There doesn’t seem to be a great number of Stits Flut-R-Bugs flitting about the skies today, but one did join the field of flying machines this past Labor Day at the Antique Airplane Association fly-in at Blakesburg, Iowa.
At age 85, owner/builder John Banes of Fairfax, Iowa, no longer flies, so his private pilot/homebuilder son, “JR” Banes of Toddville, Iowa, was flying the Flut-R-Bug. Father and son were both wiping dew from the Flut-R-Bug’s wings one morning, and shared a little bit about N5479Y.
“It was an attractive design to me,” says John, a longstanding member of AAA and East Central Iowa’s EAA Chapter 33, “and it looked inexpensive to build. There were a few of them flying a long time ago, and there was one within 50 miles of us. I saw that one before I started working on mine. It took me about a year in my spare time to finish the airplane, and I got it licensed in August 1997.”
Bit of History
Ray Stits of Riverside, California, designed and built many small airplanes after World War II, including the Playboy, Playmate, and Sky-Coupe. In 1955, he designed the Flut-R-Bug.
It was originally a single-place, mid-wing, nosewheel airplane and several variants followed. The first Flut-R-Bug was the Model SA-5A, followed by the SA-5B. Stits also designed tandem versions (SA-6A and SA-6B) and then the two-place, side-by-side SA-6C. The Flut-R-Bug was typically powered by either a small Continental or Lycoming engine.
While some Flut-R-Bugs were purely plans built, like John’s, there was also a kit version. A brochure advertising the new two-place version described a “pre-fabricated aircraft construction kit” with all welding completed, and listed features including longer range, a roomier cockpit, larger tail assembly, cleaner lines, and readily detachable wings for convenient storage at home.
A Stits Aircraft company ad from January 1960 touted the Flut-R-Bug’s virtues: “Build and Fly Your Own High Performance Sport Plane — Beat the high cost of flying. Join the hundreds of other ‘Homebuilders.’ … Two place Flut-R-Bug, tandem, mid-wing, trigear. Very short takeoff and landing, high altitude fields. Wings easily removed for towing.”
Various mods have been made to Flut-R-Bugs through the years. Some Flut-R-Bugs are open cockpit, others have a canopy enclosure.
Some have a fully enclosed cowl, and others simply utilize Cub-style eyebrows over the exposed cylinders. And there was at least one conversion of the airframe from a nosewheel to a tailwheel configuration.
Buiding the ‘Bug
John adopted a hands-on approach to aviation years ago, and was well-acquainted with aircraft restoration by the time he started working on his Flut-R-Bug.
Though he earned his commercial pilot certificate early on, he smiles and elaborates, “I always flew just for the enjoyment of it, and I had maybe 1,200 hours flying time when I started the Flut-R-Bug. I rebuilt several airplanes, including a Tri-Pacer, Clipper, J-2 Cub, and a Gullwing Stinson. It was fun. I’d rebuild one and fly it a while, then I’d sell it and get another one started in my spare time — I held a fulltime job during those years.”
John’s Flut-R-Bug was built from plans. The airplane project was initially started by “the late Fritz Davis, a well-known homebuilder from the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area, though he never finished it,” recalls Brent Taylor, Antique Airplane Association President, adding, “it was stored here at Antique Airfield for several years.”
“I bought it from Bob Taylor at Antique Airfield, and I suppose I had around $1,000 in materials needed to finish the airframe back in 1997. It was cheap and easy to work on; the plans were really pretty straightforward,” recalls John, “but I didn’t like the appearance of the nose, so I changed that and gave it a nice, rounded nose similar to a J-3 Cub, with the exposed cylinders.”
“I covered the airframe using Ceconite and Poly-Fiber coatings,” he continued. “The fuselage and tailfeathers are built of steel tubing, and the wings are built of wood spars and ribs with aluminum leading edges. The windshield is curved and the canopy enclosure consists of an aluminum framework with plastic panels that are slightly curved at the top of the canopy, while the sides are straight.”
He installed a 65-hp Continental engine (hand prop to start) and a ground-adjustable Warp Drive propeller on N5479Y.
An 11-gallon fuel tank is located just forward of the firewall, which gives him more than a two-hour range. The panel has basic instruments, including a turn and bank, airspeed, altimeter, tachometer, cylinder head temp, oil temp, and oil pressure gauges.
John’s Flut-R-Bug (Model SA-6B, s/n P2060) is obviously short coupled, with a 24-foot wingspan and about an 18-foot fuselage. The wings can easily be removed for storage. Bungees are installed between the top of the main gear legs and the belly of the fuselage, which provide some cushioning effect for ground operations.
John installed aluminum wheels with hydraulic brakes and 600×4 tires. N5479Y weighs 600 pounds empty, and has a gross weight of 1,125 pounds.
Flying the ’Bug
John has logged a little more than 200 hours in his Flut-R-Bug, and says, “after mine was finished, it was flying; most of them end up being parked in the garage or under the wing of another airplane. My son has flown it quite a bit, and some of our friends have flown it. Basically, if you’ve flown a lighter, slower type of airplane, it’s really no problem to fly this one — just don’t land on the nosewheel!”
He recalls that he was pleasantly surprised on his first Flut-R-Bug flight: “It got off the ground faster than I thought it would. It doesn’t take much runway and it was extremely easy to fly!”
“My cruise speed was around 90 mph and the response on the controls was quite good,” he continued. “It has a rudder bar instead of rudder pedals, and the airplane is very light on the controls. It has full span ailerons which are strictly push-tube operated and the rudder and elevators are cable controlled.”
According to John, it climbs around 60 mph and lands a little under 40 mph and, with the tricycle gear, it feels comfortable in a crosswind.
The tail is similar to a Cub where the leading edge of the horizontal stabilizer moves up and down for trim.
“There is also a mechanical adjustment for the ailerons, so if you landed in a very short field, you could adjust them to become flaperons and provide more lift,” he said. “But that change has to be done on the ground, not in flight.”
Besides being an automatic “conversation starter,” another nice feature about this homebuilt is that it’s eligible to be flown by a sport pilot.
Succinctly summing it up, John pleasantly shares “it’s just a nice, easy plane to fly, that’s for sure!”