If we can't get the aircraft to meet all the essential criteria, ie safe and easy to fly, quick and easy to build, affordable and fast, etc. then it won't make it to the market. We would just be throwing our money away.

 

PS. My flight has been extended a few days so the story of the rebuild of N44XM will be delayed a few days until I get back to my home computer, on which I have the photographs of the rebuild.

 

 

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The rebuild:

 

On May 4th, 2012, Lanny drove the 600 miles from Louisiana to collect N44XM from its previous owner. On arrival to collect the aircraft, Lanny found it in the owners hangar, waiting for his arrival. Now the Lightning Bug is not designed for trailering, only for flying. Once the wing goes on, it stays on. So the first issue was how to dismantle the Bug for transport. Many years ago, Lanny had been involved in the manufacturing of the Quickie. Now the Quickie fuselage was built in two halves, front and back, with the join being located just aft of the cockpit area. Lanny felt that a similar arrangement would work for the Bug. He figured that a split just aft of the cockpit would allow the aircraft to meet the legal size for road transport (maximum 8' wide). Lanny had calculated that with the spinner removed and with the nosegear retracted, the forward fuselage would fit sideways on the trailer with the wings being oriented forward/aft. The aft fuselage with tailplane attached easily made the 8' width limitation.

 

Here is how the aircraft started:

 

DSC07585.JPG.559cad9a649c36474a50ac8fcf2ab891.JPG

 

Lanny disconnected the flight controls that ran into the rear fuselage and marked a cut line on the rear fuselage and placed tape over the cut line to facilitate easier cutting. He then riveted some straps across the join that would facilitate lining up the two halves after they had been cut. Here's a pic of the taped and strapped cut line:

 

DSC07597.JPG.dd3c91357aad81b2acd1910071c1cebd.JPG

 

The straps were then undone from one side and Lanny proceeded to cut the fuselage around the cut line:

 

DSC07609.JPG.b2a140a68d9e5c9b3b1b393ce63a2f5f.JPG

 

and:

 

DSC07604.JPG.4c355a1b099f9dfdcac3211488d694e9.JPG

 

to be continued...

 

 

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Once the two halves were separated, they were loaded onto Lanny's trailer and into the bed of his truck:

 

DSC07613.JPG.568e19011224588b0de6c3aa43e773f8.JPG

 

and

 

DSC07614.JPG.5a77e3c4b691427212721fe820a70b42.JPG

 

and

 

DSC07615.JPG.3eb41fc08f43134353be9cca2b556565.JPG

 

15 hours after leaving the previous owners place, Lanny arrived back at his hangar with N44XM.

 

DSC07622.JPG.85da41a39dee4e95ef4541e2aede6b25.JPG

 

To be continued...

 

 

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Once the Bug had arrived at Lanny's hangar, we needed to sort out the "to-do" list in order to get it back into the air. We came up with the following major items:

 

1. Rejoin the two fuselage halves where it had been cut for transport;

 

2. Remove the existing AMW808 engine;

 

3. Source a Rotax 912ULS for installation to replace the AMW808;

 

4. Install the Rotax 912ULS, along with its' ancillary systems and equipment;

 

5. Modify the cowling and structural keel to accept the Rotax;

 

6. Modify the geometry and mechanism for the retractable nosegear to suit the new engine compartment structure;

 

7. Remove the main landing gear and re-install it turned around 180 degrees (many years ago, at the direction of the then owner who apparently kept tipping the aircraft on its tail while climbing in, Lanny had swapped the gear orientation which moved the location of the wheels aft around 6");

 

8. Source and install wheel pants for the main gear;

 

9. Source a suitable propeller for the aircraft;

 

10. Complete a comprehensive inspection of the entire aircraft and its' systems to confirm airworthiness;

 

11. Cosmetically tidy the whole aircraft;

 

12. Complete an annual inspection on the aircraft; and

 

13. Ensure all paperwork for the aircraft is in order.

 

These tasks are still being undertaken but I shall document some of what has been done so far.

 

To be continued...

 

 

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I don't have any pics of the fuselage join process at this point so I shall start with the removal of the AMW808.

 

This process only took a day and was quite straightforward. The prop and spinner had already been removed so it was just a case of removing the top engine cowling and getting into the engine bay, which is very tight by the way, disconnecting all plumbing, electrical leads etc. and take the stuff out.

 

Here is how the engine bay started.

 

e1.JPG.27efb727015de70c1bb97c7c15ab7d07.JPG

 

and

 

e12.JPG.4e7756040e762a6a9a1695fe26d2fbb0.JPG

 

Firstly, the engine itself came out (PS Anyone want to buy a complete 100hp AMW808?).

 

1452488833_photo3.JPG.bd0ccd60e7f98574b6b5e385a58fc6c2.JPG

 

And then came out the ducting for the radiator etc.

