From the time I was a young boy, I always thought that building an airplane would be an adventurous thing to
do. I can recall leafing through Popular Mechanics magazine and poring over the ads in the back. There were all kinds of crazy
things for boys to fantasize about, although I think at the time I was more enthralled with building a helicopter.
I live in Marshfield, just off Route 139 and somewhat on the flightpath of airplanes using Runway 6 enroute
to the Marshfield Airport. In the summer I’d be out in the yard and look up to see small airplanes on their final approach.
Some were very noisy while others seemed to have their engines turned off. I could never figure that out. Finally the subliminal
message I was receiving made its way to my conscious mind and one day I said to myself – you should go over and see
what those guys are up to. So I did.
The first person I saw was Drew Thwaits, a flight instructor and he offered to take me up for a ½ hour introductory
flight. I had never been in a small airplane but had no qualms whatsoever. I had flown in many different types of aircraft,
especially in the early 70’s when I spent 3 years in the US Army in the 509th Airborne and had jumped out of everything from Huey and Chinook helicopters to C-130’s and C-141’s.
Well after my first flight I was hooked and the rest, as they say, is history. As time went
by I kept thinking more and more about building my own airplane and in March of 2005 I decided that the timing was right and
I started my research.
I had no idea that I would have such a wide array of choices and I changed my mind many, many times. I tried
to narrow my search by developing some basic criteria that would lead me toward an airplane that would give me a lot of long
term use and more importantly, that I would feel very comfortable with. It definitely wasn’t a slipstreamed speed demon
and it also wasn’t an ultralight.
I have a house in Nova Scotia (which is where I am originally from) that I have built piece by piece over the
last 12 years. Part of my ultimate plan is to live there four months a year. It would be nice to have an airplane I could
land in my back yard. It’s also 750 miles from the Boston area, so it would be nice to get there without the 13 hour
drive and in a decent amount of time. So my focus became finding an airplane that:
1. Could take the abuse of off field landings (especially with me at the stick).
2. Could be left out in the elements, so it had to be all metal.
3. Could give me a cruise speed of at least 100 mph and carry an engine in excess of 100 HP.
4. Could be built by a totally inexperienced builder (me) in a reasonable period of time. To me, this was three
years or less.
5. The Kit Provider had to be well established,with a proven design and many airplanes flying.
With that criteria in mind my search began in earnest. I considered many alternatives and almost purchased a
completed airplane that fit the bill. After thinking that through, long and hard, I decided I really wanted to experience
building it myself, so back to the drawing board (or internet) I went.
One night while doing what seemed to be my never ending research I came across a web link for an outfit called,
Canadian Light Aircraft Sales & Service (CLASS). The brief description of their airplane was "high wing, all aluminum,
bushplane". Hmmm… I don’t recall seeing this one before. The link took me to: www.bushcaddy.com.
I went through their web site, start to finish and concluded that this is exactly
what I was looking for. It fit all my requirements and the price was reasonable and competitive. On one of the pages were
photos of builders in various stages, one of them had an email address that I recognized as originating from New Brunswick,
because my brother is in the RCMP and lives there. I sent Jamie McKinley a message asking about his experience. I received
a very positive response and some additional pictures. It just so happened that I had to make a trip to Nova Scotia to bring
up equipment for a well I was drilling and it turned out that Jamie lived literally ½ mile off the highway I would be traveling.
I stopped on my way back home and was extremely impressed with what I saw. He had the airplane finished from the firewall
back. I could see it was a very sound structure with a nice roomy cabin.
Upon my return, I asked CLASS for other references and all checked out very well. Another builder, in Michigan,
Rob Irvine, was particularly helpful (he has since completed and is flying his L-164). All I had to do now was fly one.
CLASS works out of a small airport in Les Cedres, Quebec, which is approximately 20 miles southwest of Montreal.
I left work early on a Friday in mid June, and took the very pleasant 5 ½ hour drive up through Vermont. Thunderstorms
moved in and out throughout the trip.
I stayed at a very picturesque Inn on a lake and on Saturday morning I drove over to the Les Cedres airport
and met Sean Gilmore and Marlene Gill, the owners of CLASS/BushCaddy. They could not have been more gracious. Their
model airplane, a four place L-164 was in Thunder Bay, Ontario at the time, so I wasn’t able to look at a completed
airplane. Several airplanes were under construction in the shop and they walked me through the entire process. After
about 1 ½ hours we packed up and drove to a marina on the Saint Lawrence River. The weather meanwhile was very blustery
with broken cloud cover and I had my doubts I’d be going flying. Nevertheless we met up with Daniel Langevin and his
BushCaddy R-80 (this would qualify in the Light Sports category in the US) on full lotus floats and powered by a Rotax 914
Turbo. This was my first, up close look at a completed BushCaddy. What impressed me was that it looked like it had rolled
off an assembly line. By that I mean it looked complete. The interior was very well appointed with comfortable seats
with the BushCaddy logo, vinyl door panels, cloth headliner like you’d see in a new Buick and lots of room.
|Fuselage Skins Riveted
|Horizontal Stabilizer Final Rivet
We talked about the weather and Danny was very confident that everything would be fine so we strapped ourselves
in and prepared to go. Danny expertly lined the airplane up in the river and gave it full throttle. In no time we were
off the water and he kept it at 20’ or so until we picked up more airspeed and then quickly climbed to 1500’.
