A quick history of Steen Aero Lab and the Skybolt.
Steen Aero Labs
In 1968, Lamar Steen wanted to design an easy to build,
high-performance two-place aerobatic biplane that larger
pilots could easily fit into. The resulting design is the
Lamar was a shop teacher in Denver, Colorado. In August
of 1969, his class began construction, and in October of
the following year the prototype flew for the first time,
Total cost of the first Skybolt was $5000, including the
180 hp engine.
Cruise with the 180 hp engine was 130 mph, with a stall
speed of 55 mph.
Lamar began taking it to all the airshows. It was so popular
that he began to sell plans and some of the parts.
Along comes Hale Wallace, a Skybolt builder, with an attention
to detail matched by no one. The two became close friends.
In the early 90's, Hale retired and decided that he would
buy Steen Aero Lab and begin selling plans and producing
parts out of his home base in North Carolina.
By the way... that's Hal Wallace and his Skybolt pictured
above. He's the guy that got everyone charged up again about
building Skybolts. Sad to say... he's no longer with his.
Hale had kept Steen Aero as a small business. During the
later part of the 1990's two fellas, Paul Goetsch and Jere
Larson got to know Hale through their interest in purchasing
Jere got to know Hale pretty well during this period. (Jere
and Paul were begining to develop CAD/CAM and CNC use for
producing aircraft parts.) Both Jere and Paul would eventually
purchase Steen Aero Labs and move the business down to Palm
Bay, FL, where it is today.
These guys have done a lot with updating the design along
with several other aircraft that they now own the rights
to; Pitts S1-C. Pitts Model 14, Knight's Twister, and the
experimental version of the beautiful Great Lakes biplane.
Being a little biased, I'd have to say
that the Skybolt is the best all around aerobatic biplane
Unlike most homebuilt biplanes, the Skybolt
has plenty of room for the pilot and passenger, giving you
a comfortable ride as you search for that perfect $100.00
hamburger. (With the price of gas now-a-days its looking
more like a $200.00 hamburger.) With the right engine, both
the Standard and Radial Skybolt will cruise along at almost
180 mph at 75% power. Not bad for all that drag out in the
Sitting in the Skybolt is like sitting
in any other biplane as far as sighting goes. It's bat-blind
forward. It just takes a little getting use to. It's well
worth the temporary blind spot out front. And... what are
you doing on the ground anyways... it's a biplane for God's
sake. If you're sitting in it for that long of time you
need to move it out of JFK and put it on a little grass
strip where the only other plane in the pattern is a Taylorcraft,
Waco or ...
Once in the air it's a great flying machine.
She's able to do extreme aerobatics, and unlike a Pitts,
she's easy to land. None of that squirrely-narrow-gear-hot-landing-stuff
of the Pitts. Although.. when doing a bit of aerobatic training
with Bill Finnigan I landed the S2C on the grass between
the runway and the taxi way, no more than 30 feet wide,
and, although exciting, it was fun to do. Not to go down
a tangent, but, the Pitts, Skybolt and any other highly
sensitive airplane, does EXACTLY what YOU tell it to do.
If ya don't know what you're doing or what to tell it to
do... well, you're in a heap of sh*t my good man.
Unlike many of the homebuilt biplanes out
there, it has two seats so that you can enjoy the ride with
a friend. It's also wide/large enough for you to have a
little wiggle room for comfort on those longer cross-country
flights. Another tangent here... it doesn't really matter
what "ergonomic" discomforts you need to sustain when flying
your plane. You like it for what it is and you live with
this “compromise” if you want to call it that.
Sorta like the Taylorcraft I had. You'd read articles that
mention how the top of the window was inline with your line
of sight and how much of a pain in the ass it was flying
with it like this (all of the negatives you'll read about
a plane are mostly by some columnist writing about the plane,
not the guy or gal who has fallen in love with the plane
for all it's good and "bad" qualities.) I flew with it for
12 years and never thought about it twice. It was what it
was and I worked around it. There were TOO many great things
about the T-craft that this one slight "flaw" was nothing
to be noted.
Anyways... the 'bolt is slightly larger in the seating area
than most homebuilt biplanes. I guess it's nicer for longer
flights but I'm not up in the air for comfort. I'm up there
'cause I enjoy flying. With that said... I'm told the added
"comfort" is nice when flying from point A to point B. Nuff
As of this date (12/8/06) there are approx
650 Skybolts flying world-wide. And a lot more are under
construction. It's been around for awhile and as you see,
many examples are flying.
It was originally designed to take engines
from 180 to 260 hp. The "R" model was specifically designed
for the Russian Vendeneyev M-14P of 360 and M-14PF of 400
hp. Hang one of these engines on the front of her and she's
climbs like a home sick angel.
BREAKING NEWS Dec 13, 2006 (for me at least) The
3-piece Upper Wing is now drawn up in CAD with all fittings
etc in detail. JUST ordered the newer updated drawings.
Another variant is the "D" model. The supplemental
drawings for the "Delta" Skybolt has the 3-piece wing (which
also comes with the "R" model supplemental drawings)
Building the Skybolt is much easier with
Aero alive and active and all the knowledge that you
gleen from the guys on the Biplane
Forum. Some of the plans built aircraft have a small
following, and, unless you know quite a bit more, than nothing,
about building airplanes it's going to be a LARGE learning
curve you'll need to climb to get it built. Being a member
of the local EAA Chapter would come in mighty fine in this
case, a must in fact.