Did Pete Bowers Legitimately Win the 1962 EAA
The aircraft would essentially be EAA's first "standard"
design; one of the conditions of the contest would be that
the plans would be published in EAA's "Experimenter"
magazine. The designs would be judged at the EAA's
annual convention at Rockford in 1960.
The rules actually evolved, over the next several years. This summarizes the rules, and the changes.
Pete had a concept for his jazzy runabout, which he had given the name of one of his successful models of the 1930s: "Fly Baby." It didn't fit the ease of construction requirement of the contest, and its higher performance level would probably make it a bit tougher to fly, too.
Pete designed a second airplane for the contest.
Based on the well-proven aerodynamic layout of the Story
Special, the Fly Baby II was a much simpler version of the
original Fly Baby. A partner stepped forward to
build the contest airplane while Pete built his
high-performance design, but the partner was transferred
soon after beginning construction. Pete bought the
components to finish it for the contest.
The result was the familiar configuration, low wing, open
cockpit, familiar wing and tail shape, A65 engine, and
rigid landing gear.
Since the Fly Baby only had a few hours, Pete
towed it to the 1960 contest. The EAA was
having trouble lining up contestants, and had
reduced the required flight hours to just
As it turned out, there was only one other
contestant there...and HE didn't have 25 hours,
either (Neal Loving's Pusher). The EAA
pushed back the judging, giving contestants
another two years.
The Fly-In coverage in Sport Aviation magazine
that year didn't get the plane quite right:
They called it a "Story Bowers Folding
Wing." Pete had a lot of history in the Story, but of
course, other than the general configuration, the
two designs didn't share any specific features.
Here's another bit of trivia: At the 1960 convention, they apparently applied registration numbers to the vertical stabilizers of homebuilt aircraft attending. Looking at the original EAA coverage of the convention, you can see the numbers on the tails of most of the airplanes pictured. N13P picked up "E2":
In the interim, Pete and his friends kept flying
the airplane. He let just about anybody with
a license fly it.
He came up with several issues. The plane
was a bit nose-heavy, and the pitch
stability. And, of course, the fuel tank
needed a deeper sump.
Not long after his return from Rockford in 1960,
Pete got a letter from the FAA. FAA's policy
was to assign short N-Numbers (such as N13P) to
aircraft that could not fit a a12-inch N-number of
the conventional 3+ digits and a letter
format. The FAA demanded that either Pete
provide a signed affidavit that his plane was too
small for a normal number, or get a new
Pete fought this, but eventually lost. He
decided to request N500F. The "500"
represented his guess as to the number of plans he
might eventually sell (the actual number was in
excess of 5,000) and the "F" for "Folio," the
duplication process he was going to use on the
plans to avoid the scaling errors that occur in
most copying methods.
Pete never did re-paint N13P with the new
N-number...because it crashed on April 1962.
Pete had lent the plane to a friend for a
cross-country, and he'd run it out of gas and
crashed it in the mountains. It was pretty
There's a fundamental question here: Is N500F the same airplane as N13P?
On the surface, that shouldn't be
important. N500F was the airplane evaluated
at Rockford 1962; it won the contest on its
merits. According to the judges, it was the
best of the contestants.
But... were the rules followed? Remember
the rule that required all entries had at least 50
hours of flight time (later reduced to 25)?
N500F didn't have 25 hours of flight time.
The only way it could be considered to qualify is
if was the same airplane as N13P.
Well, let's look at
what was necessary:
According to Pete, the FAA determined that N500F
*was* just a repaired N13P: "A big break
came from FAA, which ruled that the repair,
actually about 60 percent new airplane when you
count the engine, mount, and tank, was just that
and that the lengthened fuselage was not
considered a major alteration that had to be
proved out by a long flight test program."
So according to the FAA, it was the same
I presume Pete had this in writing, to present to
the judges at Rockford and forestall exactly this
kind of question.
One thing in his favor, I think, is that Pete
didn't try to hide what had happened. Most
of the information I've written about is in the
very first Fly Baby article he wrote for Sport
Aviation magazine. It was published in
December 1962. I think if all the facts had
been a surprise to the other contestants, they
would have raised Cain about it.
In the article, Pete mentions that he'd had to
take a business trip during the rebuild...and
spent a couple of days with Neal Loving, one of
his competitors. Since the crunched N13P was
already in the middle of its metamorphosis to
N500F, I don't think Pete would have avoided
talking about it to Mr. Loving.
I believe Pete was completely on the up-and-up about his problems. The FAA letter would have backed him up sufficiently. However, one has to kind of wonder. Pete had an existing relationship with the Seattle FAA guys. It's certainly possible they did him a favor.
Right now, it sounds to me like the contest
judges could have gone either way. There's
another factor that might have affected their
The major goal of the contest was to establish an
easy-to-build homebuilt design, with the
construction process well documented.
It's quite possible that Pete was, far and away,
the best qualified to write a series of articles
on building an airplane. That was probably a
major factor in letting the Fly Baby remain as a
competitor, and, of course, in the eventual
victory of the Fly Baby.
(I'm indebted to John Smutny and Ruth Weston for the great
pictures of N13P).