late John Thorp played a pivotal role in several areas of American
aviation—marks that continue to influence today.
Now an evolved version of one of his
classic designs is getting a new home in its quest to survive in the LSA
market. Production of the Thorpedo is moving to China from India.
IndUS Aviation has entered into an
agreement with a Chinese firm, IPI, to put the Thorpedo into large-scale
production to meet anticipated major demands in Asia.
The Thorpedo uses the 120-hp Jabiru 3300
for a 115-knot top speed, and will be offered with optional ePod or
Dynon glass panels.
Seating two pilots side by side, it can
be flown with its sliding canopy open if desired. It retains the Thorp
hallmarks of a rectangular wing and all-flying stabilator; the
corrugated skins of its flying surfaces replace most internal wing ribs
and greatly simplify construction, as well as reducing empty weight.
A familiar flier…
Sounds sort of like a Piper Cherokee, doesn’t it? That’s hardly
surprising; there’s a relationship behind that similarity.
In 1958, Piper engineer Fred Weick,
designer of the Ercoupe, saw and liked a Thorp design called the Sky
Skooter and asked Thorp to enlarge it to a four-seater.
While an engineer at Lockheed during
WWII, Thorp designed a very small single-place airplane, the “Air
Conceived as an aerial motorbike for U.S.
soldiers, it could take off in 100 feet and fly a couple of 100 miles at
Lockheed toyed with the idea of producing
it—as the “Little Dipper” for the civilian market—and though it
flew well, only two prototypes were built.
It was clear to Thorp, however, that
there would be a postwar market, so he enlarged the design to a tri-gear
two-seater, the Sky Skooter, which in 1946 received CAR 3 certification
from the CAA. The Sky Skooter featured elements typical of Thorp
designs, including a simple-to-build rectangular “Hershey Bar” wing
and an all-flying stabilator tail.
Working together, John, Weick and Karl
Bergey designed the first Cherokee in a line that would grow over the
decades to include everything from a two-place basic trainer to
Roots of a Thorpedo
John, meanwhile, continued his own prolific design career, including
utility airplanes, light twins, and the classic homebuilt T-18 in 1963;
in 1976, Don Taylor’s T-18 became the first homebuilt to fly around
the world, starting and finishing here in Oshkosh. Meanwhile, although
the handful of Sky Skooters built in the late 1940s continued to fly,
interest in the nifty little design dwindled.
It revived briefly in the 1970s, when
five Skooters were built in the USA and UK, after which kits remained
available for a few years.
Then it languished once again until the
US/Indian collaboration of IndUS Aviation was formed in 1994 to build
the little ship and today offers both LSA (85-hp Jabiru) and
certificated (100-hp Continental O-200) versions.
Components and subassemblies are
manufactured in India, with final assembly in Texas; some 30 aircraft
are flying in the United States at present.
With the move to China, the company
expects to up the ante.
India and China are both rapidly-growing
economies; China, in particular, has minimal general-aviation
infrastructure at present, but the central government is moving quickly
to change this.
An entire city, Weinan in central China,
has been designated to host the “LuHangYu General Aviation Development
Zone,” including a large airport, industrial facilities, residential
areas for workers, and even an aviation theme park.
After setting up with IPI, initial
production is planned to ramp up to 100 units a year.
While much of the anticipated market is
in Asia, the Thorpedo will also be available in the United States from
the Dallas, Texas, factory.
For details: www.indusav.com.