Greetings from The Aero Experience Team


The Aero Experience is a celebration of Midwest aviation and aerospace achievement. We invite you to join us as we explore the treasures of Midwest aviation through first-hand experiences. Our contributors take turns flying lead, and we are always looking for new destinations. Check in with The Aero Experience frequently to see where we will land today, and then go out and have your own aero experiences!

Blue skies,

Carmelo Turdo, Mark Nankivil and Fred Harl - The Aero Experience Team

Monday, April 4, 2016

Midwest Aviation Family Business: Valley Engineering Offers Custom Propellers, Engines and Ultralight Aircraft

By Carmelo Turdo
The Midwest Aviation community contains many small businesses that provide specialty services to make aviation more accessible and enjoyable for everyone.  The Aero Experience, along with members of EAA Chapter 64, EAA Chapter 331 and the Gateway Area Ultralight Association, visited Valley Engineering in Rolla, Missouri recently to get a first-hand view of the current products and services offered.  The company was formed in 1998 by Gene Smith and his son Larry Smith to modify VW engines for aviation, and now also employs Larry's daughter Alaina and her husband James Lewis.  The company bought Culver Props in 2001 and the factory was moved from PA to the current Rolla, MO location.  The product line includes the manufacture of the Back Yard Flyer ultralight as well.

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.

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