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We check out Earthstar and survey some Gull builders.
In all of his 46 years, there's not much time that Mark Beierle hasn't been involved in flying. First it was watching and studying seagulls soaring effortlessly along a cliff. Then came trips to the local library to study the basics of flight. Next was building and crashing model airplanes.
At age 12, he joined an EAA chapter, and he learned to fly. Beierle had logged 134 hours in Cubs and Aeroncas by the time he was 16. That's a familiar scenario for some pilots and designers. Beierle, however, carried it several steps further.
His objective was to have an airplane with the feel of a hang glider, the agility and visibility of a helicopter, the effortless smooth flight of a sailplane, and the utility and economy of a general aviation aircraft--all in the hopes of getting close to the feel and freedom of a bird.
Is that too much to ask? "You bet!" says Beierle. "But it didn't stop me from trying."
His first design was a modified hang glider with two 8-hp Chrysler West Bend engines that averaged a forced landing every 30 minutes. So his next effort was to design and build a 50-hp engine using some components from existing engines. The powerplant didn't work well for flying, so Beierle installed it in a Renault R-10 and drove it on the road. Engineering and developmental costs were considered too high, and the project was scrapped.
Over the years, Beierle and his Earthstar Aircraft Inc. have developed a series of four ultralights or lightplanes, all similar in design and construction because he couldn't find what he wanted already built. His designs are trigear, high wing, and mostly sheet metal with a tailboom and a rear-facing engine pod aft of the cabin.
He decided on a stabilator (all-moving horizontal tail) for better control with less mass and span. Steady refinement has resulted in his present Thunder Gull J with an effective span of 22 feet. And there is the Soaring Gull with extended wings to 28 feet. A longtime favorite is the two-place tandem JT2, and Beierle's latest is the Odyssey where the two seats are staggered to provide more shoulder room without a drag penalty. [See Ed Wischmeyer's flight report on the Odyssey in this issue.--Ed.] Beierle says that Odyssey kit sales are increasing, and those of the older JT2 are diminishing.
Originally, his design was named Laughing Gull, which was seen at ultralight events more than 15 years ago. These early designs were wireand-strut-braced before being finalized as a cantilever wing with no dihedral. The designation was changed from Laughing Gull to Thunder Gull for marketing purposes.
For the past 15 years, Beierle's home and 40x70-foot development hangar have been next to a 900-foot dirt strip at Santa Margarita, California, which is midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
He routinely flies his aircraft to the main airshows in the East. Beierle says that he …