To say that Jim Bede was controversial is an understatement. Some called him a visionary, others had descriptions that were not so kind. The undisputed fact, though, is that Jim Bede excited and then disappointed a lot of pilots in the 1970s. He was a hard guy not to like and he exuded infectious enthusiasm even if he didn’t always deliver.
Bede had started his company in 1961 to develop the BD-1, a kit airplane. This evolved in to the AA-1 Yankee which was produced as a certified airplane by American Aviation in Cleveland.
Bede put numbers on other BD designs including the BD-2, a powered sailplane he used to set a distance record and the BD-4, a rather conventional four-place kit airplane that met with some degree of success.
Those aside, the one that got the most attention and created the most excitement was the BD-5. It was a diminutive single-seat airplane. It was a low-wing, with a canopy. It came as a piston-powered airplane and a pure jet (BD-5J). The promise was a low price and high performance.
The BD-5 started life with a fiberglass fuselage but that was quickly changed to metal to better strengthen the area where the tail attached. Everything else was metal and was designed for easy building.
The total size of the airplane was best summed up by a comment from Burt Rutan’s mother. Burt was working with Bede in 1972 when I visited Bede’s facilities at Newton, Kansas. He invited me to try out the “cabin” for size. You reclined in it and when I got settled in Mrs. Rutan said, “Richard looks just like he is in a coffin.” That was about the size of it.
Rutan was joined by Les Berven, another engineer who had been working on Air Force projects at Edwards. Berven was the chief test pilot and was the only pilot who had flown the BD-5 well into the program.
Bede also hired Herb Sawinski, a respected avionics executive to better organize the operation and it didn’t take Sawinski long to make great strides. In 1972 Bede had finished putting together a team that he thought would see the project through to a successful conclusion.
There were three camps when it came to Jim Bede and the BD-5.
The true believers ordered as many as 11,000 kits and made a deposit. That is the highest number I saw but I don’t think it was ever verified.
The skeptics hoped that it would work but had plenty of doubts.
The non-believers thought it was some kind of hoax.
I spent quite a bit of time with Bede and vacillated between the last two camps. Even at that early time in my career (twelve or so years in) I had seen a lot of things that didn’t work. There were many false promises in general aviation. I quickly recognized that Jim Bede would share his vision with everyone who would listen before he fully understood his vision. Grains of salt were in order.
As with so many projects, the BD-5 was initially offered at a price that was hard to resist. The deposit started off at $200 against a total kit cost of $1,799. I think I recall the deposit increasing to $400. I am sure the total kit cost also increased but I couldn’t find an exact final number for that though I did see at least $3,500. The deal was that the full kit cost would be due when the first parts shipped.
The BD-5 assembly line was to be in the basements and garages of the builders. Bede had suppliers who would fabricate the various parts and where the indication was that it wouldn’t take a lot of tools to build, the final list of desirable tools was both long and expensive.
Bede estimated that 600 to 800 hours would be required to build a BD-5 but most observers put the number at or above 1,000. Later, some builders who actually completed a BD-5 reported build times of up to 3,500 hours. It apparently wasn’t so simple to build.
It was obvious from the start that everything about this airplane would be different. You can tell by looking that it certainly was not designed to be powered by any existing aircraft engine.
The heart of the airplane was to be a two-cycle Hirth snowmobile engine from Germany. It had to turn at 6,500 rpm to develop the roughly 65 horsepower that Bede wanted so a reduction system was required to make the prop turn at the desired speed. The snowmobile engine sold for $240 and the goal was to adapt it to airplane use without spending too much money. I saw an estimated price of both $480 and $640 for the engine with dual ignition and other mods. Bede ordered 5,000 of these engines.
Concurrently, Bede was developing the BD-5J, powered by a small jet engine that produced 200 pounds of thrust. A lot of eyebrows arched when Bede invited some journalists to fly the BD-5J before anyone other than Berven had flown the piston airplane.
