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One man's Falco F8
our thanks to
FlySouth Aviation News

Stelio Frati - there's a name to conjure with. It is the name of a near-genius designer of products, including cars and aircraft. Frati is world renowned for his many aircraft designs, one of which is the impressive Siai-Marchetti SF260 - and of course, the subject of this article, it's predecessor, the Falco F8.

First flown in 1955 the F8 was destined to become a production aircraft from the word go. Licensed by Frati, Italian companies, Aviano Milano, Laverda and Aeromere manufactured some 110 of these all wood, 2 seat aircraft between 1955 and 1958, and sold them as sporting and touring aircraft to the well heeled of mainly Europe, but in 1958 metal aircraft were what the well-dressed aviator was wearing and production ceased.

The last 20 aircraft came out of the Laverda of Italy factory and that was it for the Falco for the time being. The all metal SF 260, very similar in appearance but with more power up front, 260 hp, went into production later, but that's another story.

In 1975, one Alfred Scott, having made pots of money out of real estate in the USA, bought the rights to the out of production Falco. He and David Thurston, more famous he designer of the Lake Buccaneer amphibian, set about the task of redrawing and converting from metric, the plans of the Falco, to better suit the US home-builder market. After plans came the kit components and the Falco is now an established home-built design, in plans and kit form available from Scott's company, Sequoia Aircraft.

The first plans built Falco, built by Larry Wohlers of Tucson, Arizona, flew in June 1982

The subject of our story is Brian Nelson of Robinhills, Randburg, Gauteng and the Falco F8 that he has been busy with for the past 12 years - yes you read it right, this is a BIG project.

In fairness though Brian admits to often, for periods of months, not having been able to do much building due to work pressures and other commitments. However, when pressed he will also admit that he is entertaining serious thoughts that this machine will be flying this year, the centenary of powered flight! Brian started out in November 1983, by purchasing the plans for the Falco.

After studying these for a little time, he shoved them back in the drawer - the project appeared just too complex and, he felt, too much for his skill level at that time. He had for many years been involved in model aircraft building but this looked too ambitious!

Two years later, still determined to build an aircraft, he bought the KR2 spruce kit from the local agent of KR aircraft, the late Sakkie Halgreen. This appeared more realistic for a first time builder. Well, after a couple of years of building with wood, he felt much more confident of his skills with the aircraft 70% complete.

On a trip to UK, he met the UK agent for Falco aircraft, Brian Fox - and got his ear bent, to the extent that on his return to SA the KR project was sold, and in January 1988, Brian started on the Falco, which is what he wanted to do in the first place! Who says there's no justice in this world!

Having been a production aircraft the Falco makes a very impressive homebuilt Apart from it's self-evident good looks, it is consequently a very well proven design in all aspects - construction, performance and safety.

Recent revelations regarding the stability and centre of gravity problems of some hot composite kit aircraft have convinced Brian that his choice was correct - he does not expect to have to move the wing later to correct the longitudinal stability of the aircraft like some Glasair builders!

The Falco is clearly not as quick to build or as simple as some designs available, although comparisons of manufacturer's claimed build-times are odious!

Neither is it cheap to build - as Brian pointed out - if you were to purchase all the kit segments available from Sequoia you would be in for about $ 60,000, but building would be dramatically faster, and easier.

In Brian's case he has purchased some ready made components and manufactured all the rest. For example he bought the canopy, cowling kit and seats :from Sequoia - the canopy is bigger than that of a full size P51 Mustang - but kits such as wing spar, tail group, fuselage, engine mount, main and nose - gears he has made himself or had made locally, thus saving a bit. If you look at only the price of the main gear/nose gear/gearbox and motor components at US $ 2100 it's more than a bit!

To illustrate the savings possible, his landing gear was made of locally available honed hydraulic tubing, which although to a German specification ST 52 and of a different alloy that the US-supplied article, exhibits all the same metallurgical and mechanical characteristics - and Brian should know - he's a metallurgical engineer).

These were manufactured for Brian and for two other Falco builders, Fanie Hendricks of Standerton and Koen Plantinga of Edenvale, by a retired uncle of Brian who was in the engineering business and had retained, on retirement, some of the equipment he used in his business. Cost to each builder R10000 - don't you Cove it when a plan comes together!

The 160hp Lycoming 0-320 B2B, complete with CS prop and spinner, came from a Piper Apache found sinking into the weeds at Maputo Airport - but with 0 SMOH in the logs it looked like a great deal.

However a strip down and examination recently, after the motor had lain in a corner of the workshop since purchase for many years revealed that, notwithstanding the logbooks, the motor was on the point of failure, with scuffed and possibly previously seized pistons and more...!

So, after a complete disassemble and rebuild, the motor has now been installed to the airframe, and for the first time the Falco is able to stand on it's own wheels, now that there is some weight up front.

The Hartzell Constant-Speed propeller with which the motor was bought was also found to be well outside service limits and will be discarded in favour of a fixed-pitch wooden propeller - just like the original Falco.

Brian has been an EAA member since 1983, and has served in various capacities on EAA Chapter and National committees, including a stint as President of Chapter 322 (1985 - 86) and as National President (1986 - 87), since being asked to step in when the then National Treasurer, Joe Higharn died in an accident.

He has served on the FAI Amateur Built Aircraft Commission as representative of Aero Club of SA, and was elected President of ABAC in 1989 - 1990. One of only four Presidents of Honour appointed by the Amateur Built Aircraft Commission; the others being Paul Poberezny of EAA US, Louis Cariou of Resau du Sport de I'Air (France) and David Faulkner-Bryant of PFA UK for contributions to aviation.

While he laments the fact that his "working on airplane" time is limited by other responsibilities, he nevertheless finds enough time at weekends to see progress - and Iooks forward to being airborne in the Falco, which will be only the second to fly in Africa, during the course of this year, 2003 - after all how better to commemorate 100 years of aviation.