Wing-Heating System for High-Performance Kit Aircraft

If your kit is meant to fly high and fast, and especially if you’ve designed the machine to fly well in the clouds, then you owe it to yourself to consider some kind of de-ice or anti-ice system.

Most systems designed for light aircraft include complicated pneumatic pumps, ugly rubber boots or expensive titanium leading edge cuffs. None of these are good solutions for clean, fast, high fliers such as Lancairs or RV-10s. RDD Enterprises, LLC, in cooperation with Kelly Aerospace Systems, has ported some technology developed for the Cessna 350s and 400s to the Experimental market with its Therm-X graphite foil wing-heating system.

Therm-X is an ultrathin graphite foil laminate applied to the leading edge of the wing and horizontal stabilizer. Embedded electrical buses no thicker than duct tape, connected to a dedicated alternator, control invisibly thin heating elements capable of warming the leading edge of an aircraft from near freezing to 120° in 1.5 seconds—and they do so automatically upon sensing the outside air temperature approaching the freezing zone.

“The really brilliant part of this system is how it sheds the ice,” says Matt Verdieck, who works in Operations for RDD. “The immediate edge, we call it the 'part zone,' is always warmed, but the product allows ice to accrete in a 'shed zone.' Then the system cycles on and off through six different shed zones very quickly, melting the ice just at the bond, so that it sheds off in chunks and does not melt and roll back and refreeze on the cold wing area behind the graphite laminate."

It’s not inexpensive protection, with complete systems for Lancairs running $18,000, but for that price you get installation, manuals, and a flight-tested (on your individual airplane) system, as well as a warranty. If you plan on flying your airplane in all weather, it’s a system that, the moment you need it, will seem priced just right.

Up, Up and Away

Not all that flies at Sun 'n Fun roars like a radial, buzzes like a hornet or spews smoke during low passes. The traditional Saturday-morning balloon launch provided an uncharacteristic bit of hushed flying for thousands willing to crawl out of their bunks and camps to witness the spectacle of color.

For others the quiet of the dawn hours provided an opportunity to reposition an aerobatic aircraft in preparation for the afternoon airshow.

And in case anyone is wondering, yes, that largest balloon is the largest dog the Sun 'n Fun spectators ever remember seeing. No word on what you feed a hound of that size, but we're pretty sure it's not your standard pet-store kibble.

Continuing Evolution, Corvair Style

I finally got a chance on Friday to catch up with William Wynne of to see if there had been much in the way of improvements to the Corvair conversion since mine first flew about a year and a half ago. At that time, I was the proud recipient of the latest and greatest in Corvair technology. Unfortunately (for me), William's been quite busy since then.

The highly modified Corvair engine on the stand featured quite a few improvements, and this was my first glance at them up close and personal like. The most obvious to me was the new single piece gold anodized propeller hub, replacing its black two-piece forerunner. The gold hub features lighter weight, a smaller pulley for better alternator performance, and (of course) is much simpler than its two part, bolt together predecessor.

A new oil filter arrangement, also gold anodized and simplified, now attaches directly to the engine instead of the old method which required the circuitous routing of oil hoses to a mount on the firewall. Once glance told me that this new oil filter system also saves weight, is much cleaner, and (once again) gets the most out of simplicity.

William also had the new gold anodized, CNC machined oil pan that replaces the slightly "Frankenstein-esque" hand welded one. And just to top it all off, a matching gold anodized top engine plate was also on display. With all of these new gold parts on the display engine, the Corvair is starting to look like something you might find in the Tiffany catalogue.

Perhaps the most significant improvement is the new 5th crankshaft bearing, tucked in nicely behind the ring gear and the engine block. The need for a fifth bearing to absorb asymmetric side loads from out of balance prop/spinner/extension combinations or the stresses created by sudden yanking and banking became known when a few cases of crankshaft cracks and separations behind the last journal were reported. The first assault on the problem was to strongly suggest the nitriding of all crankshafts, and the second was the development of the fifth bearing.

I really was planning to leave my own Corvair engine in my Zodiac alone for the time being, but now that I've seen the sum total of all of the improvements, I'm reconsidering. Besides, all those beautifully machined gold parts would really set off the engine compartment, eh? Check out the latest in Corvair improvements at

You Don't Need A Wing If Your Ship's Got That Swing...

