and quick, it’s full of cat-eating grins.
Story and photography by Budd Davisson • Air Progress, Sept, 1979
A note about my friend, the late Jim Moser. He's been gone something like five years now and not an hour goes by that he somehow doesn't cross my mind. When I was prepping this article about his personal airshow machine, I relived some of the best moments of my life. Jim was closer than my brother and my bro and I were mighty close. Jim, however, not only shared dozens and dozens of aeronautical highlights but helped me through some dark days of my own. Then the cancer got him. And none of us could believe it. He created a very special world for us at St. Augustine and now that too is gone. But at least those of us who lived and flew with Jim Moser had that twenty year chapter of our life to look back on. Not many people are so fortunate. On to flying his highly modified Jungmann.
The Florida horizon is a challenge. It sits out there over your cowling, perfectly flat and sharply visible, challenging you to use it as a benchmark against which you can accurately judge your flying prowess. In any given attitude, you can look out and use it like a plumb-bob, to carefully hone your vertical lines, and to bring the points of your hesitation rolls down to within a few degrees of perfection. But that all presupposes you have an airplane against which the Florida horizon is worth using as a critical measure ... and I did. The distant line of the horizon sat between the wings of the Bucker Jungmann like a taut string and the Jungmann used every bit of its Teutonic, aerobatic heritage to index the horizon around in graceful arcs, violent snaps, and dead-on verticals. The Bucker Jungmann was made for clear days, flat horizons and strong stomachs.
If you have turned to this page expecting an exacting pilot report on a Bucker Jungmann, forget it. While I may have strapped on the Jungmann with all the best intentions of coming back with a note pad full of statistics, what I came back with was an empty note pad and a cat-eating grin. I don't have the slightest idea what the cruise speed of the airplane is. I didn't get out and measure its takeoff run over a 50-foot obstacle, and I didn't compare its economy range with IFR reserves. I didn't do any of the normal pirep stuff. But I did have a hell of a good time. So if you want statistics, skip to the next story. If you want to share my feelings about what it's like to blast your brains out in a hopped-up German biplane that has no earthly use other than personal amazement, read on, Macduff!
A stock Jungmann is super light so even with the 200 hp Lycoming, which is actually lighter than the original 4-cylinder inverted engine, it performs like crazy for what is a fairly big airplane (compared to a Pitts).
North Florida has, besides the aforementioned horizons, the rather weird combination of the nation's oldest city and the nation's friendliest citadel of sport aviation. St. Augustine is the old town and Aero Sport is the happy place for airplane buffs. If it's fun and it has to do with airplanes, it's at Aero Sport.
The Bucker Jungmann in question lives at Aero Sport. As a matter of fact, it's part of the working stable of airshow airplanes they keep in the corral. It's a little difficult to tell where Aero Sport, the FBO, leaves off and Aero Sport, the flying circus, begins, but it really doesn't make much difference. Just about everybody who works at Aero Sport, as instructor, mechanic or whatever, is part of the airshow. Just about everybody, from line boy on up, has a low altitude aerobatic waiver and most have been signed off by the Feds to land a Cub on top of a moving truck. And the fun goes on!
One of the things Aero Sport does best, besides having fun and selling airplanes and having fun and teaching aerobatics and having fun and repairing airplanes, is restoring antiques. Their hangars are full of examples of their work. The Jungmann is an outstanding example of their work.
Jim Moser, the youthful President of Aero Sport, is also the main solo act in the airshow. And Jim is big. Really big! At 6'5" and 275 pounds, he doesn't fit into a Pitts particularly well, if at all. Originally, he batted around in Citabrias, then a 450 Stearman. Nowadays, he's got a Bucker Jungmann with a 200 hp Lycoming replacing the 105 hp Hirth that used to sit up front, taking up space.
The BU-131 Jungmann, was, as most folks know, originally a primary trainer for the Luftwaffe. A dainty, light machine, it weighed only 1450 pounds gross with lots of wing area, so it performed admirably on the 105 horses it was born with. It was such a good little trainer that Czechoslovakia, Switzerland and Spain all built the airplane under license, the Spanish building them as late as the mid Sixties. In the Spanish-built CASA Jungmanns they went as high as 145 horses and quite a number of these have been brought into the U.S. to be restored and sold to buffs.
