We Fly the Funkiest
(did we actually say that) Classic Around
Since the seat of the airplane is only butt high off the ground, getting in was a simple matter of just walking between the struts and sitting down on the seat to swivel my legs under the instrument panel. It wasn't until then that I noticed the airplane has a T-shaped control column with the wheel-type yokes on each end. The entire assembly looks like it should be in a small transport or bomber rather than a (dare I use the word?) funky little two-place flivver. The T arrangement appears to be of welded steel, comes up out of the middle of the floor to the height of the bottom of the instrument panel and then runs out over both occupants’ legs where it mounts the control yokes — the entire thing pivoting fore and aft for elevator movement. Now this was an absolute first for me in a small airplane and I'm willing to bet not too many little planes are arranged this way. Put another check in the "unique" column for the Funk.
Cheap shot number two: The overall impression is that if any airplane deserved to be named Funk, this is it.
Once seated in the airplane there is no doubt Joe and Howard designed this thing for aerodynamics and not human beings since, although the cockpit is quite wide, it's not very deep which means the wings are exactly at eye level and the windshield is a sizable amount out in front. On the plus side, the airplane's squat attitude means you can see over the nose by barely stretching. To those who have been raised in any of the classics, this ability to see completely over the nose will take a little getting used to in setting up the landing attitude.
I turned on the master switch (which is a carb heat-looking cable operated affair) and we punched the C-85 one time to get it into life. Feeding the center mounted throttle in and heading toward the taxiway I was very conscious of the quickness with which the tailwheel moved the tail. Direct steering is something that takes getting used to since there is absolutely none of the delay, which every other tailwheel airplane has because of the springs in the linkage. When we reached the end of the runway and finished the runup, I noticed one unique use for the T-shaped yoke: Dan had one of the new generation handheld radios strapped to the vertical part of the T which not only made it very convenient but made it easy for him to remove and put the airplane back into original 1947 configuration. Dan called the tower and I pointed it toward the runway centerline.
With an empty weight in the neighborhood of 850 pounds and the two of us putting it up well over 1200 pounds I didn't expect 85 hp to rip our hats off when I brought the throttle forward and it didn't. What I was a little bit unprepared for was the necessity to tippy-toe on the rudders. Trying hard, I still wandered off the centerline a fair amount, even after the tail wheel came up. Fortunately we floated off the ground somewhere in the low 40s so there wasn't much time to embarrass myself.
Dan wanted to hold about 60 miles an hour in climb, which also corrected for what he figured was a ten mile an hour error in the air speed, so we were actually doing in the neighborhood of 70 mph. At that kind of a climb attitude we looked nearly level because the nose was so low. We were going uphill about like a Champ with a similar load on board.
When the tail came up off the ground I had expected the rudder sensitivity to disappear but, as soon as we came off the ground, I realized rudder sensitivity was a part of the control system. The plane has a huge amount of rudder authority with practically no breakout forces whatsoever — you can't tell when it is centered and when it isn't. This is partially due to the aerodynamic balance on the rudder which I felt was not needed. The Funk has the lightest, quickest rudder of any factory-built airplane I have ever flown. If any machine is going to make you conscious of your feet, this is the one.
At 400 feet per minute, 2000 feet takes a little while to achieve but we did and long before that I realized the Funk is an airplane that demands coordination with more than its share of adverse yaw which is true of every airplane designed during that period of time, but the Funk has about three times as much rudder as is needed for correction. I became very conscious of poor coordination and I've always thought I was a reasonably coordinated pilot — or at least that'swhat I keep telling my students. To keep the ball close to center required conscious thought to what my hands and feet were doing, which I haven't had to do for many years. In doing Dutch rolls, it was necessary to punch the rudder when bringing the wing up and then back off almost immediately since the input would soon be too much. I think that may have been the secret in turns — put in more rudder when the turn is initiated, then back off a little early before neutralizing the ailerons. Otherwise the ball would slide to the outside more than half the time.
The book swears up and down a C-85 Funk is supposed to cruise at 105 miles an hour. We got up into the low 90s which, if the ten mile per hour fudge factor Dan talks about is real, then this may be one of the few handbooks that doesn't lie and 100 mph may be an achievable cross country number.
