When good ideas turn bad

I am a huge fan of experimental aviation. The Glasair III first caught my eye as the coolest of the bunch, and even though I can afford (and need) something a little bigger, I'd still love to find a good Sonerai IIL project and finish it out and fly it a little. I have purchased and assembled Vans practice kits, bought, started and sold Wittman Tailwind plans, and still have a dream of acquiring a Vans RV-8 project (as an aside, if you have a completed tail kit and a mostly completed fuselage or wing kit, please email me). I may have bought a Citabria instead of a kit plane, but my heart still lies with finishing an old Lancair 320 and flying it around the world.

I'm also inspired by the tinkerers. John Dyke's Dyke Delta or some one-off design and actually flew it is amazing to me. As a historian by training, I would never presume to have the engineering know-how even to modify an existing design for a six-cylinder over a four cylinder, for example. I certainly would not attempt a clean-sheet design.

This post is a response to the recent Raptor Aircraft crash and subsequent announcement that the designer, builder, and founder, Peter Mueller, will scrap the original design and instead come out with another clean-sheet, even zanier design.

For the uninitiated, the Raptor was basically a large Velocity built by a guy with a penchant for diesels, with some wild design claims like 230 KIAS on 7 GPH. Right. With a planned 121 gallons of fuel in the massive wings, Mueller claimed reaching Hawaii was a simple weekend trip in his plane. This, as with literally everything else with this airplane, was a lot of empty talk.

The detractors were many, and they saw this coming long before many of us. I was very excited for this design when it first came out, because it was a big 5-seater back when my family had just added a fifth. It looked like a great personal travel machine. I even registered for an account on homebuiltairplanes.com to engage in some discussion about it. My contention then was, it's basically a Velocity, how hard could it be to screw up?

Turns out it could be very easy to screw up. Along the way plenty of people were making note of the design's critical flaws and even Mueller's two test pilots quit, presumably over similar concerns about its airworthiness. For me, I knew the thing was toast when the engine, with its massive turbos and re-drive, weighed in at over eight hundred pounds. That was the watershed moment for me. Lots of car engines with reduction drives are flying happily in airplanes, but goodness, that is just far too heavy to be in an airplane of that size. He was claiming 351 horsepower; for that kind of power Continental offers up a really nice Jet-A burning diesel with 300 horsepower and a two hundred pound weight savings. Or, one could ditch the kerosene idea altogether and slap on a nice TSIO-550, save a couple years of development and build time, and, oh yeah, three hundred pounds. 

The testing was also puzzling, and displayed Mueller's ignorance on many issues. I even wrote to him once after several taxi videos straight where he was fussing over the difference between the groundspeed readout on his handheld GPS and the IAS readout on his Garmin G3X. I honestly don't think he knew the difference.

Having never taken it much over 4000' MSL in testing, the baffling decision to fly almost coast-to-coast at one freaking thousand feet AGL in a twin-turbo monster is either indicative of a problem that he shouldn't have been flying with, or simply poor ADM. In an airplane that was supposed to cruise in pressurized comfort in the flight levels on 7 GPH, this is a sad whimper of an ending for this airplane. He is lucky to have come out alive.

I wish this wasn't just another dump-on-Peter-Mueller diatribe. Plenty have done that in videos and comments. In fact, there was something about his tenacity that I admired the whole way through. I am that kind of person--when someone says you'll never pull this off, my answer is usually "watch me." Even a really smart friend of mine invested in both the deposit and the very expensive jump-the-line investment "opportunity." He is an A&P with a lot of experience with composites. He was confident this thing would work, as were many others. I didn't have the heart to ask him much about it after the Raptor's flight testing began.

But people like me must face facts at various times, however. Some saw this coming for a long time, even if Peter never did. As usual, I am slower to make a judgement (or to catch on at all). I am sad to say that the final answer is in: a good idea has turned really, really bad.


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