Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Profiles In Vision: Larry Burke

Engineering whiz, airplane lover, LSA rule maker...founding father

“Then I worked for RCA and got married,” he remembers. “Once I moved back to California, I could finally renew my two passions: motorcycle racing and building airplanes.”

In time, after burning out on the bikes, “my brother and I went to Oshkosh. I renewed my acquaintance with Paul Poberezny and we had a good time up there.”

He had met Poberezny in the ’50s, after seeing a Popular Mechanics article on a homebuilt the EAA founder had designed. (Larry still has his four-digit EAA membership number.)

During that time, adventurous folks began bolting chainsaw motors onto hang gliders, and the ultralight aircraft was born.

“I got the airplane bug again, went to every single air show I could, then Dennis Shattuck hired me to freelance for Kitplanes magazine,” says Larry. He also wrote for Ultralight Aircraft magazine, but like most big thinkers, many irons glowed in his creative mind. “I flew lots of ultralights and designed and built three different models. I’m even listed in Jane’s All The World’s Aircraft!”

One day Bill Sadler, creator of the Vampire ultralight, approached him with the idea of forming an ultralight manufacturer’s association. Both men agreed something had to be done about “all the scatterbrained, badly constructed ultralights out there that had no engineering acumen. Many of them just copied each other!” The rash of fatalities, many in nonairworthy aircraft, was disturbing and threatened the burgeoning ultralight movement.

The vitally important Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association (LAMA), so crucial to the creation of the LSA category, was born from that conversation. Sadler eventually lost interest, but Larry “kept the flag up the pole.” Ultimately, as the first executive director of LAMA, his diverse education—multiple degrees in engineering, business management and quality assurance—brought order to the chaotic ultralight industry, and LAMA got a consensus standard through FAA. “Chris Heinz and I also created what became the standard for microlight aircraft in Canada,” says Larry.

He also served on the FAA’s ARAC (Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee), and helped create the rules that defined Part 103—Ultralight Vehicles. Later came the ASTM standards approach to LSA certification, and Larry Burke was right in the middle of it that neighbor who’s got your back.

“By 2000, we were turning out standards, working with aerodynamicists and trained engineers,” he asserts. At ASTM, “our charter was to create a standard for a simple two-place airplane. Earl Lawrence was elected chairman of the F37 committee, I was elected secretary, the number-two position in the hierarchy, and we had a great time. The overseas manufacturers got involved once they envisioned expanding their markets, so now we have LAMA meetings overseas, too.”


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