Being a beta builder for the builder means you get to be the first set of builders for a design. That is great – right? What it also means is you get to work out all of the bugs, figure most of it out on your own and work with little or no plans. It is a thankless job really.
What I didn’t realize is how much it would benefit us. All of the sudden we aren’t building a Panther alone, we have three other very experienced builders that are going though all of the same challenges we are. What they bring to the table is a wealth of knowledge and practical insight that is greatly needed when we are designing an airplane that we want others to be able to build in the future. I mean it from the bottom of my heart when I say we hit “Pay Dirt” with our crew!
Our first Beta Builder is Mr. Tony Spicer. Tony and Dan met years ago when they were both building their Sonex/Cleanexs. Tony grew up as an Air Force brat, and joined NAV school himself in 1960. He went from navigating transports to instructing at NAV school to 10 years navigating the F-4 phantom. He did a tour in Viet Nam and one in Thailand. He retired from the Air Force in 1980 and then again from Corning, Inc in 1997, and has been a true hangar bum ever since.
Tony’s first homebuilt was the Skyraider with a Rotax 503.
Tony was not a big fan of the two stroke engine so he decided to be the first customer built Sonex builder. I first met Tony at our Sonex flyin we hosted at our house years ago.
He has since built an RV3.
After the RV3 was destroyed he bought an RV4 and joined Team RV as the full time crew chief and part time pilot. You can see Tony in the yellow RV4 below.
Tony and his wife Marilyn live in Wilmington, NC, with their schnauzer Lulu. Now he is building the LSA tail dragger version of the Panther. He said he “was hooked” after he saw the 3 view of the Panther. He says “it reminded me of one of the rules of aviation: The nicer the airplane looks, the better it flies!” He has his wing spars assembled, wing ribs formed and a fuel tank sealed. By the time I am done typing this out he will most likely have his other tank done and be skinning the wings. One of my favorite things about how Tony builds is he takes you along for the ride by taking chronological pictures of the project and posts them with his witty commentary and how to’s (and how not to’s) along the way (see his albums here). So you feel like you are right there in the shop with him! Tony is going with a 3.0L 120 hp Corvair engine with one of our new made in the USA crankshafts.
Here is a shot of Tony after forming all of his Panther wing ribs.
Tony is genuinely a really nice guy, and very funny! He is a straight shooter, tells you exactly how it is and has the knowledge to back it up. But he is also great at seeing multiple view angles and is a great problem solver. He does his research and tries different things until it works for him.
A great example of this is how Tony took the challenging task of determining what works best for the fuel tank building process and honed it in (see here). While Tony spent hours testing, we were able to continue work on the cowling and instrument panel. Per Dan to Tony- ” I can’t express how grateful I am for you working with us on this. I just kind of put a hold on our tanks, knew you would figure it out. Now we can get ours done efficiently. The time was invaluable in making progress on the Panther Prototype!”
We appreciate our team of beta builders, and the information we get from them is helping pave the way for future builders. And as beta builders go, we could not have been more fortunate to have this 3 on our team. More on our other two beta builders later this week!
Go Team Panther!