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EAA Newsletter

Fast, Loud, Big, and Beautiful

Special Edition Model H-1 Racer flies at AMA 75th

By Fareed Guyot, Manager – Electronic Publications, EAA 388642

July 14, 2011 – The Hughes Model 1B (H-1) Racer turned heads when it literally burst on the scene in 1935. Its polished, sleek appearance was not just for looks; it was for setting speed records - which it did on its very first flight. Howard Hughes only made one, and that was meticulously copied by Jim Wright, finished in 2002. Tragically Wright died a year later while flying his H-1 and the plane was destroyed. Enter Joe Bok and his military electronics support company, Aero Telemetry, which has now produced three half-scale flying model replicas of the H-1. The latest Aero Telemetry H-1 was created specifically for the Academy of Model Aeronautics 75th Anniversary, and it’s flying this weekend at AMA’s event in Muncie, Indiana.

Aero Telemetry’s 75th Anniversary Edition of the Hughes H-1. CEO Joe Bok says it’s the lightest 1/2 scale model to have retractable landing gear. In the summer of 2003 Joe Bok and a full shop of employees were scrambling to finish two scale R/C flying replicas of Howard Hughes aircraft for the film The Aviator: a 1/16 scale H-4 Hercules troop transport (The Spruce Goose) and a quarter-scale military prototype, the XF-11 fighter. At the same time Bok’s company was creating eight other static aircraft models to be used in the film.

That summer Wright wowed AirVenture crowds with his beautiful H-1 replica. He and the plane were supposed to participate in The Aviator but flying home to Oregon after the convention his H-1 developed problems with the geared-propeller system and crashed in Yellowstone National Park.

The Aviator’s producers contacted Aero Telemetry and asked if they could build a flying model of the H-1…in three weeks. Like the other two models they were working on, any plans or drawings were tightly held by the Hughes Corporation and they had to design and build the H-1 from photographs and measurements of the original aircraft in the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum.

Wildfires delayed filming, which gave Aero Telemetry more time to produce 425-pound ½-scale H-1. Some of the challenges aside from the time crunch was designing a strong enough wing that could hold a retractable gear system - which itself was designed and built in 3-weeks. Powering the aircraft was a 360cc two-stroke, two-cylinder 30hp engine. After several modifications due to ground clearance and propeller overspeed issues, the aircraft was fitted with a 48-inch inflight adjustable, variable pitch prop.

The original 1/2 scale H-1 model built by Aero Telemetry used in the film The Aviator weighed 425 pounds. All photos courtesy: Aero Telemetry.

In November 2003 the aircraft began filming for The Aviator and according to Aero Telemetry it flew just like the real one: “Fast, loud, big, and beautiful.” The filmmakers were so impressed with the model that it was featured in the both theatrical and television trailers as well as in short clips during the 62nd Golden Globe Awards. However Joe says that the three aircraft made for the film will never fly again.

“The aircraft were considered ‘Medium Endurance Tactical Vehicles’ and therefore Homeland Security made us cut them up.” Bok said.

But that would not be the last H-1 Bok would produce. A couple of years ago Jeff Nance, AMA director of marketing and programs, was agonizing about the fact that Bok’s original H-1s had to be cut up. At the time Nance asked Joe if he would build and fly a plane for the 75th Anniversary. “I asked him about bringing an H-1 out for the 75th and he said ‘I’ll do it!’” Nance said.

Aero Telemetry began work on a second H-1, which would also serve as a technology demonstrator for some of the systems they were designing to use in an eventual full-sized replica of the aircraft. This aircraft was also ½-scale and featured a hydraulic system and retractable landing gear designed from scratch. Bok is pretty proud about how this aircraft turned out, especially the strength of the wing and its likely performance.

Aero Telemetry’s first attempt to build a smaller H-1 for AMA’s 75th Anniversary was deemed too heavy to fly at the event. Although never finished, it served as a technology demonstrator for a full-sized H-1 Joe Bok already had in the works. “At 15 degrees angle of attack it can do 60 mph. The wing generates 900 lbs of lift.” Bok said. “It’s so strong it can pick up a house or fly a person.” Even though it never flew Joe said the second aircraft was a work of art. “We stayed as true to the original as we could. It's an amazing airplane.”

Despite the success of this model, it would turn out to be too heavy to fly at the AMA’s anniversary celebrations unless Aero Telemetry reduced its weight by 100lbs. Joe Bok knew that they would have to start over again with a brand new plane. One of the challenges is continuing to reduce the weight of the aircraft while still maintaining the ½-scale design. “We had to stop work on that model and start a completely new redesign of a 3rd plane to get it to weigh less than 125lbs. 100% re-design of the landing gear with different actuation methods and materials, completely different wing design (different materials and fabrication technique) and completely different fuselage fabrication (resin infusion and carbon fiber meticulously weighed and measured before lay-up). To go from 450 to 225 was a huge accomplishment, to go from 225 to 125 and stay at the same scale, is record-breaking I think. The path to 100 lbs in weight savings began with a 100 percent carbon fiber fuselage. Internal parts also featured weight savings through hybrid carbon fiber tubing. The landing gear was changed to a hybrid pneumatic system, and the engine is a modified ultralight engine.

“Our models are full scale airplanes that just happen to be unmanned. They have all the same flight characteristics; that's what makes them fly so well and look so realistic during flight,” Bok said. “Our 75th Anniversary Edition H-1 Racer weighs 118 lbs - certainly a world record for lightest 1/2 scale airplane with retractable landing gear!”

Aero Telemetry still works with Hollywood on special projects, but airplane work is rare. Bok says that if a full-scale "real" airplane is available, that is always the best way to film. With many restored warbirds still available and computer renderings of planes so inexpensive, Joe says his company’s services are “somewhat reserved for the real rare birds, or something with a very risky flight requirement.”

AMA Executive Director Dave Mathewson was equally excited to have the H-1 at the event since it demonstrates technology that is available to all.

“Joe Bok's Hughes H-1 Racer demonstrates the latest use of high-tech components and lightweight materials available in model building and full scale aviation. Tiny electronics, and electric motor power by small batteries and lightweight materials have helped bring the cost down to get started flying models."

AMAs 75th Anniversary events run through Sunday, July 17 including workshops, flying demonstrations by over 240 model aircraft, an address by AMA’s National Ambassador Robert “Hoot” Gibson, and local chapters of the EAA will provide full-scale airplane Young Eagle rides at Reese Airport.

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