Corkey Fornof: Flying with Fury

“I’ve known your name forever,” I told Corkey Fornof, star attraction of the “First Saturday” breakfast last month at LoPresti Speed Merchants in Sebastian, Florida. “Me too!” laughed the stunt pilot legend, showing off the long-awaited LoPresti Fury (nee SwiftFury) these days at airshows. The man is having fun. And can he fly!

Everyone’s first question is about that name. The moniker was once painted on a fighter his Dad was assigned late in World War II. Someone had named the plane “Corkey,” said to be a Samurai status indicating “a favorite son not to be compromised.” The theory was that no adversary would take on a “Corkey.”

Fittingly, few can equal Corkey Fornof’s flying, beginning with his first airshow in 1967. For starters, he flew it at the tender age of 19 and in a P-51 Mustang, schooled by his father and Bob Hoover, his dad’s pal from test pilot days.

CorkeyFornofInFuryFornof regaled the LoPresti crowd with tales of his movie stunt flying and, more recently, designing aerial stunts for 46 feature films and 1,000 TV shows. He became a 1970s household name flying for Jim Bede in the BD-5J micro-jet; he later flew it through a hangar for the 1983 James Bond thriller “Octopussy.” More recently, he flew in “Mission Impossible II” and bought seven DHC-2 Beavers to fly and wreck in “Seven Days and Six Nights” with Harrison Ford. He gets 12-14 scripts a year for possible new projects.

Concerning his kind of “hangar flying,” Fornof offered an aerodynamic earful about “pressure feedback.” When you fly through a closed space, airflow around the aircraft pushes back. Fornof found this out, “young and stupid,” flying under a modern interstate highway bridge — that box-like structure of solid, closely spaced piers with roadway deck above. Even at full power, Fornof’s Mustang surprised him with a momentary 30 mph airspeed loss!

For that Bond stunt in the jet, an older and wiser Fornof sought the counsel of an aerodynamicist who demanded all hangar dimensions, including the square footage of all (open) doors and windows. His calculated magic number: just 158 knots! Fornof felt nary a jolt blowing through at 6 feet but did sink halfway to the floor on the first of two passes.

Other BD-5J adventures included an interstate highway engine-out landing and roll-out into a gas station. Said an astonished attendant, “This IS Candid Camera, isn’t it?”

CorkeyWithFansWith Fornof flying, clearly our post-breakfast airshow would be delightful. And the sound and speed of his first diving, banking pass made it clear: the LoPresti Fury is one great airplane flown by one great pilot.

The Fury was the ultimate airplane mod conceived by Roy LoPresti, long-time Grumman and Project Apollo engineer, and aerodynamic genius behind Mooney’s 201 and so much more. Roy’s ultimate “dream plane” started as the SwiftFury more than 20 years ago in a family-run “skunk works” created for Stuart Millar’s Piper Aircraft. Inspired by the Globe Swift, today’s Fury flies with the original July 1946, data plate of a C-85-equipped G1B and not much else. Almost entirely new and larger than its inspiration, the Fury has the handling, control harmony and lines of a World War II fighter.

Fornof loves it. “It flies just like a Mustang, but without the vices.” He even looks forward to show-season cross-countries, cruising at 185 knots on 200 hp and nine to 11 gph. This sporty taildragger has the bells and whistles, too, including a forward-facing TV camera. Taxiing, no “S” turns are needed.

Sadly, none of the 560 folks who ordered Piper’s SwiftFury got one. The early-90s economy and Piper’s woes killed it. Roy’s little engineering subsidiary continued post-Piper as LoPresti Speed Merchants, offering innovative, efficient after-market products and speed mods. Today, sons Curt, David and Roy carry on in the footsteps of parents Roy and Peggy and late brother Jim, with ex-Apple exec and friend Rj Siegel as CEO.

In the LoPresti hangar now are their latest projects: A new diesel hung on a Cirrus SR-20 and new speed cowls for Cessna Cardinals. The latter is their last nose job for a while, says David LoPresti, who heads administration and marketing. Why? “They’re hard to do right.” Lately, the brothers have enjoyed success adapting their famed HID Xenon no-filament landing and taxi lights for Cessna Citation and Hawker Beechcraft jets. They’ll start equipping Gulfstreams soon.

But how ‘bout that Fury? The company plans to build five soon. A few buyers want one at any price (and will pay an average $700,000 for a custom example.) In the future, perhaps there will be a volume-production kit. For now, the company demonstrator will get some 300-400 new upgrades and tweaks this winter, including a boffo set-up for 2013 night airshows. There will even be night lighting for that famous “Yippee!” slogan painted under-wing.

I asked where all that innovative LoPresti genius comes from – so fresh from design to marketing. It’s even in their trade names: Boom Beams, KnotWax and Speed Coat, Wing Ding and Zip Tips. David was quick to credit the most original ideas to Dad, but ultimately all has been the product of the family group. “We never quit working. We sat around the dinner table talking business.” David says the LoPresti magic is this: Roy and Peggy worked extraordinarily well together and their sons all excelled in some complementary discipline to complete the team.

Those gifts keep on giving, lately highlighted by the virtuoso flying of Corkey Fornof.

“Something just told me to call Roy,” Fornof recalls about signing on with the aerodynamics visionary. “I fell in love with the airplane.”

He’ll fly 16 shows in it for 2013. And the LoPresti brothers? They’ll continue the LoPresti’s winning ways, sons of one of GA’s greats.

For more information: SpeedMods.com

 

© 2013 Drew Steketee All Rights Reserved.

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