The Jungmann is not a simple airplane, at least not by 1930s, U.S. biplane standards. The fuselage is the typical Bucker structure with a lot of small tubes rather than a few larger ones, which keeps the weight down and the building time up. The dozens of fittings in the wings and flying wire attach points are twice as complicated as any used on contemporary U.S. bipes. Even the tailwheel is overly complicated, and it is mounted on an oleo strut that is up inside the fuselage and incorporates the ability to be either full steering or full swivel.
A pretty fair number of Jungmanns have been converted to flat engines in an effort to get away from the maintenance problems of a 40-yearold European engine. Also, just about any Lycoming is going to increase the performance by a bunch. However, since the original engine was a four cylinder, inverted in-line job, cowling the flat engine gets to be a major problem. Aesthetically, many a conversion has a cowling that would look better on a duck, or some other bird born with a flat beak. This problem is caused by the extremely narrow firewall and the lower thrustline required with the higher horse engines. Moser solved both problems by completely reconfiguring the forward part of the airplane. He reshaped the firewall and installed all new sheet metal from the cockpit forward. In the process, he eliminated the front cockpit and moved the rear hole four inches aft, which did away with the need for the lead weight such a conversion usually demands be added to the tail. Purists are probably doing double back flips because of the extreme changes he has made in the airplane. But even the purists have to admit that, if you're going to go with a flat means of locomotion in a Jungmann, Moser's is by far the prettiest conversion of its type around. In point of fact, only the tail gives it away as being a Bucker.
As with many other Jungmann builders, Moser chose to widen the gear a couple of inches by making the spreader bars in the middle a little longer. Normally, a Jungmann is a little pigeon-toed, the wheels point toward each other when the oleos are extended, which causes the tires to scrub off rubber on touch down. That was fine on Luftwaffe Jungmanns that almost never saw pavement, but most modern day Buckers aren't that fortunate. Also, the wider gear makes the airplane noticeably easier to handle on roll out.
It's really quite revealing if you stop to think about comparing the Jungmann against a Stearman, our primary trainer of the same vintage. The comparison says something about the way we Americans tend to approach any problem. On one hand is the Jungmann, typically European ... light and quick with finely balanced controls and careful, subtle lines. It is an airplane that was a superb performer on minimal horsepower and energy output. On the other hand is the PT-17 Stearman. A 220-horse moose with the soul of a turkey and the grace to match. Believe me, I'm not anti-American nor pro-German/ European, but it seems like every time we do something the others have tried, we wind up using a sledgehammer approach while they do the same thing with a two-ounce ball peen. A Mustang parked next to a Messerschmitt is huge by comparison. A Corsair makes a Spitfire look like a sparrowhawk. Our machines are always robust and tough, willing and able to absorb as much punishment as they give. However, we've always won, so there must be something to say for good old robust, tractor-like machines. You even might say that Moser's Jungmann is the best of both worlds, a neat little European machine with an American sledgehammer in the nose.
To board a Jungmann you have to open a little door on both sides of the cockpit, which makes the opening three times as easy to get into. All European biplanes use the same device, but we somehow never got around to it. Of course, upon sliding down into Moser machine, I discovered quickly why they needed the doors. The fuselage is much narrower than we're used to, and it wouldn't have been practical to have made the opening big enough to crawl through because it would have had to be as wide as the fuselage to enable you to get your butt through.
Other than a plethora of tiny tubes running every which way, there isn't really too much about a Jungmann's cockpit that sets it apart from any other little bipe. The only unusual control is a little lever projecting from the fuselage on the left end of the instrument panel. It locks the tailwheel into either a steerable mode or lets it free swivel for maneuvering on a tight ramp.
Taxiing out across St. Augustine's expanse of ramp and taxiways, I made a special effort to feel the airplane out in "S" turns, which were also needed to see around the nose. The combination of the tailwheel and brakes made the airplane extremely predictable. It was a simple matter of nudging the airplane in the direction I wanted to go.
I reached the runway and automatically nosed into the wind and ran the power up for a mag check. That was when I noticed how smooth the engine felt. One of my lasting impressions of the flight is that it felt as if there was an electric motor on the other end of the throttle, rather than a teeth-rattling Lycoming four-banger.
