By Wayne Streeter, EAA 11931
Rt. 6, 905 Staniford Ave., Modesto, Calif.
About five years ago I was driving home on Sylvan Ave. here in Modesto when one of the smallest airplanes I have ever seen caught my eye. Now, being an old airplane buff from way back, and this little bird sitting in the front yard of a long time friend, my little four wheeler did an abrupt "one eighty" and settled to a screeching halt in his driveway. There stood a real, honest to goodness "Knight Twister." No doubt about it, those lines were unmistakable! Trim as a racer, tapered wings, full headrest, looked for all the world like a baby fighter.
| Clyde Parsons created, as a show-piece for his "Knight Twister", a recessed instrument panel of aluminum, finished with a black polished surface and beveled instrument openings polished smooth and left natural. It signals the fine workmanship evident throughout this plane. |
When I scrambled out of the car, Clyde Parsons turned to me and said, "She looks kind of sad right now, doesn't she?" For some time this little bird had been upended on its nose in a hangar with wings stacked beside it, parts scattered and cannibalized. Clyde was carefully hanging the parts together, as he unloaded them from a truck, to see what he had or didn't have. I spent the rest of the day with him, as spellbound by this little project as he was. We hooked, unhooked, and mocked it up to see what a real "Knight Twister" looked like. We agreed it did look like all the pictures and drawings we had seen. All reports and data take the "Twister" back to around 1930. We had heard that the design had been on paper as early as 1929.
| The "Knight Twister"... a symphony of power and beauty... a superb blend of craftsmanship and imagination! It was entirely rebuilt by Clyde L. Parsons, EAA 5181, of R. 1, 4812 Milnes Rd. in Modesto, Calif. (Clyde Parsons Photo) |
This particular "Knight Twister" has quite a history. It was started about 1947 in Oregon by Max Menti of Klamath Falls. This was during the time when homebuilts were illegal in most states. Oregon was one of the last states where homebuilts were not outlawed. Approximately halfway through construction, it came into the hands of Lester Lollis of Medford Air Service in Medford, Oreg. It is hard to ascertain how much more construction went on here before it went on to Mr. Hale of Grants Pass. It was then purchased by W. H. Braley of Stockton, Calif. in August, 1955. What wasn't finished, he attempted to complete, and the aircraft was finally registered in his name as N-2580D (later changed to N-67P). By this time the ban against homebuilts had been rescinded. I guess they finally realized that, after all, even the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk were only homebuilders.
We understand that sometime between the time that Mr. Braley had the aircraft registered, and the winter of 1959 when Clyde bought it from him, an experienced duster pilot was asked to test fly the "Knight Twister." After fast taxi runs, he stated that the airplane was too tricky to fly, and so it was subsequently dismantled and stored in a hangar in Tracy, Calif. It was here that Clyde first saw it. It stood up-ended, gathering dust until he acquired it. After the mocking-up, he started scrounging the country for the missing parts. He found a carburetor for the 90 hp Franklin, a propeller, brake parts, instruments that were missing, wing wires, plus numerous smaller items that had to be made.
| The "Knight Twister" before reconstruction was powered with a 90 hp Franklin engine. The little ship is being "buzzed" by a Fleet at Parsons' airstrip near Modesto. (Chuck Rogers Photo) |
Shortly before the acquisition of the "Knight Twister", Clyde had seen Jerry Quarton (EAA expert in these parts) flying his "Baby Ace" at Galt, Calif. Upon making his acquaintance, he had learned that Jerry was building another plane, a tiny Mong Biplane. A trip to his garage to view the project was the turning point in Clyde's dreams of building a plane, the nudge to make them become a reality. In fact, Jerry set him on the trail to Tracy and the "Knight Twister." No other person could have been of as much help. His encouragement and know-how were boundless... where to locate parts, how to improvise, and just plain "always interested."
The garage lights burned late at night and the rattle of activity at unspeakable hours of early dawn, found wife Betty an unwavering helper and light holder. She became the "third hand" that helped things move smoothly (?) and easily. This was togetherness with a capital "T." Or maybe it was a case of "if you can't fight 'em - join 'em." (Actually, Clyde was taking flying lessons and working at the local airport when she met him in high school. Twenty-five years of married life and six grandchildren later; he's flying a "Knight Twister"!).
| Clyde Parsons with his all-fiberglas "Knight Twister" at the Tracy, Calif. air show. Powered with a Lycoming O-290-G, the 125 hp engine makes this little ship a fantastic performer. |
Umpteen gallons of coffee later, all the little pieces of the puzzle were in place and secured. The excitement of the coming showdown was intense, for this little "bomb" had cowed good pilots before, and it's my personal opinion that Clyde is one of the best. If he ever developed misgivings about strapping on the little bird, he pretty much kept it to himself.
Finally, after a preliminary run-in, the Walt Hendleys (old friends), and the Parsons loaded the "Twister" on Walt's truck, and in the wee hours of the morning headed for the Ballico strip, about 25 miles from Modesto. This is an old Air Force practice field that the city of Turlock fell heir to after the war. It lies about eight miles east of the town. Because it is so far out, it is seldom used by anyone except for crop dusting operations in that district. Jerry flew his "Baby Ace" that morning all the way from Galt (75 miles). The plane was unloaded, assembled and given last minute adjustments and inspection. Then Clyde "strapped on his bird." The engine started easily. He did some taxiing and high speed runs to get the feel.
| Shown during its reconstruction, the "Knight Twister" has the new instrument panel installed, and is being prepared for forming the fiberglas shell. |
On the initial take-off, the "Twister" responded differently than Clyde had anticipated and he found himself in a "bomb" 40 feet off the runway, with wings almost vertical and going over on his back. He cut the throttle immediately to kill the torque. With the stick far over and the nose down, the plane's wings were leveled. Then came the flare-out with full power to break the hard landing that was coming. He hit three-point but hard, the throttle instinctively closed on impact. All this in a matter of a few seconds! This was enough to convince Jerry Quarton he'd seen enough.
