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  • Writer's pictureJ.K. Caldwell

Junkers A50 Junior

First Impressions: Flying the Junkers A50 Junior is almost a surreal experience. The first time you see one and run your fingers across the corrugated aluminum skin, you will be transported to a time of leather flying helmets, grass strips, and most importantly, adventure. This airplane is not, however, a restoration of a 93 year-old plane; nor is it even a replica. It is a brand new, factory-built, and fully-certified Special Light-Sport Aircraft (S-LSA). The Junkers (pronounced “yoon-kers”) A50 brings new life to a phantom of the 1930’s and, for vintage aircraft lovers, is a breath of fresh air to the LSA market.

Background: The new Junkers Aircraft Corporation was founded in 2018 and is a sister company to the WACO Aircraft Corporation in Battle Creek, Michigan. Both WACO and Junkers specialize in artisan-built, fully-customized aircraft and have similar missions of bringing fun and adventure to flying. All their planes carry the nostalgia of flying a new “vintage” aircraft. No expense or safety measure is spared and their end products are individual pieces of art.

The original Junkers Aircraft and Motor Works Company, as it eventually became known, was founded in 1895 by Hugo Junkers as a boiler and radiator repair shop. Hugo Junkers, born in the Kingdom of Prussia in 1859, was an engineer and inventor by trade and one of the earliest aeronautical designers. He not only designed and built aircraft, but diesel and gasoline engines as well. He held a variety of patents and served as a professor of thermodynamics at the Technical University of Aachen, Germany. As with all early aircraft designers, Hugo Junkers met with some early failures in his aircraft designs, but eventually was able to build a wind tunnel and devote more time to developing aircraft. His focus and design efforts was on designing all-metal monoplanes, which no one else was seriously pursuing. In 1915, he met with success when his Junkers J-1 was the first all-metal, cantilever aircraft to take to the skies.

The J-1 was given the non-flattering nickname Blechesel, or “Sheet Metal Donkey”. In a way, the A-10 “Warthog” owes some heritage to the J-1 as it was the first aircraft to have an armored “tub” for both the engine and cockpit, making it less vulnerable to enemy ground fire. His success with the J-1 led to many more “firsts” throughout the interwar period. In 1919, the Junkers F 13 was the first all-metal passenger aircraft. Incidentally, the new Junkers Aircraft Corporation commissioned a re-creation of the F 13 which substitutes a 450-horsepower Pratt & Whitney R-985 for the original 158 horsepower Mercedes D.IIIa 6-cylinder, water-cooled, in-line engine. It is currently owned and flown by the Junkers Aircraft Corporation and recently made the trip from Battle Creek, Michigan to Sun N Fun at Lakeland, Florida (KLAL).

The Junkers W 33, a later design developed from the F 13, was the first heavier-than-air ship to cross the Atlantic east to west. That was quite a feat in 1928 considering it was against the prevailing headwinds. The three-man German and Irish crew logged 36.5 hours on their journey from Ireland to a peat bog on Greenly Island, Quebec. Further evolution of Junkers aircraft resulted in their most successful and prolific airplane, the Ju 52. Often mistaken for the Ford Trimotor, the Ju 52 was used by 12 airlines prior to World War II and the type was used extensively as a transport, glider towplane, and paratrooper aircraft by the Luftwaffe.

One of the most interesting and fantastical Junkers aircraft was the G.38. This four-engine behemoth had a wingspan over 144 feet and looked like something straight from steampunk sci-fi. Its first flight was in 1929. It was, of course, skinned in corrugated duraluminum and was the largest landplane in the world at that time. Imagine a plane with wings so thick some passengers had seating in the wings, complete with wrap-around windows on the leading edge for forward visibility. There were also two passenger seats available in the glass nose and double decker seating in the fuselage. After the last retrofit, total passenger capacity was 34. The crew of seven included in-flight mechanics who could troubleshoot and service all four engines from inside the wings! The engines included two different types of Junkers diesel engines; two V-12s and two in-line 6-cylinders. The G.38 had a “box kite” empennage and the main landing gear had two tandem wheels on each side. Of the two G.38s made, one crashed in 1936 during a post-maintenance test flight (no fatalities) and the other was pressed into service with the Luftwaffe and subsequently destroyed in Athens by a Royal Air Force (RAF) ground attack in 1941.

