The Bearhawk 4 is a high-wing tailwheel kit plane designed for four occupants. We look at its features and flight characteristics for prospective owners.
The Bearhawk 4 is a kit plane designed to be the ideal airplane for serious bush operations. A base price of $150,000 covers the airframe, while an additional $100,000 is needed for the engine and IFR-certified avionics. It has a ceiling of 15,000 feet, cruises at 120 knots, and burns 8 gph.
As a flight instructor and aircraft enthusiast, I frequently fly taildraggers. I am a huge fan of kit airplanes and the simple joy of flying, especially when it comes to the Bearhawk 4.
The Bearhawk 4 was a completely new aircraft designed by aircraft engineer Bob Barrows (the brains behind Bearhawk Aircraft) originally as a cargo aircraft, specifically to carry aircraft engines.
Due to this intended role, the back door combines with the much larger cargo door to allow for a massive six foot loading area. The huge cargo area can be made even larger by removing the back seat, which also gives you unobstructed access to the rest of the cargo bay when in-flight.
Also because of this intended role, the Bearhawk is meant to go where you want it to go without being limited by the need for pavement or turf. It is a versatile aircraft that allows you to hang various engines on it while configuring the dash to whatever you are used to.
It’s perfect for cross country and backcountry flying, as it’s known for both longevity and its excellent crash survivability, both aided by the fact it can be easily repaired. Its low stall speed also makes it perfect for taking off and landing at remote landing spots.
From a full IFR glass cockpit to just steam gauges for VFR flight, the Bearhawk provides a reliable platform for individuals to build whatever they imagine without having to concern themselves with the physics of flight.
The Bearhawk 4 is what aviators call a rag and tube airplane because it has an all metal tubing fuselage. Indeed, pretty much all the Bearhawk’s construction uses 4130 steel tubes, from the engine mount to the empennage. The vertical and horizontal fins and their control surfaces are also made of welded steel tubes. Fabric is then used to cover them.
There are two individual wing sections, instead of one long wing from the left to right tip. The wings use a two-spar structure. Ribs, shaped to NACA 4412 Airfoil specifications, are attached to the spars at specific intervals except for the front section closest to the root of the wing where the stainless steel fuel tanks are placed. Leading edge ribs, made of folded and shaped sheet metal, are then attached to the front before the wing assembly is wrapped in sheet metal.
Each wing is attached to the steel tube fuselage by solid rivets that connect the spars to the members in the fuselage. The all-metal wings stretch 33 feet from tip to tip and have a 180 sq ft area which gives it a wing loading of 13.9 lbs per sq ft. The use of big flaps help reduce both landing and takeoff distance.
As it is designed to fly in both extremely hot and dry, as well as extremely cold, the decision to build parts of the fuselage out of 5052 aluminum, as well as 4130 steel, allows for greater corrosion resistance to increase operational life.
The Bearhawk 4 has a choice of a few engines that the prospective buyer can make. Anything from a Lycoming O-360 to an O-540 can fit under the cowl. That means you can build your aircraft from the ground up in terms of performance. An O-360 gives you 180 horsepower while the high end of the powerplant choices gives you 260 hp from the O-540.
The aerodynamics and structure of the Bearhawk 4 are designed to handle the upper and lower limit of horsepower afforded by the different engines. The Bearhawk can also take injected or carbureted engines.
You can also have your choice of fuel tanks. Bearhawk 4 wings can hold one of two options. The standard tank can hold 50 gallons while the larger tanks can hold 72. Aux tanks hold about 11 gallons as reserves.
Propellers can also vary. Bearhawk is designed to take propellers from 74 to 84 inches in diameter. It can take a fixed pitch or constant speed props.
Because of the various options between tanks and engines, the specs for the Bearhawk 4 can vary from one aircraft to the next. It is important to understand that each aircraft is unique and will perform differently based on the combination of factors.
Everything from CG location (roughly eight or nine inches in front of the rear seat passengers) to top speed, max range, and max endurance, as well as TBO can vary depending on the options.
The popularity of the Bearhawk 4 has led to the development of the rest of the Bearhawk line, beginning with the Bearhawk Model B (the quickbuild variant of the Bearhawk 4 place), the Bearhawk Patrol (first flight 2011), and continuing with the Bearhawk LSA and Bearhawk 5 (among others).
The first thing that anyone who gets into the cockpit will realize is that it is as simple as it gets on the flight deck. With a control stick in the floor, throttle on the dash, and trim on the roof, the setup is as much for the minimalist as it is for those looking for a blank slate to make their own choices in carpeting, padding, and upholstery.
The plane starts up pretty much like any single-engine plane you would have flown. Being powered by one of a few Lycoming engines, start-up, and engine sound will feel familiar.
With a number of choices of wheels that you can go with, the ride on the ground is also not standard. Regular wheels on a paved tarmac result in a familiar smooth roll, while low-pressure tundra tires are great on rocky, sandy, and green surfaces.