I was working for FLYING at the time and we selected colleague Jack Olcott to fly the BD-5J. Jack’s aeronautical engineering background and test flying experience made him the best man for the job.
Bede had said that when it came to stability and control and structure the BD-5 would be tested to the same standards as Part 23 production airplanes.
Virtually everyone though the short-coupled little airplane would be a handful to fly. Jack met the reality of the matter right before Christmas, 1973, at Bede’s Newton facility.
As part of his preparation for the flight Berven wanted him to accelerate to Vr, rotate, and then quickly abort before the airplane flew. By doing that Berven felt like Jack could get some feel for the pitch sensitivity of the airplane before actually flying away.
The event didn’t follow the script because when Jack rotated, the BD-5J hopped into the air. Jack had to then land and a pilot-induced oscillation that developed right after liftoff complicated the touchdown. The nosewheel was damaged but the airplane was simple and a new nosewheel was in place in short order.
The next day Jack flew away in the BD-5J and in a relatively short flight he came to the conclusion that it wasn’t a bad airplane to fly. I was flying the photo airplane and he formed up without a bobble. A minute later he asked to be excused for a moment. The BD-5J accelerated, pulled up into a beautiful loop and, presto, at the bottom of the loop Jack was right back in formation with us. I’ll never forget that.
I was relieved when Jack’s flight ended with a quite nice landing. I am godfather to Jack’s oldest son, David, and I sure didn’t want to go beyond the birthday present part of that role.
It didn’t take much imagination to understand why they were letting people fly the jet and not the piston. Rumors were flying about the trouble they were having with the Hirth engine and, as we later learned, Berven got a lot of forced landing practice in the airplane.
By this time, Bede was shipping airframe kit parts with word that the engine would follow soon.
As an aside, the structure of the BD-5J got a severe test when famed aerobatic pilot Bobby Bishop had a canopy fail and depart the aircraft. As you would imagine, there was a lot of startle-value in that and Bishop inadvertently applied quite a bit of back stick. The result was a 15-g pull and after he had been talked through a successful landing everyone marveled at the increased dihedral of the wings, 24 degrees in one wing and 19 in the other. The stick force had been calculated at 3 pounds per g in flight testing. That is lighter than anything most of us have flown but it still took a bit of a pull to get to 15-g.
About six months later Jack Olcott got a call from Bede telling him that the piston airplane was ready, to come on out and fly. Jack would be first to fly that airplane for a pilot report.
Because of the light pitch forces, Bede had come up with a unique simulator to break pilots in gently on the landing characteristics. They had a BD-5 airframe suspended from a trapeze in front of a pickup truck. The trapeze had springs that kept it from having any effect on the BD-5 except to keep it tethered.
The throttle in the cockpit controlled the speed of the pickup and the drill was to accelerate down the runway to 55-60 mph, rotation speed for the airplane, where the pilot would then rotate and climb to as high as ten feet. The airplane could also be rolled 10 degrees in either direction. Then the throttle could be retarded followed by a landing. An instructor in the truck could communicate with the pilot and give appropriate advice.
Jack passed his truck check ride and graduated to the real airplane. Because this one had no starter, it was cranked with a rope pull, much like the power mowers of old.
Jack put the airplane through its paces, including spins. The climb was good and he reached 10,000 feet in 12 minutes to begin those spins. In level flight, the best indicated airspeed he saw was 152 mph which was short of what was advertised. Earlier, Jim Bede had shown me a projected speed readout on one of the relatively crude computers of the day. It showed over 200 mph. I asked Jim Bede who programmed that computer. Grinning from ear to ear he said, “I did.”
On Jack’s last spin the engine quit. With no starter he got to join Berven in the ranks of those who flew to a successful forced landing in a BD-5. Jack hit the spot on the airport perfectly.
Because of reliability issues the Hirth engine had been cut back to about 50 horsepower but was still unsatisfactory. They started looking for another engine but ran into delays on a Japanese design.