This was two firsts for me, as I had never been in an airplane on floats and I had never flown with a center stick. After
taking me through the numbers Danny asked if I’d like to take over. Although somewhat intimidated by his skill level
how could I say no, after all that’s what the long drive was for. I took the stick and we maneuvered up, down, in, up
and over clouds. I was simply amazed by how well the airplane handled and how responsive it was to the control inputs. I was
used to flying primarily Piper Warriors and also some time in Cessna 172’s. This was very different. Over an unpopulated
area we went down to approx 100’ AGL and slowed to 40 mph or so. We were able to totally control the airplane with the
rudder and followed one of the Saint Lawrence tributaries for some distance. Time flew by (literally) and I handed the controls
back to Danny. He flew us back to the marina and executed a perfect landing. My mind was made up. I ordered the kit for the
R-120 which is the heavier version (850 lbs. empty, 1700 lbs. gross) of the R-80.
BushCaddy’s history is detailed fairly well on their web site but in a nut shell, they have five models
from two place to cargo to four place. The airplane was designed and has been flying since the mid 1980’s. Sean
and Marlene have been the owners since the mid 1990’s. There are currently over 100 BushCaddy aircraft flying today
and they are either flying or under construction in Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand, UK and France. There are more R-80’s
flying than any other model, however since its introduction in 2001, the L-164 four place, has been the predominant seller.
I initially ordered just the cabin and fuselage because I am in a very small one car garage (the BushCaddy kit
may be ordered as a full kit or three sub-kits - cabin, fuselage and wings).
Prior to my kit arriving I visited Mike Draper, who was kind enough to walk me through his RV project. At this
point I didn’t know a blind rivet from a nut plate and Mike did a great job of showing me examples of various rivet
types and actually had me use his tools and set some pulled rivets, squeezed rivets and bucked rivets. It was a great learning
Now for the fun part. The kit arrived in mid-October in a very large plywood box. Customs and trucking across
the border was a non-issue as Marlene handled the entire process for me.
The parts were very well organized and a detailed inventory sheet was included. The skins were wrapped in brown
packing paper and the various components like, rudder, elevator, etc., were grouped together and wrapped in plastic.
All the structural components are precut, formed and drilled with pilot holes. The skins are precut but not
drilled. No bending of any metal is necessary as this is all done by BushCaddy. The plans are easy enough to follow and although
very intimidating initially, as time went by my comfort level grew significantly. For me, I find it is very helpful
to look at each section of plans several times in advance of building that component. The initial walkthrough is like reading
a foreign language but each time you do it, you pick up more and more and all of a sudden when you are in the middle of building
a particular component, it starts making sense to you. You begin to anticipate what is coming next.
One of the greatest services provided by BushCaddy is their technical support. Mike Boisvert is the Production
Manager and has been an invaluable resource for me. When I initially started the project, I had many, many questions.
Mike is always available. If I have a question I normally email Mike in the morning and have a detailed answer before the
end of the day (with my normal thought being – why didn’t I think of that?). On a few occasions when I feared
I had really screwed something up Mike has been available by phone and has calmly helped me through my panic attack.
At this point I have logged approximately 165 hours of "work time". I have the vertical and horizontal stabilizers
complete. By the end of March I should have the fuselage complete and will start the cabin. I have placed my order for the
wings and should have that component of the kit by mid- April or so. I believe I am well within my three year schedule. I
try to do some work on the airplane almost every day, at least one hour Monday through Thursday, even if it’s just to
drill two holes, and as much time as I can spare on Saturday and Sunday. I added heat, cable tv and a good stereo to
my "skunkworks" garage/shop so the work environment is pleasant. By moving and storing the various components as I complete
them I should be able to do most of the construction at home. This is very productive as there is no downtime traveling.
The Colonial 279 EAA group has been a great resource for me. Roger Roy got me involved in the group initially
and has been a tremendous help in all aspects of airplane construction and particularly with his knowledge of powerplants.
My research never ends and Roger has added significantly to my level of education in that regard. I still don’t
know what I’m going to power the airplane with and I know I drive Roger nuts with my constant questions but he has always
been there as a resource and sounding board. Tom Hassie visited my project in his role as EAA Technical Counselor and
was very helpful with various construction techniques. Gerry Scampoli was good enough to spend a morning with me walking me
through his assembly of a Corvair engine for his Zenith 601. Many of you have been excellent sources of information and I
truly appreciate the insight and help.
I would be very happy to show my project to anyone that has questions and/or if you just want to see it. Feel
free to contact me any time on my cell phone or email me. I’m just a short drive
away and I can easily talk your ear off about it.
|Vertical Stabilizer Riveted
|Horizontal Stabilzer Ribs