One of my heroes is Peter M. Bowers. His name may be unfamiliar to some, but those of us who have been involved in aviation for a while know about Mr. Bower’s work as an aviation journalist, aeronautical engineer, and active member of the Experimental Aircraft Association. Aviation buffs also know about Bowers by his work of designing and building a nice single-engine homebuilt, the Bowers Flybaby. Check out the video of the prototype flying below (found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pp_t0lOJZME).
Bowers led a good life from the perspective of working in the industry and playing in the homebuilt airplanes field. When I learned of the Flybaby, I was quickly impressed with much of what many reported in various media about his design. At the time I learned about the Flybaby, I was also discovering the Experimental Aircraft Association. I was also noticing the exciting world of homebuilt airplanes. Many of the pilots I was quickly becoming friends with had low opinions of amateur built airplanes. Like many things in life I knew nothing about, I started researching and studying. I found one of the biggest concerns many of the Cub and Cessna pilots I came to know at the “homedrome” did not care for homebuilt airplanes because many of those designs were small. And many of the pilots were, well, big. They didn’t fit into those cockpits too well, hence their natural dislike for the homebuilt airplanes.
However, in some cases, there was some legitimacy behind their arguments. A few of the homebuilts were exotic and small, with minimal wing area giving them “hot” handling characteristics. Some of the designers didn’t know what they were doing, a few did. Consequently, a number of the airplanes were dangerous to fly. There were the airplanes designed by the “shade tree” aeroplane mechs who were great tinkerers. Some of those airplanes were okay, some were accidentally great airplanes, but still, there were those that were a handful to fly. And if you didn’t pay attention to them 103 percent of the time, you could find yourself in a lot of trouble.
Some of the designers were educated in things aeronautical. Pete Bowers was one of those and his Flybaby reflected his thoughtful considerations during the design process. He used common materials of the time so that anyone could easily replicate his airplane. The dimensions were very similar to the Piper Cub and indeed, the airplane flew like a low-wing, single-seat version of the Cub. She was a basic, solid VFR airplane all around.
For the majority of airplanes many built over the last five or so decades, a 65 hp Continental, the same engine of Cub fame, gave the popular single-seater adequate performance. Others also used the 85 hp Continental giving the airplane a top speed of 104 knots, a cruise speed of 96 knots, and a more spritely climb rate. At the time he offered the plane to the public, Mr. Bowers said engines ranging from 65 to 100 hp were ideal for the airframe.
The worthiness of a design is a tale told by its longevity. How many pilots keep working on and flying their examples of the aircraft? Are the plans for the airplane still available? In the case of the Flybaby, all of the answers are very positive.
Peter Bowers passed in August 2003 and the plans are now available for $145 through David R. Bowers, 13730 Burke Rd, Los Altos Hills, CA 94022. More than 300 Flybabies remain on the active roll with the FAA Registry.
©2015 J. Clark
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