According to one account, Bede shipped 5,100 kits. I don’t know whether they were full or partial kits but it probably didn’t matter because by this time the company was insolvent and headed for bankruptcy.
A number of people figured out how to power their piston BD-5s and more than a few of the jets were completed. The BD-5J was on the air show circuit for a long while and I think one of the last uses was as a cruise missile simulator for military training purposes.
The great Richard Bach built a BD-5J and had quite a love affair with the airplane. It drew such crowds everywhere he landed that he made a sign he put in the cockpit for people to read. The information was realistic, not promotional, and reflected the true ability of the airplane. He gave the high cruise as 250 mph, stall speed as 82 mph with a range of 300 miles. He reported it had been as high as 18,000 feet where it was still climbing 400 fpm.
Some of the early kits were shipped with short wings. A longer wing was also available and after some flying it was decided that all piston airplanes should have the long wings. The jet’s wing span was somewhere between the long and the short.
The Bede bankruptcy was not final until 1979 but activity had ceased long before then. During the bankruptcy hearings there was some question about money being diverted from kits to other projects. The only legal fallout from this was said to be a Bede agreement not to take deposits on aircraft for a period of ten years.
I have seen estimates that as many as 150 piston BD-5s were completed with a wide variety of engines. Because of the power requirement and the center of gravity an engine of under 100 pounds that developed from 60 to 70 horsepower was an absolute necessity. One Rotax fit the bill and in fact a BD-5 with a Rotax 74 hp engine set a weight class speed record of 218 mph. The original promise turned out to be possible in that case.
It goes without saying that a lot of people felt betrayed when the dream turned into a nightmare. That has happened in this business more than once and I wonder if there is anyone out there who made a deposit on a BD-5 and later made a deposit on an original Eclipse jet. An old saying comes to mind: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”
Jim Bede was never a person to quit smiling and trying and has worked many projects since the BD-5.
According to an article he wrote in FLYING, Richard Bach had this to say at the conclusion of the information he placed in his cockpit for viewing by the public: “There is a lot of controversy about the promotion and sales of the BD-5 aircraft. The pilot of this plane does not have many facts or answers to give. The airplane itself, however, ranks among the very best flying machines ever built.”
Richard did love his BD-5J. And who could ever forget Corkey Fornoff flying a BD-5J through a hangar in the Bond flick Octopussy. I think it is safe to say that the pilots who did complete and fly BD-5 and BD-5Js had fun. Too bad more weren’t able to do it.
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Great article! Like many, I have lusted after the BD-5 since I first watched Bobby Bishop fly it at an airshow in Oklahoma.
The BD5 certainly captured my imagination throughout the saga. Still think I should have bought one even with the controversy. Just wondering; can it be resurrected? seems pretty straightforward and with all the advances in engines I would think a few could be used with good results. Anyone still have a kit?
15 Gs….seriously, still awake at 15 Gs…….!
I own that actual airplane today (N152BD) with a new wing of course, You can follow me as I bring this very aircraft back to the air show scene after a long delay!!!
Go to Facebook and search: Microjet Airshows
Not for long….
What exactly do you mean by, “not for long”? Do you know something I don’t?
I was refering to the guys comment on being awake at 15 G’s.
Oh, okay. I thought you were referring to my post. No worries..;-)
The dream is alive – watch facebook – FLS MICROJET
Or Here; FB at microjet airshows
Excellent article, if memory serves correct I saw Leo Loudenslager perform in it. I think the tag was “Bud Light Air Force” along with his Laser those days.
I owned BD-5 B kit number 1407 and my dad and I began construction of it. We solicited the help of Paul Saltzman in Indiana. Paul had completed his BD-5 and had about 5 hours on it when he decided to switch engines. On the first flight with the different engine, he experienced power failure soon after takeoff and lost his life in the subsequent crash landing. We held Paul in very high regard and the tragedy of his loss curbed our desire to complete our project and we sold the uncompleted kit to a fellow in Florida.
