Just One Word: Plastics
The world's first all-composite airplane may fly again.
- By Stephen Joiner
- Air & Space magazine, November 2011
(Page 2 of 2)
During the final spin test, a company pilot had to bail out—with Federal Aviation Administration inspectors watching. Ted and Bob Windecker re-engineered the struture, lightening the tail and increasing its effectiveness in spin recovery. (All three brothers had by now taken on engineering and management positions.) In December 1969, it won certification as the world’s first all-composite airplane.
Aviation magazines declared it a game-changer, with a sticker price within $500 of a Beech Bonanza’s. But the board of directors rejected an aviation analyst’s recommendation to sell $20 million of stock to fund mass production, instead selling a mere $4 million worth. When the money came in, the board diverted most of it to other purposes.
Leo Windecker returned to research. “Keeping an engineer in marketing and production never works,” he told me in 2006. To boost the Eagle’s radar reflectivity for civilian airport operations, he planned to install non-structural metal components. Now he sold Pentagon officials two radar-slippery non-metallized versions. Designated YE-5 by the Air Force and code-named CADDO by the Army, the stealth forerunner vanished into classified evaluation. Meanwhile, a skeleton crew in Midland hand-made about one Eagle a year: Build one, sell it, build another.
In 1974, visions of mass-produced Eagles returned. Lehman Brothers, one of several refinance offers, proffered a $20 million bailout with one stipulation: The renamed Windecker Industries had to file protective Chapter 11. But Blakemore vowed his name would never be associated with bankruptcy, Ted says. Lehman Brothers moved on. After just nine airplanes, so did the Windeckers. “It was a fantastic venture,” Dan Black says wistfully.
Today, general aviation’s best seller is Cirrus’ all-composite SR22. Leo Windecker lived to see it all and wasn’t surprised. “Aluminum,” he told me in 2007, “was never a very good material to build airplanes out of anyway.” In April 2009, Ted acquired the Eagle’s type certificate from Composite Aircraft Corporation, which had owned it since 1977. “We are raising capital to return an updated Eagle to the market,” he says.
Stephen Joiner writes about aviation from his home in southern California.