The engine torque was drifting the plane beyond control even with full opposite aileron. Against Jerry's wishes, Clyde felt one more try could ascertain if certain modifications would make it flyable. By barely lifting it off, after realizing how sensitive it was, the drift and roll tendency pointed to engine installation. Since the little taper wings are full cantilever, plywood stressed, with no dihedral, wash-out rigging was impossible. Everything became exaggerated with such a tiny plane. Jerry and Clyde decided to take the little bird back to the garage and put the torque correction in the engine mount, which meant shortening the right side of the motor mount. Alignment of one-half inch to the right let it take off perfectly straight the next weekend.
However, extensive modification of all the control system was decided on, especially the ailerons. The plane was taken to Modesto Municipal Airport where the FAA could work closer for the certification. At this point, Nate Province, who operates Pacific Air Service, was a very willing and able contributor to the cause. It was the use of his hangar and facilities that finally put the "Knight Twister" out the door with a license in July, 1959.
The required time was to be flown on it at the Ballico strip. The 50 hours were without incident. During this time, Clyde had put in a landing strip on his property on Milnes Road, and moved the "Twister" to that strip. The more he flew it, the more he realized its potential with more streamlining and horsepower. Thus, a complete new concept of aircraft finish and design was dreamed up. By the end of the yearly certification, he had decided to go all-out for speed and performance. He had also become pretty proficient with the "Twister", and his flying was a pleasure to behold.
This idea of fiberglas skin and more horsepower started with the purchase of an O-290 Lycoming. This 125 hp engine was one of those zero time jobs that are hard to come by.
Jerry and Clyde got busy designing the new motor mount and figuring the torque off-set. This had to be correct to assure the exact alignment for the spinner and flush cowling that was anticipated. Subsequent tests proved the torque off-set to be correct. In fact, on one such test Clyde proved the little 15 ft. taper-wing "Knight Twister" could be landed dead stick! With all corrections made, the molds for the fiberglas were started.
The fiberglas cowl was made in this manner. The motor and mounts were sealed in plastic sheets. On this was applied expanded metal lath to the desired contour of the cowl. Then a coat of lightweight aggregate gypsum plaster was applied, which he shaped to the finished contour. The second and final coat was applied to give a smooth base for the fiberglas to follow. A sealer and Johnson's wax finished the base for the final glassing. Three layers of glass fabric were laminated and finished off with a sander. The entire fuselage, fin and stabilizer were glassed as one piece. The nose cowl was slit and removed, with a horizontal slit from the propeller hub to the exhaust ports, then to the firewall. Bound together with piano hinge with loose pins, the entire nose cowl is removed in halves.
The fuselage skin proper was removed by cutting the fiberglas horizontally on each side, from the firewall straight back to the horizontal stabilizer. When it was finally placed back, the two seams were strip-taped and glassed, leaving the entire fuselage in one piece. The cantilever fin and stabilizer was left in one piece. The lower-wing fillets became one piece with the cantilever wing. The plywood-covered wings were finished with the lightest weight fiberglas cloth possible, which is even lighter than fabric. Only the top wing is readily removable.
Gene Barry, a local fly-boy and member of Modesto, Calif. Chapter 90, who has an equipment rental business for these parts, generously helped Clyde with a compressor and sand-blasting unit to get the skeleton ready for priming. All the structural steel is white enamel over chromate, the inside as shiny as the outside. At this time, Clyde designed and built a streamlined oleo landing gear to replace the old shock-cord type.
Chapter 90's chief wood chopper gave a slight hand in the wood department with some aileron millings. Since then most of the homebuilts around have felt the touch of this maker of spars, cap strips and fairing. "Professor" Streeter happens to be Chapter 90's past president and current secretary.
| Vernon Payne, designer of the "Knight Twister", looks over Clyde Parsons' ship. Payne and his wife (left background) drove all the way from southern California just to see the beauty. Betty Parsons is seated at right, with Clyde's Great Lakes in background at the Merced Fly-In. |
| The sheer beauty and smooth contours can be clearly appreciated in this view. It helps to explain why the "Knight Twister" is such a popular favorite among biplane enthusiasts. |
The entire surface was sprayed with a filler base and sanded, followed by 18 to 20 coats of white lacquer, sanded between each coat. The final coat was waxed and the application of liberal elbow grease produced a flawless finish. Black pin striping and gold letters at the cockpit complement the smooth lines of the fiberglas. The identification numbers, too, are gold trimmed in black.
Now it was Jerry Quarton's turn again. The new weight and balance had to be run. The only weight picked up was from the larger engine making it slightly over 600 lbs. The fiberglas proved to be lighter than stringers and bulkheads necessary for fabric.
The FAA has not only been very helpful but also complimentary. The airplane was completed and re-certificated in January, 1963 by Raymond Bogart. The flight test was witnessed by him and John Zentner. The "Knight Twister" has exceeded all of Clyde's expectations. It tops out at almost 200 mph and climbs at a fantastic rate. The ability to do aerobatics has been proved by its current place in Gold Coast Airshows which is owned by Bud Fountain, who is one of the very few experienced pilots having flown a "Knight Twister."
Clyde flew Linn's "Mini-Mustang" at the Lancaster EAA fly-in during September, 1963 and says they compare in smallness and sensitivity. They only differ in the same way a larger monoplane and biplane differ. He says his "Knight Twister" is just a pint sized Curtiss racer, and not for beginners!