That’s sad to hear about Paul Saltzman. Sorry it deterred you from completing yours. I feel that with today’s advancements in engines we (and he) would have a considerably different outcome. Sorry
What a small world it is. Paul Saltzman was my first instructor when I started taking flying lessons in Okinawa. He talked me into buying a BD-5 kit along with him. Mine was 617 and never got beyond attaching the ribs to the spar. I sold mine to Paul when he was a dealer for the 5. I don’t know where it ended up but would love to be able to track it. For what we paid for them I would love to have it back just to build it up to sit in. It truely was a dream and one that I wish I could make come true.
Hi Chuck looking for a Charles Sparks pilot from Florida back in 1970 ish. Madeira beach I believe. Contact me if you know of him. [email protected]
Chuck Sparks…..I read your reply from quite long ago about the Bede-5 and Paul Saltzman. You mentioned that he was your flight instructor in Okinawa. He was my instructor there also. I read another comment that he lost his life when his engine failed. What memories about him and the aero club at Kadena. Chris
I was working at EVV, when Paul Salzman trailered in his BD-5 for testing w/ the 55hp Hirth engine, helped him attach the wings. The wings employed a rack and pinion arrangement to secure to the stub carry thru. I lived next to the airport (6500ft runway 22/4) and Paul flew a LOT! Had my home scanner
tuned to tower, I beleive he was N5PS? He loved to cruise the length of runway 36/18, rapidly cycling his gear…showing how cool it was. I thought the 55hp Hirth was adequate power, but apparently Paul wanted more power, & reliability. His brother owned Jon’s Cyclerama, Mt Vernon In, and the 903 Kawasaki engine(80hp) was soon shoe horned into the “5”s tight engine bay. I did not witness the maiden flight with the “Kaw” engine, but co-workers observed apparent overheating problems with the heavier 4cyl engine, possibly melting the coax to the comm antenna. I examined the mangled airframe along with Paul’s distraught brother and FAA personel. I was under the impression that the CG was at aft limits and he had power, but succumbed to an accellerated stall shortly after becoming airborn?
I think ole Jim Bede was a pretty sharp fellow and he gathered some pretty sharp guys to help him. Maybe with a little better backing and a business overlord, that whole deal could have had quite an effect on the course of GA. Maybe it was just too far ahead of its time. My viewpoint may be softened somewhat though since I didn’t have the $400 to put down at the time and thus didn’t get clipped.
The article and some of the comments read like Jim Bede isn’t alive anymore. Did I miss something?
As far as I know Jim is still around. Nothing I wrote in the article said otherwise. It was about what went on in the 1970s, not about the present.
Thanks Richard… I assumed he was still around but the use of the word “was” combined with the fact that the most recent newsletter I found on bedecorp.com was dated 03/14/2012, I started wondering.
Jim is very much alive and kicking!!!
Wow. Nice article. I’ve been fascinated with the BD5 ever since I saw “James Bond” fly it through the hangar on the flick “Octopussy” — and now I see them frequently at the airport where my daughter works as an operations manager at a flight training school and I’ve been able to get some pics of them to post on my website (included here). The plane has an interesting history — and I hope to see more flying.
I went to hear Jim Bede speak in Oakland, CA in the 70’s at the height of the BD-5 problems. The talk started with a hostile crowd and ended with people ready to put down deposits. I don’t remember the details, but Jim was a great speaker and self promoter. Jim was also a skilled designer as the BD-1 (Yankee) and the BD-4 show. Of course, I was able to resist putting down the $400.00.
One of the sad things was the promotion in places like Popular Mechanics, causing non-pilots to think this was an airplane for beginners.
Yes, Jim is alive and kicking. He just gave a presentation to us on the BD-2, of which is now back in Ohio. We are trying to figure out what to do with it. Hard to find a place for a plane with a 63 foot wingspan. By the way, Jim and his whole family are a wonderful lot.
Great photo! Jim Bede, towering over a crowd, speaking through a bullhorn standing in front of a Bede 5. That pretty much sums it up!
