N202MK....Primal Fear....End of an Era...Already in the paint Booth

Mv031161's picture

Sorry but after many hate mails I needed to explain myself...after 14 years the paint looked decent but it was a 100 footer. Any closer and you see the scabs, patches, scratches, etc.....Time for a paint job!

I wanted to pay homage to the aircraft by reposting Sports Aviation Article about my aircraft. Paint brushing was never my thing. Primal Fear grew on me after a while and it was a cool aircraft to own. Especially among kids! As I told many, if you love the paint so much, the aircraft could be purchased for $200K. I know the new paint job will never be close to the original...but it is gonna be me, mine and ready for competition at IAC level!

Sun Fun '99 

It's your worst nightmare...part machine, part living creature... an unspeakable alien life form on spectral livings. Cool it, sci-fi thrill seekers, no EAAers at Lakeland had their hearts chewed out by merciless biomechanical mandibles or had their brains liquefied by some cosmic harmonic and replaced by an alien control unit... although there were those who took on the vacuous stare of one possessed by otherworldly forces when they encountered Mike Campbell's latest venture into aeronautical surrealism... his dark and foreboding Primal Fear.

You remember Mike... he burst upon the EAA fly-in scene in 1993 with his stunning Lancair 320, the "Dream Catcher", with its life size "Flying Lady" airbrushed on the bottom of the fuselage and wings. Featured on the cover of the August 1994 issue of Sport Aviation, the airplane would win a ton of trophies over the succeeding year or two and would be the star of a TV show on the Discovery Channel. One of the viewers of that show was so entranced by the Dream Catcher that he simply had to have it - and had the resources and powers of persuasion to talk Mike out of it. Suddenly without an airplane for the first time in years, Mike bought a 1977 Mooney 201J "just to have something to fly" while he began a serious study of the homebuilt field to determine what his next project would be. His selection of the Lancair 320 had been a matter of love at first sight, its sensuous lines overwhelming any other considerations. This time, however, he knew exactly what he wanted: a two seat all-out aerobatic airplane.

Bob Herendeen had conducted the initial flights of the Dream Catcher and had given Mike some dual in his highly modified Glasair 111... enough that he had become completely enamored with aerobatics. He subsequently enjoyed performing the high speed, wide radius type of aerobatics possible in the Lancair, but by the time it was sold, he was ready to progress to the next, more demanding level. "The fast track to aerobatic perfection, I guess you would say, is to get instruction, so I had to have a two-place airplane. Having built the Lancair, I was partial to composite construction, so when I heard Richard Giles was coming out with a two-place version of his all-carbon G-200,1 was really interested. After I sold the Dream Catcher, I ordered the new G-202 and started spending every weekend at the plant in Oregon in a factory supervised building program. After about two months, however, I loaded it up on a U-Haul and drove it home to Arizona. I expect my airplane to be airworthy, but beyond that, I have my cosmetic standards and I just couldn't achieve them on a part-time basis. Here I was back in the airplane building business again, and remembering how much of myself I had spent on the Lancair project, I couldn't believe I was letting myself in for that again.

"The 202 airframe is totally pre molded, and goes together quite rapidly. The bottom half of the fuselage was already on the gear when I brought it home to Scottsdale, so I could easily roll it around and it was at a convenient height to install all the systems. When I built the Lancair, my dad told me I had to have a name for it. I said no, that's ridiculous, but he persisted and came up with the name 'Dream Catcher.' He was right and agreeing to use it was one of the smartest things I ever did. It gave the plane its own personality, led to its paint job and had a lot to do with all the awards it would win. I knew I was going to name the 202 for the same reason, but for the longest time I just couldn't think of one I really liked. Then one day a friend of mine said, 'I can't believe you're building an aerobatic plane — you're nuts!' I said, 'What's nuts about it? When it's finished, I'll take you for an aerobatic ride and show you how much fun it is.' He said, 'No you won't, flying is like falling and I fear that... in fact, it's beyond normal fear, it's a primal fear.' 'That's it!' I go, 'that's the name I've been looking for - Primal Fear!' So, the plane had a name very early in the project, and I had a lot of time to think about a paint scheme that suggested 'Primal Fear.'"

