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The Bowers Fly Baby: An Underappreciated Classic Homebuilt

EAA is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Pete Bowers design. Here’s why it’s kind of a big deal.

A Dutch registered Bowers Fly Baby in flight. Photo Jeroen Komen via Wikimedia Commons
A Dutch registered Bowers Fly Baby in flight. Photo Jeroen Komen via Wikimedia Commons

At this year’s AirVenture Oshkosh Fly-In, EAA is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Bowers Fly Baby. It’s not only one of the most successful homebuilts of all time; it also has a close connection with EAA and the organization’s roots.

The Fly Baby is one of the first successful amateur-built planes, and its gentle flying manners and easy construction made it a hit. Created by famed designer and aviation historian extraordinaire Pete Bowers, the Fly Baby is a longtime favorite for its straightforward (if labor-intensive) all-wood construction and easy-flying manners.

It was a winner from the start. In its first year, 1962, the Fly Baby won the EAA’s Best Design trophy. It was a big hit sales-wise, too.

The Fly Baby is an open-cockpit, low-wing monoplane that’s made almost entirely of wood (spruce and plywood) and covered with fabric. It’s powered by a 65 hp Continental or Lycoming engine, and the big fat chord wing is similar in design to that of the Piper J-3 Cub. Building it requires some basic woodworking skills, but it’s doable by a dedicated enthusiast.

Pete Bowers, who died in 2003, was a long-time columnist for General Aviation News, writing hundreds of columns and more than 25 books on aviation, including several on Boeing aircraft. A man of many talents, Bowers designed the Fly Baby starting in the late 50s. It first flew in 1962. Bowers died in 2003, and after a period of dormancy for the little plane, Bowers’ family is once again selling plans for the plane.

The EAA’s recognition of the type is a natural. The organization started out with a heavy focus on homebuilding, owing to Paul Poberezny’s publishing of an article on the Baby Ace homebuilt project in the popular magazine Mechanix Illustrated. Today, we know of EAA as a large organization that’s involved in all aspects of personal aviation with an emphasis on Experimental and sport aircraft of all kinds.

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But the Fly Baby and all it means historically and design-wise is an important part of Oshkosh history, and with many dozens of Fly Baby aircraft still taking to the skies world-wide, the plane itself is worth of the ceremonial tip of the cap.

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