The Saga of BD-4 Serial #1
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,
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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 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 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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