Kitplane Designer James Bede Dies

A life marked by big ideas and bold predictions.

James “Jim” Bede, the sometimes-controversial airplane designer who created more than a dozen airplanes types since the 1960s — including the Bede BD-5J micro jet that appeared in a James Bond film — died on July 9 in Cleveland, Ohio. He was 82.

Born in Cleveland in April 1933, Bede graduated from Wichita State University in Kansas with a degree in aeronautical engineering. He briefly joined North American Aviation, but left the company in 1961 to found his own aircraft design firm. The BD-1 kitplane, which became the low-wing American Aviation AA1 Yankee Clipper, was his first design.

Bede went on to develop a number of other kitplanes, including the high-wing BD-4 and the BD-5 micro. The jet-powered version appeared in the 1983 movie “Octopussy” and quickly became an airshow favorite.

A string of business failures marred Bede’s reputation as he continued to hype his designs, which always seemed to overstate performance and understate kit build times. Despite taking deposits for more than 11,000 BD-5 kits, estimates put the total number built at around 150.

Still, there’s no doubt that Bede was a father of the kit building movement in the 1960s and 1970s, with dreams of flight that sometimes outpaced his bold predictions.

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