Since he was building an unlimited aerobatic airplane, Mike decided to buy a new 180 hp Lycoming AEIO-360, then, as he had done with the Dream Catcher's engine, have LyCon in Visalia, CA hop it up. "With all the parts they replaced, I probably should have gone with a rebuilt engine, but I just wanted to start with a new one. Mine was the first new engine they took apart and hopped up. Afterwards they did three or four more and learned how to get an additional 10 h.p. out of them. Mine wasn't ready to go on the airplane yet, so I shipped it back to them and they made the additional modifications. They ended up getting 245 h.p. out of it. Every year, those guys get a little more power out of the engines they do. I know it reduces the TBO some, but who cares. You're going to take a look inside an acrobatic engine before you get to 2,000 hours anyway."

Knowing the hard use his engine would undergo in Primal Fear, Mike had Gary Monckton, who was the mechanic for the U.S. Aerobatic Team, do the installation. Gary had the fuselage at his home in Angel Fire, NM for about six months - which was just enough time for Mike to get himself in further aeronautical mischief. With time on his hands with the 202 away, he began looking at his Mooney with a critical eye and decided he could "fix it up a bit." Perfectionist that he is, he ended up a few months later with a 201 so pristine that it was able to beat out brand new airplanes for Best In Series at a subsequent Mooney Aircraft Pilot's Association (MAPA) convention.

The engine installation interlude also kicked Mike's quest for an appropriate paint scheme into high gear. It had been something on his mind every day since coming up with the name Primal Fear, but he just hadn't been able to imagine a graphics and color scheme as dramatic as the name demanded. Finally, one day he strode into his local Barnes and Noble book store in search of ideas and without really knowing why, ended up in the science fiction section. "I was looking at covers and came across this book by H. R. Giger. He's the guy who created the 'aliens' for the movie series that seared the world half to death. I sat down with the book and started paging through his fantastically horrible biomechanical creatures . . . and noticed that everyone who walked by stopped to look over my shoulder. They would look at the book, look at me, look back at the book . . . and just stand there fro/en in their tracks! They had to look! "I've found it! I thought. This is what I've been looking for — this is something people won't be able to walk by. They'll have to look at it, even if they don't want to!'

The problem was, however, that Giger's stuff was so complex that I couldn't even describe it to my air brush genius, Larry Vela, who had done Dream Catcher for me. After he finished that job, he swore he would never paint an airplane again, but after showing him the book and what I had in mind, he became intrigued by the concept and I was able to talk him into doing Primal Fear. We did not set out to directly copy any of Giger's creations, but, rather, to be inspired by his work and come up with our own 'biomechanical' plane."

The painting of Primal Fear turned out to be a rather bizarre operation . . . largely because Mike set a personal goal of flying the airplane to Sun 'n Fun '99. Knowing he might have to make modifications, he flew the first 16 hours in primer — and, sure enough, he had to install a larger oil cooler and enlarge the air outlets in the cowling to cope with Arizona's desert temperatures.

When the mechanical bugs finally seemed to have been worked out, the airframe was cleaned up and the base coats were applied: purple on the bottom and black on all the top surfaces. PPG paint products were used from start to finish, including the air brushing. Larry simply thinned the same polyurethane used on the rest of the airframe to use in his equipment.

The amazing thing about the "alien" graphics that went onto Primal Fear is the fact that they were made up as Mike and Larry went along. There was no preliminary drawing or guide of any sort. The starting point was a "spine" down each side of the fuselage, from which all the rest of the science fiction strangeness would emanate. All sorts of techniques were dreamed up to create patterns, textures and visual effects. Perforated metal screens, for example, were used as stencils to create the center portion of the "spines", and a thin layer of material stripped from a furnace filter was used as a stencil to create the "hair" on the wings. Similarly, strips of lace were sprayed through to create the patterns around the bubble canopy. To keep coming up with different effects, Larry and Mike had all their friends on the lookout for any and all sorts of patterned material that could be used as stencils, and they came up with some wild ones.

