Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Bear 360: Living The Warbird Dream!

A sexy new airplane reminiscent of the WWII Bearcat

The aircraft’s large bubble canopy houses the pilot and copilot in tandem cockpits, which are both configured with flight controls. The front pilot panel is equipped with Garmin’s GNS 430W and GTX 327 transponder, as well as Dynon’s EFIS-D100 and AP74 autopilot.
In 1998, Holm collaborated with Sergey Yakovlev, a designer from Russia’s Yakovlev Design Bureau, to create the Bear 360 prototype. Since then, there have been some starts and stops in bringing the aircraft to market, but it’s now in full production out of a high-end facility in Orenburg, Russia. After flying about 300 hours in the Bear 360, Holm has created a set of improvements and upgrades that will certainly benefit owners. As an experimental airplane that’s factory-built, the Bear 360 falls into the experimental exhibition category. This imposes some administrative tasks on a Bear 360 owner; namely, the person must notify the FAA (in the form of a program letter) of any events at which he or she intends to perform. Bear Aircraft will provide owners with an annual program letter; all they have to do is sign and send it.

The Bear 360 has a comprehensive, 41-page checklist that details all normal and emergency procedures, and also includes aircraft spec information such as weight and balance. For the demo flight, our procedures were straightforward. On takeoff, you need to use left rudder instead of the right because the prop rotates opposite of what most of us are used to. You smoothly apply power so that the torque from the M14 doesn’t take you for a ride into the weeds. After you gain a little speed, you bring the tail up a bit and rotate around 80 knots, and then you climb like crazy at 135 knots. Cruise operations are almost nonexistent because there’s no mixture control to manage with this engine. As Holm puts it: “Power setting is more of a prop rpm function instead of a throttle setting.”

In the landing pattern, you slow the Bear to between 100 and 120 knots, get the gear down, set flaps to 10 to 15 degrees, hold about 90 knots over fence and make a tail-low wheel landing at 85 knots, or three-point it at just under 80 knots. A bounced landing, Holm tells me, is one of the few times when flying the Bear 360 can get tricky. Given the torque generated by a big throttle input, the issue is maintaining directional control at an angle of attack that’s at or above stall. This is part of the Bear 360’s checkout.

Simply put, this airplane is pure fun to fly. It’s stout and strong, offering a responsive feel due to the mass-balanced flight controls and the push-pull tube actuation. Because it has no control cables, the Bear 360 has a stick feel that’s smooth and immediate. The nimble aircraft offers excellent opportunities for dogfighting and formation flying. Holm tells me that the 360 can deftly maneuver through canyons or follow rivers, but I’ll definitely leave that kind of flying to pilots who are more talented and brave.

For aerobatics, the Bear 360 has a G range of +6 and -3. It picks up speed rapidly when the nose is pointed down, and it feels good and ready to do anything at 275 knots. Rolls and point rolls are fun and easy with the 180-degree-per-second roll rate, and basic aerobatic maneuvers, such as loops and barrel rolls, are a breeze. Spins are on the list of approved maneuvers, but without a stiffener and production canopy lock on the two-place prototype, Holm wasn’t comfortable performing them on our flight. Stuart Featherstone, Bear Aircraft’s director of sales and marketing, says, “The reality is that the rudder/vertical is a large, typical WWII barn-door area, which makes the aircraft very departure- and spin-resistant, rather than spin-capable.” Holm added, “Although it’s capable of flying aerobatics, that isn’t the main reason to pick the Bear 360. It’s just one of the components that make up the vintage military style of flying.”

During our flight for this article, the Bear 360 demonstrated its formidable formation skills with its authoritative, effective rudder and big prop, which makes it easy to slow down once you’re closing in during rejoin on the lead airplane. The electric trim on the stick imparts just the right feel on the already light controls.

An optional dogfighting package is available and includes a laser and camera installation so you can shoot your friends down and bring evidence of your victory to the debrief. The excellent visibility should make it easy to track your opponent during a vertical rolling scissors. I expect that the Bear would be a great competitor for such Yak airplanes as the 52, 55 and even the 50.

Labels: Piston Singles


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