When the BD-10 was announced, it was billed as the world’s first and only supersonic jet kit aircraft. Designed and promoted by Jim Bede, a talented and charismatic aeronautical engineer with a history of failed businesses, the BD-10 was touted as an everyman’s personal supersonic fighter that could fill the “need for speed” at a relatively low cost.
Jim Bede was a controversial figure among homebuilders, and for good reason. His BD-5 and BD-5J, which even today are well-regarded designs, were heavily promoted, and the company accepted thousands of orders and deposits before the project ran out of money, causing customers to lose their deposits. As a result, the Federal Trade Commission banned Bede from accepting aircraft kit investments for a period of 10 years.
Shortly after the FTC Consent Decree expired in 1989, Bede revealed plans for a homebuilt tandem-seat supersonic jet, the Bede BD-10. The initial specs for the BD-10 were exciting: Using a single General Electric J85 engine, the same model as used on the Learjet Model 23, Bede promised customers climb rates of over 12,000 feet per minute, a range of 2,000 miles at 590 mph and max ceiling of around 45,000 feet. Most of all, the BD-10 adverts promised supersonic speeds up to Mach 1.4. The prototype was completed in 1992 and began flight-testing.
The enthusiasm for the project was huge, but flaws manifested themselves from the BD-10’s very first flight. This didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of aviation publications, and big-name aviation legends such as Bob Hoover and Gene Cernan were hired by the company to pitch the aircraft. But actual performance never matched the optimistic specs. As aircraft weight increased with each design change, range decreased. Even at full thrust, the aircraft couldn’t achieve a speed greater than Mach 0.83.
Bede became disenchanted with the project by 1993 as performance of the aircraft continued to disappoint. Mike Van Wagenen, a Vietnam-era fighter pilot and Bede’s primary business partner and inspiration for the BD-10, took the reins of the entire project and pressed ahead. The biggest red flag for the project was when wrinkling appeared on the aircraft’s vertical tail after performing demo flights at the 1994 Reno Air Races. The tail was beefed up, and the next prototype, dubbed the PJ-1, was quickly built based on the redesign, and Van Wagenen’s new company, Peregrine Flight International, was born.
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The redesign wasn’t enough. While doing envelope expansion fight testing, on Dec. 30, 1994 (three months after the Reno structural damage), the PJ-1 experienced tail flutter and broke up in flight, killing Van Wagenen. Eight months later, his successor, Joseph Henderson, was killed in the second prototype in Minden, Nevada, when one flap failed to retract on an attempted go-around. After this crash, Peregrine ceased operations. In 1996, Bede sold BD-10 military rights to Monitor Jet in Canada, but the company test pilot refused to fly it, and the aircraft ended up in a museum and was never flown again.
The last kit-built variant of the BD-10 flew in 2003 but suffered an inflight breakup, killing its pilot, Frank Everett, off the coast of Southern California.
In all, five BD-10 variants were built, three crashed, killing each pilot, and two were relegated to static displays.