How many good pilots believed the hype from Bede, bought and built the BD-5 kit, then were killed by one of its engineering flaws? I can’t believe, after all the fatalities, that this guy hasn’t been black balled by the aviation press.
I think your comment is “flawed” on a couple items.
Good Pilot is a relative term. It comes down to seat-of-the pants “stick and rudder” guy and judgement. Most of the pilots killed in a BD-5 (prop or jet) lacked one (or possibly both). If you look at most, if not all of the crashes in a BD-5. I believe most were pilot error. Error meaning poor judgement or lacking the skill to complete the task.
In terms of ” engineering flaws” , to my knowledge, not one of the accidents was due to an “engineering flaw” . On the contrary, this is one of the best engineered airplanes of all history. Are there things that can’t be improved? Absolutely, but every airplane could, and occasionally does.
This article describes how Bobby Bishop pulled 15 G’s after his canopy came loose on a dive while in testing and he landed it safely. Now, while I would agree that Bobby Bishop is better than a “good” pilot, I think that this was one of many testaments to the engineering and strength of the BD-5, than it was to good piloting skill. It’s a very strong and robust little airplane. I fly that very same airplane today.
I agree that Jim has had an unfair representation by the aviation press, but that’s due more to the fact that many people were left “high and dry” not able to finish their kits due to lack of an adequate engine or parts available to finish their airplane. The crashes were an unfortunate coincidence of BEDE’s eventual demise.
Do you know what propeller shaft system the BD had? Was it similar to the Mini-Imp.
You have never read a single BD-5 related NTSB report, have you? It shows. Yet another uninformed armchair expert.
Not really sure how you could fit an armchair in a bd-5…
His post clearly states, “I fly that very same airplane today.”
Are you replying to Peter or Peter R.?
To Peter, Peter R., and Juan Jimenez…
The “argument” over bad engineering vs. pilot error is misguided. I discovered 54 accidents in the NTSB database spanning several years for the various models of the BD-5.
I read the probable causes.
While a fair amount of pilot error exists in these reports, there are also a number of mechanical issues that are due to some combination of improper manufacture, maintenance, or design.
These accident reports include 20 fatalities. These 20 deaths are real people who died. They represent real shattered families, real grief for those left behind – wives, children, parents, friends… Each and every one of them is uncalled for.
I don’t dispute the coolness factor of this airplane for one minute (I want one too), but this airplane’s engineering is certainly not “perfect” and the mindset, skill and training of some of its pilots is also far from perfect.
An honest assessment and acknowledgement of its characteristics, limitations and quirks is the first step in improving the safety of any flight in any airplane – especially an unusual one.
I once flew a 1927 biplane that would almost yank the stick out of your hand in turbulence because of the massive surface area of the double ailerons. Was that an engineering “flaw”? Not in 1927, but today? Yes… absolutely!
I think that if this airplane were designed again from the ground up using everything we know now (including its own accident history), there exists a lot of opportunities to improve its safety, its handling characteristics, and it’s mechanical reliability. Engineering is more than structural integrity and pilot skill is more than stick and rudder technique. Good judgement in both is always essential.
Don’t know how I got included in your post address, but I will further elaborate anyway.
First, I speak about the airplane from experience. I have flown the jet version this past summer, and I’m very aware of its record. I also understood that before I ventured out to fly it. I’ve been flying for 32 years and I’m currently employed as an airline pilot with over 20,000 flight hours. – I personally had no problem flying the airplane, but I can see where some people might. I currently am, and have been an instructor (both airline and civilian) for years, so I know first hand about “pilot judgement and flying skill” and I can tell you pilots do some stupid things (even though they’re skilled aviators) and then there are some that are just not up to the task (even though they themselves think they are “Chuck Yeager”). This airplane just begs “fun factor” and “macho vibrato” – I know because I have experienced both..;-)
I will disagree with you about the “design” being too dangerous, or the cause of these accidents, that’s just plain false. Does it require more skill or expertise in high performance aircraft? Well, that depends on your skill level and experience. Many of these accident pilots exercised poor judgement and or pushed a bad situation to the point of failure. I speak more directly about the jet, but from looking into many of these accidents, I can see almost the same pattern in all of them. I agree with you about the construction and maintenance as being more of the issue. But not about the actual ” design” of this highly maneuverable high performance aircraft.
