Flying the Volmer VJ-22 Homebuilt Amphibianby Ngatea
In 1968 orgasmic euphoria broke out in Glendale California when one Volmer Jensen wheeled out of his workshop the first two seat homebuilt amphibian of the age. Hysteria echoed around the homebuilt aircraft scene right around the world. How heavy is it they said? What will it cost to build? Will it fly two people off the water? Well to answer some of these question lets talk about how Volmer Jensen came to design a wooden two seat homebuilt amphibian aircraft. Jensen had been in the back yard aviation business for a long time and in fact worked for several aircraft companies in the US. Jensen was a gliding person at heart but loved the water. He had built a 3 seat pusher land aircraft a couple of years before and had hoped that Piper or someone may have been interested in putting it in production. However that wasn’t the case. Jensen turned his thoughts to a homebuilt amphibian after coming across a very old Italian wooden two seat amphibian hull. He took it home modelled up a new hull, hung a set of Aeronca champ wings and tail feathers on it and installed an 85h.p.Continental pusher engine and the job was done. His friend and buddy Irv Culver watched from the side line. Culver was a unique engineering man in Lockheed’s Kelly Johnston skunk works at the time. No doubt Culver would have answered a few questions and crunched a few sums for Jensen on what was to become the VJ-22 Volmer Sportsman homebuilt amphibian.
Soon wood was flying right across the world and around 100 Volmer VJ-22 were built. Jensen re-engines his creation with a 100 h.p. continental engine after reports started coming in that 85 h.p. just wasn’t enough. The Canadian put 125 h.p. engines on Volmer’s creation and some of them even turned the engine around to a tractor configuration. Jensen flew into a rage about builders modifying his creation and the idea of a tractor engine was sacrilege to say the least.
But let’s talk about ZK-CTY the one I flew for several years and wound up owning for a while. ZK-CTY was 1070lbs empty. It had a 100 h.p. Continental engine. In fact it came with a Rolls Royce silver engine sticker. The VJ-22 has a very roomy cockpit and excellent visibility. Noise level is not too bad. The noise is similar to a thousand bees flying in formation.
With the correct propeller the engine would generate 2750 r.p.m all day and all night. Revs never hurt an O200. CTY had a set of Champ wings designed to carry an all up weight of 1300 lbs on an Aeronca Champ. The VJ-22 was designed to carry 1600lbs on the same wing! So they said.
This Volmer is painted yellow and so it soon got the name the “Drunk Duck” Not a very nice thing to say about a fine old wooden amphibian. However the name stuck. This VJ-22 carried 77 litres of fuel and 2 X 170lb people at 85 m.p.h. It also carried in the payload a 30lb sand bag which YOU HAD TO HAVE when you flew it solo to bring the centre of gravity into the aft safe limits. The 30lb sand bag I kept on loosing at beaches as I us to sit on it and then leave it behind! The duck would also carry a cut lunch, life jackets and a lot of ancillary bits and pieces. The 0200 engine had a modified oil tank so it would fit into the A Frame engine mount and the problem with that was the temperature was often to cold. However on the water trawling, the oil temperature got to hot! This was a great problem as there were times when one couldn’t get out of the water when it was to rough and so one would have to taxi a mile or to find some smooth water. As a matter of interest I never flew the Duck in fresh water, it was always in the open sea and harbour areas. The VJ-22 is a stick and rudder aeroplane a sort of cross between an Auster and a Tiger Moth. Land take-off is Auster stuff very short and the climb is average and in fact I flew the VJ.22 to 10,000ft for CAA on auto fuel tests. It was still trying to climb at that altitude. Ailerons are typical Champ and the engine blows plenty of air over the tail plane in the wrong places. Pusher aircraft of course are a hand full. It seems the ultra light design people still haven’t discovered that. Pusher aeroplanes always need another 5 kts on the clock on approach due to the fact there is no propeller blast over the leading edge of the wings. On the duck one had to lock wire everything down on the engine. That’s right rocker cover screws, exhaust system and of course you have to have the prop bolted on in such a way that the exhaust pulses fire not on the blade but just after it passes by. Then of course you have to make sure you don’t throw you empty coke can out the window while cruising along as that will go through the prop and what a spectacular event that can be. You also need to make sure mother’s shades are on her head properly and her bikini is well strapped on and everything in the cockpit is tied down just in case. The Duck has retractable landing gear, mains and tail wheel. Biggles would be thrilled with the design.
There is a centre lever between the seats that locks the gear down and it also raises it when required and locks it on top of the canopy frame.The weight of the gear is off set by bungee rubbers so as you don’t break your yodel when retracting the gear.
I found a Karate shout was the trick. New passengers get a bit of a fright when you leave the ground and un-lock the gear and then shout HONG YUNG KACUNGA and the strength comes to haul that big lever with those 600x6 tyres up to the lock position. Then on the back of the cabin bulkhead there are two levers that raise and lower the tail wheel and water rudder correctly. It’s all great Navy stuff and the design was probable used on Noah’s ark.