As I swung onto the centerline, I remember thinking to myself, "This thing really seems to fit." The airplane felt good, just plain good, like all the pieces of the airplane were in the right place. I brought the power up slowly, so I wouldn't hand myself any surprises, and felt the electric motor up front dragging me faster and faster ahead. I eased the tailwheel off and held it just clear of the pavement, enjoying the blast of cool air as the speed built up. The airplane got right down to it and straight as a die tracked down the centerline and into the air. It was very businesslike, very Teutonic in the way it handled the entire thing. It didn't prolong the exhilaration and spend an inordinate amount of time rocketing down the runway and scaring the socks off you like a Pitts. By the same token, it didn't roll forward and, like a Tiger Moth, puff itself up with lift to float upwards like a whiffleball in a high wind. It went straight ahead, did what had to be done and gave me complete control over the entire thing. No muss, no fuss.
The controls are typically German, almost Porsche in their feel. No wasted motion, no excess energy needed. As one of my friends says about formation flying, "If you don't want to be over there, don't go over there. . .", and the Jungmann is the embodiment of the saying. It was evident on climbout that it would do exactly what I asked of it, nothing more, nothing less. It would make me look good, if I was good; if I was mediocre, it would make me look that way. It had no pretenses about the way it flew.
The double sweep to the wings help give the airplane snap rolling abilities that are shared by few other biplanes.
Immediately after climbing out, I looked around for my friend Don Henry in his 180 hp Stampe. "I'm at your six o'clock," he radioed, and I twisted around to see him behind me and gaining fast. I let him coast by and moved my hands, asking the Jungmann to move up into formation with him. And the airplane obeyed. When I was joining up on Don, I suddenly noticed all the wires running around in the cabane struts of the Bucker. Rather than having a couple of all-tubing "N" struts, all of the diagonals are streamlined wires, which means there has to be an "X" pattern between each set of tubes to make it rigid. It was like looking through a basketball net at the other airplane.
At altitude, I swung off from Don with the intent of feeling the airplane out. I pulled the nose up slightly and whipped the wings up into the four points of a hesitation roll, which the airplane seemed destined for from the beginning. I didn't have to fight the airplane to make it find the first point, it acted as if it had done it so much for Moser that it sort of fell into the routine naturally. My feet and hands followed the tempo set by the exquisitely responsive ailerons, and I had to grin a little each time it banged into a halt on the points.
Then it was up and over, as I pulled the nose up into the beginning of a loop. As the nose came past vertical about thirty degrees, I gently brought the stick back and into the corner, kicking right rudder as I did. Obediently the airplane started to snap, but it was obvious that it didn't like what I had asked it to do, a snap on the top of a loop. It wallowed around and got me around, sort of, but it let me know in no uncertain terms that the next time I'd better use a little more speed and G. So, I added five mph, and a bit more pull and this time it popped around on the top, squeaking into a halt with the wings and the nose exactly where they were supposed to be on the backside of the loop.
Coming out of the loop, I kept the nose down and let the speed build up to around 180 mph, then I tweaked the stick, bringing the nose level with the horizon. Wham, I forced it over onto its back and pushed up away from the ground, watching the blue sky suddenly fill everything in front of me as I pushed the nose up and up. Looking out toward the wing tips, I wasn't even aware of the negative Gs trying to throw me out of the cockpit. It didn't dawn on me that there were many unnatural pressures on me at that second, pressures that man wasn't meant to endure. The only thing that filled my mind was the sight of that wing tip and the finely delineated distant horizon. I wanted to bring that airplane over the top of the outside push-up and have it be dead level on the track. But the feeling in my right hand told me that the airplane was going soft, that the strong, supple forces of lift were dying away because I hadn't conserved enough speed for that last critical part of the arc. If I had pushed a little harder, had a little more speed . . . but I didn't and the airplane began to falter, dropping a wing off to one side, then sliding backwards toward earth. It transitioned quickly from a beautiful aerodynamic object to a strangely shaped, but purely dynamic unit, that responded only to gravity, and aerodynamics no longer existed. Aerodynamics were gone because the speed was gone.
I let the airplane fall for a brief second until the nose was once again pointed down and the lift-giving speed returned control to me once again. I let it dive, once again bringing the speed up to 180 mph and rolling inverted. This time, however, I pushed a little harder initially, getting the nose up while the momentum and the lift were at their greatest. It literally soared upwards until it once again told me that it was going to need a little help to scramble over the top. Gently I began to ease off the "G", sensing the traction the wings had in the air the same way you sense traction when walking on ice. The slightest wrong move would upset the tender balance. I ever-sogently played the nose, giving it just enough "G" to keep it moving but not enough to stall it. Then, suddenly, there was the horizon again over the nose, and we were level. The airplane and I had done it. We had combined forces, for a few seconds let our souls pull together, to do something in which the balance of success and failure was too gossamer as to be more emotional than tangible. They were very good seconds.