Visibility is as you would expect from a taildragger. But since it has a short takeoff roll, and an even shorter roll till the tail comes up during the ground roll, your lack of visibility will be short-lived.
The aircraft does well with a center of gravity that is located about 12 inches aft from the wing's leading edge. The more forward the center of gravity, the slower the plane flies owing to the increased drag of the main wings. There is also a danger with taildraggers having CG locations too far forward. The probability of cartwheeling increases with every inch of the CG moving forward.
It is possible to alter the CG without realizing it when builders place heavier engines like the TIO-540 and a three-bladed constant-speed prop. Too much weight too far forward without any counterbalance in the rear could push the Bearhawk’s CG out of its envelope.
The Bearhawk is fast because of its high-powered engine. It's not a low-drag aircraft, characterized by its slightly-above normal fuel burn rate. But this was never designed to be a low-drag vehicle. It was built to be sturdy and have brute force to spare so that it can roll across weeds, over rocks, and even be fitted with floats for a water landing or big tundra tires for snow operations.
What this plane does well, is that it allows you to customize just about every facet of its operation and alter its mission parameters according to your need. At a thousand pounds worth of payload, that means you can fit four full-size adults and that still leaves room for fuel and bags.
Unlike factory-built taildraggers, purchasing a kit plane like the Bearhawk 4 comes with a vast array of options. As such, it is inaccurate to quote a single price, or even a price range, and be done with it.
Bearhawk 4s come in many packages. You can just purchase the package that you feel the most comfortable with and take it from there. Due to the FAA's 51% rule, there is a considerable amount of work that you will still have to do, but if you can do the work, there are builders out there that you can employ to put the parts together.
The price for the most basic Bearhawk 4 kit, which only includes the fuselage, is $10,850. For this price, you will get the following items:
- Attachment fittings
- Main gear strut fittings
- Landing gear fittings
- Wing strut fittings
- Empennage fittings
To purchase the wings it will cost you more.
You could purchase what the company calls the Quick Build Kit. This is almost everything you will need, but it is still not enough to get you airborne. The price of the Quick Build Kit is $47,000. You will still need the engine, propeller, and avionics.
If you decide to go with a top-of-the-line Lycoming IO-540, that will set you back $65,000. You will still need a propeller. The price for an 80-inch two-blade fixed-pitch prop from Sensenich is $4,000.
As for avionics, there are a number of ways of getting what you need to equip your home-built. You could go the used-market route. There are a number of aviation-related sites that have some fairly good packages between $4,000 and $6,000.
A used IFR package varies a little more. It’s not just the condition it's in, but also the kind of equipment that comes with it. But it's a safe bet to look at a used set of IFR equipment to be priced around $10,000.
On the other hand, if you want to fit your new kit with new avionics, then something like Garmins basic VFR avionics package can be sourced for around $10,000, while an IFR package from Garmin will cost $23,000.
Excluding man-hours to construct the Bearhawk, with all the necessary parts to get it airborne, it will cost $139,000.
On the other hand, if you are not the kind who is set up with a hangar or a workshop that can build this kit out, then you would have to get a builder to do it for you. It will take about 1200 to 1500 hours to get it assembled, depending on the skill of the builder.
The cost to operate the Bearhawk 4 goes beyond its purchase price. And that includes the cost of funds that were used in the purchase. I find that bush planes and private aircraft, excluding private jets, and high-ticket aircraft, are evaluated using different calculation methods. Some even include depreciation. But for now, we will leave all tax and finance numbers out to get a feel for what it looks like to own and operate a Bearhawk.
A major line item in your cost to operate the Bearhawk 4 will be the insurance premium. For qualified pilots insurance premiums can be as much as 2.9% of the hull value, and in Bearhawk’s case, it is likely they will value it at about $150,000. At its lowest, your premium will be $4,350 per annum.
Less qualified pilots can expect 3.5% of the hull’s value as their annual premium which works out to be $5,250. There is also the possibility of not getting any insurance for those who have zero tailwheel time.
Maintenance issues that you should prepare for include the overhaul of the engine. Most Lycoming engines you choose will have a 2000-hour interval between overhauls. A typical overhaul that only needs the heads to be replaced would cost about $25,000.
If you are running your engine within parameters you shouldn’t have to worry about the engine case for at least 2 TBO cycles. At that point, you would probably have to overhaul everything including the case or get a new engine.
A conservative estimate for the Lycoming IO-540 then would be to look at it over 6000 hours. In that time you will need to replace the entire engine once for $64,000 and the cylinders two times prior, at $25,000 each, for a total of $114,000. This tells you that you should put aside $19 every hour you fly.
You also have to think about maintaining your prop. The TBO on a prop is typically 2000 hours or two years. It would cost you about $800 to overhaul your prop.
By the end of 2,000 hours, you would have $38,000 in the kitty, which will be enough to pay for the first round of cylinder replacements and some left over as you continue accumulating the fund needed for the next cycle.
