By Jack A. Frohbieter, EAA 148666
This piece originally ran in the March 2021 issue of EAA Sport Aviation magazine.
I have had a lifelong fascination with flying. I was 30 before I was financially able to learn to fly. Almost 55 years later I am still at it. My wife, Cathy, and I decided to build a house in the late ’70s, and she agreed to include a workshop large enough to build an airplane. I have been fortunate enough to have owned a wide variety of aircraft ranging from a V35B Bonanza, turbo Aztec, turbo Baron, and Aerostar to a Mooney Rocket, and I wanted even higher performance from the airplane I would build. After visiting kit manufacturers and test flying all of the available high-performance aircraft, I purchased the Venture kit in 1990 during what turned out to be a very short retirement. The kit remained basically boxed up for six years until I got my retirement done right. Unfortunately, about the time I was ready to get on with the project, it was becoming clear there was a problem with the runway handling of the aircraft, and the project was again set aside. Detective work by the designer and Larry Woods uncovered a design error in the struts that resulted in much lower restoring forces than intended. Correcting the error and increasing the caster on the nose wheel solved the runway handling problem, and I began construction in earnest.
Ric DeBastos, a longtime friend and co-worker, offered to buck rivets with me and stuck with it over the 20 years it took to complete the project. Also, thanks to Bill Kerr who would drop everything to come help with anything. Over the years Dave Mathiesen, owner of Air-Mods and Repair at the Trenton-Robbinsville Airport (N87) in Robbinsville, New Jersey, provided invaluable advice, and when it came time to transport the airplane to the airport, he offered space in his heated hangar to do the final assembly. Strong support from the current owners and operators of the Questair company, Dan Myers and Jim Cook, was also a major factor in achieving my goal to personally build the complete aircraft. The only items contracted out were the seat upholstery and a small welding job. To avoid hazardous fumes in the house I set up a plastic paint booth in the workshop and painted the plane with Stewart Systems waterborne paints. I designed the paint scheme in Adobe Photoshop.
It would have been impossible to undertake this project without Cathy’s full support with only an occasional “Are you ever going to finish this and get it out of the garage?” She helped me stick with it and declared it “a spiffy ride” after our first cross-country trip.
I incorporated a modest number of changes to the aircraft design. These included adding circuitry to allow partial deployment of the nose gear to provide a speed brake function, modifying the nose gear doors to include a forward-facing section to increase the effectiveness of the speed brake, adding a shimmy damper of my design, adding a carbon fiber canopy rim, replacing several cast fittings with machined items, incorporating the gear strut modifications, adding limit switches on the trim motors, electrifying the flaps, redesigning the engine baffle system and air inlets, and incorporating a main gear up-lock system. I installed five-point safety harnesses and LED cabin, panel, taxi, and landing lights. I designed and wired the avionics around a dual screen Garmin G3X system with dual GSU 25 sensors, GEA engine analyzer, GMC 305 mode controller, GSA 28 autopilot servos, GTN 650, GTR 200 comm radio, GTX 23 ES transponder, and ADS-B In and Out. A GDL 39R provides a Bluetooth link to my iPad for passenger use as well as hard-wired ADS-B In for the displays. A backup emergency bus with automatic failover provides more than an hour of flight time with critical systems powered. The emergency bus is powered by a lithium iron phosphate battery. Jim Cook, Questair CTO and avionics wizard, provided technical support as I designed and built the avionics package.
I made the first flight from N87 on July 2, 2019, and have completed the flight test program. The aircraft flies true, and no external trim tabs were required as the three-axis trim system allows trimming over the very wide speed range of the aircraft. I was very careful in the build to avoid adding weight. As a result, I am able to carry myself and Cathy, full fuel (50 gallons), and 75 pounds of baggage and remain within the design gross weight of 2,000 pounds. The powerplant is a 280-hp Continental IO-550 with a two-bladed McCauley constant-speed prop. Cruise at 75 percent power at 8,000 feet is 245 knots burning 13.5 gph at 50 degrees lean of peak and provides a 700-nm range with reserve. The aircraft is certificated for day/night VFR/IFR operation. My plans to be at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2020 were obviously scratched, but I am looking forward to the next in-person AirVenture.
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