The Project Police and the Great Landing Gear Swap Out

Russ Erb and Bruce Wright

Originally published September 1993

As many of you recall, Bruce Wright, now out here in Colorado, is building the RANS S-10 Sakota. If you're not familiar with the aircraft, it is a midwing tube and fabric aircraft with a 66 horsepower Rotax engine. Its primary mission is fun (entry level aerobatics). It has side by side seating with the control stick between the seats.

As originally designed, the conventional (taildragger) landing gear was similar to that on the Piper Cub. The wheels were rigidly mounted to a truss that was hinged at the side of the fuselage. From the axle, another tube ran up to the center bottom of the fuselage. This was attached to a bungee cord looped over a lug on the fuselage frame. Without the bungee cord, the landing gear would pivot outward and the aircraft would look like it was doing the splits (actually a safety cable prevents a total split BW).

With regards to ground handling and landing shocks, this was a perfectly acceptable landing gear design. However, that is a lot of extra tube hanging out in the air stream serving as a fine drag producing device. Some time after Bruce purchased his S-10, the RANS company decided that there was a better way. The new design minimizes the amount of hardware hanging in the air stream, and ends up looking a lot like the RV-6 gear. That is, a steel tube landing gear leg is inserted (tightly) into a receiving tube in the fuselage structure. This will be the landing gear shipped on all future kits of the S-10.

That's neat, except that Bruce had the old landing gear style, and wanted to reduce drag as much as possible so that he could get at least 100 mph cruising speed. RANS suspected that there would be those who thought this way, and offered to modify existing S-10 fuselages to the new landing gear (for a price BW). Since Bruce had not covered the fuselage yet or permanently installed many systems, he decided that this would be an excellent opportunity. The only conditions the RANS factory placed on the deal was that he had to bring the fuselage (and some cash) to the RANS factory in Hays, Kansas.

As usual, there was good news and bad news about this. The good news was that Colorado Springs is a lot closer to Hays, Kansas than Eddy Air Patch. The bad news was that Bruce had no way to transport the fuselage to the factory (it won't fit in the back of my Mazda 323 BW). This is where I got in on the deal. Last March I was at the Air Force Academy house hunting for the impending move. I tried to contact Bruce, but he was in hiding (see previous Project Police report). When I did get in touch with him, he told me about the situation, and said he would like to have the modification done sometime in June. As it turned out, that would be shortly after I had arrived in Colorado Springs with the Project Police Paddywagon.

After further consultations, we decided that the week of 14-18 June 93 would be the ideal time, since my wife would be out of town at a 10 year High School reunion, and Bruce would not need to get a cat-sitter (His wife would be gone the following two weeks). Bruce called the factory and set up an appointment for 16 June 93.

Needing to answer important questions such as "What is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything?" and "Will the fuselage fit in the Project Police Paddywagon?", I drove the van over to Bruce's place on Saturday, 12 June 93. The seats had already been removed from a previous run to Home Base (yes, they're in Colorado, too). For those of you who have helped in the lovely procedure of removing the Project Police Paddywagon seats, it's much easier now that I have adapted the Makita Driver/Drill to the socket required to remove the bolts! I suspected we would be able to get the majority of the fuselage in, but just how much would hang out? Remembering that at last year's Eddy Air Patch Open House, we had successfully put Bob Daniel's WAR Sea Fury fuselage in the Paddywagon was encouraging but the S-10 was a little more challenging. First the tail wheel and spring had to come off (two bolts). However, the vertical fin was still about 1 inch too tall. I reached for my trusty hacksaw, but Bruce suggested (screamed BW) that we just roll the fuselage about 20 degrees to one side. That got the fin through the back doors. We kept dragging it in until the fin was between the two front seats with about 1 inch of clearance from the Paddywagon's engine cover. The firewall at this point was about two inches inside the back doors. Whew! The vertical fin was trying to poke through the ceiling, but raising the nose (the S-10's, not Russ's BW) a few inches took care of that.

The S-10 all loaded up with someplace to go!

Following work on Tuesday, 15 June 93, we loaded said fuselage into the Project Police Paddywagon, tied it down, Bruce gave it a hug and I took it home with me (Bruce lives between me and the Academy). That night we attended the requisite EAA Chapter 72 meeting, and returned to our respective homes for the nights rest. Arising early the next morning, Bruce met me at my place bleary eyed and dragging tail at 0600 MDT (1200Z if you prefer). We hopped (crawled BW) into the Paddywagon and set off on our 5 hour journey to the S10's birthplace. Enroute was uneventful, the approach was not (remember, we are both Aggies BW). Following the factory directions, we turned off the highway and looked for the factory. We saw a building that sort of fit the description, but it bore no identifying markings. Continuing down the road, we saw a Best Western motel that we had been told was past the factory. Knowing no other course, we executed a 180 degree turn (slightly faster than standard rate) and proceeded back to the nondescript building. We felt like salmon as we swam upstream against everybody leaving for lunch. Yes, indeed this was the right place (there was a small RANS sign on the side door, but even a Falcon would have trouble seeing it from the road BW).

Upon entering the place of business, we were greeted cordially, and given a tour of the plant. RANS has two separate plants in Hays. This one handled the business, parts, fabric covering, and shipping. The other plant had the welding shop and the R&D folks. We saw the parts bins (thousands of them), and Bruce did a fairly good job at suppressing the drool reflex. We also saw the room where the fabric is cut for some of the kits, and the nice folks that Bruce previously cursed for wrapping his kit so well that he spent many, many hours tearing off paper in little pieces. The kit had arrived undamaged, so they had done their job well. We also found out that RANS started out manufacturing some really nifty recumbent bicycles (and they still do). If you are interested, plan on parting with over a grand.

