Dennis Butler has had two careers. The first, based on his degree in physics, was working for a number of companies that were involved with NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The second was his Cozy III. The aircraft was an “endeavor” that took 20 years to build and kept him fascinated and involved all the way. This past summer he flew his Cozy to AirVenture and, after winning a Silver Lindy in 2011, he took home the Golden Grand Champion Plans-Built Award.
The two decades of learning and effort that went into Butler’s project are a testimony to an individual who enjoyed learning as much as building and flying; to someone who never saw any part of the project as insurmountable. He just encountered each new skill requirement or aircraft system as an opportunity to learn, knowing he could master whatever it took to get the job done. This was more than a simple assembly program. it required learning how to do everything, from determining what materials he needed, to mastering every form of fabrication.
Having studied the plans, Butler set himself an extra level of challenge before he ordered a single part or piece of material. The original three-seat Cozy was cramped, so Butler decided to enlarge the design by 10 percent in all directions. He redrew the plans and consulted with some of his friends in the space program. There were always plenty of engineers available for opinions and verifying. That, of course, eliminated any possibility of using any of the prefabricated parts manufactured by third parties.
The Cozy is a design that requires the builder to rotate the fuselage a number of times. It’s too big for one or two men to handle, so Dennis hosted a series of “Aircraft Attitude Adjustment Parties.” He’d make up a batch of lasagna, invite 10 to 15 people to come over to his house for lunch and then flip the fuselage over before serving up Italian food. He did that five times over a dozen years and everyone enjoyed it.
In the process of making his wings, canard and fuselage, Butler incorporated about between 70 and 80 mods to the plans Nat Puffer supplied him with, in addition to expanding the design by 10 percent.
Butler designed his own landing lights, implemented an electric nose gear retract mechanism, reduced the configuration of the fuel tanks to provide more room in the cockpit (he still has 7 hours of fuel in economy cruise) and created removable side panels that allow him access to control tubes, cables and wires. At John Roncz’s recommendation, he also changed the shape of his canard.
Between the Silver last year and the Gold this year, he added wheelpants and tended to a number of details that put him over the top, making him part of a very exclusive club. It was a little like winning an Oscar.