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A Paper Dragon : Long Beach Designer Thinks His Plane Can Replace Helicopter--if It’s Ever Built

Associated Press

In a small hangar in the shadow of the giant McDonnell Douglas aircraft plant in Long Beach, a few maverick engineers are trying to prove they can do it better, and cheaper, with a delta-wing jet called the Dragon.

The craft, resembling something out of a science fiction film, exists only on paper. But its designer, William Moody Jr., predicts that someday Dragon will replace the helicopter--if it ever gets built.

The plane is intended to work on the same principle as the British Harrier “jump jet,” which shot down dozens of faster fighters during the 1982 war with Argentina over the Falklands.

Moody said the craft could replace combat helicopters because it would hover and fly close to the earth, but maneuver away from ground fire faster than a chopper.

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Trouble Finding Financing

Because he is a little guy in a land of aerospace giants, Moody said, getting financing for his project has been tough. But, he noted, aircraft pioneer Donald Douglas, who built the legendary DC-3, was once cast in the David versus Goliath role himself.

“We’re not a bunch of kids out of junior college working in a garage, though,” Moody said of his Phalanx Organization. “We have, between us, 280 years of experience, and each has designed successful weapons delivery systems.”

Moody, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is reluctant to name his engineering associates, explaining that many of them are moonlighting for his organization while working full time for the big aircraft companies.

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“Donald Douglas came out to California and started (designing airplanes) in a barber shop,” Moody said. “We’ve heard it said that it can’t happen today like it did then . . . that you have to be established.”

Moody says 16,000 helicopters were downed by ground fire in Vietnam and that a faster, less vulnerable hovering craft is needed in Western arsenals. But none is currently being developed, he said, because the costs under established standards are staggering.

The Dragon could be built at low cost from new, lightweight composite materials, he said. One of Moody’s consultants, Leo Windecker, recently developed a successful aircraft built from such materials.

W. A. Gustafson, head of Purdue University’s School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, traveled from Indiana to the Phalanx hangar to see Moody’s plans. He said that he was cautious about chances for building the plane but that the idea is good.

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“I think the concept is a good one in terms of direct lift, use of composite materials and an army (helicopter) application,” Gustafson said.

The proposal for a cheap, high-performance aircraft has not kindled interest at the Pentagon, Moody said. He acknowledged getting blank stares from the Army and Navy and said he doubted the Air Force would want it.

The designer said his plane could succeed without a Pentagon contract, however. He cited as an example Northrop Aircraft Corp.'s development of the F-5 fighter in the 1960s, a plane that sold well abroad before the Air Force bought it.

24 for Price of One

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“An acceptable Third World nation with (permission) from the State Department could equip a whole air force or squadron of 24 Dragons for $42 million, the price of an F-14 Tomcat,” he said.

The Dragon has attracted serious interest from an Indiana real estate and banking investment group, said Nick Connor, a representative of the W. A. Brennan Group of Indianapolis.

“I can’t say we are in a concrete stage of signing a check,” Connor said. “We definitely have a team (of interested investors), and we are doing our homework.

“Based on the design and the technology, which are purported to be true, there could be a billion-dollar market in air freight and delivery alone because the plane could bypass airports.”

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‘Sound Business’

Connor said the plane would have to be proved airworthy and commercially attractive, however. “Our impetus is sound business, not science,” he said.

The planes could be built for about $1.5 million apiece, or about an eighth the cost of a Hughes Apache attack helicopter.


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