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Tue, Aug 03, 2004

Perfect Symmetry: Part Two, Interior and Performance

Scaled Composite's Cory Bird Creates A Composite Airplane That May Be The Most Accurately Built Aircraft Ever Made

By ANN Correspondent Christopher Armstrong

Cory Bird achieved his goal of building an aircraft accurate to 1/1000 of an inch last year. He flew "Symmetry" to the AirVenture airshow in Oshkosh (WI) where it has become one of the highlights of the show.

Symmetry's canopy tilts forward. When closed, it fits so tightly that you wonder how the pilot gets into the plane. Inside you find a center stick and comfortable but tight seating for two. The passenger's legs wrap around the pilot's waist and come around just short of the instrument panel.

On the panel, the traditional round instruments are cleanly laid out. The plane is set up for daytime VFR use. Bird is a low-time private pilot with little high performance or taildragger experience and intends to use Symmetry mostly for pleasure flying. If he does start using it for longer distance trips, he is considering building a luggage pod. As you might guess, Symmetry has very little luggage space.

The controls are all pushrod actuated and the center stick is very sensitive. You think where you want to go, and without much movement of the stick Symmetry responds. Bird has been very careful during the flight testing of this experimental aircraft. He still waits for perfect days to fly and has widened the flight envelope slowly. He does not want to break the plane into which he has put so much time, money and sweat.

Symmetry took approximately 15,000 hours to design and build, over a total of 14 years. Bird spent $40,000 on materials and another $20,000 on the overhauled 200-horsepower Lycoming IO-360 that powers the aircraft. He also spent more than all of that combined on hangar rent and utility bills over the years at his home airport in the Mojave Desert. If he added a labor charge at aerospace industry rates, the total cost of the project would be well over a million dollars.

What kind of performance does all this attention to detail achieve? Symmetry has a blistering fast top speed of 241 knots. At cruise power Bird is still able to move along at 210 knots, burning 7 gallons an hour. With 28.5 gallons of fuel all stored in the fuselage in front of the instrument panel, Symmetry can cover 840 nautical miles in 4 hours.

On approach Bird flies at 100 knots, with 90 knots over the numbers and touchdown at around 85 knots. The very long 4,800 foot rollout is the only part of the aircraft's performance that Bird would like to improve. He hopes to do so by increasing maximum flap extension angle to 30 degrees. Bird says he will do any modifications he can to maximize Symmetry's speed and correct flaws revealed by the flight test program. Once that is accomplished, he might just take time to achieve Perfect Symmetry once again.

FMI: www.scaled.com

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