By: Norm Goyer
Say what you will about Jim Bede, I liked the man and thought that some of his designs were outstanding. None were perfect, their hype often exceeded their performance. But, at least he didn’t crank out the same old high wing, nose gear, carbon copy aircraft. His were far different and ,many of them caused huge ripples in the aviation community.
|During the early heyday of the BD-5D kit we were operating five flight schools in Southern California. The main topic around the hangar flying discussion groups was the BD-5. The year was about 1973 or so and many of our customers had ordered kits for the BD-5. I am sure that there are still hundreds of these kits still sitting in hangars around the country. Jim Bede had indeed succeeded in designing an airplane that required an engine that as yet didn’t exist. Several manufacturers promised him they would, but they could not deliver. How many VW Bugs do you think would be sold if there were no engine for it, probably none. But the BD-5 sold by the hundreds. Our flight director, the late Si Campbell, would proclaim loud and clear, “:In 1975 the BD-5 will fall out of the sky.” They didn’t fall out of the sky because they never had an engine to power them into the sky. Which in reality was a lucky solution. I am sure that a huge number of accidents would have occurred. Those that managed to find a different two stroke engine, and did fly the BD-5 all stated that it flew very well but was not suitable for a beginner or a low time high wing pilot. Most of the many accidents were the result of engine failure.
But it was Bede’s next move that was pure genius. At air shows around the world they will occasionally feature a performer who is flying a Jim Bede BD-5 Mini Jet the BD-5J, This variation worked and it worked very well. . The BD-5J version holds the record for the world’s lightest jet aircraft, weighing only 358.8 lb. The design used the Sermel TRS-18-046 turbojet (now Microturbo, a division of Turbomeca), which produced 225 lbs of thrust and was used on a Caproni certified motorglider design. The original engines were produced under license by Ames Industrial in the USA. The wing was modified to an “intermediate” size between the original A and B wings, with a 17 ft span. The result was the sleek BD-5J, a 300 mph aircraft.
Bob Bishop had purchased 20 BD-5J kits as soon as they had appeared, and many of the flying examples started life in this batch of twenty. Versions from the original batch became a popular airshow fixture. Throughout the 1980s and until 1991, Coors flew two of them as the “Silver Bullets.” Budweiser also had a BD-5J called the “Bud Light Jet”, but that contract has long expired and the aircraft was lost as a result of an engine compartment fire from which Bob Bishop successfully bailed out. The aircraft also appeared in the opening sequence of the James Bond film, Octopussy.I interviewed Bishop for an article during this time period and he told me how he modified the BD airframe to withstand the added stress and airspeeds of the jet powered Dash 5J. I remember he told me he cleaned up the surface of the wing which was not smooth and reinforced several areas. Bishop loved the way his micro jet flew.