The biomechanical creature features came from Larry's mind and talented hand with the air brush. Incredibly complex, they require one to view them on several conscious levels. At a casual glance, an area will appear to be a wild tangle of hoses, wires, and vaguely familiar mechanical and electrical components, but upon closer examination, strange body parts... helmeted heads and space suited arms... begin to emerge, almost as much in one's imagination as in reality. Like "seeing" recognizable shapes in clouds, you have to wonder if everyone looking at Primal Fear perceives the same shapes, if their imaginations put together the same elements to create the same "creature" or mechanical device.

Aside from the creation of each of the individual elements, themselves, the biggest problem was making them seem to flow together to form a plausible though totally bizarre whole, and it did not always work. Sometimes Larry would work all day imagining some weird new "construction", only to step back and find that it just didn't work with the area adjacent to it. When that happened, the work was simply painted over in the black base coat and redone using new, even wilder ideas.

The air brushing alone took two and a half months of eight hour days, six days per week to complete. During that period. Mike would take off from his work and spend the last three hours of the working day with Larry, critiquing the work already done and brainstorming what would come next. Mike's wife, Allison, had a lot of fun zinging him during this intense period with comments like, "Want to go to a movie tonight . . . oh, I forgot, you're going to watch paint dry."

As is usually the case in such a highly creative endeavor, Mike and Larry didn't always agree on the various design elements, but most of the time they worked together well and the result is probably the most unusual and provocative paint scheme ever put on an airplane. "What I wanted was a 50 foot presentation, a 10 foot presentation, a five foot presentation and, finally, a two inch presentation. I wanted everyone to see things differently and see different things at each of those distances. From 50 feet I wanted them to see an airplane with a very understated black, white and gray paint scheme, but with enough detail visible to make them curious as to what it actually represented. At 10 feet they would begin to see a 'person' sort of embedded in the fuselage among the tangle of wires and hoses . .. then at five feet they would begin to see details like a skull in there and the metal tongs in his backbone .. . and at a really close distance, the veins, cracks in the skull, the rust running off the 'nails" in the N-numbers and so on. I wanted a new level of discovery for every few feet closer to the plane.

"Dream Catcher drew you to it with vibrant colors, but I didn't want to use color for that purpose on Primal Fear. I wanted the 'alien' theme and all its unique details to be the focus on this one. There is color on the plane, but you have to get in close to see it. It's very subtle. The bottom of the airplane is totally different. It is purple, like one of the colors on Dream Catcher, but you really don't see it until the plane is in the air. The undersides of the wing tips are white for visibility and for doing aerobatics — to show AHNOLD GHEENWELL which side the judges are seeing during a routine."

After the creative design work was completed, the clear coats were applied and two weeks of thousand grit sanding and buffing began. This was where Mike and Larry "got on each other's nerves", because Mike was flying the airplane during the day to get the time flown off before Sun 'n Fun and Larry was sanding and buffing at night. The bone of contention was having to clean all the buffing compound off the airplane each night, so Mike could fly it the next day. Larry finally resorted to covering all of the airframe with plastic, except for the area he was working on, in order to cut down on clean-up time.

While all the pressure was on getting the stupendous paint job completed before Sun 'n Fun, the usual airframe and systems work had been completed more or less in the normal sequence. Mike's Lancair 320 had been a pure luxury boat, with ultra plush upholstery and a panel loaded with avionics... and it was heavy. This time, Mike was determined to keep his 202 light, but did make a couple of concessions. "My wife would never fly in the airplane unless it had a heater, and I would never fly it unless it had a CD player, so those two items went in. I also installed navigation lights and a landing light,which earned me some ridicule from my aerobatic friends, but I had to use them twice prior to Sun 'n Fun, so that was a good decision. I also added a second set of cockpit fresh air vents to help in our desert climate. Otherwise, I went for a very basic interior, with just the seats upholstered and only the basic instrumentation and avionics. I used the Vision Microsystems engine gage package, which is very light, and a KX135A, which has a built-in moving map. I did put carbon fiber over the fiberglass panel pieces to kinda dress them up a bit, but that didn't add much weight. "The empty weight turned out to be 1,050 pounds. The factory specs say 950 pounds, but I don't know of any customer-built 202 that is that light. Most are about what mine weighs or heavier. With the few extras I added, I'm pleased with the weight."

