|2011 August Raspet recipient James Wiebe of Belite Aircraft.
James Wiebe has created what he describes as a miniature Cub in an ultralight package. But the lightweight plane is getting big reviews.
Wiebe, of Belite Aircraft, will receive the August Raspet Memorial Award tonight during the Homebuilders Dinner at the Nature Center. The award, named after the late Dr. August “Gus” Raspet, has been given annually since 1960 to a person who has made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of light aircraft design.
Wiebe and his wife, Kathy, acquired the tooling, existing parts, and manufacturing rights of an older aircraft in March 2009. He immediately began improving and reinventing this design, creating the new Belite aircraft.
What makes the Belite unique?
“Most of the (light aircraft) products in the marketplace were…built the old-fashioned way, using tube, wire, and fabric,” he said. “They were basically motorized kites that flew through the air and not necessarily very well.”
Wiebe’s big challenge was to create a full-featured airplane that could meet the weight restrictions specified in FAR Part 103. He developed a new lightweight carbon fiber process and incorporated new engines, which were far more reliable and lighter, as well as lightweight avionics, to ensure that the Belite is well below the 254-pound limit specified by government regulations. In fact, Wiebe said, their highest performance plane with carbon fiber spars weighs only 200 pounds.
An avid pilot who began his flying career at Cessna Aircraft as a summer intern in 1978, Wiebe said he is most excited, however, about Belite’s fuel discernment technology. The technology allows the plane to detect water in gasoline, and can also detect differences in fuels and provide warnings.
Wiebe said he enjoys promoting GA. That’s part of the reason he e-mailed the producers of Discovery Channel’s MythBusters with an idea for an aviation-related show. They agreed it was a good idea and filmed the myth in June.
While Wiebe said he can’t talk about the myth, he did say the show, which will air in fall, features him flying a Belite airplane.
“It’s an excellent example how we must use every means possible to remind people about the joy of aviation,” he said. “I think it will be uplifting in an emotional sense to those who have not been exposed to the fun and freedom we have.”