Popular Mechanics, September 1964
It's the wierdest aircraft I've ever been in. The fuselage and tail section are ordinary enough, but the wings are ridiculous. The outboard sections seem normal, but the inboard sections dip down in semicircles, coming up again to join the fuselage. Inside these horizontal half-moons, the engines are suspended on braces--backwards. The propellers are at the rear.
I taxied it to the end of the runway, performed a warmup, then jockeyed into position at the very edge. The power went on full with a roar--and I had to glance out the window to make sure the engines didn't fly off the mounts--then the brakes were released and I started down the runway. Before I crossed the first taxi strip, the nose came up, the plane wavered slightly, but I was airborne--in less than 250 feet, and in a slight crosswind.
That was my first take-off in a channel-wing aircraft, a plane whose story is almost as unbelievable as its configuration. Conceived as a short-takeoff-or-landing vehicle (STOL), its first pilotless model flew in 1927, twelve years before Igor Sikorsky got the first helicopter off the ground. Yet, figuratively at least, the channel wing is still having trouble getting into the air. Hardly anyone wants to believe it will fly.
Yet it does, and perhaps the most unbelievable part of the story is the unshakable faith--and boyish enthusiasm--that the man who created it still has in it.
His name is Willard Custer of Hagerstown, Md. He is a simple man as is his theory. Conventional airplanes get their lift by pulling their wings through the air. The channel wing gets its lift by pulling the air over the wing. Custer claims, in fact, he really doesn't need the rest of the wing--the channels alone would get the vehicle in the air.
The advantage of the channel wing, as with any STOL, is ability to take off and land in short distances. The special advantage, says Custer, is that it does so without the complex internal mechanisms necessary for flaps, or tilting wings or engines, found on other STOLs. The channel wing has no internal mechanisms at all, except for the ailerons. Nor does it require any exotic materials. It's as if you took an ordinary wing and stamped the channels into it.
Further, the channel wing can fly straight-and-level well below ordinary stalling speed, without creating the drag inherent in flaps. And it does this without using the excessive power necessary for tilting wings and engines. Theoretically, it is getting both lift and thrust from the engines, where conventional aircraft get only thrust from engines and lift from the wings.
We had a chance to check these theories in the air, but the story of the channel wing would be empty without first telling the remarkable story of this man's long, lonely struggle to get it into the air. continue...