WITH GENETICS RESEARCH MAKING HEADLINES ON A REGULAR BASIS, it's just a matter of time before the discovery of the "twee" gene, which confers a fondness for diminutiveness-dollhouses, teacup Chihuahuas, and Mini Coopers, for example. When this gene is dominant in people also carrying the prop-head gene, individuals are particularly drawn to wee aircraft. Further research will likely reveal that builders of such craft also carry the Guinness gene, which confers a congenital yearning to land in the record books.
McDonnell XF-85 Goblin
The U.S. Air Force lacked an ultra-long-range escort fighter for its ultra-long-range Convair B-36 bomber. McDonnell built the XF-85 to be stowed aboard the B-36. Instead of equipping the fighter with landing gear, a trapeze would extend from the mothership and a retractable hook on the Goblin did likewise to facilitate launch and retrieval. Most of the test retrievals, conducted with a B-29, resulted in collisions with the trapeze and belly landings by the Goblin, and the program was cancelled in late 1949.
Aeronautical engineers William Chana, Ken Coward, and Karl Montijo produced the all-metal Wee Bee in the late 1940s pretty much as a lark. Its 30-horsepower engine enabled a top speed of 82 mph. To fly it, its pilot lay atop the fuselage, making it an airshow attraction. The Wee Bee succumbed to a fire that swept the San Diego Aerospace Museum in 1978; a replica took its place.
Westland-Hill Pterodactyl V
The Pterodactyl was a British design of the 1920s created in response to a government request for a two-seat fighter. The rear cockpit accommodated a gunner, the wingtips pivoted to act as ailerons, and the wing trailing edge had elevators. A 600-horsepower Rolls-Royce Goshawk powered the tailless Pterodactyl, which ended up serving primarily as an airshow attraction.
Bellanca 14-9L Cruisair
North Carolina’s State Airlines flew a three-seat Bellanca 14-9L from Charlotte to the South Carolina cities of Charleston and Columbia in the early 1940s. Along with a pilot and two passengers, the Cruisair could accommodate 60 pounds of baggage.
In the early 1970s, Jim Bede’s audacious BD-5 kit (promising 200 mph on 40 horsepower) and BD-5J kit jet (276 mph, 202 pounds of thrust from a Micro Turbo TRS-18) rallied the homebuilder community like no other aircraft. But the company declared bankruptcy in 1979, by which time only a handful of BD-5Js were up and flying, mostly at airshows.
French aeronautical engineer Michael Colomban designed the Cri-Cri in the early 1970s. Some 150 are registered around the world, primarily in France, where a seriously whack owner installed two minuscule turbojet engines on his, resulting in the world’s smallest twin-jet. After selling his MC-10, Lewis Bjork wrote on a Cri-Cri Web site in 2003, “The fellow wanted it shipped via air freight and supposed it would make a good commuter for short trips over the jungle. I suggested he reconsider: engine failures common, can’t start without big drill, needs special fuel. Not to be dissuaded, he claimed to weigh 110 pounds. For him, the airplane will be a rocket ship. He said if I ever come to Bangkok, drop by. I hope he is still happy to see me.”
Wingspan: 16 feet 5 inches
Length: 12 feet 9 inches
Empty weight: 139 pounds
HM-14 Flying Flea (Pou de Ciel)
The original Tiny Airplane, the Pou de Ciel was designed by Henri Mignet in 1934. The upper wing acted as an elevator and there were no ailerons. Mignet’s original design featured a 17-horsepower motorcycle engine. Later incarnations by homebuilders quadrupled the horsepower and also boosted the number of crashes, which led to a ban on the design in England and France. By the time a fix was in place, the novelty of the Flying Flea had largely worn off.
Stits Sky Baby SA-2
Ray Stits built the SA-2 biplane in the early 1950s in Riverside, California, for no other reason than to claim it World’s Smallest—clearly, a carrier of the Guinness gene. (Stits was the founder of the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Chapter One, and also devised an eponymous aircraft fabric covering.) The Sky Baby is on display at the EAA museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
Mooney M-18 Mite
Debuting in the late 1940s, the Mite was the first single-seat general aviation production aircraft manufactured in the United States. Al Mooney marketed the M-18 as the Wee Scotsman and boasted of extraordinarily low operating costs and high-efficiency aerodynamics. Ex-military pilots said it handled like a fighter. Production ceased in the mid-1950s, and the “backward” vertical stabilizer went on to become a hallmark of the Mooney line of sleek and efficient (and larger) aircraft.
Bumble Bee II
Robert Starr, who flew the Sky Baby at airshows in the early 1950s, built the Bumble Bee II in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1988 to snatch the “World’s Smallest” title from Stits. Guinness named it the World’s Smallest Biplane. The airplane was destroyed in a crash; the original Bumble Bee is on display at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona.
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Air & Space/Smithsonian magazine has been delighting aerospace enthusiasts with the best writing about their favorite subject since April 1986. As an adjunct of the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum, Air & Space matches the grand scope of the Museum, encompassing every era of aviation and space exploration. With stories that range from the Wright Brothers to the design of NASA's next lunar lander, Air & Space emphasizes the human stories as well as the technology of aviation and spaceflight.