History Lesson

I'm quite fond of the Sonex. I was leafing through their web page, and found some favorable notes about their plans from one Hugh Beckham, who Jeremy Monnet mentioned had built the first VW powered homebuilt in the US, Fifinella, named after the Disney designed mascot for the Women's Auxiliary Air Force in WWII. I got his e-mail from the Sonex Builders Group, and wrote to ask him about it.

From: HUGH Beckham
To: Ryan Young <ryoung@lmi.net>
Date: Tuesday, January 15, 2002 4:55 PM
Subject: Re: Your earlier VW powered Homebuilt


I have been considered to be the father of the VW engine in aircraft in the US. A distinction which could well be open for argument.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s there were a few airplanes flying in Europe with the 1200 CC VW engine of the day. Among these were the Druine Turbulent, a very complex airplane with wing slots and a very difficult to build wing and fuselage. The Turbulent was designed to be a flying club time builder which would spend it's entire life within falling distance of home field. It was slow, required long smooth airfields in order to leave the ground, and had a rate of climb that was so slow as to be the subject of many jokes. It was however considered to be safe enough that Prince Charles was allowed to fly one.

Another European design, The Jodel Bebe D9 was designed specifically for the 1200CC VW engine. It was an easier airplane to build and was considered to be a better all around design than the Druine however the design was of French origin and the drawings were in French and metric.

At that time there were none of either design being built in the US.

There were quite a number of those self proclaimed authorities who talk a lot but never accomplish anything who were just sure that the only way to fly with a VW engine was to have acres and acres of wing and to fly very slowly. Bob Whitier, who is still writing articles for The Experimenter was a leading outspoken enemy of small engines in aircraft.

A fellow named Richard Doyle built a Gyrocopter based on the Gizmo design and fitted it with a VW but was not able to fly. He later removed the rotor. added a wing, and called the machine Moon Maid. It is still a regular at Oshkosh. Moon Maid is slow, and in my opinion not very attractive, and I think will never be duplicated. After all of these years Dick has modified the engine many times and gone to larger and larger engines.

In 1960 I built a Taylor Mono, the first to be built from plans, and converted a 1200 CC VW engine for aircraft use. My approach to the engine conversion was based upon the theory that the engine had originally been an aircraft engine and could be converted back to that use. With that engine I had an airplane that would operate easily off of a grass field, climb at 650 FPM, cruise at 105 MPH at 3050 RPM and top out at 120 MPH.

I made up a set of drawings <I'm assuming this was for his VW conversion, not the plane itself -confirmed by Hugh - rry> and advertised them in Sport Aviation for $2.00 a copy. Remember that EAA was a very small organization at that time but even so I sold over 500 copies including a set to John Monett. I had no interest in profiting from what I had done for the fun of it and so I donated the plans to EAA. They were published sometime in the mid 60s under the title, "Put a Beetle Under Your Bonnet".

In 1992 I was the proud recipient of the EAA Major Achievement Award for outstanding service to Sport Aviation. In the presentation speech, Paul pointed out that what I had done for the fun of it in the early 60s had become an industry supporting many families and providing "education and recreation" for hundreds of homebuilders.

I have often said that I pioneered the use of the VW engine in aircraft in the US and John Monett made it practical.

(That Taylor Mono, N5406E, is now the property of the EAA museum but it appears that they have no interest in putting it on display.)

Hugh Beckham

EAA 10060

Another reason for the place of honor of the Taylor Monoplane in this treatise!


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