Inventor launches experimental plane
Al Zagofsky/special to the times news Scott Turner's project to build this high performance aircraft took 12 years to construct.
An innovative aircraft design, 12 years in the making by a Lehighton inventor, completed its test flight and a follow-up flight piloted by its creator.
"I'm trying to slow this thing down. It is slippery as an eel," Scott Turner said of his first attempt to land his modified kit-built Lancair IV-P with his test pilot as a back-up.
"It was hard to judge the speed. We thought we were going about 100 mph, but we were going over 300 mph. The tower asked if it was an experimental airplane. They said, 'We've never seen anything go through our airspace so fast.'"
Turner was landing at Philadelphia Northeast Airport. He was flying a prop; many of the corporate planes that land there are jets.
The 25-foot long 30.2 foot wingspan low wing aircraft was light and peppy in its original design. With its spec 350 HP engine, it was advertised to cruise at 334 mph at an altitude of 24,000 feet.
Turner didn't trust the kit engine, so he opted for a 540 HP V-8. He figures that its altitude can better 28,000 feet and its airspeed could exceed 400 mph.
Turner, a lifelong inventor, was looking for a project to ease him into retirement. He learned to fly and wanted a plane that he could work on and modify. FAA rules allowed him to do this if he built the plane himself. Thus he looked for a kit plane, and thought the four-passenger carbon fiber composite, pressurized Lancair IVP would meet his needs.
Turner began his project in the spring of 1998. It took him 12 years to build his modified aircraft.
"If I had to do it again, I wouldn't have," Turner said. "It took so long. It was my life. I started working at 8 a.m., stopped at 6 p.m., ate dinner, and returned to work on the design."
Turner and his wife, Janet, flew commercially to Redmond, Oregon to pick up the kit parts. They rented a 24-foot truck to fit the more than 16-foot long wing spars. The parts filled the bottom of the truck.
As Turner worked on the aircraft, one problem after another surfaced.
"It came with five three-inch thick instruction books," Turner explained. "The instructions were poorly written."
"The kit pieces were semi-shaped to the way they are supposed to be." Turner explained. "None of them were the finished shape. I had to cut them and piece them together. To get them to fit was extremely time consuming. They gave dimensions, to which I had to sculpt the parts."
Turner's new favorite tool became the abrasive saw.
Early on, Turner was hearing that the kit engine, a 350-HP Continental 550, "kept breaking down and the engine would need a major overhaul after 500 hours."
"As I was building, I kept hearing of these problems," Turner said, and thought, "There's got to be a better way to go."
He ordered an alternative engine, an Engine Air V-8.
He soon began to question his decision.
"After I got the airplane built, I found out several different problems. The worst of which was the president of the Engine Air company died in a crash of a similar airplane because his engine failed," he said.
Under new ownership, it was renamed Silver Wings Aviation. The name change didn't help. Turner couldn't find a test pilot who would fly his airplane with that engine in it.
During the construction of the plane, Turner found numerous problems-and solved them.
A partial list of his upgrades included an improved rudder control system, a water level monitoring system, an improved landing light system, an adjustable reclining seat, low fuel warning system, a warning light to tell the pilot it the tow bar is not properly stashed, an oil level indicator-a total of 30 additional warning lights, and he increased the fuel capacity from 88 gallons to 130 gallons.
Meanwhile, Turner had aged past 70 years old, and recognizing that the plane he built was more like a bull than a steer, he decided to put it up for sale.
"I placed an ad in a leading aviation magazine," he said. "I had several potential buyers but I was waiting for someone who I felt good about."
One day, a prospective buyer arrived. He brought a friend, a third-generation pilot, as an inspector.
"As I was showing it, every five minutes, the pilot would say, 'You did that?' I'd shake my head, 'yes,' and he would say, 'that's fantastic.'"
When Turner warned them about the grief he had trying to find a test pilot because of the alleged issues with the larger engine, they both brushed that aside saying they loved the sound of the V-8.
They became partners, found a test pilot, and put the plane into it's maiden flight on Aug. 20.
"It was a great moment after all these years," Turner said. "Now that its over, I'm very proud because of the response of the people that have looked at it and have flown it because it performed so well.
"It was flawless. For an airplane this complex and to have no problems was a delight."