Doc Brokaw's Blue
Bullet: "Pure Mean With Wings"
A bearded member of the new generation of sport pilots adjusted his headband and gazed at the frantic swarm of the Oshkosh flyby pattern. As the sharklike outline of the BJ-520, aka Brokaw Bullet, came ripping down the runway, he turned to a friend and said, "That long, lean mother is nothin' but bad. Just pure mean with wings."
Pure mean with wings; that pretty well says it for Dr. Brokaw's dark blue bandit. It's a homebuilt all right, but in no way does it fit the image. The BJ superthing has wings the size of dolphin fins and enough horsepower to tow the Brooklyn Bridge up river. There is little doubt that Doc Brokaw didn't build his backyard missile just for bouncing around on warm Sunday afternoons.
The design parameters were simple enough; all he wanted was an airplane that would cruise upwards of 250 mph, fly above most weather, be fully acrobatic, have enough instruments to go when the airlines did, and a comfortable second seat to carry his effervescent wife, Buddy. Actually, all he wanted is the same thing the rest of us want ...a perfect airplane, one that will do nearly everything well with no compromises. There is, however, one very large difference between the good doctor and the rest of us dreamers. He sat down and actually brought life to his dream.
The original idea was to modify the daylights out of a Midget Mustang, but a chance meeting with Ernie tones at an EAA meeting not only changed the basic concept, but saved Brokaw a tremendous amount of work. Jones has some letters that hang behind his name, (P, h and D to be exact); his field is aeronautical structural analysis. Brokaw needed a structural engineer. Jones wanted to learn to fly. Brokaw was a flight instructor. Voila. Jones is the "J" in BJ520.
When it comes to high performance aircraft, Doctor Brokaw has one leg up on the rest of us. He didn't need to build a pussy cat. He had done most of his early flying in the toughest birds the Navy had to offer. Throughout the second big shootout and Korea, Brokaw rattled around in all of Grumman's early 'cats, was maintenance test officer on Bearcats and whooshed around Korea in F9Fs. He knew he could fly whatever he built, which is a good thing, because what he ended up with is a fighter. Okay, maybe it doesn't have gun ports or rocket rails, but make no mistake, the BJ520 is every bit as much airplane as any P-51
When you first walk around the airplane, it's obvious that the BJ520 means business. The big turbocharged TSIO-520 Continental hangs out in front like some sort of phallic challenge, the massive three-blade prop snarling its readiness to take on all comers. The airplane sits tall on its Navion gear (the nosewheel is a Bonanza's) because of the prop size, and this extra height accentuates the near lack of wings. The span is only 21 feet 6 inches, the same as the BD-5's. However, what the wings really lack is area; they throw down a shadow of just 78.3 square feet. That's less than a Thorp T-18's wing area and about half of a Cessna 172's. With a gross weight of nearly 3,000 pounds, that puts the wing loading at a hairraising 38.2 pounds per square foot.
Wing loading is the gross weight of the airplane divided by the total wing area, and it's a pretty accurate thermometer to measure the temper of the airplane you're about to hop into. High wing loadings mean high pucker factors. Each square foot of a Cub's wing carries under 10 pounds, a Cherokee's wing loading is around 12, a Bonanza's 18 and the highest civilian wing loading on a single I know is the Waco Meteor at around 23. Early Spitfires carried 25 pounds per square foot; the Bearcat is in the neighborhood of 33, and P-51s range from 37 to 45. So, with a wing loading of 38.2 pounds, the BJ520 is right up there with the warbirds. Brokaw says his airplane is about 300 pounds heavier than it should be; gee, that would bring the wing loading down to a paltry 34-35 pounds per square foot! Let's face it, a Schweizer it's not.
Strapped in and fired up, I didn't give the tiny wings a thought until the runway was streaking by as the 285 plus horses dragged me down the centerline. At about 70 knots the nose came up and we were off the ground and humming at 85-90 knots. All of this happened very fast, but we still managed to gobble up around 1500 feet of runway before getting off. Brokaw has done a lot of testing to find out exactly what his takeoff and landing figures are, and he says he needs 2600 feet to take off over the fabled 50-foot obstacle. The BJ520 doesn't really begin to climb until it has accelerated to the best climb speed of 125 mph.
Once that 125 mph shows up on the dial, the world starts falling behind fast as the VSI stretches itself up to 1500 fpm. It's not a gutwrenching climb, but rather a subtle, almost unnoticeable motion that nevertheless keeps the altimeter very busy. As the flaps come up there is little trim change, but the stickmounted electric trim switch becomes pretty handy when the gear comes up.
At 125 mph, with trim thumbed in, the BJ fell into a solid groove that lead upstairs in a hurry. This feeling of sitting in a groove was to be one of my lasting impressions of the airplane. In nearly any attitude, that impossibly long snout just hangs out there, pointing the way like a blunt arrow and never moving. In cruise, the BJ would run for quite a while before something disturbed it enough so that I had to nudge it a little this way or that. It would appear that Doc Brokaw has his cross country machine...in spades.
As soon as I could get the nose down into level flight I eagerly set up 75 percent power and watched as the airspeed needle climbed to a steady 175 knots for a true airspeed of 225 mph. With that big turbo puffing into the engine, every foot of altitude means more speed; at 16,000 feet it trues 258 mph at 75 percent. The same power gives a blistering 273 mph at 20,000 feet while burning about 20 gallons per hour. Naturally, with that kind of high altitude capability, oxygen is a must, so both BJ pits sport oxygen regulators and demand valve blinkers. Incidentally, at 20,000 feet, the BJ will hit 322 mph flat out. That ought to break a few minds in your local IFR room. With an arbitrary never-exceed speed of 245 knots IAS, Brokaw can come downhill at something like 380 mph.