By David L. Blanton, EAA 117684
There are many biplane designs that have been offered to the homebuilt community over the years, either by plans or by kits. The Wichawk biplane was one to be remembered for sure. It was the only side-by-side biplane offered which could be built from plans. The designer was David D. Blanton, EAA 10738, founder and president of Javelin Aircraft Company in Wichita, Kansas, and my dad. He has been gone since 1998 but his cute little side-by-side biplane lives on. More than 300 sets of plans have been sold and many examples are flying today. Recently the prototype Wichawk celebrated the 50th anniversary of its first flight. The airplane is still owned by the Blanton family and will soon be disassembled for total restoration.
Dad was an engineer, always wearing a coat and tie to his business at Javelin Aircraft Company. When he was only 28 years old he quit Boeing Wichita and started his own business. He had four little kids and a mortgage, but he followed his dream to own his own business. He developed the first single-axis autopilot and made a successful business that spanned over 45 years.
Dad started designing the Wichawk in 1964. I was only 13 years old, and I remember him working on a small portable drafting table on the dining room table. We were told not to touch anything, but I remember looking at drawings of a neat little biplane.
It was three years later when I soloed in March 1967. During those three years Dad continued to work on the Wichawk drawings.
Dad’s passion was designing and working on the drawing board. He was not an airplane builder but had employees at times that were members of an EAA chapter with building experience. During those years, the fuselage steel tube frame for the Wichawk was built mostly by Mike Jensen but work stopped when Dad was contracted by Jim Bede to build the BD-2 and later BD-4 aircraft.
The Wichawk frame was moved out to Herb Rawdon’s hangar and was resting on its firewall frame, standing straight up towards the ceiling. It had been there more than a year when I approached Dad about bringing it back to the shop for me to start working on it again.
Dad was not very supportive, saying there was no time or space to work on the Wichawk. This went on for months until one day when Dad was on a business trip, I made my move. With no help I drove the 1956 Ford pickup over to Mr. Rawdon’s hangar and loaded the fuselage in the truck bed.
When I got back to the shop, I carved out a small area in the back of the west room. I even put rope around my area, claiming this as my workspace.
When Dad got home and saw what I had done he wasn’t pleased but I think he knew I was serious. He had completed most of the drawings on the Wichawk except for the wings. So here I was, only 17 years old, a junior in high school, and determined to build the Wichawk.
I worked steadily, starting with the landing gear. I would bug dad for any materials I needed and before long they would show up in my little workspace. It wasn’t long until I had the landing gear built and mounted on the Wichawk. Thanks to EAA member Neal Lafrance, EAA 1905, for teaching me how to gas weld. Next, I made the side-by-side seat for the airplane. When Dad sat in the fuselage for the first time I knew I had him hooked. From then on he was supportive, providing advice and even allowing employees to help me at times.
Over the next three years I would build the tail, wings, fuel tanks, and lots of pieces to finish the airplane. The covering was a huge job because of the fancy starburst design. The paint design was mostly Dad’s but I added the stars on the tail because it needed something more. The covering was linen and 34 coats of dope through the red color.
So, on May 18, 1971, it was time to finally move the airframe to Herb Rawdon’s hangar. The Wichawk was assembled and the FAA came out and licensed the airplane.
The first flight was May 24, 1971, with Dad at the controls. The little biplane got off the ground quick and climbed fast. Dad was gone about 45 minutes before making a perfect landing back at Rawdon Field.
I was more than excited to make the next flight. But Dad was a little nervous because the airplane had a trim issue. He said at cruise you had to push hard to keep the nose down. The horizontal tail had been installed with two degrees down angle and was not in the right place for the downwash off the top wing. This was a lot of work to fix because there was no adjustment without cutting open the fabric. It was later moved to two degrees nose up.
But I couldn’t wait and soon I was taxing out to the runway. What a thrill to fly the Wichawk for the first time. I was barely 20 years old and had given up a football scholarship to stay in Wichita and finish building the airplane. And it was all worth it as I flew the new biplane. I climbed to altitude to do some stalls, but as I approached the power-off stall, the elevator control became light and the tail was dropping. It just didn’t feel right so I powered up, not completing the stall.
After I landed I told Dad what had happened and he flew the airplane again, coming back saying there was a serious CG problem. The airplane was not to fly again for many weeks.
Dad discovered he had mis-located the mean aerodynamic cord (MAC) to develop the forward and aft limits for the airplane.
After correcting the mistake, he found the engine had to be moved forward nine inches. This was a huge amount of rework because all new cowling had to be made, a new engine mount, and all the engine controls were too short. During this time the horizontal tail was also reworked to its new position. We also decided to rework the landing gear to move the wheel centerline back. This was welding and recovering the gear.
So it was many weeks before the airplane flew again, but after all the changes were made we had a great airplane. The only other change that came later was installing Cleveland wheels and brakes in place of the J-3 wheels and brakes.
Now that the Wichawk prototype is 50 years old and approaching 1,000 hours of flight time, it’s time to take it down for total restoration. It was a special day having family and friends help celebrate the Wichawk and the designer, our dad. Many rides were given in the Wichawk during the anniversary party and I’m sure Dad was also looking on as we flew the cute little biplane.
Wichawk plans are still available from:
David L. Blanton
14 Hawthorne Dr.
Valley Center, KS, 67147