Airplane GEEK

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A Great Big Little Bomber

“It’s just an airplane.”

That’s how the late Jack Bally, EAA 348338, a lifelong pilot and builder, described his one-third scale replica of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress — just an airplane. Never mind that it’s unique in nearly every respect: an enormous miniature four-engine bomber that looks like it could be a giant RC model until the canopy swings open and a person climbs out.

The Bally Bomber at EAA AirVenture 2021

So Let’s Build One

When asked the big question of why he built himself a one-third scale B-17, Jack’s reply was simple and matter of fact: because if you scaled down a B-24, you don’t end up with enough wing area. Well, sure, but why build such a thing at all?

“Some of my friends were discussing next projects, and we picked this because there isn’t any other ones out there,” Jack recalled. “There’s two-engine P-38s made, and there’s a lot of P-51s, but there ain’t no four-engine bombers out there. So let’s build one.”

Jack didn’t have any kind of an engineering background, but a few decades as a carpenter taught him a thing or two about working with his hands. As for learning to work with metal versus wood, he pointed out with a laugh that he “did side two houses with aluminum.”

Obviously, nobody makes a kit for an airplane like this, so Jack bought a set of RC model plans and scaled them up. Staying true to the proportions of the full-scale airplane, the “Bally Bomber,” as it’s known, is 25 feet long, with a wingspan of 34 feet, 7 inches, which is about 8 inches less than that of a Piper Cub. Like its ancestor, the airplane is all metal, 2024 and 6061 aluminum, except for the control surfaces, which are fabric-covered, in this case with Poly Fiber. The engine cowlings are made from composites, but he felt like that was cheating and planned to remake them in aluminum. The only part of the airplane that’s significantly out of scale are the cockpit windows, which Jack roughly doubled in height to improve visibility for the pilot.

The airplane is powered by four Hirth F-30 two-stroke, air-cooled, horizontally opposed, four-cylinder engines. The engines are rated at 80 hp, but with no room for a prop speed reduction unit in the scaled-down cowlings, the engines are connected directly to the propellers, resulting in 60 hp at 3300 rpm, or a total of 240 hp. They burn about 4 gph each, for a total of 16, sipping from two tanks in the wings with a total capacity of 40 gallons. In theory, this would provide two hours of flying time with a half-hour reserve.

The 46-inch diameter ground-adjustable propellers are solid wood, well painted to look like metal, and are redlined at 3900 rpm as any faster than that and the tips will go supersonic. Adjusting the props is a complex and tedious affair, multiplied by 12 blades.

Walking around the airplane, the loving attention to detail, and Jack’s pragmatic approach to it, is reinforced repeatedly. The markings are fictionalized but credible, and the N-number honors his wife’s birthday. The nose art is an era-appropriate pinup, accompanied by the one word that sums up Jack’s project perfectly: Obsession.

The Bomber Comes Back

When Jack started this project, he estimated that it would take about five years. That was in 1999. Eighteen years, nearly a thousand lost weekends, 25,000 rivets, and an estimated 40,000 man-hours later, the airplane was finished and flown, and made its first AirVenture appearance in 2018. Based on the foot traffic around the airplane, it was a clear winner of that year’s “dead grass award.” Now owned by Larry Neu, EAA Lifetime 104067, the airplane is a clear contender to repeat that honor in 2021. Larry purchased the third-scale bomber last summer and brought the airplane to Oshkosh from Dixon, Illinois.

Larry Neu taking care of the Bally Bomber, built by the late Jack Bally.

“I saw the ad on Barnstormers, and I looked at the pictures and was like, ‘Wow, that’s pretty cool,’” Larry said. “One of a kind, 18 years to build. I could never do that. I don’t have the skill, and I don’t have the patience. I thought it was a very unique opportunity [to purchase it].”

Larry intends to move the Bally Bomber down to San Antonio, Texas, where he lives, and make a few modifications to it to allow his 6-foot frame to fit in the aircraft a bit better.

“I did figure out how I can modify the seat to give me some more room,” Larry said. “Once I get the seat modded, it will be a lot more comfortable. Right now it’s got about a one-hour range, and that’s how long my back can handle it.”

Once Larry gets the airplane back to Texas, he’s looking to potentially replace a couple of the engines with electric motors to increase the horsepower and range. In the next few years, Larry plans on taking the Bally Bomber to air shows around Texas and hopes to eventually make it back to Oshkosh.

“I’m thinking I’ll be able to triple my range, which will take it from 120 miles to probably close to 400 miles,” he said. “With that, I can make Houston and Dallas [air shows] and even come back up here again in a few years.”

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