In my Pitts, such a maneuver is a simple matter of pushing the nose up and following it around. But the Pitts and its symmetrical wings are designed especially for outside maneuvers. Not so the flat-bottomed slabs of the Jungmann. The Jungmann will let you do credible outside maneuvers only because it is so lightly loaded and has so much wing that it will get you around almost on flat plate area and power. It's not super, but it does get you around.
Snap rolls in a Bucker, be it either Jungmann or the single place Jungmeister, are brain-rattling experiences which should be a part of every airman's past. Although the Jungmeister is the absolute master of the snap roll, breaking out of level flight quickly and cleanly and stopping upon command, the Jungmann is only a gnat's whisker behind. A firm tug back and into a corner while planting one foot on the firewall rewards you with a corkscrew view of the world around you. It doesn't break quite as cleanly as the Jungmeister and it takes more technique to get instantaneous stops, but the Jungmann's snaps still place it in the top percentile of aerobatic ships around the world.
Of course, if it's a biplane and it's nor a Pitts or a Christen Eagle, long vertical lines and easy vertical rolls are not part of its repertoire. Moser says he can coax a single vertical roll out of the Jungmann and I was getting a half roll with absolutely no problem, but the vertical up line is not the domain of biplanes such as the Bucker. There are just too many wires and struts hanging out in the wind, and there aren't enough ponies under the hood to cancel out all that drag.
Ah, but the grace with which the Jungmann frolics. It is a true free spirit, and if you ignore the "k" factors of the maneuvers and forget competition lines, it can be one of the most enjoyable airplanes alive. And it is alive. It is a true sports machine that enables you to connect your mind to your hands and your hands to flight. It goes exactly, I mean exactly, where you ask it to go. The precision of its flight path is limited only by the precision of the hand on the stick. It is a true translator of aerial ideas, the mark of a thoroughbred machine.
It was with some disappointment that I noticed time and the fuel supply were working against me, so I rolled over into one final split S, parlaying the speed for a Cuban eight with four-point recoveries and a couple of eight point rolls. Then it was back to the barn.
I had come to know the Jungmann extremely well, considering the short amount of time that we had spent together. We were "sympatico", as the Latins say, friends who have mingled a little of each other's soul together in a common emotion, flight. I know my friend wasn't going to do anything on landing except what I asked it to do so, as I turned on to a short final, I wasn't the slightest bit worried. Something I haven't been able to say often on first flights.
I've produced over 300 national covers but flying with Jim Moser and the other guys at St. Augustine not only made my work easier, but produced some of the best stuff I've ever shot.
friend and I singled out a piece of grass about 1,500 feet long beside one of
St. Augustine's huge runways and gently worked our way towards it. We had selected
the grass because the harsh reality of pavement was no way to end such a golden
relationship. As the grass drew closer, I brought the nose up, searching carefully
for the threepoint attitude I had seen while taxiing. Hold it off, hold it!
Then, the airplane let my hand know that it was starting to settle a little
faster than I wanted it to. I blipped the throttle to soften the last few inches
of descent and at the same instant the landing gear touched the ground. The
airplane, doing only what I had asked it to do, obediently hopped off the ground
for a brief second, then settled back down once more. Had I not touched the
throttle, the landing would have been a caress, rather than a touchdown. Even
so, rollout was an almost imperceptible period where the airplane rolled straight
ahead for about 100 feet and stopped, with no help from me.
I gave Jim Moser back his airplane. But I didn't want to. The Jungmann represents something that I'm giving more and more thought towards . . . an airplane that satisfies your soul and emotion but doesn't demand blood from you on every landing. As much as I thrive on the challenge of my Pitts, there are times when I wish the airplane were more civilized, more graceful, rather than being the aerial hot rod that it is.
Moser made one comment as I left that will stick with me for a while. He said, "I could build you a Jungmann just like it, either single hole or two hole, and the price is right." Who knows, I may drop him a note with a check attached, one of these days.