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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!