Copyright © Custom Flight Ltd. 2013
The following is an article written by Captain Ken Armstrong. Ken has flown 12,000 hours on 250 airplane and helicopter types. He is a prominent Canadian aviation author whose works are regularly published in a number of aviation periodicals.
A PLANE FOR ALL SEASONS ‑ THE ALL‑CANADIAN NORTH STAR
WHEN IS A SUPER CUB NOT A SUPER CUB?
Surrounded by wings all his life, Morgan Williams was forced to design the North Star when he was unable to find a Super Cub rebuild project to fulfil his dream of a go anywhere float and skiplane. While he was at it, he chose to improve greatly on the ancient design and refine the handling and performance with modern aerodynamics and creature comforts. Even the "Feds" are impressed with the quality of this kit offering and declared the North Star to be an outstanding home built kit at the '95 Oshkosh Air Show and the FAA Safety Program Manager disclosed, "We wish all kit manufacturers would put out kits of the quality you do."
Morgan's inventory of improvements is lengthy, so you might like to brew a cuppa before sitting down to look at the delightful differences (and this is only a partial listing). While the North Star looks very much like the Super Cub, Morgan emphasizes the North Star is a new airplane, not a rebuild or modification.
The compression struts are now lined up with the aileron and flap hinges so forces travel in a straight line instead of zig zagging through the spars and the same bolts attach the hinges and struts for simplicity. The use of raked wing tips provides a long trailing edge improving the aspect ratio and allowing side‑slipping with full flaps extended. Moreover, the flap span is two feet longer and four inches longer cord on each side with the four inch flap/fuselage gap eliminated to reduce drag and increase lift. Four notches of flap are available on the cockpit mounted bar and the hinge geometry allows extension similar to Fowler flaps which increase wing area as well as the coefficient of lift. Ailerons (drooping ailerons are an option) have been moved outboard and according Morgan who is a high time Citabria aerobatics pilot, the stick forces are reduced and the aircraft has twice the roll response of the Citabria! It's been a long time since I flew the Citabria so I'll take his word for it as I was impressed with William's honesty when I asked the tough and tricky questions that are part of each evaluation I do.
The same USA 35 B airfoil is used as on the Cub; however, Williams uses stainless steel drag wires that extend through spars and employs simple nut and block attachments. Also the aileron pulleys and cable are concealed in the wing along with wing‑shaped 5052 aluminum fuel tanks that hold a total of 44 imperial gallons (197 litres, 52 U.S. gallons). Leading edge aluminum extends four inches back behind the spar to provide the correct airfoil shape by preventing the fabric from sagging as is common on most fabric‑winged aircraft. Suffice to say, the quality of materials throughout the aircraft are equal to or superior to the production Super Cub.
Because Williams was starting with a new design, he widened the fuselage 2 2 inches (after all, folks are bigger now than they were fifty years ago) and added a second door to facilitate entry and exit ‑ especially important on floatplane operations when one might want to exit from either side for docking procedures. The baggage area is the other big news. A baggage door allows access to an area that extends 52" aft with a capacity of 90 pounds. To accomplish this, the baggage floor has been lowered to the bottom longeron with a deep "V" belly allowing drainage and control cable routing and the baggage area now includes a high ceiling. The North Star incorporates stainless steel belly framework that virtually eliminates corrosion worries and a tail end belly opening allows the pilot to flush the entire tail cone with a garden hose. The design utilizes an exposed tail post to avert corrosion and the fabric doesn't encircle the longerons thus avoiding the dirt/water trapping that eventually leads to cancerous corrosion in steel tube airplanes.
