We are talking about small airplanes. Not just small airplanes like the Cessnas and Mooneys, I mean: small, like unbelievably small.
The race for the world’s smallest airplane record started back in 1948 when Ray Stits set out to design an airplane smaller than Steve Wittman’s DFA Midget Racer, which was previously the smallest airplane.
The SA1A Junior
Many pilots and engineers claimed it was impossible citing the technical difficulties. This didn’t pull Stits back, he went on to design the SA1A Junior, which featured a wingspan of 8.83, and a 40hp engine from an Aeronca. After some tests, the Aeronca engine wasn’t promising, so he switched the power plant to a 65 hp Continental engine.
The plane wasn’t exactly smooth, it was a handful and so unstable in flight. It crashed twice during the flight test. After the third crash on the fifth test flight, Ray shortened the wings to 8’10” and attached tip gates to generate more lift and better aileron control.
He found a new pilot, Bob Starr, a former P-51 pilot, who joined the development and helped make work. In 1950, the Stits Junior was a big hit in airshows. But Ray didn’t stop there, in 1952, he joined forces with his friend Robert Starr to build a plane even smaller than the Stits Junior, they called it the sky baby.
The Sky Baby
The sky baby has a wingspan of 2 meters and it is 3 meters long, with the conventional landing gear. The fuselage is constructed of welded steel tubing with aircraft fabric covering. It’s a two-bay bi-plane meaning it has double wings, the upper wing houses the flaps, while the lower wing houses the ailerons.
Most aircraft use a flat firewall between the engine and pilot’s feet, but the Skybaby is configured with the pilot sitting with the engine close to the lap. There were specific requirements for this plane – one of those is that its pilot must weigh 77kg to guarantee that the gravity was kept in the right place.
Since the small engine is modified to produce 112 hp, in order to land safely and avoid the engine stops running, its speed had to be 125mph when approaching the runway. The sky baby earned the Guinness World Record for creating the world’s smallest plane in 1952.
The last time I checked, the plane is being stored at the Boeing aviation hangar in Virginia, so you need to get there if you want to see it in person.
The Sky Baby’s record as the smallest plane stood until 1984, when Robert Starr, who codesigned the sky baby with Ray Stits wanted to build something independently, so he built the Bumble Bee 1.
The Bumble Bee 1
With a wingspan of as small as 2 meters, the plane claimed the Guinness World Record immediately as the smallest plane ever built. That same year, 1984, Ray Stits’ son, Donald Stits, wanted the record back for his father, so he went on to build the Stits baby bird:
The Stits Baby Bird
A high wing monoplane that was completely different from anything that ever existed. The experimental creation had a tubular fuselage construction while its wing was made from wood. The Baby Bird was a success, it performed as much as 34 flights before retiring.
But Robert Starr didn’t want to lose the title to the Stits, so he went and designed the Bumble Bee 2, The design of the Bumble Bee II is similar to the “Bumble Bee I” except the Bumble Bee II was smaller and lighter, both aircraft were biplanes.
Both aircraft had negative staggered, cantilevered wings and conventional landing gears. The fuselage of the Bumble Bee II was constructed of welded steel tubing with sheet metal covering, while the wings were covered in aircraft plywood.
The power plant was a Continental C85 4 cylinder engine that produced 85 hp. The upper wings had flaps and the lower wings had ailerons. All wing airframe structures were equipped with tip plates to enhance the lift coefficient.
The airplane had a small cockpit with the rudder pedals located under the engine compartment toward the front of the cowling. The max speed of the plane was 130 knots and this little bee could soar to the skies climbing. 4,500 feet per minute.
Colomban Cri-Cri the smallest twib engine airplane
The smallest twin-engine airplane is the Colomban Cri-Cri, designed in the early 70s by French aeronautical engineer Michel Colomban. He wanted to design a small airplane that people could assemble at home with less than $1,000 including the engines, which is about $5000 in today’s dollars.
