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Yesterday’s wings, today

Reimagining a classic

Maybe it’s just me, but in recent months it seems that there’s been little in the way of new designs filling out the light sport aircraft end of the general aviation spectrum.

Photography by David Tulis
Zoomed image
Photography by David Tulis

That all came to an end at this year’s Sun ’n Fun Aerospace Expo when Germany’s Junkers Aircraft Works rolled out its newly certified special light sport aircraft—the model A50 Junior. Faithful to the 1929 open-cockpit airframe design, the newly resurrected A50 has a decidedly modern take in the avionics and powerplant departments.

As with most Junkers civilian airplanes of yore, corrugated aluminum’s the rule for the airframe. Ditto the spoked, bicycle-style landing gear. But that’s about where it ends. Instead of the original’s 80-horsepower Armstrong-Siddeley radial engine, the A50 has a 100-horsepower Rotax 912iS with dual-channel FADEC (full-authority digital engine control), a composite MT propeller, and two alternators. As for avionics, the pilot’s (rear seat) cockpit features Garmin’s big-screen G3X suite; the front-seater’s panel has a smaller, 7-inch version of the Garmin G3X. There’s also a Galaxy ballistic parachute recovery system, and those main gear—while they’re the same size as the 1929 airplane’s—have Beringer disc brakes.

Junkers A50 Junior

A50 serial number 5 showing off its spar box, wing attach points, and attention to detail in its overall construction. A team of five mechanics was flown to Lakeland to do the airplane’s final assembly. The aft seater’s electrical panel, with its dual-channel FADEC engine control unit switches, start button, and secondary com radio. The Garmin G3X gives the A50 a modern look; engine control unit A and B warning lights tell if an ignition channel fails. The ballistic parachute, which is stored behind the front cockpit’s seat. The vented fuel cap. Beringer disc brakes and spoked wheels get all the looks. Detail of the Beringer disc brakes.

The A50 Junior is the brainchild of Junkers president Dieter Morszeck, former owner of the Rimowa luggage company and an Embraer Phenom 300 pilot. He also built reproductions of the Junkers F13, a single-engine, four-passenger transport airplane with an open cockpit for two pilots that was produced between 1919 and 1932. Yet another design—a modern one—is the A60, a Rotax-powered two-seater that can be fitted with either an open or enclosed cockpit. Another project, based on a redo of the trimotor Junkers Ju 52—one with three 550-horsepower V-12 diesel engines—seems to have been shelved for the time being. All three of the airplanes debuted at last year’s Aero Friedrichshafen expo.

Today, some 27 A50s have been sold in Europe, and those for American customers will be built under a business arrangement with Waco Aircraft at their Battle Creek, Michigan, factory. Since both Waco and Junkers have their roots in the interwar period, it seems like a natural collaboration.

Senior photographer David Tulis and I went to Lakeland, Florida, ahead of Sun ’n Fun to experience the A50. There they were in Bob LeBlanc’s My Jet Manager hangar: serial number 4, which I would fly, and serial number 5, in the last steps of final assembly. The first two A50s in the United States, freshly blessed with SLSA certification. Morszeck said he was eagerly anticipating the airplane’s reception as a modernized time machine with the aim of giving today’s pilots the kind of low-and-slow experience of old. Junkers test and demo pilot Sören Pedersen was also on hand. He’d be my mentor during my introductory flight, and on our formation flight for photos and videos.

Soon enough, I was lowering myself into the front seat. It’s a well-known fact, and I’m here to confirm it: People were smaller in the 1930s, which is another way of saying that people are now bigger and fatter. I’m 5 feet 11 inches on a good day and weigh 220 pounds. My shoulders were wedged against the rich, tasteful leather coaming of the cockpit, and the top of the windshield was level with my forehead. I’m not complaining, mind you. I was too busy anticipating the flight for that. Pedersen, however, is shorter and lighter than I. He was a perfect fit.

A new classic

The panel’s right side. The power (forward) and trim (aft) controls are to the pilots’ left. It wouldn’t be a Junkers without the corrugated aluminum external structure. Actually, it’s duralumin, which is a hardened alloy of aluminum and copper. Four-point harnesses are in each cockpit. The corrugation imparts some strength to the airframe, but at the cost of frontal drag and vortices. Galaxy ballistic parachute blow-out panel placard.

A turn of the key, a tug on the chocks, and soon we were on the takeoff run, with tail up at 40 knots, then climbing away at 600 fpm on our way to 1,200 feet. Once there, I pushed the power up to 28 inches manifold pressure and 5,100 rpm on the engine. I saw 85 KIAS and a true airspeed of 87 KTAS on a fuel burn of 5 gph. I also felt the wind and propeller blast, and the late afternoon sun’s shadow playing on the rolling terrain and swampy lakes sliding by. A climb to 2,000 feet brought a welcome drop in the Floridian heat and humidity. So, this was what flying was like back in the day. Not bad at all.

I racked it into a few steep (60-degree) turns and Junior was easy to handle. As for the stall, it was a lot of mighty buffeting, with no wing drop. Maybe because I’d finally learned to keep the rudder ball in the center by then. I thought I heard Pedersen say there was no stall horn. Probably because all that buffeting was warning enough. Some hands-off flying proved that the A50 gives a stable ride—especially given the turbulence that day.

The photo formation—with a Beechcraft Bonanza A36, to boot—was the challenge of the day. Eventually, with Editor in Chief Kollin Stagnito putting the Bonanza’s flaps partially down and laying on just the right amount of power and with us in the A50 doing some aggressive intercept angles and pedaling as fast as we could, we stayed in position long enough for Tulis to get the shots you see here.

Time to land. Of course, the wind had picked up, and of course it was a crosswind of about 15 knots according to the G3X. In a flash of good judgment, I let Pedersen land it. The last thing we needed now was a ground loop and a dinged wing at the airplane’s first public showing, so I watched as he slowed to 55 knots, flared, and, with rudders dancing, let those skinny tires touch down. We canted into the wind—or was it a swerve?—and taxied back to My Jet Manager.

Later, Junkers and Waco had a reception at the Waco Kitchen in the Lakeland terminal building. The Junkers contingent included Morszeck, MT Propeller President Gerd Mühlbauer, and even Bernd Junkers (grandson of company founder Hugo Junkers) and his daughter Charlotte. She gave me a chance to practice my broken German and I thought I was making a fairly good impression, right up to the time I dropped my mushroom-filled hors d’oeuvre down the front of my shirt.

Stay tuned for more news as events develop from the Waco/Junkers collaboration. It will be interesting to see how the market responds to a retro-modern interpretation of a historic light airplane. It’s certainly unique in the LSA niche. The A60 promises to be even more so.

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Thomas A. Horne
Thomas A. Horne
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Tom Horne has worked at AOPA since the early 1980s. He began flying in 1975 and has an airline transport pilot and flight instructor certificates. He’s flown everything from ultralights to Gulfstreams and ferried numerous piston airplanes across the Atlantic.

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