The Saga of BD-4 Serial #1

N624BD in her glory days

Long ago in a galaxy far, far away...

No wait, wrong story.  About 35 years ago Jim Bede, fresh from his work with American Aviation designing the BD-1 (nee American Aviation AA-1 "Yankee") turned his energies to a new design, the fourth in his self titled series, the BD-4.  It was to be an amateur built aircraft from either a complete kit of parts, or scratch built from plans only with a minimum of support and parts from the Bede Aircraft Company.

Jim had used many unique concepts in his design of the BD-1, such as the aluminum tube spar which was extruded to shape and cut to length, requiring a minimal amount of drilling and assembly to have the wing's load carrying structure built.  The BD-4 was designed with the same aluminum tube spars, and the fuselage was made from aluminum angles bent from sheared strips of aluminum sheet.  These angles were bolted together at the intersections with gussets to back up the angles and standard AN509 countersunk screws and AN365 nyloc nuts.  The ease of assembly and the simple tools and small learning curve were such that the design became very popular.  Not only did Bede Aircraft offer a complete kit of parts that included all materials to build the plane, which in 1968 was a totally unheard of concept in the home built aircraft world, but the methods and materials of construction lent themselves well to the "do-it-yourselfer" that had dreamed of building an airplane but didn't really know where to start, and didn't have ready access to the tools and materials of traditional aircraft construction that required welding equipment or riveting tools, or both!

In another stroke of brilliance, Jim designed "panel ribs" that were a combination of airfoil shaped ribs for the wing and short sections of fiberglass skin that nested such that it was possible to slide the panel ribs on the spar tube and using a 2 part epoxy glue them to each other and to the wing spar to assemble the basic wing during the span of as little as one day's work!  The idea that one or two people could build an entire wing in a day was hard to accept in light of the months or even years of work that many had put into traditional construction techniques for other home built designs.  Yet the rapid assembly promises were duplicated by many builders in the field, and Jim's revolutionary construction methods were validated.

The BD-4 was marketed in a group of seven kits that allowed you to "pay as you build", and thus not expend a large sum of money all at once, or before you knew that you really were going to build the plane in its entirety.  The kits were grouped such that you could buy a wing kit and build the wings, a fuselage kit and complete the structure of the fuselage, and so on with additional kits for the tail surfaces, landing gear,  control system, instrument panel, interior, and cowl and engine mounting.

The only items that Bede Aircraft didn't provide were paint, engine and propeller (though these were offered at a discount from retail), the battery, and the oil and fuel!

Such a concept of an airplane kit in a box was the dream of the everyman workshop tinkerer, and probably the nightmare of many wives.  Just imagine, a truck pulls up and unloads a stack of boxes and crates containing an airplane to be assembled by the resident handyman.  What an inspired concept.  Jim Bede's brilliance in marketing was outshown perhaps only by his astute understanding of things aerodynamic.

The BD-4 was no slouch when it came to performance.  It outperformed almost anything one could buy preassembled with similar horse power.  The smaller engined version with 108 HP was shown in the literature to have a top speed of 156 mph, which was nearly 50 mph faster than other small aircraft powered by the same engine.  Those that installed the larger engines of up to 200 HP were treated to performance that was unrivaled in the light aircraft industry.  Some builders have shared their performance numbers of over 200 mph cruise speeds and range in excess of 1,000 miles.

So much for the introduction to what a BD-4 is, and where it came from; now back to our story of N624BD, the very first BD-4 built.

With the idea for the BD-4 rattling around in his head, Jim Bede collected up a few of his trusted friends and associates and proceeded to put the design on paper and actually construct the prototype.  Work was begun in late 1967, and by August 1, 1968 the airplane had been completed and the FAA had inspected it and signed it off for test flights.  Those who signed the log book as helping build the plane were: James R. Bede, Paul Griffin, Delmar Hostetler, and Lou Herman.

On the initial test flight of 35 minutes at Newton Kansas, Jim Bede noted that the max TAS achieved was 155 MPH.

Other notations in the logs indicate that it was flown to airshows and on numerous test flights refining the handling and systems in preparation for the other BD-4s that were to follow as the kits were sold and shipped.

I purchased N624BD from a gentleman in Oklahoma after it had been disassembled for 25 years in storage.  The plane had been sold as part of the assets of Bede Aircraft in 1979, and had been in the process of being modified by Bede Aircraft with some structural changes that had been developed over the years since it was originally designed and built.  Hence the areas of bare aluminum in the following photos.

