Mention the late Jim Bede to some, and images of the sleek little BD-5J Microjet, flown through a hangar by none other than iconic movie spy James Bond, come to mind. To others, the picture is of an incredibly visionary aircraft designer who unfortunately left more than a few dissatisfied customers in his wake.
Over his lifetime until his death in 2015, Bede produced many efficient and capable general aviation aircraft designs. However, long before the BD-4, BD-5, BD-6, and eventually the BD-10 jet project, his very first design, the Bede BD-1, must be considered his most successful. This petite little two-seat trainer and personal travel machine led to an entire line of fast, efficient, and fun production aircraft.
Fresh out of college in Kansas, Bede began his career in the late 1950s at North American Aviation as a performance engineer. While he remained at NAA for a relatively brief stint, this was a time of great innovation in military aviation design. His later use of honeycomb materials and other advanced design features likely began there.
Returning to his hometown of Cleveland in 1961, he created Bede Aviation Corp. His goal was to design and market a sporty two-seat homebuilt airplane that would outperform the Cessna 150, utilize modern design concepts, and could be towed to and from the airport. The result was the BD-1, a two-seat, low-wing monoplane that utilized revolutionary, for the time, aluminum honeycomb; bonded rather than riveted construction; and interchangeable control surfaces. The left and right wings, stabilizers, and elevators were identical. The simple landing gear incorporated a full swiveling nose gear, which 30 years later became the standard for new designs, such as those for Cirrus and Diamond.
For the wing, he chose a tubular spar that contained the fuel and incorporated a folding mechanism that allowed for highway travel. This fuel in the spar design carried through to all of the Yankees, Cheetahs, and Tigers produced…