Wednesday, October 1, 2008
YIPPEE: Evolution Of A Thoroughbred
Nearly a quarter of a century in gestation, the LoPresti Fury flies into the 21st century full of promise
The original tailwheel was modified even further to a configuration similar to that of a Grumman Bearcat, snuggling up inside the tailcone out of sight when the gear is retracted. The exhaust system was slicked up to minimize drag and reduce back pressure. Finally, the modern, curved instrument panel is 20 years removed from the original. It has practically no resemblance to the 1988 version.
The bottom line is an airplane so well-conceived, utterly balanced and in tune with the pilot that it blows away nearly everything else in or out of its class. The LoPresti Fury features flush riveting all around; fully gap-sealed ailerons and flaps; a wing repositioned four inches forward for optimum speed and ground handling; a customized sliding canopy designed to reduce drag to a minimum; an airfoil with no twist; plus about a thousand other aerodynamic tricks, all intended to produce the best speed and optimum handling.
With help from aviation enthusiast and former Apple executive R.J. Siegel, the LoPrestis have pushed forward plans for a development facility in Sebastian, Fla., and hope to start work this year on an assembly plant in New Mexico. By the time you read this, LoPresti’s Sebastian facility should be up and running, assembling the first of three production prototypes.
I flew the one and only LoPresti Fury shortly after its first flight in the late ’80s, and since then, I’ve flown it twice more, most recently at 2008 Sun ’n Fun in Lakeland, Fla., with LoPresti pilot Corkey Fornof. Fornof is an excellent choice as a demo pilot; he’s an air show expert and a motion picture aerial coordinator whose work includes two decades of flying in dozens of movies, everything from a trio of James Bond films and Mission: Impossible II to Jurassic Park and Congo. Fornof also worked with me on an ’80s ABC-TV series, Wide World of Flying.
Fornof has flown a variety of airplanes in conjunction with his motion picture and television work, and he analogizes the LoPresti Fury straight across to a WWII fighter. “Obviously, it’s smaller and not as fast, but the handling is remarkably similar,” says Fornof. “Roy designed the LoPresti Fury with fighters in mind. He was determined that his airplane would pay more than lip service to the military HOTAS principle—hands on throttle and stick.”
That’s especially important for fighter pilots who must maneuver and manipulate aircraft and weapons systems simultaneously. It’s just pure fun for those of us in general aviation. Collectively, the stick and throttle house switches for flaps, speed brakes, push to talk, trim, autopilot disconnect, landing light, transponder ident and more.
Unlike most fighters, which house their single- or two-pilot crew in a small enclosure out on the pointy end (or in tandem cockpits for two), the LoPresti Fury seats its pilots side by side. A single throttle is mounted at the center panel. If you’re a former military aviator (or wish you were), the most logical place to fly the LoPresti Fury prototype is from the right seat, where the stick falls naturally to your right hand and the throttle to your left. Production LoPresti Furies will be configured with an optional second throttle on the left sidewall, so either pilot can fly with right hand on stick and left hand on throttle.
With thousands of hours in WWII fighters, primarily Mustangs and Bearcats, Fornof suggests the LoPresti Fury design is about as close as you can come in general aviation to those famous fighters. “Okay, so you’re not flying behind a Merlin or a Pratt & Whitney. The feel is still military, but with civilian comfort,” he asserts. The airplane also sports aerobatic chops in keeping with its slick design. The LoPresti Fury isn’t an ultimate aerobatic hot dog like the Extra or Pitts, but it does maneuvers with the aplomb of a Mustang. In many ways, it’s more similar to a warbird than to a two-seat Mooney or Bonanza.
The LoPresti Fury strikes that happy balance of mini-fighter and casual sportplane, acro “funster” and long-distance cruiser. In campaigning the airplane on the air show circuit around the country, Fornof often flies strapped into his parachute to provide occasional 3D en route distraction.
Roy felt the ultimate litmus test for an airplane was handling and control harmony. As much as Roy loved speed (he drove a Ferrari), he was adamant that if an airplane didn’t manifest excellent handling, all the other parameters—climb, cruise, service ceiling, short-field characteristics—were irrelevant.
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