Building Aircraft in Andorra
By David Baines
Tom Mead and I had build an aircraft previously. We did make a flight from the parking lot at the Pal ski station, but the steeply inclined scenery of the Pyrenees, the engine manufacturer’s grim warning that it could not be relied upon beyond gliding distance from an airfield and the startled dissatisfaction of the Government, decided us against doing it again.
And then a friend said that he had been flying the BanBi MCR 01 in France.
“It’s the most exciting aircraft I’ve flown since I left the Air Force.”
He said enthusiastically. He used to fly Canberras in the RAF. “ It’s a kit aircraft made from carbon fibre, very light and very strong.”
He omitted to say ‘very expensive’ …..
Tom and I drove to Darois, near Dijon and had a quick test flight. The performance was impressive. Climbing out from the airfield, the nose of the aircraft was high enough to obscure the forward horizon, the low cloud base that day prohibited anything too fancy and after a 30 minutes flight, mostly throttled back to keep below the limited speed of 320 kph, we returned for landing.
The aircraft is advertised as having a range of 1500 kms, or with the optional wing tanks 6000 kms,
which also gives an endurance of 2 hours, more than boredom, bottom or bladder could stand, so we considered only the fuselage tank. It is also expected to get to England, for example, non-stop, with a fuel cost of less than 6000 pesetas (36 euro).
The only drawbacks I could see were the cost, which was more than I wanted to pay, and the size. The MCR-01 is the smallest two-seat aircraft in the world, and although the adjustable seat was in its lowest position, I was still about 3 cms short of headroom, and could only fly the plane with my head cranked over sideways, in a stance like a worm-seeking blackbird.
“Perhaps I could cut away some of the framework that supports the seat to allow more headroom.” I asked the chief pilot. Back in Andorra, I attended a meeting of the recently formed Federation of Aviation Sports of Andorra, and circulated the details of the aircraft. Eric Recurt, a French Pilot who was sitting next to meat the table, spoke of an aircraft he wanted to build, a Thunder Mustang, costing ten times my estimate for the MCR. He quickly committed himself to share, and we started to look for four other investors. We decided we needed six people at FRF 50,000 each. (7622 Euro)
Manel Campos, our Andorran member, came next, followed later by Mike Leonard, who took a flight in the demonstration aircraft in Darois and confirmed my enthusiasm. Howard Hobson, hearing of the project, threw in a share and our last member Juan Payaras arrived at the door with the news he had already put the money in the bank, which instantly removed any debate about admitting him. Juan’s membership introduced a small problem. Everyone else speaks English, while Manel, Eric and Mike converse well enough in Spanish or French to talk to Juan. My limited knowledge of those languages only allows me to understand half of the conversations, Tom can converse in French and Howard only in English. It’s a polyglot group but we manage to stumble along.
We started work in France on April 7th 1999. At the factory we were presented with all the parts for fuselage, and two of us easily managed to carry it down a flight of stairs and across the tarmac to the assembly hangar. Any thoughts of home construction vanished when we saw the complexity of the assembly, which needed the factory jigs to ensure aerodynamic accuracy.
We had to trim the excess plastic from the mouldings using a diamond saw and not knowing that the by-product of cutting carbon fibre is soot. At the end of the day we looked like African coal miners coming off the midnight shift and I revelled in a hair colour I hadn’t seen since my twenties. It was a lot like making a plastic model aircraft on a grand scale. Everything, even the seat belt installation, is held by epoxy glue, which though very strong, is capable of causing an allergic reaction during application, painfully demonstrated by a fellow builder whose fingers swelled and peeled like overcooked bratwurst. We wore masks and rubber gloves most of the time.
We gave some thought to cutting the frame that stopped the seat from going lower, but came to realise that the few centimetres of headroom gained might easily translated into several thousand feet of headroom if the floor fell out in a high speed turn, so we placed the restricting frames further aft and altered the geometry of the seat support, and gained five cms with the frames intact. The only problem remaining is the buttock-gripping plastic shell of the seat that promises to restrict arterial flow to the legs after a few minutes, but a restriction on dessert and chocolate during the ned few months might take care of that.
One thing that surprised me was the apparent fragility of the parts. The fuselage just behind the cockpit canopy can easily be deformed by finger pressure and the interior of the wings are supported from collapse only by a light-weight expanded foam that seem more suitable for a parcel-packing material. It occurred to me that I have seen corn flakes packed in stronger boxes, and yet the factory says that although it is not licensed for aerobatics, the aircraft is quite capable of them, and I think it is.
We worked in relays at the Darois factory over the summer of 1999 and by August we had enough done, we thought, to bring the aircraft back to Andorra to finish fitting out. We towed the fuselage and dismantled wings and tail back to our garage in La Massana, and commenced fitting out the interior. Here we met our next problem.
In the factory we gained more information observing other more complete aircraft in the hangar, than we did from the instruction manual which was written in French, partly in English and German, and totally in confusion.
“No it’s not like that. It’s been changed” was the common response to queries, and we learned to distrust the book. It did occur to me that our alternative method of looking at others would ensure that a mistake made by one builder would descend down the production line like a virus, but we are checking very carefully.
The aircraft is nearly finished, and stands in the garage awaiting wiring of the instruments and the fitting of a plastic strip between the wings and the flap, that none of us can understand. Engine testing should start in a few weeks. We did have an agreement to keep the aircraft at La Seu airport and, lacking any hangar there, purchased all the parts to build one, from an agricultural building company, but we have been asked to delay construction while the negotiations are taking place for the restructuring of the airport as Andorra’s terminal. Hopefully by the time this is published we might have a favourable decision.
This spring the plane might be test flown at the factory, or the first flight might take place at La Seu or Pamiers depending on licensing in France or Spain, which is still under discussion, but one thing we can promise to both you, and the Andorran Government, who are considering aircraft licensing in the Principality, it won’t be at the Pal car park.
This aircraft has much higher takeoff speed and we’d never make it over the trees.
David Baines † Nov 2012