From the Cockpit Part 33: Thorp T-18

Ryan Flies


Editor’s Note: This is part 25 of an ongoing series documenting the flights of active-duty US Navy Pilot Ryan Rankin on his journey to fly 52 planes in 52 weeks through the year 2017.

Flying with Steve Hawley again (From the Cockpit parts 18 and 20) and for the final time this year, Rankin steps behind the controls of a plane unlike any other. Hawley built this one himself.

Introduced in the 1960s, the Thorp T-18 is what is called a kit plane, meaning it can be built at home from a kit ordered through the mail. Not to be confused with IKEA, while these kits will come with proprietary parts that the average enthusiast would not be able to craft themselves, plenty of hands-on and intense labor remains, including shaping and cutting sheet metal and much more. A popular father and son project in the aviation world, says Rankin, some will spend two to three years on a single plane. “You don’t hear about it a lot, but it’s huge in the aviation industry,” says Rankin. “And you don’t need to have any specialized training to do it, as long as your work is inspected after the fact.” Common for light sport aircraft, some that Rankin has flown this past year, such as the Bushcat or the Sting, are also offered as kits.

And while the kits offer a dramatic reduction in price for prospective plane owners, there is no comparable tradeoff in quality. “These airplanes are very robust,” says Rankin. “Some are rated to six or seven gees, which is substantial for an airplane like that.” As for the T-18, the American aviator, Donald Taylor, proved its mettle when he flew it first around the world and then to the North Pole. And looking at Hawley’s, Rankin feels no apprehension. “He’s very, very good at what he does.”

His first time even hearing about a T-18, Rankin’s initial impression of Hawley’s: “Very aggressive.” Whether the low stance, the streamlined look or the fact that Hawley painted the whole thing black, something told Rankin that the T-18 would be fast flyer right off the bat, and he was right. “You think it’s going to be super-agile,” he says. “And it is.” For comparison, Rankin flew the same flight that took Hawley’s Aeronca Champ an hour. It took the T-18 about 15 minutes. And it does it all in style, with a roomy cockpit ripe for customization and comforting stability. “A lot of aircraft with these performance characteristics are not so stable,” says Rankin. “But this is rock-solid.”

For more about the flight in Rankin's own words and a video of the flight, follow the link below.

Pictured: Ryan Rankin flies the Thorp T-18. Photo courtesy of Ryan Rankin.

Ryan Flies

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