What could be nicer than building and flying your own Jungmeister? Why, having a buddy who’s doing the same!
That’s precisely what Hank Galpin and Jay Billmayer have been up to for more than a decade.
The two are longtime friends and hangar neighbors at Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell, Montana.
But first there were the Bücker Jungmanns. Hank has owned his Jungmann since 1977, and Jay bought his in 2002. When they were flying to Santa Paula, California, for the 2005 Bücker fly-in, they learned that the runway was washed out. So the twosome wound up in Grants Pass, Oregon, for a fly-in. That’s when the siren call of the Jungmeister stirred their souls.
“A guy came up to us and asked if we would like a set of Jungmeister plans. Of course we said ‘yes!’ We had no intention of owning a Jungmeister, but we stashed half the plans in my Jungmann and half in Jay’s, and flew home with them,” recalls Hank. “That was right about the time that Joe Krybus, the Bücker guru in Santa Paula, decided to fabricate some Jungmeister fuselages. He contacted us and we signed on, and the rest is history!”
Speaking of history
In the early 1920s, Carl Clemens Bücker, a naval aviator who had taken his flying career to Sweden from Germany, started an aircraft company called Svenska-Aero. About 10 years later, Bücker moved back to Germany and named his new aircraft company Bücker Flugzeugbau GmbH.
In 1933, Anders J. Andersson, his chief engineer, designed and built a two-seat trainer, the Bu-131 Jungmann, in less than six months. The small biplane was fully aerobatic, economical to operate, and went into production for the Luftsportverband, a civilian flying association.
In 1934, the need arose for a single-seat advanced trainer that was more aerobatic, and the Bu-133 Jungmeister was designed and went into production.
Romanian Captain Alex Papana brought his Bücker Jungmeister to the 1936 National Air Races (via the Hindenburg) in the United States, and wowed the crowds with the same aerobatic excellence he had demonstrated at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
The Jungmeister was the top aerobatic airplane in the States until Curtis Pitts came along in the early 1940s and designed his Pitts Special.
Hank and Jay built their Jungmeisters simultaneously — although Jay lollygagged a bit while spending time with his grandchildren — and finished them in 11 years and 12 years and one month, respectively.
“We did collaborate and most of the time Hank was ahead of me,” says Jay. “Sometimes if it was a complicated set up, we’d make a part or two for the other guy. On a Bücker it might take you three iterations to make a part correctly! But for the most part, we independently built two airplanes in parallel with each other.”
Fortunately, each of them had previous hands-on experience before launching into the intricate complexities of the Jungmeister building process.
“I built a Pitts Special back in the 1960s, rebuilt a Super Cub, built my own Super Cub, rebuilt two Jungmanns, and rebuilt a Travel Air 6000,” says Hank, now 72.
“I built a Christen Eagle and restored a Luscombe Observer,” shares Jay, who is 69. “But I had Hank’s guidance in this Jungmeister project, and I certainly capitalized on his wisdom and experience. I have to give Hank credit for the Poly-Fiber covering. He is an expert at covering aircraft, and mine is the fifth Bücker he’s covered.”
Hank finished his in April 2016, and he chose the Swiss yellow paint scheme because it’s highly visible. Jay made his first flight on the Fourth of July, 2017.
“I chose a silver scheme with identification markings of the JG-54 German Luftwaffe fighter wing. That’s my family crest on the tail,” shares Jay. “Our Jungmeister model is the 133C; a lot of the Cs were used by the Luftwaffe to train their fighter pilots.”
The Jungmeister plans are extremely detailed, and deciphering them wasn’t easy.
“They were in German,” explains Jay, laughing, “but they’d been translated to Czech, so that helped us a lot!”
Describing some of the other challenges, Hank explains: “These airplanes are incredibly complicated mechanically, and the wings have an 11° sweep, which complicates building the wood wings. The Jungmeister has a routed spar, and then there’s like five different styles of ribs – some are oak, but most are spruce, and the fittings are riveted on at an angle with hollow, metric rivets that you have to make.”
