The Jet from Octopussy
The BD-5J Micro aside from making a screen debut as James Bond’s flyaway jet in the movie “Octopussy”, the 13th film on the James Bond spy series was a show catcher. The fact remains that it still holds the record as the lightest operational jet in the world (weighing 358.8 lb or 162.7 kg) in the Guinness Book of World Records for the last 25 years.
Jim Bede, an American aircraft designer has the idea of the Micro as early as 1967 but his Bede BD-4, a four seater high wing conventional aircraft design got him preoccupied with the initial orders owing to its good performance and fairly inexpensive operational characteristics. The opportunity for the BD-5 came later leading to its introduction in the 1970s. The prototype took to the air in 12 September 1971. The Micro was a radical design ahead of its time. No wonder why despite its inception in the early 70s, it was still a show catcher when it got on screen via James Bond’s “Octopussy” 13 years later. It was basically the first homebuilt jet to be thought about with two versions planned. The BD-5A with a short 14’3” (4.34 m) wings aimed at high speeds and aerobatics and the BD-5B with 21’6” (6.55 m) designed for longer range and powered glider use. Performance specs were estimated at 210 mph (340 km/h) cruise speed for the BD-5A and a bit slower on the BD-5B but with an extended range of 1,215 miles. Both wing options will both be available for customers who could simply switch both wings depending upon the nature of the flight in a mere ten minutes. Assumed to be easy to build and operate as required of most homebuilt aircraft, the BD-5 fuselage was constructed of fiberglass panels over an aluminum frame that would shorten construction to a few hundred hours. It was built to accommodate a single pilot, sitting in a semi-reclined position protected by a large plexiglas canopy resembling most fighter aircraft. Power was provided by a 40 hp 2 cylinder air cooled engine driving a pusher propeller on the basic aircraft with an option for a small jet engine like the Sermel TRS 18-046 turbojet by Turbomeca on the BD-5J (cruise speed about 300 mph/480 km/h).
After Jim Bede published an information brochure about the BD-5 in 1970, various magazines feasted upon the expected curiosity of the public on this odd looking aircraft. Science & Mechanics featured the BD-5 in October 1971 with the listing price at $ 1,950 and a top speed of 215 mph adding its easy to follow assembly instructions. In 1973, Popular Science also featured the aircraft but with increased list price at $ 2,965. An intense demand for this mini fighter caused a stir in the media and public that assured its market leading for the first $200 reservation deposit to be accepted assuring its shipping date by May 1972. The reservation called for 4,300 orders at the end of 1971 making it one of the most popular in demand aircraft in history that will later take its toll on Jim Bede’s company.
The succeeding fate of this promising aircraft design later led Jim Bede’s company in bankruptcy in 1979 starting from the bankruptcy of Hirth, the contracted engine supplier for the aircraft. The design sold about 5,100 kits but owing to its nature some arrived with missing parts or mismatched components. Many fatalities had been attributed to the flights of the first batch of completed aircraft proving simply that a homebuilder’s ability enough to build this kitplane was no excuse for piloting skills. A few successful completed units remain to some owners with an estimated 150 BD-5s in airworthy condition as of 2009. The Pima Air and Space Museum in Arizona provides home to the BD-5J aircraft used in the 1983 James Bond film “Octopussy”.