What Our Members Are Building/Restoring — California Lockwood AirCam

By Mike Bell, EAA 110089

This piece originally ran in the February 2021 issue of EAA Sport Aviation magazine.

There I was minding my own business, deep into another kit plane project when I received a link to the Lockwood Aircraft AirCam promotional video. A brief demo ride convinced me that I not only wanted an AirCam, but I wanted to build one. With the other project sold, soon I had room in the shop and giant crates arriving from Lockwood.

The fuselage ships in two large pieces, appearing finished. But those fixture-built pieces are “tack-riveted” together, and the finished look is temporary. Thousands of holes must be drilled to final size, more structure fitted, and then the fuselage is completely disassembled for deburring, prepping, and priming. Eventually it all goes back together, effectively straight from the fixture.

The center section and huge vertical stabilizer are typical aluminum construction, much like an RV but with pulled rivets. The control surfaces are similar but with traditional fabric covering. AirCam wings are closer to ultralight-style design, including a pre-sewn sailcloth envelope with tubular ribs slipped into pockets. Because the sailcloth is pre-shrunk, there is no way to iron out every last wrinkle.

I attended the Rotax school at Lockwood in Sebring, Florida. Not only was it a great help with engine installation and initial setup, but also it was a fun week of total aviation immersion. Dean Vogel taught the class and commented that all airplanes have an angle from which they are most beautiful, and for the AirCam it is the view from the front seat.

That front seat in an open-cockpit AirCam has a surprisingly calm ride at any speed; however, the rear seat is breezy above 70 mph. Several builders have made attempts at an enclosure. When the factory released its full enclosure I ordered one of the first kits. This required a few extra months of work but was worth the effort. I have flown comfortably in temperatures from 35 to 100 degrees and the view remains spectacular, with rear-seat passengers enjoying a nice calm ride. Still, there is nothing like an unobstructed view, and in summer I can switch back to the open cockpit in an hour or so.

As a twin-engine pusher with tandem cockpits, the AirCam requires plenty of wiring and plumbing. Fortunately, the AirCam has a huge avionics bay in the nose, with full access to the instrument panel. The EAA Hints for Homebuilders videos were a great help here and with other questions. The only jobs I farmed out were the Dynon harness and the paint scheme and final paint. Credit goes to Plane Schemers for the design.

As others have noted, doing something on the build every day keeps the ball rolling. Delays happen. Eventually I discovered that if I made a list of little projects that could be accomplished out of order, then production never stopped. Eventually it all came together. Designated Airworthiness Representative “Dilly” Dilbeck performed the inspection and issued the airworthiness certificate. He successfully campaigned to have my home airport removed from the “no Phase I testing allowed” list.

I returned to Sebring, Florida, to complete several days of enjoyable dual instruction with Robert Meyer. The AirCam has no bad habits, but it is unusual due to the high power available, high thrust line, and high drag. As advertised, it really is docile on one engine. The second engine was reassuring as Robert pointed out the huge alligators close below in Lake Istokpoga.

Lockwood test pilot and chief engineer Justin Smith answered dozens of phone calls and emails along the way, and then kindly flew out to California to do a final inspection and the first test flight. How amazing it was to watch a six-year effort leave the ground for the first time.

The airplane has so much power it could easily blast right through VNE in level flight. But it’s happiest at 60-80 mph on a total of 4-5 gallons of mogas per hour. I’m looking forward to the next AirCam gathering in the desert Southwest, but I have already discovered plenty of gorgeous scenery within an hour of my home airport. “Flyover” country is transformed when seen from low and slow.

Many thanks to my wife, Sharon, for her patience and for more than once finding the clearest solution to a building dilemma; and to Tom Dixon for help with everything from tools to sound advice. Lastly, thanks to Phil Lockwood for a great design, and to always-cheerful help from Rex, Christine, Rafaella, Joe, and Tisha at Lockwood Aircraft.

We Need Your Stories!

Have you built or restored an aircraft? Share your craftsmanship with EAA Sport Aviation magazine readers worldwide! Send us a photo and description of your project and we’ll consider using it in What Our Members Are Building/Restoring. Learn more ›

Post Comments