The tiny El Chuparosa biplane wasn’t the strangest aircraft at the annual EAA AirVenture fly-in at Oshkosh, Wis., which ended last week. That title probably belongs to one of Burt Rutan’s creations like Speedy or Defiant. But the diminutive craft was certainly the smallest.
Parked on the grass at the edge of the homebuilt aircraft section, the Chuparosa biplane – Spanish for hummingbird because of the sound it made in flight – is only 14 feet long and just under 13 feet and 12 feet across its upper and lower wingspan, respectively. When Ray Hegy designed it in 1948, it was the smallest plane in the world capable of carrying a human. Now part of the EAA museum collection, it still strains credulity that it could actually fly.
Above: Burt Rutan’s twin-engine four-seater Defiant. Top: El Chuparosa. Image credits: Adam Senatori/GE Reports
“Airplane design is an exercise in compromise and trade-offs,” says aerospace engineer and self-professed “aviation junkie” Joe Nelson, a manager in GE Aviation’s turboprop business. “You have to give up something to make something else better.”
Nelson, who got his pilot’s license when he was still in high school, says that that Chuparosa looks to him “like it was designed to be the smallest possible airplane that would go fast and still carry a person.”
“The wings need to generate enough lift to hold the airplane up, but lift is a function of the wing size – or area – the flight speed, and the curvature of the wing,” he says. “If you want to fly slow, you need a big wing or a lot of curvature. But if you only want to go fast, the wing can be smaller. Small airplanes are usually also light, so a light, fast airplane only needs a small wing to hold it up.
Hegy spent 18 years and 1,520 hours flying the 478-pound biplane, covering thousands of miles. He donated craft, which could reach cuising speed of 110 mph, to the museum in 1977. Photographer Adam Senatori took pictures of the Chuparosa and other similarly “crazy awesome” planes that made an appearance at Oshkosh this year. Take a look.
U.S. Army Signal Corps used the Wright Brothers’ B Flyer for training and reconnaissance in 1911. Its top speed was 60 mph. Image credit: Adam Senatori/GE Reports
A century later, Lockheed Martin’s stealthy F-22 Raptor can travel at 1,500 mph – 2.25 times faster than the speed of sound. Image credit: Adam Senatori/GE Reports
The HondaJet’s unusual over-the-wing jet engine mount allowed its designers to build a more spacious cabin, reduce cabin noise and cut fuel consumption. Image credit: Adam Senatori/GE Reports
More than half of the wings and the fuselage of the new Airbus A350 XWB is made from composite materials – essentially high-grade plastics that can be both lighter and tougher than metals. GE Aviation makes the flexible trailing edges of the plane’s wings from carbon fiber composites. Image credit: Adam Senatori/GE Reports
Poland’s PZL-104 Wilga can climb at an astonishing 11 meters per second, or 2,165 feet per minute. Image credit: Adam Senatori/GE Reports
Burt Rutan’s designs made frequent flyovers at Oshkosh, including the asymmetrical Boomerang. Image credit: Adam Senatori/GE Reports
Some designs strained credulity that they could actually fly. Image credit: Adam Senatori/GE Reports
And some drew a lot of attention, but never took off. Image credit: Adam Senatori/GE Reports