The two are staunch believers in authenticity, and built everything exactly to the Jungmeister plans, except for the engine installation.
“Originally it had a Siemens-Halske of about 160 hp; they’re very rare, very hard to find, very expensive, and very unreliable,” says Hank.
“And we live in the mountains,” Jay adds. “We spent more than a decade of our lives on these airplanes and we’re not going to risk it on a temperamental engine. So we installed brand new Aero Sport Power IO-360 Lycoming 180 hp engines. It’s a lighter-weight engine, so our engine mounts are a little longer to put the weight out front. Our composite Catto propeller is also lighter, and we had to accommodate for that lightness elsewhere to get the airplanes balanced.”
“We’re very happy with this Catto propeller,” Hank notes. “We get Super Cub acceleration out of the hole, yet we can cruise fast.”
The flat Lycoming engine is cleverly concealed within a Fiberglas cowling the two designed to replicate the original Jungmeister radial engine cowling.
“We had to add to the skirt of the cowl, but by holding the original diameter, the cowl fits the profile of the airplane,” says Jay. “We also developed the baffling system.”
Jay’s plane, N133BE, has the standard 25-gallon fuel tank, with a flop tube inside for aerobatic flying. N133HG, Hank’s plane, has an additional 4-gallon tank.
“My flop tube is in the sump tank below the main tank. Twenty-nine gallons gives you like three and a half hours of fuel,” says Hank.
Pause to Wonder and It Will Wander
When a pilot slides down into the Jungmeister’s cockpit, it’s like slipping a hand into a comfortable leather glove. The Jungmeister likes to be flown with tender finesse, not brute force — only fingertip pressure is needed on the control stick.
Hank explains, “The ailerons are operated by pushrods in rollers, and the aileron hinges have metric, double-row, self-aligning ball bearings. The rudder and elevators are operated mainly by cables, but the bellcranks, pushrods, and hinges all have ball bearings for the slightest rotational movement.”
The flight-control surfaces are balanced dynamically and statically, yielding harmonious and superb handling characteristics.
“It’s totally effortless flying,” elaborates Hank, “but it is like being balanced on the point of a pin! If you look down to play with your iPad, you will be off course, that I guarantee. It’s a full-time flying airplane. You can’t let go or it will wander.”
Jay reflects that in some ways, flying the Jungmeister is easier than flying the Jungmann: “Visibility is way better, and the wing is one meter shorter, so when you set this up to land, you’re going to land — it won’t float down the runway. It’s very forgiving and it would really hurt to bang one up on the ground. I would be heartbroken if that happened.”
In the Cockpit
When it comes to instrumentation, Jay readily admits that he’s “old school,” while Hank is more “whiz bang.” Jay wanted a high degree of familiarity in the cockpits of his two Bückers, so he adopted the same type of instruments and panel layout for the Jungmeister that his Jungmann has.
“I went glass cockpit, but I’m thinking I would rather be ‘old school.’ I’m having issues reading all that stuff, when just a movement of the needle would be easier to fly with,” Hank admits, then laughs and concludes, “However, the Dynon will support an autopilot, and that would make life a lot easier – even if that’s cheating!”
Winter gets very cold in the Montana mountains, but Jay shares a secret about staying warm in an open cockpit: “We put electric vests in there, and the seat and shoulder harnesses are adjustable in flight, so you can just drop down a little bit inside the cockpit. I know I’ll be able to fly all year round – I fly my Jungmann all year round, so I’m going to fly this one, too!
The two friends have obviously grown close through the years, and besides sharing a passion for Bückers, they almost share the same birthday.
“Hank’s birthday is two days later than mine,” says Jay, “and in August, we had the national Bücker fly-in in our hangars, on our birthdays, with our new Jungmeisters – that was great!”
They both agree, hands down, that the actual flying is the most rewarding aspect of their Bücker projects.
Jay, in a gentle tone reminiscent of a proud father, describes the feeling this way: “Flying it makes it all worthwhile! It’s a wonderful airplane. I had tears in my eyes on my first flight, because it’s just that unique and special. It’s just harmony … it’s just as good as you can get!”