Wacky Wings: 10 Unusual Planes You Could Fly With an RPC

Last edited: 28 October 2021, 5:18pm

Inside almost every pilot is the child that dreams of the sky. Looking up to those canyons of clouds and wondering how it would feel to wander gossamer mountains. Perhaps there was the odd Superman fan, wanting to fly up there all alone, no visible means of support, or in the most minimal of craft. As a surfer in another life, I often sit gazing up and wonder how the crew in the water would feel if someone (me) came blasting out of the sky in a wingsuit, skimming to a soft landing on the face of a giant wave.

Out there, the aeronautical dreamers that conceive and design aircraft have, for 100 years or more, explored the endless variations of airframe designs that allow controlled flight. Today we look at ten of the most interesting aircraft you can fly, in most instances, with a Recreational Pilot Certificate.


Rutan VariEze

Rutan Varieze

Designed by quite possibly the most prolific and innovative aircraft designer of all time, Burt Rutan’s VariEze (Very Easy) is a spin-resistant, stall-resistant, long-range cruiser and is equipped with a Continental O-200-B engine with a pusher propeller at the rear. Its maximum speed was 314 km/h with a range of 1370km from of 91L of fuel. If you research Burt’s history you’ll uncover a catalogue of free-thinking genius that has the common denominator (in my view) of greatness in design. They are beautiful - and throw convention to the winds. Explore a little of his astonishing legacy at www.scaled.com



Goodyear Inflatoplane

Goodyear Inflatoplane

A product of the inventiveness of the 50s, the Goodyear Inflatoplane was conceived as a rescue aircraft, held in a hardened pod to be dropped behind enemy lines for stranded soldiers. It need only be inflated to 8 psi to be flyable, and because it was under a continuous positive inflation pressure it could withstand up to six .30 calibre bullet holes while remaining airworthy.

Its range was a surprising 630km from 20 litres of fuel, from a 30kw Nelson two-stroke engine that was a pull start from the cockpit. There’s a certain hilarity to that image, sort of like flying a blow-up lawnmower. Nonetheless it was under construction and development from 1956 to 1973 before the program was abandoned.  The Inflatoplane never saw actual military service though two military models were designed.



Airkraft Sunny

Airkraft Sunny

The Airkraft Sunny, designed by Deiter Schulz is, in many ways, a fairly typical ultralight. Where it takes a turn towards the unusual is in its closed wing design. The “box wing” connects a swept upper wing with a straight lower wing, theoretically reducing drag and improving efficiency.

There are arguments running both ways on the theory, but it does have structural advantages over the more traditional cantilevered wing designs. You’ll find many examples of closed wing construction through the ages, but the idea never truly found its place in the mainstream.

That being said, the theory of using a closed wing to combat wingtip vortices and the subsequent induced drag is currently being tested to improve the efficiency of commercial airliners. The spiroid winglet developed by Aviation Partners is one such example.




Rowe UFO

Rowe UFO

We had to get an Australian on this list, and David Rowe is the perfect option. The Rowe UFO (Useless Flying Object – his description, not mine!) has gone through a few design phases over the years but it’s always lived up to its namesake.

This single-seat flying saucer was first conceived by Rowe in the late 90s who went on to build a model and then a full-scale aircraft, powered by a Rotax 503 engine. Two more designs were to follow, all RAAus certified and proven to be surprisingly easy to handle. The UFO Mk. III boasted a pull-start engine inside the cockpit, two small cargo compartments and an eye-catching Wildfire Red paintjob. Only the three UFO prototypes are in existence, but if you were to get your hands on it, you could be turning some heads at your next fly-in.



Verhees D2

Verhees D2

Designed as a comfortable and efficient traveller, this odd shaped little aircraft actually boasts some big advantages. With a payload (325kg) greater than the empty weight of the aircraft (275kg) and a whopping 1800km range - astonishingly extendable, with some adjustment, to 4000km -Belgian makers Verhees Engineering may just be onto something that conventional manufacturers are missing.

Strangely enough, the D2 could also technically function as a makeshift caravan. A cabin width of 146.05cm, an even floor and folding seats mean the D2 is designed to be camped in when travelling, while folding wings make this already tiny plane easily transportable on the road. On a trailer it resembles a large, very elegant example of origami.