It boils down to judgement, skill level, and the platform that you’re flying. What I mean is, if you can’t handle say, a Piits special, Bonanza or something similar, then I wouldn’t try flying the BD -5. Get some experience in some high performance airplane before you jump into a plane like this. I wouldnt send a person who has C-172 time into a F-104. It just wouldnt be pretty. I know that’s an extreme example, but it helps illistrate what I’m trying to say. Then there’s just “bad”judgement which happens all the time. That’s more of what I see in these accidents more than a design flaw. What some might call a design flaw of in a BD-5, some might call different. You call it “sensitive” , I call it “maneuverable!” You call it “scary”, I call it “fun”
There have been some enhancements that have been made over the years, but not on the overall design. I fly one of the original BD -5 jets (second one ever made) and it truely flies fantastic, with no adverse characteristics whatsoever. If you’re not ready for what the “Bull” might do, don’t ride the “Bull”! And certainly don’t change it’s designed characteristics, that’s what makes it such a fun and satisfying airplane to fly.
Just my two cents, and now, I’m done… ;-)
I had a BD-5 kit for a time. Fuselage mostly completed. Never built the wings.. Sold the plane. I still use the “lead brick” that was installed in the nose for wt and bal equalization with the heavier rear engine. I use it at the tail of my PA-16 Clipper since I installed the 150 hp engine. When asked about it I say it is ASW Anti Submarine Warfare gear !
I followed a lot of the BD-5 saga… Talked to a lot of BD-5 builders. Once I ran across a fella who had completed his ship and flew it regularly. Had an 85 Continental engine. His opinion was that many of the early accidents for low timers was the fact of the “high thrust line”.. Instructions from Bede were to make high speed taxi runs up to the lift off speed of 85 [as I remember?] and then reduce power and coast to a stop or use the brakes..
The trouble was with the high thrust line and low time pilots… at the speed of lift off… when the power was reduced the nose popped up suddenly and the little plane was then in the air with low airspeed which was rapidly reducing and the plane stalled at very low altitude with a pilot who had never experienced a stall or a landing in the plane!
Most were faithfully following the “instructions” and refused to add power and fly out of the precarious situation. My friend who flew his Bede 5 regularly was of the opinion that if the “high speed taxi” tests were made only up to perhaps 50mph it would have been alright. Better still [according to the BD 5 pilot] would be just to make certain that all was well and just fly on off the first time. His point was that the plane was “honest” and responsive and most low time pilots would not have a problem on a first flight.
And interesting point… but we have no way of knowing if he was correct or not. The truck simulator would perhaps have avoided the sudden surprise lift off situations. Guess it would be like a take off with landing pitch trim selected. We have all done that a few times.
BOUGHT LICENSE TO BUILD AND PLANS FROM MOLT TAYLOR IN 1976 GOT DISINTERESED SOLD TO AIR FORCE PILOT FROM MICHIGAN NICE LITTLE PLANE
Video clip of flying through the hangar (and under a bridge over a canyon) in Octopussy
(figuring links won’t post here)
three Ws dot youtube dot com/watch?v=zfXvAFmEK3Y
No problem, Ron. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfXvAFmEK3Y
Maybe some more about Piper Pacer, Twinkee, Cherokee 6, P210…?
I was one of the original kit buyers, with a BD5-B ordered in 1973 at the EAA Oshkosh Airshow.
First off, I don’t think anyone got cheated on the kit. If you look at the original design, the nose gear was welded from 4130 tubing. What Bede actually delivered was a jewel of a miniature nose strut, complete with operable swivel steering, and actual oleo strut functions. Everything else in the kit was comparable.
