Designer/engineer Bob Barrows' 4-seat Bearhawk design has been the object of lust for many dreamy-eyed builders since it first emerged on the scene in the mid-to-late 90's, especially since it's been offered in quickbuild kit form since 2001. The tailwheel design especially appeals to backcountry pilots, who value the rugged off-road capabilities than a conventional geared aircraft promises, but also because, after a 360 degree walkaround with an eye on the aesthetics, it appears to be an amalgam of characteristics from many of our most beloved aircraft:
It's roughly the size and similar shape of the Maule, but has a decidedly Cub appearance too with its round boot cowl and round tail. The wing is no Maule wing, however, and has its own thing going on, both in span, chord, and airfoil. The comparison to the Maule is often made, but make no mistake, the Bearhawk is a different beast, and there's more to it that make it distinct besides the control sticks and single strut.
Building the Bearhawk
Mike Creek, a pilot of 20+ years, and former owner of three different Cessna models; A 152 Sparrowhawk conversion, a 180hp Horton STOL 172, and a 182 Skylane; found that he could no longer resist the allure of the tailwheel bushplane, and in 2005 settled on the Bearhawk kit. 3 1/2 years later, he rolled his finished bird out and hasn't looked back at certified aircraft. He's become a worthy inspiration for the Bearhawk community as a pilot who's using his build in the actual backcountry. Creek used his C-182 extenstively for travel and cross-country flight, hauling the family, and has found that the Bearhawk leaves nothing to be desired. His smile says it all.
The aircraft was mostly built in a two-car garage, and then assembled at the airport. Creek's wife, 3 kids, and several good friends assisted with the build.
According to Creek: "We all really enjoyed the time we spent together building and also what we learned along the way; not just about building an airplane but about ourselves."
The Creeks now get to use the bird for its intended mission; flying the backcountry mostly in Nevada, Idaho, and Montana. So far they've logged over 600 hours on the plane in 4-years of flying. Earlier this year, he took the plunge that so many backcountry pilots seemingly can't avoid-- He decided to upgrade to 35-inch Bushwheels so he could land off-airport in some of the desert locations surrounding his home area of Elko, Nevada, and around the western US in general.
"We are having fun with [bushwheels] and they have opened up a lot of places where landing is now possible. We spend a lot of time flying over remote desert terrain and it is comforting to know that should we be forced to land, there are many more places that can be done without damage to the plane" says Creek.
One of the largest appeals to homebuilding is the freedom a builder has in spec'ing his powerplant and prop. In Creek's case, he chose the most common option, a Lycoming O-540, which he estimates is putting out about 250 hp. Mated to a Hartzell 84" 2-blade constant speed prop, the takeoff performance is impressive. I've personally flown this airplane, and even at the 6,000+ MSL elevation I got my test flight at, it gets off the ground with a quickness. Unfortunately there was no one measuring our distances that day, but I'd estimate my hamfisted takeoff was less than 250 ft with the two of us an 3/4 fuel aboard. Landings were consistently as short or shorter at that elevation with only Creek aboard, doing a little landing practice for the BCP camera.
Creek's Bearhawk weighs in at 1,560 lbs with the 35 inch Alaskan Bushwheels mounted, which yields 940 lbs useful load given the 2,500 lbs max landing weight. That's a fair useful load, and given the double-door cargo door design common to Maules, it makes carrying some pretty large items in the back a possibility.
Even with the massive 35" bushwheels, the O-540/Hartzell 84" combo gets Mike about 120mph @ 9 gph in economy cruise, down from the 155mph max cruise speed @ 14 gph it is capable of with 8.50x6's. 9 gallons per hour requires pulling the power back a bit, but it's a good testament to the large six-cylinder that it can produce that much power and still acheive fuel burns on par with its smaller sibling the O-360.
The beauty of modern day solid state avionics for the backcountry pilot is primarily in the weight savings. What formerly required gyros and vaccuum pumps can now be accomplished with AHRS sensors and glass panels. I'm not going to claim to know a lot about this realm, but the bottom line is the same: A builder can end up with a ton of avionic capability in a very small, lightweight package, for very little money. Mike chose to outfit the Bearhawk with 3 main units that cover the spectrum of panel needs: A Grand Rapids Sport EFIS w/Moving Map and GPS, a Grand Rapids EIS w/Fuel Flow, and the tried and true Garmin 396. I'm totally on board here-- They'll pry my 496 out of my cold dead hands. Other notables include Garmin GTX 327 transponder and SL30 nav/com. They're not exactly cheap but anyone who's used these radios knows they're worth it. For more details on N2828M's instrument outfit, see the specs below.
|Type||Bearhawk 4-place - Avipro quickbuild kit|
|Year||Project began 2005, completed in 2008|
|Engine||Lycoming O-540 turning out approx 250hp|
|Propeller||Hartzell 84" 2-blade constant speed|
|Gear||Standard Bearhawk oleo-strut A-arm design|
|Wing||Standard Bearhawk wing w/ VG's|
|Weight empty||1560 lbs (35" Bushwheels)|
|Useful load||940 lbs|
|Fuel capacity||70 gal|
|Other notable equipment||
In November 2012, Mike was kind enough to take me for a day of Bearhawk flying just outside Reno, along with a second Bearhawk. Let's just say I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since. Here's the video:
Full photo collection