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Daily Bee Sunday, August 27, 2000

Sparkless . . .
Flight Makes Aviation History
By MARY BERRYHILL

SANDPOINT - Dr. Forrest Bird didn't hesitate taking off in his vintage Piper J3 cub airplane... even though it didn't have one spark plug in the entire engine! When he flew over Lake Pend Oreille last week, his flight made aviation history

For the first time ever, a gasoline fueled, piston engine aircraft was flown with no spark plugs or magnetos to initiate combustion. To the layperson, the event means - well – a practically impossible feat! And to Dr. Forrest M. Bird, M.D., Ph.D., Sc.D., one with credits to his name too numerous to mention, looked at the possibility from a physicists point of view, and said, "It just can't be." Bird, himself, is an inventor who, during the last decade, was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Bird knows planes. His father, a World War I pilot, encouraged him to solo in an airplane by the age of 14, and by 16, Bird had been tutored toward earning major flight authorizations. During World War II, as a pilot/technical engineering officer, he became competent in almost every type of military aircraft from fighters to bombers.

Thirty years after Bird's solo flight, Mark Cherry, a young boy of ten years old, had asked his father why automobiles couldn't use an ignition system as simple as his model airplane's "glow plug." When he didn't get what he considered a satisfactory answer, Mark spent the next 27 years trying to understand the combustion process and to develop the technology that would answer his question. 'My answer was now installed in Dr. Bird's airplane. Bird said that he realized "the thought" of Mark's invention was out there, "but I figured that it was impossible looking at it from a physicist's point of view," Bird said. "I thought that it just couldn't be - to get the explosion at the right time in every cylinder with no moving parts. It was impossible."

The Smartplug project had been in the making for three years and finally, when the day had arrived for its testing, the flight was witnessed by the Federal Aviation Agency official, John Phillips, a film crew, and numerous other interested parties. Baseline tests were performed making sure that the engine was healthy and airworthy and after initial testing was completed, the ignitors were installed.

"I always said that the first person to fly with ignitors would be Dr. Bird," said aircraft inspector, Charles Vanderstelt. "His credibility is unsurpassed."

Bird was ready for take of from Bird Airlodge in Glengary Bay. The engine started, he taxied out a short distance and the take off was a picture of perfection - and so was the flight.

"I've had this plane for 30 years - this particular one, "Bird said. "And I tell you it ran smoother than it ever ran. It ran absolutely flawlessly. These guys have really done their homework.

The "guys" that Bird referred to was Automotive Resources Inc.'s three crew members: Mark Cherry, inventor of the Smartplug and director of catalytic systems, Rick Course, director of engine management and Charles Vanderstelt, licensed by the FAA as an aircraft inspector.

It wasn't a question of whether or not the plane would fly with Mark's invention – the crew had been working with the technology for the past ten years. Its testing had been completed and all systems were "go."

"For us, the greatest satisfaction of all was to see how much Dr. Bird enjoyed the performance of the technology after the flight," Mark said. "Dr. Bird is a very accomplished aviator. He has also accomplished much in the field of medicine as well as in the field of aviation. To have someone of his caliber be impressed with our technology was the greatest accomplishment of all. I am excited that the airplane flew because it is an historical event but that was secondary to Dr. Bird's enthusiasm."

Mark mentioned that the concept was simple as well as the mechanism of the Smartplug/ignitor itself.

"How we make it is the difficult part to explain," he said.

After running numerous kinds of engines on various types of fuels, Mark's idea had come full circle and his question as a young boy had finally been answered.

"I know that they've approached many bright people during the different stages of this project and I'm sure that they've come across many people who have said that it just couldn't be done. I, myself, was astounded," Bird said. "I would never have believed someone if they had told me that one day I'd fly an airplane without a magneto."



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