Here are a few shots of it on the trailer after the 800 mile return trip from Oklahoma to Alabama.

The wings on the wooden rack over the pickup truck
Wings in the wooden rack.  Cheap to build, supported the wings over a large area, and allowed them to be strapped securely for the trip.

N624BD on the trailer
The wooden "saw horse" supported the tail since it was tail heavy without the engine and prop.  The nylon tiedown straps wrapped around the wing spar and tied off front and back to clamp the fuselage down against the main gear.  The 2 straps over the tail cone and around the tail skid pulled the fuselage down firmly into the "saw horse" cradle that established the angle at which the fuselage rode.

Truck, trailer and wing rack
Another shot showing the wing racks and a view of the motorcycle/jet ski trailer which worked well for the BD's tri-gear.  Note how far forward the main gear sit.

Rear seat upholstery
The rear seat upholstery was still in good shape.  That is antenna coax coiled under the seat.  There was no carpet when I purchased it, though there was evidence that some had been glued down on the center console.

Passenger door panel
The door panels are also in good shape, and the original design stitched in to the upper section shows up well.  The bottom of the front seats is in OK, shape, but the seat backs have been lost, or were possibly not with the plane at the time of the auction.

My goal is to return serial #1 to flight status with paint and appearance as near duplicating its original looks as possible.

More pictures to follow as I continue to clean and prepare it for flight. 
(26 Oct 2002)

The rudder and HS temprarily installed
I installed the rudder , elevator and tail cone to check the fit and see what parts I might be missing.  The elevator trim tab is hanging by the hinge becasue I didn't get all the trim mechanism, and there is no link to support it.

Side view oif the VS with rudder attached
This shows the larger vertical fin and rudder that Bede Aircraft offered as an option to builders.  N624BD came originally with a smaller vertical fin and rudder which many still prefer.  I understand that the change was driven my customer demand, not aerodynamics.

the panel as received --STRIPPED!
The instrument panel as purchased.  Note that only pilot side brakes were installed on the prototype.  The small U shaped tray to the right of the holes in the panel is the old Com radio rack.  It used to be a Radair 10 I believe.  Because of changes in the ATC network, this is one area where N624BD is going to look a bit different than it did in 1968.  The panel shell is actually WOOD.  Its very nicely done and is still holding up after nearly 35 years.

the bare firewall

The firewall showing the original conical mount, and the nose strut and wheel.  Its SUPPOSED to have the wheel at the angle.  I took the bolts out and rotated it to allow the nose wheel to clear the HS which is laying on padding in the bed of the truck.  The shock and vertical stops for the nose strut are also removed to allow it to ride up this high.  I had the plane this far forward to keep it from being excessively long off the back of the trailer, and to help maintain a decent tongue weight since there was no engine and the fuselage would tip over backwards on the main gear if not supported.  Note the location of the main gear at the front edge of the trailer.

31 Oct 2002
Test fitting the cowl, RF
I started test fitting the cowl today.  The cowl has been sprung a bit in 25 years of storage, and its hard to get the piano hinges to line up.

Test fitting the cowl LF

Note that its bowed up in the middle and down at the bottom.  I think the hinges may have been bent, and its going to require some careful tweaking to get it to line up.

Only the sides are attached, but the cowl is in place

This gives a bit better view of what it should look like, though the cowl is still bulging up in the center.

I've left the plane on the trailer this week as I make room for it inside.  Also the tires are bad, and I don't want to unload it and find that it won't roll, so a set of 3 new tires and tubes is on its way.

This is not a good picture of the "spar notch", where it appears they modified an off the shelf tube to do the proof of concept.
Unfortunately it was a very overcast day, and the camera wants to shoot it way too washed out with a flash and way too dark with out it.
"Notched" spar tube with splice plate.
If the sun comes out tomorrow I'll get a better shot, so you can see the rivets and the screws and gang channel down inside the spar.

01 Nov 2002

OK, the sun came out and I got a better picture showing the riveting work to size the spar tube.  I tried to get a shot down the spar tube to show the gang channel and screws, but the camera isn't as sensitive as the eye, and it just does not show up.
Inside the spar tube, showing rivets and splice strip

Also showing on the right side of the spar are some screw heads for the folding wing attachment.

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-- Bob Steward, A&P IA
Birmingham, AL