Thursday, July 1, 2004
Bellanca Viking: Wood, Fabric & Genius
The brainchild of an Italian designer, this classic airplane exudes a rare combination of style and substance
| It’s almost inevitable that Italian airplanes are compared to Italian automobiles. You can’t look at the smooth, sculptured lines of a Marchetti SF-260 or Partenavia P68 without thinking of a Ferrari or Maserati. |
Wood has no memory, as does aluminum, so it’s highly resistant to dings. It’s also more resilient, willing to flex thousands of times without stressing or breaking, and it doesn’t delaminate under high temperature or repeated G-loads. Wood is lighter than metal (only about 250 pounds for a finished Viking wing) and offers an easily shaped, rivetless, aerodynamic surface that’s ideally adapted to a small aircraft wing.
In almost 35 years of production, the wing has never changed. Back in those heady days of the late ’70s and early ’80s, when Bellanca was turning out one Viking a week, I toured the Minnesota factory several times, and I was always impressed with how quiet it was at Bellanca. Working in wood, glue and fabric isn’t a noisy job.
Like many of us who have owned Bellancas of one type or another, Breiman is convinced his Viking is a different kind of four-seat retractable. A motion-picture executive based in Los Angeles, Eric Breiman had always wanted to fly, but like so many other busy professionals whose problem is finding more time than money, his schedule made flight training unlikely. He had been brought up with airplanes, as his father had been a B-29 flight mechanic during WWII, and Eric had inherited the bug.
Finally, in early 2000, he dove in headfirst at Justice Aviation in Santa Monica, Calif., training for his private ticket in a series of Cherokees. Breiman earned his license in only three months and immediately went looking for an airplane to buy. “I had a friend with a Viking for sale,” says Breiman, “and he took me for a demo ride. He had been the only owner of the airplane since it was new, he was an A&P and he knew everything there was to know about his Viking. When I flew with him, I knew I had to have that airplane. The Cherokees were fun, little machines, but the Viking was a big step-up in performance and handling, a Corvette compared to a Corvair.
“The Viking had been very well kept when I bought it,” continues Breiman. “Still, it’s a fabric airplane, and the cover was original—27 years old at the time. I elected to have a complete fabric and paint job done on it, about a $20,000 expense. The good news is that the covering is now fully restored and painted in my colors, and I won’t have to do anything to the fabric for as long as I own the airplane.”
Like most of us who own or have owned Bellancas for years, Breiman didn’t buy his airplane exclusively for looks. He bought it for the way it flies. Vikings and their predecessors have long been famous for control response and harmony that seems almost psychic in nature. Yes, Vikings do have plenty of other talents. They’re quick airplanes with abbreviated climb, they scamper across country at speeds near the magic 174 knots (200 mph) and enjoy good short-field numbers, but their primary claim to fame is their excellent roll rate, fast elevator response and a seeming ability to read their pilots’ thoughts.
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