Tue Sep 11, 2012 10:02 am #1097948
Following on from Justin Cox's excellent flight test of the Norman Freelance and Nymph, Alex Norman, owners of the Freelance and son of its designer, Desmond Norman, looks back at the history and development of this aircraft and its close relative, the Nymph.
Having recently launched the globally successful BN2a Islander, John Britten and Desmond Norman conceived the BN3 Nymph as a means of challenging the domination of Cessna and Piper in the field of light utility aircraft.
A conventional high-wing design, the aeroplane was to be offered with three different engine options, 115hp,130hp and 160hp. So far, not so different. What distinguished the Nymph from its contemporaries was its load-carrying capability. By employing a wing of higher aspect ratio than usual - its span was 39ft against 36ft for the Cessna 172 and 30ft for the Piper Cherokee - the Nymph would have significantly better payload than its rivals while at lower weights it would have some of the STOL characteristics for which the Islander was famous. The aeroplane was also to be offered with a folding wing, offering cost savings to customers who would pay less for hangarage.
There is no such thing as a free meal in aircraft design and the penalty accepted for the larger wing area was a small decrease in cruising speed in comparison with the Nymph's competitors. But it was felt that this was acceptable given that these were relatively low anyway. Furthermore, by employing a wing tip based on the brilliantly efficient one developed for the Islander, this penalty could be reduced to no more than five mph in the lowest powered version and ten for the highest. The 160hp Nymph's book cruise was given as 130mph against the 172's 140mph. But the disposable load of the Nymph was 1,100lb against the 172's 750lbs.
In the event, only a single prototype of the Nymph was built. It was first flown on 17 May 1969. Britten-Norman fell victim to an early version of credit crunch when the subsidiary of Lloyds bank, from which the company had borrowed £250,000 to build a manufacturing facility at Bembridge on the Isle of Wight, got into difficulties and called in the loan. Despite the fact that the company was selling aircraft as fast as it could produce them, and despite B-N's order books being full, including 105 taken for the Nymph, the receivers were called in. In the restructuring that followed, the Nymph was abandoned.
In 1982, however, while development of his Firecracker military trainer was underway and work on an agricultural aircraft, the Fieldmaster, was just beginning, Desmond Norman re-acquired the Nymph project from the museum in Dundee to which it had been sold. Here was a ready-made project which, with minimal investment, could, he hoped, be brought to fruition.
In the period between early eighties and the time of the Nymph's original conception, the goal-posts had shifted considerably. Cessna and Piper were both on their knees due to the product liability debacle which almost killed off light aircraft manufacture in the US.
Norman's plan was thus to update and upgrade the Nymph and position it as a touring/ utility aircraft to compete against both the Cessna 172 and the 182, and their equivalents. To this end, the cabin was to be enlarged, the amount of glass increased dramatically and the engine upgraded. The Nymph prototype was used as the test-bed for the bigger engine and it became the sole example of an aeroplane which the CAA has permitted to go from fully certificated aircraft to prototype, with different registration, of a 'new' type, the NAC-2 Freelance.
When Norman set up manufacture of the Fieldmaster at Rhoose airport, a Freelance production line was established alongside and seven major sub-assemblies were completed before the company folded in 1988, victim to the downturn in agricultural aviation. As a result, the Freelance project was still-born with only a single production prototype built. This is G-NACA. Norman's efforts to obtain funding to rescue the project failed. He died in 2002 and with him the dream of an all-British aircraft to compete on equal terms with the American giants.
To read more about the Norman Freelance and Nymph, you can buy the October issue of FLYER from your local WH Smiths or from Steve Harries on 01225 481440, firstname.lastname@example.org