Every part was aircraft quality. There was no cheap stuff, or hardware store hardware suppled anywhere in the kit.
The drawings were (And still are) quite exceptional. They are probably the best plans for a homebuilt aircraft that have ever been released. If you ever look at a set, you will instantly understand!
I never got an engine, but that wasn’t becasue Jim Bede was laying on a beach somewhere and sipping on a drink. The whole program was hugely more expensive than orginally thought.
I still have my kit, and I hope when I retire, I can get back to it and get it in the air.
This article should have quoted from the FLYING magazine article where they apologized to Jim Bede, and admitted that the aircraft was one of the finest flying aircraft they had ever flown. I have a copy of the magazine in my BD5 files.
I have been involved in aviation (primarily with Learjets) since 1976, and every time I ran into a really sharp engineer at Learjet, it would turn out they had worked at Bede during the BD5 days.
One of them was Paul Randall, who when he retired, gifted me all his archival material on the BD5, including a lot of sketches and calculations for various things. I am glad to have it, and it is very interesting to look through.
Yeah, I lost a couple thousand on the BD5, but what I got was one of the world’s finest flying machines. and a real beauty!
I share your enthusiasm for the BD-5 design but need to clarify two important historical points about the BD-5. First, regarding the quality of BD-5 parts. And second, regarding what Bede customers actually received from Bede.
1) According to a 1973 Air Facts magazine article, some of the wing spar tubes Bede shipped out were of less than aircraft quality. Fracture cracks were common in the wing spar area that telescoped over the fuselage carry through spar. Inspect yours for pitted metallurgy and cracks before you build or fly it.
2) 3,000+ BD-5D customers never received the FAA certified factory built airplane Bede had sold to them.
2,000+ BD-5 kit customers received incomplete kits. Few engines and drive systems were ever delivered by Bede to complete the plane.
For those still interested in building and flying a BD-5, refined kits are available from enthusiastic parts sellers. They cost more today than Bede sold them for but the odds of parts delivery is much better.
As a young 16 YO soloed student pilot in southern Kansas, I fell instantly in love with the BD-5 from the first magazine article. I started saving for a kit, but college and life intervened–fortunately. Now with a Wichita State engineering education and an engineering career well behind me, I still smile whenever I see a picture of one of these “dreams”.
Of course, with the wisdom of age I now wonder what useful mission the BD-5 is suited for. Perhaps a stretch, pressurized jet, version with room for the wife and a suitcase… :-)
In 1973 I attended my first Oshkosh. This was long before AirVenture. As we drove over the overpass at the end of runway 09 near Highway 41, a BD 5 flew in formation with a yellow P-51 over the airport. I think Bob Hoover was flying the P-51. This was a great way to attend my first Oshkosh on the very first day.
Shortly after Jim Bede introduced the BD-5, I became one of his biggest fans. When the BD-5’s popularity peaked, I easily sold my all three of my BD-5 low priority number contracts. For me, the dream of flying my own BD-5 ended before it began.
At that time, Bede had already sold contracts for the future delivery of 2,000+ BD-5 homebuilt kits and 3,000+ FAA certified factory built BD-5D’s.
By the end, very few BD-5 kits were ever delivered that included the engine and prop drive system.
None, zero, not even one factory built BD-5D was ever delivered because FAA certification was never completed.
With sales contracts for over 5,000 airplanes, Bede’s was probably the largest kitplane/airplane company to fail to date.
The 1970’s were an exciting time in EAA history. The kitplane and airplane plans sellers like Van’s RV’s, Rutan, Glassair, Lancair, Christensen, etc. sold, and delivered, homebuilt airplanes to a marketplace of flyers that Jim Bede was the first to identify.
Most of us learned a lot from the experience.