Colomban designed the kit to be simple, easy to build and fly, and the closeness of the two engines to each other at the centerline means that it could be flown by pilots only qualified to fly single-engine aircraft because even with a complete failure of one engine, with hands and feet off the controls, the only effect would be a gentle turn.
The cockpit canopy was carefully designed to direct effective airflow over the tail surfaces in this situation. He not only designed it to be easy to build, but also easy to disassemble for those that want to store it in a garage and tow on a trailer, it’s so easy to assemble and disassemble that it can be done in under 6 minutes.
The Cri-Cri features a cantilever low-wing, a single-seat enclosed cockpit under a bubble canopy, fixed tricycle landing gear, and twin engines mounted on pylons to the nose of the aircraft in tractor configuration.
The aircraft is made from aluminium sheets glued to Klegecell foam. The wingspan is just 4.9 meters, with a length of just 3.9 meters, and it is capable of aerobatics within the limitations of twin-engine aircraft.
It was powered by two 9hp Rowena 6507J single-cylinder two-stroke engines, each giving. This allowed the small aircraft to reach a cruise speed of 108 knots or about 124 miles per hour. And that was on an airplane that weighed about 175 pounds that could lift up a 200 pounds man.
In some of the later models, the I.C engines were replaced with electric engines. This made the CRI-CRI eco-friendly as it has zero emissions. Currently, the existing Cri-Cri planes have often been modified by their builders, departing from the original design to a varying degree, resulting in varying performance. Most versions can climb with one engine inoperative.
Another great more recent design is the Hummel Ultracruiser The Ultracruiser is a cantilever low-wing aircraft, a single-seat open, or optionally enclosed cockpit, with fixed conventional landing gear also known as a taildragger, or optionally tricycle landing gear and a single-engine in tractor configuration.
It was first introduced in 1998 and is designed for first-time kit builders, as well as first-time pilots. It is easy to build and even easier to fly aircraft, and it comes in two models; the Ultracruiser and the Ultracruiser plus, and is the only all-metal ultralight aircraft.
The best thing about Ultracruiser is the attention to detail design, it’s very good-looking and impressive. You can cruise for 60mph and it can only stall at 20mph, meaning you can go extremely slow which makes it perfect for a sightseeing flight.
The Ultracruiser features standard three-axis controls with the centrally mounted stick in the left-hand throttle and rotor paddles. The cabin width is 23.5 inches wide and it’s equipped with a windshield for wind and pilot protection, and it can be fitted with an enclosure for colder weather flying.
The Hummel Ultracruiser is powered by a 38 hp VW four-stroke engine, with a good climb rate of 1000ft per minute and a cruise speed of 60mph. The price of a new Ultracruiser kit costs $14500, the Rotax engine costs $3400, and extra runs well over $1500, so for $20,000 you can buy one already built.
The best thing is that you don’t need a pilot license to fly this airplane, at least in the U.S, I don’t know the ultralight rule in Europe, Asia, and the rest. But even though a pilot license is required to fly this airplane, I highly recommended you get sufficient training, because airplanes are not really forgiving to those who can’t handle them.
Bede BD-5 Micro
Bede BD-5 Micro Work on the BD5 started in the 70s, when Jim Bede wanted to build something radial after seeing the Schleicher ASW 15 and was inspired by it. The Micro was a radical design. It is an extremely small one-seat design that looked like a fighter jet, with the pilot sitting in a semi-reclined position under a large fighter-like canopy.
To reduce drag, Bede designed this plane to feature a V-tail and retractable landing gear, the result was that drag was so low that the plane needed split flaps and spoilers on the wing in order to improve deceleration for landing.
This was apparently the first application of spoilers on a light aircraft. The low drag implied excellent performance; with the 40 hp engine, it reached “nearly” 200 miles per hour, with a range of 1,200 miles range. In addition to being fast and easy to fly, the BD-5 was also easy to build and maintain.