If you yaw the VJ-22 in the climb to much the engine will splutter and loose power. This is because the carburettor air breather doesn’t stick out far enough past the front of the engine cowl and so the air just blows around the cowl profile. So there is always a good reason to keep the ball in the centre at all times. But how do you do that when the ball in the turn coordinator won’t stay in the centre anyway due to the fact the fin area downs the back is too small! Well it’s easy. The radio aerial on the front of the nose is a perfect place to tie a piece of wool and there you have it. Just keeps the wool pointing towards the centre of the windscreen and the problem is solved. There are times when the same piece of wool does point forward in some flight modes! One of the most dangerous situations you can get your self into is landing on glassy water. I was glad one day when I ran into a pilot who drives a Grumman Goose and he came for a fly with me and showed me just how quickly you can’t write yourself off in the glassy water situation. It’s so easy. The trick is find some rippled water. But if you have to land on glass water, shoot an approach at a very low rate of decent, like 100ft per minute and the nose just below the horizon. This is hard to do in the VJ-22 as it glides like a house brick. So plenty of power is needed and plenty of room. Had I had flared at the point I though was correct I would have been 10 feet below the surface of the water. It takes lots of practice and you need dual time for this for quite a while other wise you will wind up in Davy Jones locker.
Water flying doubles your fun and safety. It also offers you a chance to explore many harbours areas and estuaries that one could never get into and see otherwise. Learning to read water and what it can do to you is another story.
My water flying training was pretty limited when I started to fly the duck. I had completed a couple of check circuits and that was about it. I did get some Biggles books out of the library on water flying and picked up a few things. So all my take-off were in a straight line until one day I hit a beer bottle that appeared in the cabin right under the passengers seat. Well I was taking on water like you wouldn’t believe. A flash back to another Grumman Goose pilot who told me that if you put a hole in the hull get the stick right forward and full power and bounce your way out and it worked. I then had around 12 gallons of water down the back. I MEAN RIGHT DOWN THE BACK. So the CG was well aft. I had full power and around 60kts, full forward stick and an altitude of 50feet. Pretty good really. Beat’s sinking in the open sea. I collected my thoughts and slowly did a very shallow turn around to see how far the airfield was away. It was about 3 miles. The problem was the airfield was 120ft above sea level and I was at 50! Ever so slowly I got the VJ-22 to climb a bit and a bit more till in the end after 10 minutes I had enough height to just get onto the airfield at full power. I was a bit un-easy to lower the gear as that would drive the CG even further aft but I had to do it and with that I did my first full power landing in the duck!
We of course soon released that Volmer’s VJ-22 and the ¼ inch plywood with 6oz glass cloth on the bottom was complete useless deflecting beer bottles that nasty people leave in the water not to mention the bits of 4x2. So we re skinned the front step with light Kevlar and that worked like a treat. The problem was where now the loads were going to be transferred to. Well we found they were transferred right into the wing pick up bolts. All 4 of them. So it was a case of installing close tolerance helicopter bolts and that did the trick. However they needed changing every 100 hours.
Not so long after this event, I took a Canadian bush pilot for a fly in the trusty Volmer. He was impressed but he said to me” The trouble with you British is you do everything in a straight line” I said well what do you mean. Well he said, haven’t you learnt how to do a circular take-off on the water. I said well no I always do straight take-off and make sure the nose is pointing towards Buckingham Palace! for good luck!
Anyway the short of it was Mal showed me how to shoot good circular take-offs. That way one can see the debris that you are going to run into as the water swirl sweeps the debris into the middle of the circle.
Two you can use a much smaller space to get out of the water and three you can roll the aeroplane up on half the hull to reduce drag an thus pick up speed. Cross wind take-offs are much more manageable.
With this knowledge I was becoming an expert. No more thundering out of a bay in smooth water only to strike a 20 inch chop when one is almost on the step! Perhaps the most treacherous part of water flying is reading the water. At 1000ft in general it’s all Disneyland down there. Then when you get down to 500ft it’s often a cross between Disney land and Alcatraz. The short of it is that if the chop is 12 inches high and a short fetch, forget it. Because if you get into that sort of water it’s dangerous. The experience of landing in a 12 inch chop is similar to driving down a corrugated dirt road on a dark night in a Ford Prefect with the lights out. So one needs to look for bays and estuaries with smoother water and less chop and long fetch. The problems with bays is that usually you have to approach over a built up area and then you have little old ladies ringing the Police saying there is a yellow aeroplane crashed into the water! I have had that happen three times. The big plus about owning the VJ-22 is it doubles your aviation flying fun. The freedom is fantastic. But a plus for me is my wife LOVES the trusty Volmer! I never dare ask why as she sure doesn’t like Piper Super Cubs. So we really enjoy an afternoon snooping around the bays and low flying right on the water. It’s all legal as you are checking a landing spot. The other excuse is you could have carburettor icing. One great feature about the Volmer is it’s a great speed boat. You can beat anything on the water. Even these 1000hp jobs. You can do them like a dinner. Waving to yacht crews is fun. Spotting nudies and people in secluded places doing things they shouldn’t be doing. Of course you don’t take your wife on those sorts of sorties! Coming up on isolated beach can be embarrassing. At one secluded beach with my good wife I had just drop the gear to taxi up onto the beach when 3 chaps in the nick felt they should run out and give us a hand. My wife didn’t know where to look! In closing if you plan to build a Volmer Sportsman do put a new Rotax 914 up top. This would cut the weight down by 110lbs and reduce the height of the engine pylon and it would also allow you to use a 3 bladed propeller. You would need less fuel and have a bigger payload and plenty of grunt up top.
Source: 6/30/2009 post on www.avcanada.ca