Once again mounting up the Paddywagon, we headed over to the welding shop. I'm glad they showed us the way, because it was buried back behind some other buildings. This one actually had RANS painted on the building. Big Deal! You couldn't see this one from the road either! After backing in to the welding shop about 100 yards, we unloaded the fuselage and turned it over to the welders. Somewhere along in here, we learned that Bruce was the first builder (read: guinea pig) to actually come back for this modification, and the factory wasn't totally sure it would work or how long (read: how expen$ive) it would take. Bruce was getting a little more nervous about now (actually a lot more nervous BW). It didn't help to watch as they started cutting off the bungee cord attachment points with sparks flying about 15 feet. (I caught this on the "Airshow '93" tape, coming to a Chapter 1000 library near you later this year.)

Somewhat shaken (more like total shock BW), we dragged Bruce out of the welding shop to tour around the rest of this factory. After this, we went to lunch at Al's Chicken Shack. This is a classic small town diner, and is highly recommended if you're ever flying (or driving) though the Hays area. We did get to see the Hays Buffalo Herd. Counting legs and dividing by four, we came up with about four buffalo. We tried roller skating, but it still doesn't work. After a check back to the welding shop to see how things were progressing, we returned to the first factory. After waiting a bit, we headed out to the RANS hangars at Hays International Airport. RANS has two large hangars (the big ones like you see Citations and King Airs in) where they have some really sharp examples of their flying stock. Of particular interest for Bruce upon entering the first hangar was an S-10 with a modification to the lower half of the cowling for improved cooling air flow. After a few quick pictures of the cowl mod, the aerobatic carburetion set up, and electrical system we went to the second hangar where yet another S-10 was waiting. The cockpit, new wing root fairings and aileron gap seals were photographed and a new Warp Drive propeller was ogled. Reportedly the carbon fiber blades will twist slightly under load and behave almost like a constant speed prop. The RANS factory reps claimed about 7-10 mph increase in cruise (ooh! more speed! BW). Bruce also marveled over the Poly paint job on a new S-6 (which looks a lot like a mini-Maule). When he was told that it could be reproduced on his plane for only $2500 he became somewhat incoherent...muttering something about "Narco might be right". Anyway it was too windy to get a demo flight in the S-10 (wind steady at 30 with gusts to 45) so we guided Bruce back to the truck. Now he was saying something like "Krylon might not look so bad after all".

Hey Bruce! Your plane is ready!!

After more waiting, the welding shop reported they were complete. To install the new gear, the bungee cord supports and one cross truss on the bottom of the fuselage were removed. This cross truss was replaced with a sturdier one which had the landing gear receiving tubes and some additional braces leading to the rear seat support. The modification was successful, and they even capped off some open tubes on the fuselage just to be nice guys. I still think Bruce should have gotten a break on the price for being the beta tester.

Loading up the fuselage again in the Project Police Paddywagon, Bruce paid the bill (I tried to get Russ to share the expenses but he saw no humor in my suggestion at all BW), and we said goodbye to the staff, who had actually stayed past closing time to take care of us. As we left, we suggested that they bite the bullet, spend a little money, and paint the company logo on the side of the building using big letters this time. (Note: About a year later I was passing through Hays and was pleased to see that they had done as we suggested) The return trip was fairly uneventful, except for missing the turn in Limon and ending up on an access road full of potholes in a thunderstorm as it was getting dark (all Bruce could say was "isn't this a great thunderstorm"). The fuselage was returned to its place on Bruce's porch the next morning.

On another subject, the Project Police attended the Greeley Rocky Mountain Regional Fly-In on 26 June 93. Bruce and I were joined by one each enthusiasts from the Aero and Behavioral Science departments. This is the big fly-in for this area, roughly equivalent to Camarillo for southern California. While the size of the flyin was only about 2/3 that of Camarillo, it was about half again larger than I expected. The only major manufacturers who showed up were Neico Aviation (with the Lancair IV) and RANS. The distribution of aircraft was quite different than in Southern California. There was the usual crop of antiques and classics, with some gorgeous WACO biplanes and a Cessna 196 (a 195 with a larger engine). There was only one Lancair, and maybe five to ten Glasairs (including a Glasair IIFT [Doug--take note] and Myron Jenkins' Grand Champion Glasair III). I didn't see more than 5 grazing airplanes (LongEze, VariEze). By far, the vast majority of the aircraft were the RV series (RV-4, RV-6, RV-6A, and even an RV-3!). You can see them all on the upcoming "Airshow '93" video later this year.

As a further postscript, Myron Jenkins' airplane did not win top honors at this fly-in. As a result, he sent a letter to all of the sponsoring chapters in which he alleged he did not win because the judging was faulty. He went on to list all of the awards that his airplane had won at other flyins. (We were so impressed--NOT!) Personally, I figured after you won an Oshkosh Grand Champion, you shouldn't be allowed to be judged anymore, since you've already won the top honor. I could not believe that anyone would be so rude, so egotistical, and such a sore loser. It seems Myron Jenkins has missed the spirit of EAA. Hopefully, none of us will fall in this trap.

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Revised -- 16 February 1998