The Bowers Fly Baby 1A
Serial #69-21

This is an introduction to my airplane and its construction. While you're reading this bit, images are loading further down the page, and they'll give you a fairly good look at what this thing is about.

A bit of history is in order, I think, and what follows is everything I've learned so far from documentation in the plans and "The Fly Baby Bulletin". (Note: I've not cross-checked this stuff against Ron Wanttaja's superb Fly Baby site, the single best Fly Baby resource on the Web. There might be discrepencies here yet to be worked out. However, I'm citing the aircraft plans as well as the "Bulletin".)

In 1957, the Experimental Aircraft Association invited its membership to design, build and submit designs for a low-cost, easy-to-build, and easy-to-fly folding wing airplane for judging in a competition in conjunction with the National Fly-in in 1959. For various reasons, the competition was postponed until 1962. Pete Bowers, of Seattle, Washington met the specifications for a homebuilt airplane including requirements that, among other things, it could be built in a space 7'x8'x20', which was equivalent to an average home garage.

As the plans state, "Great emphasis [was] placed upon safe flight characteristics and good low speed performance for takeoff and landing at some sacrifice of high speed." (Fly Baby plans, "Introduction", p. A) Also crucial to the design were simple wood construction techniques using fairly common tools available to average people.

Bowers won the EAA design award with the Fly Baby, and was met with howling demand for plans.

This airplane has been built with an impressive array of modifications personal to builders, and the original design has been modified by Bowers himself into a parasol monoplane (model 1B, kinda like a bi-plane without the lower wing), and bi-plane (model 1C). A wide variety of engines have been fitted, as have floats for marine models.

Performance has been more than satisfactory. The low wing loading (about 7 pounds per square foot) gives it very friendly flying characteristics, and, before the FAA changed the rules over this sort of thing, the Fly Baby even towed gliders.

Pete Bowers rendered a uniquely lovable design that will likely never disappear as long as individual crazies insist on gluing together man-sized model airplanes and flying them on their own. He did guys like me a big favor.

Have a look.

The Fuselage it currently sits. Never mind The Brat, who is present merely for purposes of scale. The yellow straps currently fasten the fuselage to a six-wheel garage-creeper so I can roll it around conveniently.

As seen here, the fuselage is 14'-6" long from rudder post to firewall, and 25" across its widest point. It weighs about 150 pounds. Behind the aluminum firewall are two aluminum rails running vertically, to which the engine-mount bolts in four places, two per side. The white areas on top of the fuselage fore & aft of the cockpit are aluminum sheet, currently covered in protective white plastic. The fuel tank will reside in the space forward of the cockpit, under the aluminum. (It's designed to accept a stock tank from a Piper J-3 Cub, but there are lots of variations in flying airplanes, and I might modify it to leave me more leg room to the rudder pedals, although there are other solutions, too.)

Aft of the cockpit, you can see the fuselage stringers that form the top of the fuselage down to the flat sides. (More of these later.) The sides are 1/8" plywood. (I'm not exactly certain of what kind - I need to go through the original materials receipts in detail in order to find out.)

If you look along the bottom edge of the fuselage under the cockpit, you can see the two wing attach points marked with bits of masking tape.

Another View

Here, you can see the top fuselage stringers from the rear, as well as the rudder hang, which is temporary for the moment. Near the bottom of the rudder post, you can see three bolts that join it between the fuselage sides.


Here's a close-up of the fuselage stringers aft of the cockpit, also showing the box-truss interior construction. There isn't anything at all exotic in there. It's all wood, nails, and glue, of a sort that any competent woodworker could easily manage.

The Cockpit

Here, you can see more of the wood construction, all of which is exposed to the cockpit interior. (This isn't unusual. In the Citabria that I'm training in, the steel-tube members are just as exposed. This is a sport airplane, not a velour-lined comforter.)

Above Ethan's right foot, you can see a black steel fitting to accept wing bracing wires, which run straight through to the left side, joined in the middle with a turnbuckle, in front of the instrument panel.

The Wing

This is actually both wings, hanging on the wall of the garage. They weigh about 50 pounds apiece at this point. Each one is 14' long. The leading edge of the one in the foreground (that's the left wing) is covered with aluminum sheet.

The two spars (the planks running span-wise) are 7/8" aviation-grade spruce.


This is the leading edge of the left wing, at the root where it joins the fuselage. You can see some of the metal-work here. All this metal was worked-up from scratch, pattern-cut from steel sheet and primed against corrosion. For instance, if you look at the bottom of the bracing wire that runs from upper-right to lower-left, you can see a special plate that anchors the wire. That plate also bolts with the round tube running vertically (called a "compression rib"), as well as the two bolt plates that join the wing to the fuselage. To the right of that assembly, you can see a bearing that carries the steel-tube push-rod out to the aileron. That's the green tube that runs left/right. The fitting that's hanging at the left connects to more aileron control fittings where they join-up at the control joystick.

The Tailfeathers

This photograph was taken from the roof of the garage, looking down at the tail. The horizontal stabilizers and elevators are laying on the concrete of the driveway about where they will be in plan-view, but they'll bolt to the fuselage about where the green aluminum sheet begins.

These bits need their hinge fittings bolted up, but those parts are already fabricated and in a box full of finished metalwork.


This is the right horizontal stabilizer, and it's a great example of the quality of woodwork in this project. (There are five pieces of similar construction and quality.)

This piece weighs about five pounds. I mean, it's nothing. It's built-up from plywood shapes join into boxes (for instance, the section with the three vent holes), and other singular shapes, all nailed and glued.

In this close-up,...

... you can see how the wood has been shaped along edges for aerodynamic perfection.

Again, I have to go through the materials receipts in order to know exactly what sort of wood this is, but it's really pretty to see.

© 2003 e-mail => Billy Beck