Hugo Junkers refused to relinquish his company to the Nazi war machine. Unfortunately, however, his company and assets were strong-armed away from him in 1933. The following year (1934) he was placed under house arrest, and died in those sad circumstances in 1935 at the age of 76. During WWII, the Junkers Aircraft Company produced many combat aircraft including the famous and lethal Ju.87 dive bomber, known as the “Stuka”. Incidentally, Hermann Pohlmann was the Junkers Corporation designer who developed both the happy A50 Junior and the deadly Stuka. After WWII, the Junkers Aircraft Works was eventually merged with Heinkel and Messerschmitt to form the Messershmitt-Bӧlkow-Blohm (MBB) consortium. The remnants of the Junkers company was finally disestablished in 1969.

The original A50 was designed as a sport plane and Junkers anticipated that upwards of 5,000 would be sold. Sixty-nine Juniors were manufactured, but only 50 sold, due to high selling prices and the poor worldwide economy of the early 1930s. A50 models included seaplane and folding-wing variants, making them easy to transport via ship or rail to new adventure bases. The A50 first flew in 1929 and participated in numerous touring challenges. In 1933, famous Finnish Olympian pentathlete and biathlete, Vӓinӧ Bremer, flew his A50 from Helsinki, Finland to Cape Town, South Africa. His machine now graces the Finnish Aviation Museum in Vantaa, Finland.

The most amazing journey was that of Marga von Etzdorf. Marga was an early aviatrix, who earned her pilot license at the age of 19. In 1927, she became Germany’s first woman airline pilot, flying routes in a Junkers F 13. In 1930, she bought an A50, painted it bright yellow and named it “Kiek in die Welt” which translates “Look into the World” in Berliner slang. In August 1931, after numerous adventures in her beloved yellow A50, she began her journey from Europe to Japan. Navigating with only a map and compass in an open-cockpit plane, Marga departed Germany and flew across the Ural Mountains, all of Siberia, and the Sea of Japan before finally landing in Tokyo 12 days later. Sun and wind burned, and utterly exhausted, she received a hero’s welcome and international acclaim. Incidentally, she was the first foreigner to land at what is now known as Tokyo International Airport.

Design Features: Of course, a Junkers wouldn’t be a Junkers without corrugated aluminum. The A50’s all-metal cantilever design is made from 0.3-millimeter corrugated aluminum, shaped by dies in a roll forming process. The rippled look adds strength and rigidity to the skin but also increases induced drag, which in the case of the Junior, is not an issue since its main mission is fun afternoon flying, not long cross countries. The oval semi-monocoque fuselage makes use of aluminum bulkheads, formers and stringers. Coupled with the strength of the corrugated skin, the Junior has a very strong airframe. Customers can choose from six different art-deco colors for the aluminum body. The new A50 is one foot longer than the original 1929 model, presumably providing better longitudinal stability. The tandem-seat design includes two separate open cockpits with full dual controls and a modern Garmin avionics suite. Solo flights are flown from the aft seat only. A copilot has full controls in the front seat, but all circuit breakers and some switches are in the rear cockpit only. Safety features include a Galaxy GRS 600 parachute, located between the cockpits and usable above 350 feet AGL. Adding to the vintage look is the 3.5-inch wide by 19-inch diameter spoked bicycle tires. Customers can opt out of the spoked wheels to choose instead a solid rim that is color-matched to their machine. The Junior has modern Beringer brakes and tailwheel. Aileron and elevator controls are pushrod and bell crank-operated and the tailwheel is non-steerable. A quick glance at the panel will reveal no round gauges from yesteryear, but there is both a 10.6-inch Garmin G3X for the rear cockpit and a 7-inch G3X up front. A Trig TY91 compact radio is interfaced with the G3X. Conveniently for LSA certification, the max gross weight is 1,320 pounds and provides around 480 pounds of useful load. The first 29 aircraft are offered at roughly $199,500 with deliveries available this Fall.

Powerplant: The original 87-horsepower, 5-cylinder Armstrong-Siddley Genet II radial engine has been swapped for a modern 100-horsepower fuel-injected Rotax 912iS. The air screw is a two-blade ground-adjustable composite MT prop. Two wing tanks have a total fuel capacity of 27 gallons and, at only 4 gallons per hour, a range of 680 nautical miles is possible if the pilot is up for it. I, for one, will not be attempting to re-create Marga von Etzdorf’s Europe to Japan trip! While on the ground, the engine does sit fairly high, so checking the oil and coolant level will require a stepstool to open the engine access door on the top part of the cowling.

