Derek Frasca, has always loved big powerful radials powered aircraft, well ever since he started his flight training in the South African Airforce on the now legendary North American T-6 Harvard. After many years of flying anything but big radials, he decided to take the plunge and purchase his very own Mini Warbird.
Radial Rocket TD kit No.118 was purchased from The Altitude Group in the USA in 2010 and after an agonisingly long wait, it was delivered in December 2011. The aircraft is an all-composite fully aerobatic design by Jeff Akland, with a wing loading of 137.04Kgsm, and stressed to +9/-6 G at ultimate load. It is powered by a 430 HP radial engine swinging a 2,5m diameter, three-blade scimitar constant speed propeller.
At the time it was virtually impossible to get to discuss the project with the CAA as all correspondence and calls to SACAA Certification were ignored. Derek eventually turned to a friend who was not to be ignored, the inimitable Mick Mitchell who assisted him in getting an appointment with Klaus Schwerdtfeger of the CAA, who proved to be particularly helpful.
The quoted build time was 1500Hrs but as Derek was to find out, what is quoted and the reality many vary and inevitable does, as it turned out the variance was astronomical. “I don’t think that there is a composite experimental that can be completed in that time, especially not a sophisticated aircraft such as the Radial Rocket TD, I gave up counting after the first 1000Hrs so as not to become despondent.” Derek was quick to share.
The kit, however, proved to be extremely well made and came in the form of honeycomb reinforced fibreglass and carbon fibre skins which are fused together with honeycomb/ fibreglass bulkheads, cut from supplied sheets. The supplied hardware is of the best quality and everything is very well thought out and designed.
ZU-IJP was initially completed in April 2019 and was sadly damaged in a landing mishap in June 2019 with only 5 hours on the Hobbs. The engine was removed and returned to the Vedneyev factory in Hungary for a complete strip down x-ray and rebuild. The MT propeller blades were damaged but the hub was x-rayed and found to be fine. Derek however decided to purchase a completely new hub and blades from MT and to keep the old hub for a showpiece.
ZU-IJP is unique with its oversized spinner, side ram-air scoops and additional cowl flaps. A couple of American builders were interested in changing to the oversized spinner but lost their enthusiasm when they heard that it was necessary to extend the cowling by 105mm in length in order to accommodate the upgrade.
On the 8th of December 2021, the Radial Rocket once again took to the sky with Nigel Hopkins performing the test flight. As morning broke it was doubtful that the test flight would go ahead, overnight rain had not stopped and didn’t look like it was about to, fortunately in the late morning blue spots started appearing in the overcast sky and a while later it was almost clear just a few wispy clouds stuck around.
After a quick briefing by Derek, Nigel started up and taxied to a very wet runway 26, moments later he unleashed the beast and she effortlessly lifted off, the sound of that radial is something to behold. Derek was invited to join Jason Beamish in his Extra 330LX and spent almost the whole test flight on the wing of his pride and joy.
Nigel thoroughly enjoyed the flight and was almost sad when he had to land her, according to Nigel she flew beautifully and it felt like flying a WWII fighter. Nigel did however find a few small items on the aircraft that needed some tweaking other than that she was good to go.
The “Bear Brat” as Derek has christened her has now become only the fifth flying Radial Rocket in the world the other four examples are flying in the USA. At present, there is one being assembled in Switzerland and another in Australia.