Mike's G-202 was kit number 11 and came with the original tall landing gear. Subsequently, a shorter gear has been made available that provides a better view over the nose when landing, but Mike likes the more aggressive looking stance of the airplane on the tall gear. Matco wheels and brakes are used, along with a steerable tail wheel, so the equipment is there to keep the airplane straight on rollout.

The Lycoming drives a three-blade MT aerobatic propeller. . . a black propeller, rather than MT's usual white finish. A few eyebrows were raised at the factory when the order came through, but the prop was delivered as Mike requested.

"One of the great things about this airplane is its fuel capacity. Although it is among the best aerobatic airplanes, it is not limited to a little 10 gallon tank that allows just 30 minutes of high power operation at a time. It has a 57 gallon capacity — 20 gallons in each wing and 17 in the header tank. When you do aerobatics, the wing tanks should be empty, and you can go knife edge and drain all the fuel in a tank. That way, you don't have to drain the wing tanks when you arrive at an airshow or competition site. I also have an eight gallon smoke tank, which is mounted under the front cockpit. I have the smoke oil nozzles drilled out so I can put an airport in hard IFR for five minutes! It really makes smoke.

"It's an awesome airplane. It really does perform as advertised, with a roll rate of over 400° per second and a 2,800 ft. vertical penetration... and, remember, this is with a four cylinder engine.

The way the cockpits are set up, I have brakes in the back only. The avionics and engine instruments are in the back, and the airspeed, G-meter, compass and altimeter are in the front panel. When you have someone in the front seat, you have to have them call out your airspeeds. You typically come across the numbers at 85 knots and everything pretty well disappears when you flare. You sit back at a 45° angle in the rear seat and you really can't see over the nose even in straight and level flight. If you are on a wide runway, you can see the edges, but it's a little harder when you're on a narrow one. It sounds hard, but it's just something you get used to. "

I really love the airplane its performance and its appearance. I had a lot of help on this one. Gary Monckton did an awesome job on the engine installation and, of course, Larry Vela's work on the graphics and finish speak for themselves. He actually developed some new techniques in the course of doing this job and wants to keep them to himself for as long as he can. He normally does vans, motorcycles and such and it's a very competitive business. Like Dream Catcher, Primal Fear is developing its own personality as more people see it, and I'm really looking forward to showing it around the country this summer."

When Mike arrived at Sun 'n Fun '99, some perceptive parking volunteer look one look at Primal Fear and said, "I've got just the place for you." The airplane was tied down just outside the lAC/air show tent and immediately outside the flight line gate to the aerobatic and war bird area probably the most heavily used pedestrian gate on the site. Everyone who went in or out had to walk within a few feet of Primal Fear... and, certainly, no one could walk by such an otherworldly apparition and fail to notice it. Watching the reaction of EAAers passing by was one of the most interesting and amusing forms of entertainment at Sun 'n Fun. Predictably, the younger set was blown away at first glance. Having grown up with Star Wars, the Alien series and all the rest of the science fiction movies, with the wild graphics and "extreme" this and "extreme" that of today's media saturated world, they grasped the significance of Primal Fear's graphics instantly . . . and loved it! A lexicographer seeking to document the very latest youth slang for ultimate cool would have had a field day. The reactions of older EAAers seemed to vary, ranging from amusement to puzzlement to shock . .. and even to "I must be seeing things — I'll just turn away and maybe it will be gone when I look back!" Whatever, Mike is certainly correct when he says, "People will either love it or hate it but they can't ignore it." Everyone, of course, recognized and appreciated the superb workmanship that went into the construction of the airplane.