I finally got to fly my Benny Howard “IKE” replica a couple of times recently, but not before a few setbacks.  It took us forever to sort out a brake problem, and then I had to figure out a way to fit in!

“Benny” is a character that shows up in my first illustrated children’s book called All of Life is a School that uses Golden Age airplanes to help tell the story.

Coming 'round a pylon!

The builder of this airplane, Kim Kovach, and the original pilot, were both smaller than me.  I believe the original pilot flew barefoot while Kim modified a pair of shoes to get in.  So I took his advice, grabbed an old pair of sneakers, and headed to the wood shop.

Modifying an old pair of sneakers!

After grinding off the heels down and sawing the toes off, I found that I could get in and operate the brakes without a problem.  There’s not much room to spare, as I find my toes tickling the bottom of the fuel tank!

Heels and Toes ready for Action!

As in the original, your heels and butt actually go down below the floorboards.  I had to wrap up a towel for a lumbar support so I could lean back and get my head down into the cockpit as well, which raised my knees to just below the panel and somewhat in the way of the throttle.

The only modification Kim made to the original dimensions was to extend the 18-inch fuselage width at the instrument panel back to the rear of the cockpit where your shoulders are.  Without it, and even with my shoulders rolled forward and inward, I just barely fit.  It’s hard to believe the original shoulder dimension was only 15 inches!

Taxiing out

One of the things that became immediately apparent was how rough it taxies on my grass runways.  As per the original, there is NO shock absorption built into the landing gear!  Oh well . . . that’s the way it was so that’s the way I’ll fly it!

Head On!

Currently, after about twenty minutes flying it, my arms and legs start to go to sleep so I end up landing sooner than I’d like.  I don’t see any cross-country’s in my future but will keep trying to find a way to make it more comfortable.

The original racer had an impossible to find 6-cylinder Menasco engine so this one has an almost as hard to find 4-cylinder Menasco with two dummy stacks.  It’s got a unique sound and I’m hoping we can fly it more for airplane of the day or special events.

I hope everyone gets out to Fantasy of Flight one day to see it fly!

Kermit

After many months of research and thought, both the airframe and engine of the Benoist are slowly making progress as we narrow down on the 100th Anniversary of the first scheduled aircraft airline flight we hope to re-create on January 1st, 2014!

Fantasy of Flight restoration specialist Ken Kellett has single-handedly made a number of wooden components including; all 100 laminated ribs, all the interplane struts, all the wing spars, and both control sticks.

He began by building a mock-up of the critical center part of the plane where the pilot, engine, propellor, chain-drive, radiator, fuel tank, and main structure are located.  This will give a basic idea of where everything fits in relation to each other.

Mock-up of the center part of the Benoist.

Ken built a jig for construction of the wing panels and currently has the top wing center-section assembled in it and ready for gluing.

Top Wing Center-Section in Wing Jig.

He also began gluing up the ailerons . . .

Aileron in Jig

and is putting the final touches on the two wing floats.

One of the two lower wing floats with a wing rib on top.

Ken has also begun laying out the structure of the fuselage / hull on a large table top jig.  He built a six-foot dummy pilot (me actually) for use is making sure everything is somewhat ergonomical!

Dummy Pilot with one of two control sticks! Have I lost my mind?

One of the cool things that happened recently was that many of the Benoist descendants came by for a tour one day.  I was out of town but Ken showed them what we were doing, as they are all following with keen interest.

Ken talks to the Benoist family descendants.

Later, after I got back, early engine expert Steve Littin came by for a visit to check on our progress and tell us how he was progressing on the six-cylinder Roberts engine for the project, which he’s building from scratch!

Ken, Andy, Steve (kneeling), and myself discussing the issues of airframe and engine.

Many of the smaller machined components have been made including hardware, oilers, and carburetor parts.

Brand new engine oilers!

Some of the larger ones like the crankshaft continue to be whittled down to finished size.

Roberts crankshaft undergoing final touches!

As seen in a previous blog post, most of the casting patterns have been made and some casting has begun.  Ideally, we’d like to be assembling the airplane with the engine by the end of this year, as the time is flying by and the Anniversary will be upon us in no time!

We offer a wood shop tour every day at 12:45 pm so come on by Fantasy of Flight and check out the progress!

Kermit