While I have always lusted after a BD-5, I spent 10 years flying an AA-1A and can tell you that while underpowered that little bird was fabulous to fly. I am debating a BD-4 after my current project even though I am not a fan of high wings, but only because of the unique build process and the design simplicity…plus a big motor can get that thing up to 200mph. If the BD-1 is any indication the -4 will be a good family hauler. At one point I tried to prod Jim to design a twin engined BD-4. That tubular spar would be perfect. Yes, I dream a lot and still do.
I was one of those &400.00 persons. Fortunately it was at the point where no more parts were being shipped. Preparing for the BD-5 I purchased a new AA-1 YANKEE figuring that it would have some of the flying characteristic of the BD-5 I was hoping to build. I had about 10 good years of flying the YANKEE, what a fun plane. Met Jim several times, a very pleasant person but he could sell freezers in the arctic. I never regret the experience, since an education usually never comes cheap. Since then I have built and am flying my own handiwork, but this time I made sure, that is as sure can be, that the company would be there when I finished the project.
I grew up in Newton, KS and used to ride my bicycle out to the airport as a young teen to see Bede’s creations. We used to see Burt Rutan flying his VariViggen around town back then, before Burt Rutan was a big name. Occasionally we’d see a BD-5J outside the window in high school — pretty tough competition for a teacher. One of the best looking airplanes ever.
was the BD-5 also called an “ACROJET”? i recall seeing the “ACROJETS” fly at Cimmarron Field, now called CE Page, out west of OKC. i was 13 years old at the time and thought they were one of the neatest planes i ever saw…….in spring of 1990 i got to see the Coors Light Silver Bullet jets at an MCAS Yuma air show and they were the BD-5Js as i recall. i recall the MCAS Yuma air show very well because i got to meet Tom Jones 3 months before his death in june at OKC.
Anybody remember “The Silver Bulliet”?
I used to work for the local Coors Distributor and it was a big deal when it came to a local airshow.
I still have a set of plans to build a BD5J that I ordered in the mid 70s.
Never built it tho.
Do you have an email that I can contact from?
Pilot/Owner Microjet Airshows (N152BD) second BD-5J ever built!
Hello folks, there is a BD-5 @ The Western Museum of Flight on Torrance Airport (KTOA). They even let you sit in it! As cool as it is small…..
The original AA1 had one wing and one tail surface that acted as left, right and vertical fin also control surfaces.
I recall a kit price of $2500.
We had an engineer who formerly worked at Bede and said the AA1 couldn’t (didn’t) recover from a spin. A revision to airfoils resulted.
Note the familial resemblance to the Grumman -American which has a good resemblance to the Bedes. Van’s also are not all that dissimilar in appearance.
His model 4, I believe. has a good performance and reliability history.
I still feel better about rivets over glue bonding in heat /cold/humidity cycling.
You wrote “…AA1 couldn’t (didn’t) recover from a spin.”
That is why Bede had installed a placard on the panel reading: Spins Prohibited.
In the late 1970’s I spoke with an engineer that was on the team that put the AA-1 Yankee in the NASA wind tunnel for spin recovery testing. Their findings concluded that if the AA-1’s fuselage was 10 inches longer, placing the tail surfaces further aft, spin recovery would have been possible with normal spin recovery control inputs by the pilot.
So don’t even think about spinning a Yankee intentionally.
Was always impressed with this design until I discovered the Long EZ. Then it was obvious to me who was the better designer and what I wanted to fly. After 800 hours I’m still convinced and love the Rutan design!
How do you match two sizes of tubing, wing and carry thru structure?
Jim Bede first used tubular wing spars on the BD-1 / Yankee. On his homebuilt airplane designs (the BD-4,5,6,8) the tubular spars allowed easy wing removable for the convienience of trailering and storage of the airplane.
If I understand your question correctly I’ll say that for a proper match, the inside diameter of the tubular wing spar is only slightly larger than the outside diameter of the tubular carry through spar that is built into the fuselage. When first installing the wings the tubular spars required some honing, polishing, and lubrication for the carry through spar to slide about 15 inches inside of each wings spar tube. That is how Bede designed it.