|By Carmelo Turdo|
Our group immediately felt welcomed as we arrived, and we were given a full opportunity to learn about the three major product lines as they were set up in two adjacent shops. Larry Smith discussed the four-stroke Big Twin 40-50hp engine with the Valley Engineering prop speed reduction unit. The engine, fitted with a Culver propeller of course, powers the company's Back Yard Flyer and other ultralight models. The impressive power, low price (below $6,000) and incredible fuel efficiency of sipping 5 quarts of fuel/hr. are all factors that help make ultralight flying available to more people than ever. Big Twin and VW engine conversions remain a significant core business that well compliments the other two.
We then went to the propeller shop to get a detailed tutorial by Alaina Lewis on the making of custom, fixed pitch wood propellers that are works of art as well as the means of converting thrust into motion. She patiently walked through the process of creating a propeller from raw wood to finished product. Alaina first gathers information about the customer's aircraft and the pilot's flight profiles, especially concerning the engine rpm and cruise speed desired, so that she can calculate the required propeller pitch and length. The wood ply materials (maple and birch plies according to the specific aircraft need) are chosen, cut, glued and baked. Then the plies are set on the lathe to form the pitch needed along the entire length of the now-recognizable propeller. Hand-sanding, balancing and staining are the final steps in the production process. Propellers of varying sizes and pitch can be made in the shop, and several examples of current projects were shown by Alaina and James to the group. Some special order for propellers, including those made for flying replicas of the World War I-era Royal Aircraft Factory SE5 and 1908 Santos-Dumont Demoiselle, have been delivered. She also does repairs and decorative projects.
James Lewis then led the group to the airplane assembly area where the single-seat Back Yard Flyer ultralight and a new twin-seat LSA model were being fabricated. The welded aluminum construction offers superior strength and empty weight is less than 280lbs with the BRS parachute recovery system (the wing weighs 40lbs). The Big Twin engine can power the Back Yard Flyer to a cruising speed of 60mph. Each aircraft can be custom-made by James in three months or less with assistance from Larry Smith. The twin-seat LSA is now under development, and was also available for size comparison. We feature some views of the aircraft under construction, and of some photos of Gene Smith flying the Back Yard Flyer at the Midwest LSA Expo at Mount Vernon Outland Airport in 2011.
The Aero Experience thanks Valley Engineering for their hospitality and willingness to spend part of their Saturday with us. Also, thanks to Gateway Area Ultralight Association President Travis Roberts and members of EAA Chapters 64 and 331 for coordinating the visit.