In 500 Words or Less
What's the point of the Air Cam? The Air Cam is a STOL airplane that was designed for safety and strength. Everything about it speaks to quality. The first time that you look at an Air Cam up close, you understand it. The engines push, which allows the fuselage to protrude far beyond the wing. It has a wide stance that gives it excellent stability on the ground. Many airplanes are compromises in many areas. They do everything "moderately." The Air Cam is designed to take off in less time than you can say "what runway?," fly low enough to read street signs and land well before the numbers begin on most runways. If you're not making your living taking pictures, the point of the Air Cam is to bring a wide grin to your face very time you mount up.
Why do you do this web page? I started this web page when I was building my Air Cam. The factory was brilliant when it came to engineering and construction. But they were so totally involved with designing and making the plane that they had little time to communicate. So I took it upon myself to fill that void. As you can see in the "Library" section of the Discussion section, builders sought out advice from those who were one step ahead in the process. My goal is quite different from the factory's. I'm only interested in extracting as much enjoyment as I can from this plane. To that end, others have joined in, creating a virtual gathering place for Air Cam addicts.
Is it hard to learn to fly? Flying an Air Cam takes some adjustment, especially if your background is in higher aspect ratio aircraft. My own personal background includes Piper Comanches, Lances, Dakotas, Citabrias, and Bonanzas. When you transition to an Air Cam, you need to concentrate on aerodynamics and fixate on the word "drag," because you're going to experience it like never before. This plane is a Drag Queen. When the power is chopped on an Air Cam, you're headed DOWN. The angle may frighten a novice, but here's the difference. Faster planes sink less, but they need higher air speeds to maintain their best glide. That means that they land fast. An Air Cam pointed at mother earth may scare the living &^%$ out of a passenger, but the touchdown speed is almost a fast run. You adjust. It's advisable to get some taildragger experience in a similar plane, like a Cub, before attempting to land a Cam. But even if you do the unthinkable, the Air Cam wants to protect you. I did a high speed exit once which digressed into a nascent ground loop. Instead of dropping a wing, my Air Cam just hopped sideways on its eight foot wide gear.
What's it like to build? Like 1,000 hours of uninterrupted sex. (Sorry ladies). For me it was one of the best periods of my life. It was the logical progression for a kid that loved to take apart washing machine motors and build radio kits. As you build an Air Cam, you find yourself reflecting on the factory's intelligence in solving problems. Almost without exception, the solutions are logical and confidence building. I remember not wanting to install the machined aluminum fittings that hold the gear because they were so beautiful. Riveted and bolted into place, no one would ever appreciate them as sculpture. But it's hard to fly a plane without gear, so I relented. Build an Air Cam. It's one of life's great experiences. I'm already thinking about building another one . . . but I can only fly one at a time.
Why would I want such a slow plane when there are so many fast kits around? It's real simple. If you have to get to small airports (not served by airlines) that are reasonably far apart quickly, then you shouldn't look at an Air Cam. Personally, I don't want to mimic an airline pilot. I did that for years flying IFR. My suggestion is that if you like that type of flying, save yourself some money and buy a good flight simulator program for your computer. The Air Cam is about flying down canyons, waving at people on the ground (and watching them jump up and down), looking down at porpoise's faces and smelling freshly mowed fields. If the destination is more important to you than the trip, then skip all of this and play airline captain.
Is it safe? The factory propaganda says that the wing was tested to 6 g's. Their video shows an Air Cam in a spin. But the inescapable impression on seeing an Air Cam up close is, "this thing is BUILT!" All airplanes are extreme exercises in creating strength without weight. The Air Cam appears overbuilt, but wouldn't we rather have it that way? Two reliable engines and a huge docile wing are just the right ticket for having fun and staying out of trouble. But 200' of wing make things lively when it's turbulent. It may frighten you, but the plane is built to take it. I didn't opt for a parachute. I built the plane and have confidence in its structural integrity. Why carry that extra weight around? It may be a kit, but I'll put my Air Cam up against a factory built plane (loaded to gross weight, taking off from a high altitude airport on a hot day) any day.
Was there any part of building it that you would have done differently today? Yes. The gas tanks. They leaked buckets the first time that I topped them off. I've yanked out both tanks and patched them. . . and they still have small leaks. Other builders have had no problem at all, so it must have been my technique. If and when I build another one, I'll take more time with the tanks. The factory says that they explored the full range of materials: plastic, bladders, wet wings . . . and this was the best choice.
How much do you typically fly? Back in my Piper Lance days, I flew between 50 and 60 hours a year. For the past two years I've averaged 100 hours a year in the Air Cam. If the weather is decent I try to go up every weekend. And I can tell you that I never get bored. I've taken up about 70 passengers and all have felt safe and wildly enthusiastic about the ride. So I continue to look for new victims.
Is there any other plane that you lust for? Not really. Perhaps a Pilatus PC-12 so I could take ten people and their toys on vacations. But again, why not go commercial when you get to that level of flying? I'm not into gut wrenching aerobatics or high altitude nasal canula sucking marathons, so this is it.