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A Perennial Homebuilder Strikes Again …
Ken Flaglor’s R-80 Tiger Moth

by Mary Jones
(photos by Ken Lichtenberg)

janfeat.jpg (8015 bytes)If you’ve been hanging around EAA gatherings for any length of time, you’ll quickly recognize Ken Flaglor’s name. Ken loves to build airplanes, and while he’s “threatening” that his latest creation, a Fisher Flying Products R-80 Tiger Moth, is his last, it’s not likely many of his friends really believe that. For certain, his wife Barbara doesn’t.

An active modeler as well, Ken doesn’t limit his building to only full-size aircraft.  Until the Tiger Moth, though, he has built his aircraft strictly from plans — or designed them himself. He introduced the Flaglor Scooter to EAAers at the 1967 EAA Convention in Rockford and subsequently described it in the January 1968 issue of SPORT AVIATION. With an empty weight of 390 lbs., it was named the “Outstanding Ultra-Light” of the 1967 air show. Power for the Scooter was a 36 hp converted VW engine. He converted a Fleet 16-B into a glider tow plane, calling it the High Tow, in addition to building a replica of the Gee Bee Model Y Senior Sportster, a Sonerai II and an Ultra-Pup and completing a friend’s Emeraude. In other words, Ken is a builder’s builder.

He’s also an engine tinkerer, so it’s not surprising that he chose a Subaru auto engine, an EA-81, to power his Tiger Moth. Years ago, Ken experimented with two-cycle engines, putting two Cushman 18 hp golf cart engines on a Cherokee II glider, and he first tried a Cushman engine on the Scooter before going to the VW.

Ken says when he saw the Tiger Moth at the Convention a few years back “it was a grabber right away.” “Certain airplanes are like that; when you see it you want it.” He immediately asked about the availability of plans and was told the airplane was only available as a kit. That stalled him a while since he really prefers working from plans, but eventually he bit the bullet and bought the kit. It arrived in August of 1995; this past June the completed aircraft passed FAA inspection on the 26th and Ken took it for its first spin on the 27th.

Building from a kit was, of course, a new experience for Ken, but not necessarily one he’d repeat. “I saved a lot of time by not having to make all the fittings — that’s the biggest advantage of building from a kit — but I’m one of those guys who’d rather do my own thing. At the same time, though, I don’t believe in changing somebody else’s design, so I built the kit according to the manual. In the end, I’m probably better off having built this airplane from a kit because if I had designed it, it probably would have weighed a lot more. I would have added more to the structure, but these folks come from the ultralight community so they design lighter than what some of us old timers do. Some of our airplanes have more macho integrity than they necessarily need.”

janfeat2.jpg (13557 bytes)The empty weight of Ken’s Tiger Moth is 673 lbs., which compares to 590 lbs. for the factory prototype. Ken says he can easily account for most of the weight difference. “My Subaru engine weighs 210 lbs.; no doubt that’s significantly more than the Norton Rotary engine in the prototype. Plus, I have a muffler, which adds another 5 lbs. I added an extra wing tank and with all its plumbing that becomes fairly heavy. When I ordered my radiator, I forget to specify an aluminum radiator so the guy sent me a copper radiator and that’s about 5 lbs. more, so it all adds up quickly.”

Converting the Subaru

Ken bought an “off the boat” Subaru engine; i.e., one of the 30,000 mile engines that come off automobiles in Japan and then are shipped to the U.S. for secondary use. He paid $495.00 for the engine from an importer in Cleveland, Ohio. With the exhaust system, muffler, radiator and redrive, which came from Don Parham at RFI, Ken says he has about $2,600.00 invested in the total engine installation. “The redrive was the most expensive part; it cost about $1,600. That was the only thing I really didn’t want to tackle in the conversion. Other things I could do myself.” His radiator is from a diesel Volkswagen Rabbit. He also added an oil cooler and now is very pleased with all his engine temperatures. “The oil temperature especially came down from ridiculously high to perfect with the radiator and oil cooler.”

Ken started flying the aircraft/engine combination with a propeller off a 65 hp Continental but was dissatisfied with the climb performance. He figures he was getting about 80 hp from the engine at 4400 rpm. “The EA-81’s rated at 72 hp at 4800 rpm in a car, and Reiner Hoffman of Stratus gets about 100 hp from his improved EA-81 turning it at 5500 rpm, so I was hoping to get mine to turn at least 4800, but no matter how we reworked the prop, the fastest I could get it was 4400. I originally wanted to use a GSC ground adjustable prop, but it wouldn’t fit a conventional hub. While at Oshkosh this year, though, I learned there’s now an adapter available that I could put on my Subaru so I could use the GSC propeller. Since then, I’ve gotten the adaptor and have put the GSC prop on and it’s a completely different airplane to fly. It climbs at 500 fpm solo and about 350-400 fpm with a passenger on board. It cruises nicely at 70 mph at 4200 rpm with 25 inches of manifold pressure. 80-85 mph is about as fast as it’ll go, but remember, this engine is stock; I’ve done nothing to increase its horsepower rating.” The prop is 72 inches in length and Ken’s best guess is that it’s pitched at about 40 inches. “It’s difficult to get an accurate measurement off this blade,” he says.

As mentioned earlier, Ken’s engine weighs 210 lbs. all up. That includes the reduction drive, muffler, exhaust, radiator, coolant and mounting brackets. “I think it’s important people know what the engine installation weighs in total, not just the engine itself. Some folks think they can do a conversion for about 180 lbs., and they’re kidding themselves. In the end, the weight of this conversion is pretty equivalent to an 85 hp Continental.”

Still, Ken thinks the auto engine conversions are a great way for folks to inexpensively power their aircraft. “I think auto conversion’s are the only salvation for the little guy who wants to build an airplane.  We’re going to run out of 65 Continentals and Lycomings and ground power units. If you have a slow, light plane you don’t have to have something hot with lots of power.  Overall, this engine runs superb. I also think the Volkswagen engine is still one of the biggest sleepers around. I’ve flown three VW-powered airplanes and they performed well, too.” Altogether, Ken figures he has about $14,000 invested in his Tiger Moth.

One of the few modifications Ken did make to the airframe turned out to be very popular with the Fisher factory folks as well.  Although Ken had sent them a photo of his completed aircraft, no one at the factory had seen his airplane “in person” until this year’s Convention. Once they saw it, they were quite impressed, especially with his idea to make the center section gas tank removable. “It’s certainly more practical if the tank ever needs repairs,” says Ken. Probably the voice of experience speaking.

janfeat1.jpg (8918 bytes)In all of his building experiences, Ken has often wondered just exactly how much weight covering and painting an aircraft adds. With his Tiger Moth, he decided to find out. After building the wings, Ken weighed one of the top wings with all its fittings, but without the ailerons. It weighed 22 lbs. bare. After covering with Poly-Fiber, taping, one brush coat and two sprays coats of Poly-Fiber fill, two cross coats of silver and two cross coats of color, the wing weighed 27 lbs. “It was kind of interesting to find out; sometimes you’ll hear people say, ‘it’s so heavy with paint it won’t fly,’ but now we have kind of a benchmark for how much weight it really adds.” All in all, Ken’s thoroughly enjoying flying his Tiger Moth. When his wife asked him a few months ago which was his favorite airplane to fly, the Emeraude, the Ultra-Pup or the Tiger Moth, Ken says he picked the Tiger Moth. “I really enjoy the open cockpit, low and slow flying. That’s the way I like to fly.” It’s now wonder, then, that he knew he had to have a Tiger Moth the first time he saw it.

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