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Fri, Jun 01, 2007

Gone West: Homebuilt Aircraft Designer Leeon Davis

Designer Of V-Tail DA-2A, Two-Stroke-Powered DA-11

It is with sadness Aero-News learned this week of the passing of one of the most uniquely prolific homebuilders in aviation.

Leeon Davis began his aviation career in the US Air Force, before returning to civilian life as a metal worker at Aero Commander's prototype facility in Norman, OK. From the beginning, Davis had a fondness for simple, efficient, rugged V-tail designs... that made up for in flying qualities what they may have arguably lacked in visual grace.

Davis built his first aircraft, the DA-1A, in 1958. Powered by a 180-hp Lycoming, only one of these four-place planes was built.

Next came the DA-2A (type shown above), introduced in the mid-1960s. Powered by either an Continental A-95, C-80/90 or Lycoming O-200, the DA-2A was composed almost entirely of flat aluminum panels; at first glance, seemingly the only curves to be found were in the upper surface of the wing, and the three wheels comprising the tricycle landing gear.

The simple construction and somewhat awkward lines belied a truly capable airplane, however, capable of carrying two adults and a child at speeds over 100 mph, all while burning about five gallons per hour. In a 1973 report, Budd Davisson described the DA-2A as a "pre-shrunk Bonanza that handles like a Cherokee with a thyroid problem" -- before also noting the plane was "actually easier to fly than a Cherokee."

"The Davis isn't as fast as a Thorp, it won't lomcevak with a Pitts, and next to a Midget Mustang it looks like a packing crate," Davisson added. "[But] in a contest for the most underrated homebuilt, the Davis DA-2A should be the winner."

Davis tinkered with the basic DA-2A design over the years, upsizing it to the four-place DA-3 before turning his attention to smaller planes. The single-seat DA-5A followed in 1974.

After tinkering with upsized planes once again -- the four place DA-6, and two-place DA-7 and lighter DA-8 designs -- Davis turned his eye towards single-seat planes, powered by smaller engines.

In 1990, Davis unveiled the sleek DA-9 Super Pocket Rocket, powered by a 40-hp two-cylinder motor. Flown on a series of record flights, the DA-9 could fly at speeds up to 260 mph. The DA-10 variant of the same basic design was powered by a Lycoming o-235.

Davis' final design, the DA-11 (shown at right), was perhaps his best-known, as well. Similar in size to the DA-9, the tricycle-gear-equipped DA-11 also sported a truly inspired engine choice: an 18-horsepower Briggs & Stratton Vanguard lawnmower motor, which led to the slogan "Mower power to the people" on the side of the plane's fuselage.

Davis' attempts to market this kit en masse were unsuccessful, however, partly due to the reluctance of two-stroke builders to have their engines used on aircraft.

A longtime resident of Midland, TX, Davis passed away April 7. He was 77.

FMI: www.aerofiles.com/_d.html

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