By JIM CAVANAGH
When the speed bug hit Jim Bradshaw back in the 1980s, he was flying a Piper Twin Comanche. The Comanche is a nice, nimble, speedy airplane that motivates quite well on two smallish 160-hp Lycomings. It feels “sporty” for a mid-sized twin.
As do all “go fast” junkies, Bradshaw sat down with a pencil and paper and tried to figure out how to make his airplane go faster without having to add horsepower. He accomplished this simply and effectively by cleaning up the airframe in what looked like turbulent, draggy areas and went on to win the CAFE 400 efficiency race in his category.
The result was a place in history and a small business in Burlington, Wis., that continues to grow, mature, and invent.
Bradshaw started Knots 2U in 1980 when he was building the speed parts for his Comanche and getting them certified. All in all, he had about 20 different items, from wing root fairings to landing gear door filets that combined to smooth the airflow over and under the airplane and eliminate demon drag.
Other Comanche owners wanted to go fast too, and his success in the CAFÉ race got the phone ringing. The business began to grow into today’s successful speed mod shop, expanding over the years with mods for a number of airplanes.
In the beginning, Bradshaw was designing his parts and having them made by contract shops. His own time was spent developing a line of flap and aileron gap seals that enhanced performance dramatically. He arranged installation and some fabrication to be performed by Burlington Air Service (BAS), based in Burlington, Wis.
John Bailey was hired by BAS and was put to work solely on Bradshaw’s parts. Eventually, Bradshaw took the fabrication in-house in another building on the airport and, after having worked with Bailey, hired him as a Knots 2U guy.
When Bradshaw passed away in 1996, his company was purchased by Gary Meisner. Meisner was an aviation man, but pretty much left the company in Bailey’s hands.
Bailey added several more STCs and eventually took the company into other segments of the aviation business, making aftermarket direct replacement parts without the speed in mind. HID lighting products were added in 2002, which were awarded Product of the Year two years in a row by Aviation Consumer for their efficiency and price point.
In 2009, Bailey (pictured above) was able to purchase the company from Meisner and continued to add dozens of new products.
The company, which had always enjoyed a sterling reputation for its fiberglass work, purchased Globe Fiberglass in Lakeland, Fla., in December 2011.
Globe was started in 1985 by Ken and Karen Rickert. When Ken passed away in 1996, Karen took over the company and continued to produce parts while adding more approvals.
In an outstanding show of good faith, Karen allowed Bailey to take copies of all of the technical data back to Burlington months before the sale of the company. With the data, Knots 2U was able to complete the FAA Parts Manufacturer Approval (PMA) on all of the parts before the sale was final. This minimized the transition period and reduced lead times once everything was finalized, according to Bailey.
One of the problems that had plagued Globe was the resin it was using to build parts. It was an older, almost obsolete resin that was heavy, rigid and brittle. It was very difficult to work with and, try as she might, Rickert could not get the FAA to approve a change. Knots 2U has a very good working relationship with its local ACO, and Bailey managed to have the resin change incorporated with the new PMA.
One of the other speed bumps with this acquisition was the sheer number of parts, molds and plugs that Globe had accumulated over the years. Nothing was ever discarded; everything was saved in a container. Bailey says he is still going through the parts, sorting them out.
Of the molds delivered to Wisconsin, a number had to be rebuilt, using different tooling resins and to allow for dimensional changes. Some mold-making materials are temperature sensitive and grow or shrink with heat and humidity.
Whenever possible, Knots 2U will use a new OEM part as the start for its molds. If a new part is unavailable or the airplane is out of production, an owner can send in a bad part that is still good enough to be repaired and that is used to build a plug.
Knots 2U keeps an inventory of its most popular parts on the shelves for same day shipment, according to Bailey. Another group of parts are kept “in process,” awaiting final trim and primer. Parts in this group can usually ship within 48 hours. Less common parts are built to order, and if extensive assembly is required they may take as much as two weeks to ship.
Of the 18 people working at Knots 2U, all but three of them are involved in manufacturing, and two are dedicated to building and maintaining tooling.
The company has gone to great effort to provide customers with a one-stop shopping concept for parts and maintenance items. It has also created some unique items that, while expensive, are very popular, Bailey said.
The Aero Vent is the next best thing to air conditioning for Cessna singles. It is pricy because there are four swivel vents that are very expensive for Knots 2U to buy. Another popular item is a pair of Piper and Cessna wing tips with LED landing/taxi lights built in. They illuminate all of the area in front of the plane and consume very few amps.
Bailey and company are not forgetting Knots 2U’s roots, and later on this year, it will be introducing a website dedicated to speed. There will be chat rooms to discuss theory, areas for other mods shops to talk about their philosophies and parts, and there will be articles by guests who are aerodynamicists or racers to talk about their mods and successes. Even in the planning stages, there is a lot of buzz among pilots with the “go fast” bug.
At the same time, Bailey and company are continuing to grow and diversify. Bailey said he anticipates acquiring other companies in the future, as well as developing more speed mods and increasing the replacement parts catalog.
For more information: Knots2U.com