The Funk has come up to number one in a couple of categories as far as I'm concerned: It is positively the blindest of all of the two-place side-by-side airplanes when in cruise configuration. When the nose is well down, straight ahead visibility is fantastic, but the leading edge of the wings and the cabin structure are so far forward and so low that the impression is you are sitting in a piece of sewer pipe looking out through the open end. Only the Aeronca Chief approximates this kind of vision. The urge to periodically pick up a wing to look under — which requires at least 15-20 degree of bank — is overwhelming. In the mid 1930s when the airplane was designed, the possibility of running into someone else was minimal. But here we were 20 miles south of Oshkosh in "departure alley" and I was certain we were going to get run over any minute. I know this situation is something a pilot gets used to and compensates for, but in our environment it was something to think about.
I have to admit to doing something really stupid on this particular flight evaluation. I forgot to do any stalls. I was so intrigued with the way the airplane handled otherwise I just flat forgot to do them. Knowing what the Funk weighed and that it had a 4412 airfoil, I didn't expect anything other than a Champ or Taylor-like stall. When I came back to land the airplane, I felt sure there was nothing sinister to watch for.
The ailerons and roll rate are not such that they invite you to do eight point slow rolls but are again typical of the period: Not at all heavy with adequate response. If the airplane is put into a bank and the nose held straight ahead to check for roll stability, the wings take their own sweet time working back down to level. The wings really don't want to, indicating fairly loose stability in roll. If the nose is pulled off trim speed, it is likely to sit there for a long, long period before deciding to pitch down again — assuming it will at all. It's not fair to do this type of evaluation with an airplane design which goes back over 55 years, since every single machine built then and fitting into this category would exhibit similar dents in stability profile.
As we wandered back to the airport, the only thing on my mind was to remember not to over-control the rudder on touchdown.
Killing the power opposite the numbers, I figured I'd fly the airplane essentially like a Champ and see how close it came. To compensate for the airspeed error Dan had me hold 50 mph during the final part of the approach, which the airplane is perfectly happy to hold with a little assistance from the overhead trim crank. As is always the case, I had to look up and actually read which was up and down to make sure. The airplane sat there and held its speed like it was nailed in place and I watched as the runway came up until I was flairing at what seemed like a natural altitude.
As the airplane settled and the runway came up to meet us it was obvious slow motion was the order of the day since the airplane tried to hover in a ten mph wind before plunking onto the runway. As expected, the second the Funk touched down I would have been better off to take my feet off the rudders since just the weight of touching them caused the airplane to do a little zigzag (very little) across the centerline. Fortunately, we were hardly moving at the time so there was very little chance of things getting out of hand. The airplane may be a little quick in the rudder department but it is still one of the easiest airplanes on the face of the earth to control during the landing and flair, and has a little hint of heavy airplane feel because it grooves so well.
As I climbed out of the airplane I had to admit I was now looking at the Funk through entirely different eyes. Yes, it is a little on the whimsical-appearing side but that's also one of the strong points. From a performance view, the Funk is a good, good flying airplane that will make its pilots into extremely good, well-coordinated, sensitive aviators. In that regard, the Funk makes a tremendously good training airplane and one I would highly recommend for anyone expecting to transition into something with higher demand handling characteristics. In that respect, it's only training drawback is you can actually see over the nose too well!
Whether because of the whimsical appearance or the fact that practically nobody knows what the Funk is, the plane has just not gained any kind of popularity outside of its own little interest group. For that reason, Funks are probably the best dollar value in classic-type aircraft. As recently as last month, two well-restored examples were listed at asking prices of under $9000. Both of these airplanes would have had the worry about the wooden wings and steel fuselage attended to, which is something of concern when buying a less than pristine example — as with all airplanes of that vintage. And of course the other big no-no is buying one with an engine that has to be majored. Since the cost of majoring a C-85 or the earlier 75 horse Lycoming can easily be higher than the price of a good airplane, the price of a rebuild project must be cheap, cheap, cheap since the engine will double the cost of the airplane. If the project prices are as we would anticipate, this is one airplane that should be able to be bought for the price of the engine alone, allowing someone on a serious budget to build up a basket case and put himself into the air with a unique and fun-loving airplane at something less than the cost of a good used car (assuming he doesn't put a very high dollar value on his own labor).
The Funk is actually a very small antique airplane, not a classic. Its design predates practically all the classics and many of its features are truly antique in their feel. With the price of antiques going through the roof this is a hell of a good entry-level airplane. At the same time, if a pilot wants something a little different and if he's tired of the C-120/140 and short-wing Piper thing, this is a fantastic alternative. Go for it! Be the first guy on your block to own your own Funk. BD
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