 

22191760_photo4.JPG.3ba12f087ccf96cc552e54689e79a3e4.JPG

 

Then the exhaust system was removed and finally, the engine bay was cleaned out.

 

1380955565_photo1.JPG.316d82fed44b845d8ead516245e47e1c.JPG

 

This last photo shows the structural keel that the engine bed mounts are attached to, as is the retractable nose landing gear mounting assembly. The nosegear retracts into this keel. To fit the Rotax 912 in, this keel had to be cut into by around 2 cm, necessitating a change in the geometry of the nose landing gear mechanisms.

 

To be continued...

 

 

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The Rotax 912ULS has now been mounted to the two aluminium angles that can be seen bolted to the structural keel in the above post. With the Rotax being of horizontally opposed configuration, we have had to add some small cowl cheeks to contain the engine. Here are some pics of the fabrication of the cowl cheek plugs.

 

Firstly, the original cowling had to be trimmed to allow the Rotax to be lowered into place.

 

image.jpg.99dd82d3c13cb4fd293da7277148c0ad.jpg

 

image.jpg.8344eb623a02cddbafcbfd951e26b41f.jpg

 

Next, the cowling was put back around the engine and plugs for the new cowl cheeks were built.

 

image.jpg.159bf0a142ffe7c6cf0e6d2470a15620.jpg

 

image.jpg.dc080631aa1dd361e60dd67d6e8b27ea.jpg

 

 

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image.jpg.01f6d6e271918d383f4f9a82e62663c6.jpg

 

image.jpg.994104d4d8b46352e6d56c9675dbd37e.jpg

 

image.jpg.2bba4b33c292b07a65cbbf2fb1606e0b.jpg

 

image.jpg.bc5ec3dc9361c2cea35d1fba7c78ab16.jpg

 

It can be seen from these plugs that the new cowl cheeks are quite minimal and we expect them to have negligible impact on performance.

 

Since these photos were taken, we have taken the molds from these plugs and new cowls have been fabricated. When I get the photos, I'll post them here.

 

 

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where abouts in Adelaide are you ,

 

next time I'm down I wouldn't mind taking a look see .

 

great work .

 

cheers Mike

 

 

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Hi Mike,

 

The Lightning Bug shown above is being rebuilt in the US which is where the business will be based. We had hoped to get it to Oshkosh this year but it looks like time has beaten us. There's only a slim chance of it getting to Oshkosh now 051_crying.gif.fe5d15edcc60afab3cc76b2638e7acf3.gif

 

However, we have a Bug under construction in Adelaide which you could have a look at. I'd just need to tee it up with my Bug business partner who owns it.

 

You'd be welcome to look over my Komet as well which was based on a Bug kit.

 

We can make contact via pm to tee something up

 

Cheers,

 

Dave

 

 

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Looking good Dave.

Thanks Bex,

 

It is looking more and more like it will be a good performing and good looking aircraft. We shall know soon just how successful the Rotax 912/Lightning Bug airframe combo will be.

 

Cheers,

 

Dave

 

 

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I cringed slightly looking at the pics of the Bug cut in half - I'm sure you guys know what you are doing, it just seemed cringeworthy to see an aircraft chopped. Had the same feeling at the Boneyard looking at the B52, B1B and F111 carcasses.

 

Love the story so far, keep the pictures coming (except for those cringeworthy ones 037_yikes.gif.f44636559f7f2c4c52637b7ff2322907.gif)

 

 

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Yes, I cringed when it was cut in half as well. But we weren't game to risk flying it out with the problematical AMW engine that was fitted to it. Fortunately, Lanny Rundell who is doing the work on the Bug has built 3 of them and knows them back to front, and he also used to build Quickies which has just such a join as standard so he has experience in doing the join.

 

The new Bug kit will come with the join pre-done so that the back just bolts on to the front. Making the aircraft trailerable will help many builders who can then complete building the aircraft then take it to the airport to fly, rather than reaching a certain stage in the building, then being forced to take it to the airport it will fly from to insert the wings and do then do the finishing.

 

 

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Does the design preclude removable wings completely? If you could incorporate removable wings and tail at the seam, then transport (and maybe even storage) would be an interesting prospect. Would come at a wight penalty though.

 

 

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Hi Bandit,

 

The current design has the one piece wing bonded in place so they are not removable.

 

That said, a redesign of the wing is being undertaken that will facilitate easier manufacturing/builder assembly and also increase g/Vne limits to aerobatic at 850lbs and 300 ktas (so the same wing can be used in the follow-on jet product). The team doing the design have asked whether I would like to include wing attach fittings and I am very tempted to go that way. It may end up with stub spars that slot into the fuselage and are pinned like many gliders.

 

So what you are suggesting certainly has merit and is being strongly considered.

 

 

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