More than Just a Quickie
Lynn French built a kit plane called the Quickie, a machine that, based on a formula for fuel consumption, speed and payload capacity, the proud owner says is classified as the world’s most efficient aircraft.
The aeroplane Lynn French built from a kit isn’t one he can put in a display case. He actually sits in the cockpit and flies this homebuilt aircraft all around the United States.
Since he started keeping track in 2005, Lynn French has flown his plane about 75,000 miles. When he flies for fun, French stays at an altitude of between 3,000 and 4,000 feet. For travel, the altitude increases to between 9,000 and 10,000 feet.
On August 21, 2002, French’s Quickie model plane N142LF took flight for the first time. The licence number is fitting. All US aircraft numbers must begin with N, while the rest stands for “one aeroplane for two people built by Lynn French.”
The 750-pound (340.2kg) aeroplane flies at 180mph (around 156 knots) and burns just 6.5 gallons (24.6 litres) of 100-octane aviation fuel per hour. Its wings are carved from Styrofoam and sheathed in fibreglass. Almost everything on the plane is home built, except its standard Continental aircraft engine, which was manufactured by a division of the Rolls Royce automaker.
In January 2001, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspected and certified the plane to make sure French used the correct hardware, followed approved construction techniques and produced a safe aircraft.
French said the Quickie is classified as the world’s most efficient aircraft based on a formula for fuel consumption, speed and payload capacity, which is 600 pounds (272.2kg).
“There’s no other airplane that efficient,” French said.
French became interested in aeroplanes as a young boy partly because his father, Gene, served in the Air Force. He used kits to build typical model aeroplanes and learned to fly while he studied avionics in college. Although he didn’t end up in an aviation career, French earned his pilot’s licence and occasionally hired aeroplanes for fun.
In the mid-90s, Lynn and his wife, Laurie, went to the world’s largest air show – EAA Airventure at Oshkosh, Wisconsin. While admiring the show, he saw a couple of aeroplanes like the Quickie and became interested in building one.
French spent two years networking and trying to find a kit because the company that made them had gone out of business. French calls the project a “scratch-built aeroplane” and added that because construction is difficult, and the flight, take-off and landing characteristics are different than those of general aviation aeroplanes, the aircraft is very rare.
“There are only about 20 of them in the United States,” he said. “(Through networking) I know everyone in the U.S. who has one of these.” The owners share the mechanical and engineering knowledge required to build and fly the planes. And while the United States has the fewest restrictions on homebuilt aeroplanes, French cannot legally fly his aircraft for hire.
“That’s why some are being built (overseas), but not many are flying,” he said.
French added that there are three of the aircraft being built in the United Kingdom and a few more in Australia.
French said flying the Quickie versus a regular small aeroplane would be comparable to driving a Corvette versus a station wagon or minivan. Turbulence in the Quickie is less noticeable than it would be in general aviation aircraft, he said.
French flies his son, Levi, to firearm shooting competitions. In 2011, he hasn’t made a trip shorter than 500 miles.
Levi also is interested in piloting, but French said his plane is not one in which someone should learn to fly. It takes experience and training, he said.
“I was extremely nervous the first time I took the plane into the air,” French said. Although he felt prepared because he had trained and had a ground crew standing by in case something went wrong, he knew of several people who’d had mishaps on their first takeoff or landing. He has flown through storms, landed in the thin air on hot days and lost a fuel pump during flight.
“There’s nothing much that gets me nervous anymore,” he said. “I’m very comfortable with the airplane.”
He has a passenger most of the time, but in the beginning when he flew solo French said he was up there by himself “having a blast.”
Initially, French had about US$20,000 invested in his plane. Since then he has purchased more gadgets, including radios, an additional fuel tank, GPS and in-flight music system.
French is currently working on building a second high-performance aeroplane. He’s four years into it and anticipates it will be several more years until it’s finished. His focus now is on raising his family, but when it’s done, the plane will be even faster than N142LF.