The Heath Story

Lightplane Pioneer...Kit Plane Developer
by Roger Lorenzen

This is the story of Edward Bavard Heath for whom the 1920's era Heath Company was named. He was born in New York state in 1888. His family owned a machine shop where he acquired his engineering education by the trial and error method, and this is where he built his first plane. This plane was much like the other monoplanes of that period, and did not possess the individuality that later characterized the Heath planes. But, it flew - and from that day on, Edward Heath dedicated his life to a career in aviation.

He was only five feet tall and weighed about one hundred ten pounds; he had a long, sharp, inquiring nose; his face carried the permanent wrinkles of a smile; and his eyes were small and bright. He was blessed with a great deal of vision and courage, and an abundance of determination.

He settled in Chicago and founded the E.B. Heath Aerial Vehicle Company in 1913. This company started like many other American firms - with a basic idea, perseverance, long hours, ingenuity, enthusiasm, and a lack of capital.

It was often referred to as Heath's 26 Airplane Trading Post. It was a parts and materials store - a place where pilots could buy things cheaply. He made and sold aircraft dope by the barrel. He made propellers. He built wings to any shape, any size. He sold wires, cables, turnbuckles, fuel tanks, wheels, new and rebuilt engines. If someone needed a part that he did not have, he designed and built one.

In 1913 he built his second plane, a biplane with a 33 foot span and equipped with pontoons. The pint-sized pilot who was a veteran designer at the age of twenty five became a familiar figure to Chicagoans as he flew out over Lake Michigan in this plane.

Up until this time flying was a costly hobby, and only the well-to-do could afford to take an active interest. Ed Heath had the idea for years of introducing low cost flying to Mr. Average American, and at the end of World War I he introduced his next plane, The Feather. This was a single-seater with a 20-foot span, weighed, empty, 270 pounds, and was powered with a 7 hp Thor motorcycle engine that hauled it through the sky at the rate of 45 mph. He was ready to market this little plane when the government released a huge amount of surplus planes and engines. Because he couldn't compete with these cheap products, he shelved the promotion of the Featherand became a dealer in surplus planes and engines.

Renamed the Heath Airplane Company, Heath founded a flying school, his reasoning being that it was foolish To sell planes to people who then had to go someplace else to learn to fly them. It is true that Heath turned his students loose with the bare minimum of instruction, but for the benefit of his critics, it may i)e said that he never lost a student in an accident. This was due to the fact that he was extremely thorough in his instruction. Hundreds of Heath students became expert airplane and engine mechanics as well as flyers. Ed Heath could be spotted regularly at the airport. Except in warm weather he always wore black leather riding breeches, black, laced, high boots, a black leather cap, a blue flannel shirt, and a black bow tie. When the temperature climbed he dressed in a blue shirt and cloth riding breeches, but he clung stubbornly to the high boots.

He also inaugurated an apprentice plan - learn while you earn - which became a permanent fixture of his company. With this method he built a solid business and turned out pilots and A & E mechanics at the same time.

The only time he deviated from his original, light plane idea, was when he built the Favorite in 1923. This was a 90 hp OX-5 biplane. Heath flew this plane with four passengers in it to St. Louis where he won several events in the National Air Races.

In 1925 Heath and Claire Linstead, a designer whom he employed, designed and constructed the Tomboy. It was a single-seat, full cantilever monoplane with a span of about 22 feet. The wing butts attached at the top longerons. It was built around a 32-hp Bristol Cherub engine and its speed was 103 mph. Heath used it to win the light plane events at the National Air Races in Philadelphia in 1926. His take for the winning was $2,500.

In 1926 Heath and Linstead produced the first Heath Parasol. This was a single-seat, high-wing, monoplane with a span of 26 feet. It was built around a 27 hp Henderson motorcycle engine. The designers improvised somewhat - the wing was contrived of two lower wings of a Thomas-Morse Scout biplane, braced with steel tubing and cables.

The following year they constructed another version of the ParasoL This plane was cleaner. It had a 24 foot span and was powered with a Cherub. He called it the Spokane Super Parasol and proceeded to annex the light and sport plane events with it at the Nation-al Air Races in Spokane. His take: $1,000.

This event marked a turning point; Heath had found his light plane market and he used every kind of bait possible to push the sale of his Parasols. You could buy a Parasol, fly-away, Chicago, for $975. If you couldn't afford that, you could buy it, less the engine, for $690. Still too much? Okay! You could buy it in kit form. The kit came in eleven groups. The first group cost $12.47. The total cost of the eleven groups, less the engine, was $199! Still too much? Well, you could buy the blueprints for $5 and get your own materials. These were the first Heathkits and, evidently they didn't have a 1 0% down, twelve month to pay time payment plan such as we have now.

Listed below are the general specifications of the Parasol (1930 model) equipped with the Heath B-4 engine:

The Heath Parasol, or to be exact, Super Parasol, created an entirely new group of airplane owners. Guys who had never taken an active interest in flying because of the high cost flew into aviation sitting in a Parasol cockpit. Pilots who heretofore could not afford to own and maintain an airplane became Parasol owners. Thousands of these little planes were built in barns, garages, and cellars. Some were assembled in rooming houses, others in deserted theaters, and one in a church.

The only tools necessary to assemble one of the kits were a pair of small pliers, screwdriver, hacksaw (with plenty of blades), hammer, small hand drill, chisel, center punch, file and drill.

The little Heath craft was a well designed, compact monoplane with exceptionally clean lines. It was sturdy, stable and flew easily. This was a dream come true for Ed Heath. He had successfully marketed a low cost airplane. His firm prospered and won an international reputation.

The Baby Bullet of 1928 was followed by a brace of Super Parasols that captured first and second places in a light plane event at the National Air Races in Cleveland, and Heath provided a change of pace with a 27-hp seaplane that performed commendably on Lake Zurich, near Chicago in 1930.

That same year the Heath Cannonball, a bigger version of the Baby Bullet, powered with a 110-hp, four cylinder Heathbuilt engine, came in ahead of the field in one event at the National Air Races in Chicago. Foreseeing public interest in every phase of aviation, Heath built a biplane glider. His partisans say he was the first man ever to loop an engineless heavier-than-air craft.

The Parasol had proved itself. Now he decided to build a low-wing and a mid-wing. It was the low wing aircraft that he was testing in February of 1931 when he crashed. The little man whose determination and genius had created and guided the Heath Airplane Company was gone. It is nearly 90 years since Ed Heath built his first plane.

And he is remembered fondly by today's homebuilders, for it was he who developed a practical, simple, economical airplane the average individual could build and fly. It was also Heath who introduced the kit concept for packaging of materials needed to build an aircraft. Today's homebuilder has embraced the kit concept with enthusiasm as it saves time in hunting down materials, providing a single-source for the thousands of items that are involved in building an aircraft.

We homebuilders owe a lot to Ed Heath!

Read about the plane Jim built and flew as a young boy.

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Copyright 2001 by Jim Foreman