Sun 'n Fun's Chopper Town provided a graphic reminder Friday that you don't need a wing if your ship's got that swing, as a turbine chopper and a Butterfly gyro amply demonstrate.

A Mosquito on floats—FAR 103 legal, by the way —hangs in a hover as the pilot concentrates on showing off the little ship's nimble handling.

The pilot of another FAR 103 version of the Mosquito waits for clearance from Chopper Town Tower as its float-equipped kin descends for a low pass.

Chopper Town serves as the rotorcraft equivalent of the Paradise City light-plane area, with steady flying entertainment every morning and evening for those willing to trek to the far east end of the Sun 'n Fun grounds.

The Heroes of Sun 'n Fun

Who are the true heroes of Sun 'n Fun? Are they the airshow performers, putting their lives on the line to entertain and thrill us? Or maybe they're the small army of volunteers, graciously donating their time to make the event as smooth as possible. Or the event organizers, who tirelessly work year after year after year to keep the event as safe and as organized as they can.

You could make an argument that it's really the kit manufacturers who keep Sun 'n Fun alive, spending a huge chunk of their annual fiscal and manpower resources to give us the chance to see their product and talk to their staff in person. Some would say it's the relatively deep pockets of the certified aircraft manufacturers that keep the annual event vibrant, as they pump in an incredible amount of coin year after year. You have to consider the ATC team as well, dealing with the daily onslaught of every conceivable aircraft type from ultralight to military war machines.

Then there's the plethora of commercial booths and tents, both inside and out, featuring every conceivable sort of aviation paraphernalia imaginable. And if it weren't for the food and drink vendors, the daily hoards would get downright ugly, indeed. Those guys who service the Porta-Potties deserve their due as well--without them Sun 'n Fun would get ugly. Or maybe it's the Florida Tourism interests that provide the foundation for the event, doing their best to keep a bright, smiling face turned toward the public eye.

So who really are the heroes of Sun 'n Fun?

In my book, it's the average American and his family who take the time and expend the energy to attend. He may not even own an airplane, or be building one, or have ever logged a single flight hour. But there he is, year after year, dragging the wife and kids out to the flight line. His clan waits in the traffic, hikes in from remote parking, pays the going rate for a pass, buys the pricey food and the pricier drinks, puts up with the crowds and even the occasional condescension from experienced fliers just for the chance to witness the magic of flight from a front row center perspective. Without having any dog in the fight.

So the next time you encounter that mom or dad pulling the kids in the wagon, sunburned, overheated, but with that unmistakable gleam in the eye, consider where our aviation celebrations would be without them.

I suspect we wouldn't have very many more.

TCW Technologies Introduces Intelligent Flap Controller

VFE. Do you know what it is? That’s the maximum speed at which it is safe to deploy the flaps on your airplane. You set it when you set up the various airspeed limitations on your aircraft before it was certified and, if you built a kit, you probably defaulted and used the airspeed the kit manufacturer suggested for your bird.

The whole reason VFE exists is to keep you from overstressing the flaps, and mechanics will tell you that it is a shame there isn’t some kind of switch to keep pilots in a hurry to “slow down and go down” from deploying flaps when the aircraft is moving faster than VFE.

Bob Newman, an electrical engineer by trade and an aircraft builder by avocation, and his partner in TCW Technologies, both designers of TCW’s popular Safety-Trim Intelligent Servo Controller, were convinced they could do for flaps operation safety what they had done for electric trim safety.

“The Intelligent Flap Controller is specifically designed for use with Van’s Aircraft series of flap actuators,” says Newman. “The IFC receives switch inputs from either of two flap switches, so you could mount a flaps switch on both the pilot and co-pilot’s sticks. If one goes inop, you’ve got the other. And the IFC resolves any conflicts between the switches automatically. Best of all, it gives pilots of Van’s aircraft a time-out switch so that the flap motor cannot get stuck on and run continuously.”

All of these features are great for eliminating wear and tear on the aircraft’s systems, but it is the airspeed sensing switch that will keep pilots from overstressing their machines, Newman says. The switch, which is identical to the airspeed switch in the Safety-Trim, prevents flap extension above a user-defined speed. “What is great about the switch is that it only prevents extension—if you need to retract flaps, you can still do that,” says Newman. The IFC system is compatible with the Safety-Trim, and can even use the Safety-Trim’s airspeed switch.