Easily the best “weird airplane” book on the market.
Peter M. Bowers
Peter M. Bowers (1918-2003) was a legendary figure in the airplane industry. His Fly Baby homebuilt airplane won the first ever EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) design contest in 1962. He wrote 26 books and over 1,000 magazine articles, all on the airplanes that he loved so much.
Mr. Bowers had a vast amount of knowledge to draw upon when he wrote this book, Unconventional Aircraft. At 325 pages, it is easily the longest book in the genre.
I find it very curious that the designer of the Fly Baby wrote a book like this one. The Fly Baby is the exact opposite of the airplane designs in the book. It was designed to be very easy and inexpensive to build and fly. Simple, easy and inexpensive are the last words to describe most of the airplanes in the book. I suppose Mr. Bowers needed to see first what sorts of crazy things designers put in their airplanes before he could know just what he could leave out.
Broken up into fifteen chapters, hundreds of unusual airplane designs are profiled. The pictures are excellent, full of sharp details. Each airplane gets about half a page of text, but a lot is packed into a small space. For each design a short history is given, along with interesting facts, and finally a summary of the specifications.
The chapter titles describe relatively arbitrary classifications, such as “Where to Put the Engine?”, “Twin Fuselages”, and “Other Wing Shapes”. This might be the biggest weakness in the book, but I will not fault it too much for it. With the great variety of odd airplanes, they simply refuse to be organized into easy categories.
Odd Airplane Obsession
Why am I obsessed with unusual aircraft? I am certainly not alone in my fascination for these oddballs. I will not claim to know what motivated Mr. Bowers to write this book, but I can talk a little bit about why I find it so fascinating.
Designing an airplane is both an easy and a hard problem. It is easy if you closely model the new design after those designs that came before it. There is no shortage of proven airplanes to choose from.
But every airplane is a compromise. There are just too many constraints and variables to even remotely claim to have the “perfect” airplane design.
Coming up with a new solution that tackles the design problems from a fresh perspective is very tempting. I have tried to do so myself, and I quickly learned why the “tried and true” path is so popular.
An unusual airplane configuration is bound to run into a huge number of problems, most of which cannot be foreseen until you actually try to build and fly it.
I am fascinated by those that not only decided to tackle the design challenges with new solutions, but actually managed to build and fly their unusual creations. For me, this book is an unending source of inspiration and ideas.
Used copies of the book are very inexpensive. At the time of this writing, several copies in very good condition can be purchased for about $5, shipping included. If that is not a bargain, I do not know what is.
If you have a love for airplanes anywhere near mine, you owe it to yourself to get a copy of this fascinating book.
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