The padded instrument panel hinges downward for easy access to the instruments and six inches of seat travel with a tilting back ensures comfort for a wide spectrum of pilot sizes. A dynafocal swing‑out engine mount allows access and repair of engine accessories. And here's a bright idea! The fuselage steel tubes are all oil sealed and NOT interconnected so that corrosion can not travel from one tube to another. Similarly, the tail wheel spring's front bolt affixes to a welded bushing to keep water out. The 4130 tubing is sandblasted with extremely fine sand and epoxy primed. All of the control stops feature adjustments and they mate with discs not bellhorns edges thereby reducing wear. Other attributes include a stainless steel firewall, fin offset for directional trim, float fittings welded to the fuselage, battery access through the baggage door and extra large inspection covers that fit like shingles to shed water and reduce drag around the openings. The list of innovative improvements over the Super Cub is so lengthy, I'll leave it up to Morgan's pages of specifications to enlighten readers.
Williams creative aptitude for aircraft has also dictated a larger rear window for augmented visibility whilst sailing backwards on floats, a three inch taller and wider hydraulic coil spring gear that improves propeller clearance and shortfield capability and eliminates the maintenance bugaboo of bungee cords.
To ensure the North Star is able to operate in the north‑ during all seasons ‑ the oil sump features an electric heater, the axles are extended to provide for wheel ski attachments and the cabin includes heaters.
With all of these refinements, Morgan was able to build a better Super Cub in terms of performance ‑ and it carries 400 pounds more useful load!
MINIMIZING THE USE OF RUNWAY
My opportunity to fly the North Star occurred during a break in my duties as a COPA director at the Deerhurst AGM. I had left lunch early to fly Chris Heintz's new certified CH 2000 and afterwards accepted Morgan's offer to demonstrate his exceptional aircraft ( and finely honed flying skills).
Normally, when flying aircraft for evaluation reports, I constantly remind myself that these are homebuilt aircraft that often do not fit factory standards for stability and design and that I should be conservative in terms of pushing the envelope as I am not being paid to do test pilot work but rather report on an aircraft the way most private pilots would fly same. Initially, the flight format followed this guideline. Readers can refer to the performance and specifications charts at the end of the article to confirm the hard facts of what the North Star can accomplish when flown to its limits ‑ as a seasoned pilot on type can safely accomplish. As far as the flight report is concerned, suffice to say, the North Star not only excels as a STOL aircraft but also provides exceptional utility as a load carrier. It is extremely rugged, easy to fly, and very safe as it's capable of operating from virtually anywhere that has 500 feet (or less) open space.
The cabin's extra width provides more room on the instrument panel and the seats and cabin size are quite comfortable. A press on the starter button brought the 150 hp Lycoming to life and we were instantly refreshed by the fall air as copious ventilation is available through the two fold down window doors. As traffic ahead of us in line was backtracking to the end of the runway to have the full length available as there was no where else to land in this rugged country after an engine failure, Morgan announced he would accomplish an intersection departure as the engine was already warm. Initially, I questioned the sense in this ‑ until Morgan firewalled the throttle and with two notches of flap the North Star was airborne in a few hundred feet and clawing steeply upwards at 700 fpm with 40 mph on the clock. This deck angle, combined with the Star's STOL and gliding capabilities ensured we could land back on the strip at any point of the departure. So much for my worries.
The slow speed upper air work was the area I most wanted to explore and it was during this phase that I learned the North Star is actually a two to three‑place parachute. During the climb out, the North Star quickly pointed out she was a stick and rudder airplane. From the old school, this is quite all right with me because I enjoy the powerful rudders typically found on these aircraft. There will be no feet on the floor flying with this northern belle. Earlier I mentioned this Cub look‑a‑like is easy to fly; but the need to coordinate the rudder/ailerons for turns will challenge many pilots who trained on tricycle geared cesspool one‑filthys. Nonetheless, using adequate rudder with those improved ailerons allows the rapid roll rates Morgan claims and the powerful rudder permits very high sideslip angles ‑ more on that later.
The Star has a big 82 inch diameter seaplane propeller installed with 41 inches of pitch so we only showed 92 mph at 2450 rpm and apparently 85 mph when Edo 2000 floats are installed. (Morgan claims a 9 second take off run on floats with an average load.)
For speed crazed landplane operators, you could install a "pitchier" prop and cruise around 115 mph and still be able to jump stumps. (Don't forget to add 10‑15 mph to obtain the true airspeed at altitude.)
