Bede BD-5 jet; the little aircraft that could

bd5

If you are Bond fan, you may remember the opening of 1983’s hit movie Octopussy. In a fantastic aerial sequence, 007 skillfully flies a small jet aircraft out of danger, managing to destroy an enemy hangar in the process. The aircraft used for this scene was a Bede BD-5, a little aeronautical marvel that still today holds the Guinness record for the world’s lightest single-engine jet aircraft.

Yesterday, a veteran pilot and engineer named Howard Cox sadly lost his life when his plane came down in a field near Dungarvan, Co. Waterford. Cox was flying his own BD-5 plane at the time of his death. Himself and his classic machine were due to take part in the Foynes Air Show the following day.

The history of BD-5 model is quite notorious. It was created back in the late 60s by American aircraft designer Jim Bede, and it was marketed in kit form by the Bede Corporation early in the following decade. Its rather attractive sleek, fighter plane-like looks and relative low price made it an attractive proposition for aeronautical enthusiasts the world over. More than 5,000 kits were sold, but few were actually completed because Bede Corporation went bust in the mid-70s.

A few hundred kits did get built, however. The kit’s manual claimed that the aircraft could be built by a single person without any particular knowledge of aircraft design or knowledge, in a few hundred hours. Made mostly out of fiberglass, once built, the aircraft could be ferried around in a small trailer.

After flight testing of the prototype aircraft, production of the final model began in 1973. Over 4,300 pre-orders had been taken at this point, with a mere $200 deposit (in 70s money) required to guarantee delivery. However, there was a problem. No suitable engine could be found in time for production, so Bede took the step of offering to ship the kit without it, with the engine to follow. This option proved popular, and thus many would-be aircraft owners purchased BD-5 kits, expecting their engines to be received as soon as September 1973.

Then, in early 1974, after shipping out only 500 engines, Bede Corporation suddenly went out of business. Many of its clients were left with useless kits of an aircraft without an engine.

While bankruptcy proceedings got underway, many disappointed buyers either discarded or sold their incomplete kits. However, a few did not give up, and managed to finish their aircraft with engines designed by third parties and former Bede dealers.

But those who managed to secure an engine soon faced another problem; the construction time for the BD-5 turned out to be substantially longer than boasted by the sales leaftlet. A minimum of 3,000 – 3,500 hours were required to finish the model properly. And besides, despite claims by the company that anyone could build the aircraft in a garage, without any particular skills, the general consensus was that doing so was a recipe for disaster. It would be some time before the first consumer-build BD-5s flew.

Throughout the years, and after a few fatalities, modifications to the aircraft’s design were introduced by enthusiasts, making the BD-5 a nimble, if somewhat demanding, machine.

Several still fly, today, and Mr. Cox’s was one of them. He had spent some time building and modifying his model to make it safer.

While the causes of the crash remain unknown at this point, the BD-5’s enduring legacy as a “mass” consumer jet aircraft will surely earn it a rightful place in aviation history.

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