Ergonomics: On the left wing root, beautiful mahogany wood strips are set in the corrugated skin ravines to provide a walkway to the cockpits. Get a good grip on the rear cockpit edge while stepping up since wood and aluminum don’t exactly create the surest footing! Behind the back seat is ample room for two medium-sized travel bags. Stepping into the cockpit isn’t difficult. Once both feet are in, brace your back against the padded leather back rest and slide down. Your hindquarters will rest upon a fairly comfortable “banana seat”. While the seat and rudder pedals are not adjustable, your new A50 will come with a variety of different-sized backrests to suit your size. Your sitting height matters since the windscreens are approximately 10 inches off the fuselage. A demo flight will determine whether your sitting height will be an issue but most pilots six feet tall and under should have no problem. While it is possible to fly with a normal headset, I would recommend a cloth or leather helmet with chinstrap for your headset to avoid the airstream grabbing your headset when peeking around the windscreen. A wind guard on your boom mic will go a long way in preventing noise fatigue. The cockpit openings are not wide, but the conical shape of the fuselage means you have plenty of room inside. The padded leather coaming that wraps the cockpit opening not only adds to the aesthetics of the plane, but actually stabilizes your upper body at the shoulders. Of note, if the pilot weighs more than 200 pounds, a water ballast tank (located in the front cockpit) will need to be filled in order to be within center of gravity limits.

Start/Taxi/Takeoff: After securing your four-point quick-release harness, ensure all 12 circuit breakers are in and the fuel selector is set to the fullest tank. Flip on both Electronic Control Unit (ECU) ignition switches and turn on the main fuel pump. With the wood-handled throttle lever at idle, push the starter button and the Rotax will whir to life. After setting up the avionics and Trig radio, you can begin to taxi. The rudder pedals are unique in that the brake pedals are hinged at the top and are angled back towards the pilot. Two options are available for feet placement: (1) keep your heels on the floor, picking up your feet up to apply brakes or (2) keep your heels on the pedals and angle your toes outboard, penguin-style, until braking is required. Steering on deck is accomplished with differential braking and assisted by prop-wash over the rudder. The tailwheel pivots approximately 20 degrees left and right and will free-caster after reaching the detents, allowing for tight-radius turns. Taxiing on thin 3.5-inch-wide bicycle tires does require keeping an eye out for squirrel holes and thick sand. As you taxi, you’ll need to swerve slightly to see what’s in front of the nose. After completing the run-up and takeoff checks, arm the ballistic parachute by pulling the safety pin and line-up on your runway. The Junior accelerates quickly and once you lift the tail up, forward visibility is restored. When your craft has flying speed, gently pull the stick back, set a climb attitude and let the Junior part ways with the earth. Use a climb speed of 65 knots and you’ll see between 600-1000 fpm climb rate, depending on the pitch of the ground-adjustable prop.

Maximum continuous power will produce around 85-88 knots, but let’s face it, the whole point of this plane is to enjoy the sights and smells of the countryside. With the throttle pulled back a little, 75 knots is where you want to spend most of your time. Power-off stalls are docile and occur at around 40 knots. Turning power-on stalls result in a surprising and welcome characteristic. The Junior will actually level the wings from the turn as it approaches stall, a characteristic stemming from the wings’ washout. The wooden-handled trim lever is just aft of the throttle, but there is not much need to reach for it in flight as it is naturally well balanced and requires little effort in climbs and descents. The A50 is light on the controls and is a joy to gracefully waltz through the air!

Landing: There is not much preparation required before landing, A slight forward slip allows the pilot to keep sight of the landing area. Sixty-five knots on final allows enough time in the flare without eating up too much runway. Both wheel and three-point landings are available, but wheel landings allow for better visibility longer. The thin tires and oleo strut suspension mean you will feel any bumps in the turf on rollout. Of course, you can expect lots of inquisitive looks as you taxi to parking. Also, be prepared for lots of questions about your new “retro” machine from a different age!

Wrap-up: After a flight in the Junior, you will be hard-pressed not to have a wide smile on your sunburned face! The flight experience transports you to a golden age of adventure, making it difficult to have a bad day when you fly this aluminum beauty. Junkers Corporation owner, Dieter Morszeck, says the all-new A50 is for both the young and young-at-heart. For those inspired by the golden age of aviation and the beauty of early vintage aircraft, the Junkers A50 Junior may well be the right aircraft for you.

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