Barber Snark

Barber Snark

This interesting little plane was designed and built across the ditch by Kiwi Bill Barber. Designed for high-performance, the Snark (from the Lewis Carroll poem The Hunting of the Snark, an Agony in Eight Fits) features a slim, glider-like tandem cockpit that sits in front of the 80hp Suzuki G13 engine, powering a pusher propeller at the rear. Another quirky point is the extremely thin boom that reaches back past the propeller and holds the T-tail empennage in place.

Minimising the wetted area of the aircraft has allowed the Snark to perform surprisingly well, given its 80hp engine. Reportedly able to cruise at over 110kts, this strange design might just be the perfect pick for performance-driven aviators, that’s if you can get your hands on one of the five in existence. It’s also, according to multiple highly qualified pilots, one of the most pleasureable aircraft you can fly.



Nemeth Parasol

Nemeth Parasol

Built in 1934, the circular-winged Nemeth Parasol might just be every STOL (Short Take-Off and Landing) enthusiasts’ dream. Built by students from Miami University from the designs of Steven P. Nemeth, the Parasol may look strange, but its performance is nothing to laugh at.

Dubbed the “Backyard Flyer”, the Parasol was said to “land and take off within a 50-foot circle” according to an article in the June 1934 edition of Popular Aviation (now Flying). Sporting a 125hp Warner engine, the Parasol had a top speed of 135mph (117kts) and was able to safely land at a speed of just 20mph (17kts).

During the test flight, Nemeth stalled the aircraft mid-air and demonstrated the 4.8m diameter circular wing’s ability to bring the aircraft down “almost vertically”, earning the Parasol another nickname: the “Parachute Plane”. Despite its exceptional flight characteristics – especially for its time – the Parasol’s grand success in the market never materialised. Only a single prototype (and a few replicas) were ever produced and the idea of a circular-winged aircraft seems to have fallen by the wayside.



Rutan Quickie

Rutan Quickie

We’re sorry, but we couldn’t get through this list without coming back to the designs of Burt Rutan. The Quickie, a tandem wing taildragger, was Rutan’s answer to what a low-cost, single seat aircraft should look like.

Sporting an anhedral forward wing and a slightly larger dihedral rear wing, the Quickie flies on a mere 18hp engine, designed to keep costs low and provide “more flying enjoyment for less money”. The landing gear is also unusual; a taildragger configuration with the front wheels located at the tips of the forward wing.

This sleek design won the Outstanding New Design Award at the 1978 Experimental Aircraft Association’s EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in Wisconsin. Offered as a kit build, the QAC Quickie Q2 (a direct descendant of the original) is one of the easier (because there are more available) aircraft on this list to get your hands on.



Mignet “Flying Flea”

Mignet "Flying Flea

In the late 20s and early 30s, Frenchman Henri Mignet was determined to create an aircraft that could be easily built and piloted by anyone. At the time, Ford Model Ts were so widespread that they were known as Pou de la Route (or “Louse of the Road”), and so Mignet went about creating his own “Model T of the air”.

The result? The wonderfully strange “Flying Flea”. First flown in 1933, this tandem wing (or “staggered biplane” if you prefer) aircraft could be built by any amateur with basic experience with woodwork and metalwork. Constructed primarily from plywood, steel tubing and linen, the Flying Flea proved to be a hit, spawning many clones over the years. It had a spotty safety record however, and by the end of The Second World War it was effectively out of the air.



Stits SA-2A Sky Baby

Stits SA-2A

Looking at the Stits SA-2A Sky Baby, it’s hard to believe that it ever actually flew. Designed by Bob Stits and built with Bob Starr specifically to take the title of “world’s smallest aircraft”, the Sky Baby has a wingspan of just 2.18m, shorter than the plane’s length (3.00m). Powered by 112hp Continental C85 engine, the Sky Baby was capable of speeds up to 220mph (190kts) and cruised at around 165mph (143kts).

While technically fitting all the requirements of an RAAus approved aircraft, if you want to fly this thing you’ll likely have to do some training. The Sky Baby requires a pilot of exactly 77kg to remain within the centre of gravity in order to fly. No wonder it clocked only 25 hours before retirement.

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