Slow speed handling made this helicopter pilot feel at home as we could hover all day into the westerly wind. Stalls were docile with some pre‑event buffeting and little wing drop. Our flaps up, power off stall was just under 40 mph and the full flap stall at 1500 rpm was off the clock ‑ somewhere below 20 mph indicated ‑ slow enough for me. Morgan advised me that it's difficult to get the Star to spin and that it recovers on it's own regardless of pilot input.
The North Star is certainly well suited for carving the sky up into little pieces, but I know it's capabilities would be best suited for demonstration back at the runway ‑ besides, a hundred aircraft aficionados were waiting for our return as the aircraft's STOL performance are show stoppers.
My first approach taught me that the North Star is not only a parachute and helicopter; but also a glider! I prefer steep approaches and like to control the glide path with flaps and sideslipping so I can leave the power at a setting that will keep the engine warm. If the engine ever quits, I can retract flap on almost any aircraft ‑ thereby stretching the glide out to the runway. Thus the North Star caught me. It glides so well at 60 mph, I had to pull all the power off and set up a steep cross controlled approach to get it down on the runway that was also sloping away from me a 2.5 degrees. It all worked out in the end, but I gobbled up half the runway in the flare. After climbing back into the circuit for another attempt, Morgan said, "May I?" His subsequent approach utilized lower speed, a maximum rate sideslip throughout the approach and ensuing flare such that we were able to clear the rocky obstacle at the runway's end and touch down on the first hundred feet of the tilted runway. Touching downs at 25 mph allows one to stop in two hundred feet. We certainly had the milling crowd's attention as they were all on their feet as we taxied by! (Although, in retrospect, this could have been due to a lack of chairs...) Nonetheless, having flown hundreds of hours on Stinson L‑5's and Cessna L‑19's on STOL glider towing operations with its big 0‑470 Continental I can conclude the North Star can provide the same performance on 150 cubic inches less engine ‑ and a lot less fuel flow!
I used to like to drop the full 60 degrees of flap in the L‑19, set up the maximum angle of sideslip and hold it throughout the flare so I could stop the Cessna close enough to the glider for an immediate hook‑up and launch. Unfortunately, the commanding officer of the Air Cadets operations was an ex 104 Starfighter pilot (one didn't sideslip these jets or set up high rates of decent on final) and we were subsequently limited to 30 degrees of flap and no sideslipping on final. Pity! The troops really used to like to see some real operational flying. My French Canadian soul mate with 2000 hours on type was of a similar persuasion when it came to operations and may hold some sort of a record in the form of 32 continuous spin rotations during a weather check.....but I digress.
Point is, when you compare this Star's capabilities to the available factory aircraft it really shines. It even eclipses other homebuilt stump jumpers such as the Montana Coyote and Mountain Eagle that the Americans think are the epitome of short field performance. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised as Canadians have always set the STOL standards with their Fleet, Found, Norseman and de Havilland aircraft. We even made the name famous with the decidedly Canadian North Star airliner ( a modified Douglas DC‑4 with Merlin engines).
Perhaps Morgan says it best when he announces the North Star picks up where the Super Cub left off. Using a 1970 aviation guide for Super Cub specs., I note the North Star takes off and clears an obstacle quicker, cruises faster, stalls slower, carries more payload farther and lands shorter! I suppose Piper could also improve the performance on the Cub‑ but they haven't. They can't build as cheaply as you can and the market likely wouldn't adequately support the opening of the production line. However, Custom Flight Components Ltd. can provide you with an airframe materials kit and step by step instructions to guide you through the assembly process.
In keeping with his open honesty, he likes to check out purchasers of the kit to ensure their goals are suitably matched to their abilities. He advises not to build to save money; but for the education and pleasure in knowing you've built your own aircraft, or to obtain an aircraft that is higher than average quality.
If you'd like to get to know Morgan better, contact him at Custom Flight Ltd.,129 Conc. 8E, Tiny, Ontario, Canada, L0L 2J0 Phone 705‑526‑9626 or www.customflightltd.com