The fuselage was constructed primarily from fibreglass panels over an aluminium frame, reducing construction time to only a few hundred hours. Although the early designs required some welding in the landing gear area, it was planned that this would be removed in the kit versions, so construction would require no special tooling or skills.
Even the cost of operation would be extremely low, offering fuel efficiency of 38 mpg. With the wings removed, the aircraft could be packed into a small custom trailer, allowing it to be towed away by car for storage in a garage, and from there to any suitable flat area for takeoff.
Another great design you can have today is the Kolb Firefly: This airplane was developed back in 1995 as a true-blue entry to the PART 103 ultralights category. It features an open cockpit, single-seat, high wing, pusher configuration, and conventional landing gear.
In the cockpit, it features conventional 3-axis controls, which is very responsive and light, yet is not twitchy or sensitive. This is the only model that comes standard with the ballistic recovery system parachute, making it marginally safer than others.
Since its introduction in 1995, this ultralight is powered by the heavily 40 hp Rotax 447 engine. The 28 hp Rotax 277 engine was also an option when the aircraft was first offered.
The factory kit options include a complete cockpit enclosure, brakes, Ballistic Recovery Systems parachute, and steel tube powder coating. The best thing about this aircraft is the wings can easily be folded so you can store them in your garage at home.
You can comfortably cruise at 60mph in this aircraft and climb at 1000ft per minute. The price of a brand new Kolb Firefly is $9000.
Training is highly recommended to take the firefly into the air, even though a pilot license is not required.
Innovator Mosquito Air
The Innovator Mosquito Air was introduced by innovator technologies of Canada, to be the cheapest and easiest helicopter to fly, and it is supplied as a kit for amateur construction.
The Mosquito Air was specifically designed to be simple, but intelligent and reliable, and also comply with the U.S F.A.R. PART 103 Ultra-light category rules, including the category’s maximum empty weight of 254 lbs, meaning that you don’t need a pilot license to fly it.
It is powered by a 2-cycle 64hp piston engine, featuring a single main rotor and tail rotor, a single-seat open cockpit without a windshield, skid landing gear.
The best thing is that the Mosquito offers an advantageous power-to-weight ratio, a compact size and is easy maneuverability, allowing the user to fly as close to home as possible.
It cruises at 60mph, climbs at 790ft per minute, with a range of 70 miles, making it perfect for sightseeing flights around your community. This is a true helicopter in every sense of the word, despite its very basic design.
The open design means that the pilot is in maximum contact with the air, which is often reported to be a great experience.
The entire kit for the Mosquito can be purchased for US$20,000. Building the kits will take you about 200 to 300 hours or you can have the plane built for you for a flat US$4000. Getting airborne for under US$20,000 in your own new helicopter is quite a feat – we’re not aware of any other helicopter in this price category and on top of that, it offers very low maintenance and operating costs.
The Phantom x1 was introduced in 1982 as a single-engined ultralight aircraft by Phantom Aeronautics of Three Rivers, Michigan as a kit for amateur construction. The X1 was originally designed as an aerobatic aircraft and was tested to +9/-6.6 g before failure and carries operational limits of +6.6/-4.4 g.
The full-span ailerons also give the X1 a fast roll rate. Factory options included brakes and a complete airframe parachute along with a variety of Rotax engines from 40 to 64 hp and you can assemble the aircraft yourself in barely 40 hours.
The best part is that a phantom aircraft company can sell you this aircraft for under $10,000. This modest amount of money will actually buy all the bits and pieces you need to get airborne engine and prop included.
Naturally, if you want extra features like fuel enclosure or other choices from a long list of options, you will end up paying a little more.
This aircraft uses a 40hp Rotax 477 engine, which helps it to cruise at 55mph and climb at 800ft per minute range of over 100 miles, even though a pilot license is not required, make sure you have sufficient training before attempting to fly any of these.