Fuel is another cost that you have to keep in mind. Your fuel costs will depend on how you use the aircraft. If you constantly fly across long distances, with average loads, then your average fuel burn will differ from someone who flies at a low altitude fast, and heavy. On average the Bearhawk has a fuel burn of 8 gallons per hour resulting in $52 per hour at $6.50 per gallon.
As a privately owned and operated aircraft you are not required to do 100-hour inspections, and, in fact, as an experimental aircraft you don’t really have to conduct Annual inspections. What you do have to do is conduct Yearly Condition Inspections.
The trick to owning experimental aircraft, which is what the Bearhawk is, technically, is that you can be the mechanic who signs off on the Inspection. You can do that if you are given a Repairman Certificate by the FAA.
To get that certificate and to be able to sign off on your own Yearly Condition Inspection, you don’t need prior school as an A&P. You just need to show proof that you were the person who put the whole plane together.
You will be doing yourself a big favor if you had lots of images and videos to catalog your build process. If you have that in order, just take it to the nearest field office and you will come away with the Repairman Certificate.
The cost of the yearly inspection will depend on if the aircraft is continuously checked and maintained. If regularly inspected, and the oil is regularly changed, providing the oil analysis comes back clean, then there is a good chance that your Yearly Inspection will only cost you about $600.
For that, make it a point to do 50-hour oil changes and preventive maintenance. The IO-540 has a 12-quart capacity. If you end up doing 50-hour oil changes, it will cost you $120 for the oil and $30 for the filter. So figure $150 every 50 hours.
Another cost to consider is the cost of hangaring. If you are parking it in your own hangar, on a farm or ranch somewhere, then this obviously does not apply. But for those of you who hangar this at your airport, then a T-hangar will cost about $600 a month, or $7,200 a year.
Finally, I would put aside a small fund as the plane ages to handle unexpected repairs. Torn fabric, bald spots on rough landings, radio upgrades, and such can all come as a surprise when you least expect it. Having a fund built into the hourly cost of flying can be good practice for peace of mind.
What you will quickly notice in the various costs that you will incur when you own a Bearhawk 4 is that the costs are not always directly related to flying the plane. These are what we call Fixed Costs. They include insurance premiums, hangar costs, and the Yearly Inspection. Based on what we have already set out above, your fixed costs for all this add up to $13,050.
Direct Operating Cost
All the other costs you incur can be captured under this heading. Maintenance, fuel, oil burn, and so on, only register a cost when you crank the engine up. From what we have already listed above The DOC for the Bearhawk 4 adds up to $19 for the overhaul fund, 40 cents for the prop overhaul fund, $52 per hour for fuel, and $3 for the oil changes. This adds up to $71.40 per hour.
With $71.40 per hour in Direct Operating Costs and $13,050 per year in Fixed Costs we need to find a way to break it down into a uniform hourly cost. For that, we need to make an assumption of how many hours we plan to fly in one year.
If you assume you will fly 1,000 hours in a year then your Fixed costs average $13.05 per hour. Added to the DOC of $71.4 your hourly cost to operate a Bearhawk 4 will be $84.45. On the other hand, if you only fly it 400 hours a year, then your Fixed Cost will break down to $32.63 per hour. Your DOC will still be $71.4 making your total hourly cost to be $105.03 per hour.
Most planes have the correct V speeds already represented on the airspeed indicator. The bottom of the white arc and the top of the green arc, for instance, all mean something specific to that plane. The Bearhawk, however, does not have those speeds marked on the ASI.
If you bet a glass cockpit, you can have the computers indicate different speeds of importance, but if you are using steam gauges, you will have to get the airspeed indicator marked aftermarket.
There are three speeds of special significance when it comes to the Bearhawk. And that is the approach speed, stall speed, and never exceed speed. It would be good if you can have a placard on your dash with all the different speeds, but these three have to be committed to memory.
When you fly the numbers, the Bearhawk flies like it's on rails. It lands like a charm each time, even in a stiff crosswind. Make the base to final turn twelve knots above the stall speed and plan to cross the threshold at five knots above its low stall speed.
Landing with full flaps has the best results even in a crosswind landing. The Bearhawk has a maximum demonstrated crosswind of 10 knots.
The Bearhawk has multiple engine options and the one discussed here uses the O-360. It is important to remember that fuel burn is a function of a number of elements including altitude, mission, payload, power setting, and
Being a bush plane, the Bearhawk is designed to fly as high as 15,000 feet, but it's not what we usually think of in terms of cruising altitude. The final cruise altitude depends a lot on the engine that you choose. But the point here is that even with a 15,000-ft ceiling, the aircraft loves to be in the 3000-5000 AGL range whenever possible.
At this level fuel burn at 75% power is about 8 gallons per hour for this particular engine. A larger engine will generate greater horsepower and consume more fuel. You will be able to reduce the fuel burn by investing in a good EGT so that you can learn it precisely.
About THE AUTHOR
After spending years watching every video I could find about flying, I finally scratched the itch and got my pilots license. Now I fly every chance I get, and share the information I learn, here.Read More About Joe Haygood