The Red Rocket

I suppose every pilot has a catalog of “dream aircraft” they’d like to fly before their gravity-defying days are over. My bucket list includes a quirky looking homebuilt called the Questair Venture.

The Venture conjures up a unique set of images: blistering speed, eggs, air racing, and more than a crash or two. Many folks deride the airplane for it’s unusual fuselage shape. I’ll grant that she’s undoubtedly unique, but I happen to love the compact, curving visage of this zippy little ship.

Designed in the 1980s for maximum speed and efficiency, the Questair’s carefully crafted dimensions resulted in the one of the lowest drag GA airframes ever created. That’s what allowed it to win races at Reno, set time-to-climb records in the 3,000, 6,000, and 9,000 meter categories which were unassailed for nearly a decade, and achieve a high-altitude record of more than 35,000 feet. And lest we forget, it set those records without a turbocharger.

I have yet to fly a Venture — fewer than seventy were built — but as I said, it’s on my list of dream airplanes. Who wouldn’t enjoy a turbojet-like 3,000 fpm climb rate and 300 mph cruise speed on a miserly 13 gph?

The Venture is on my mind right now because a beautiful example of the breed graces the March cover of Sport Aviation magazine. Painted in a pure, vibrant red from tip to tail, this particular airplane started life as a fixed-gear version (which just seems wrong!) called the Spirit. It was purchased by Jerry Mercer and completed with retractable landing gear and a few other noteworthy mods. It’s poetry in motion, the sort of aircraft that can’t be done justice with words — or even photos — on a page.

And that’s why I was moved to write about it when I discovered this high-definition video of Mercer’s Venture sailing over the Malibu coastline. I’ve worked with the videographer, Jessica Ambats, on an air-to-air shoot before and she’s one of the best. When you combine her artistry, an impeccably-built red rocket ship, and the picturesque scenery of the southern California coastline, this is the result:

  29 comments for “The Red Rocket

  1. Graeme
    April 15, 2014 at 10:39 am

    Eggs, huh? What a gorgeous ship. I’ve heard of the name but haven’t seen a picture of it before now.

    Looks very maneuverable and fast.

    On my list, the one that keeps popping up is the BD5.

    In some ways, I think the venture resembles it

    • April 15, 2014 at 10:42 am

      Funny you should mention the BD-5, because Jerry Mercer used to own a “J” model (the one with the jet engine), as I recall. That thing is diminutive and fast even by Questair standards!

  2. Graeme
    April 15, 2014 at 10:48 am

    Ah, I can see Mr Mercer and myself on the same page on several things. Speaking of aircraft and art. I’ve had quite a few ideas and inspirations this week with aviation and art. I’ll detail it to you in an email shortly.

  3. Charlie Mike
    April 15, 2014 at 10:58 am

    I find it highly appropriate that your bucket list queen looks like something Willy Wonka would commission. To each his own. I plan on taking an F4U or P51 on a joyride to Catalina and back before my time is up. Of course I’ll need to enlist your services for that tailwheel endorsement beforehand.

    • April 15, 2014 at 11:07 am

      Hey, I think Willy Wonka would have made a fantastic aeronautical engineer. An airplane made out of candy? What better way to get kids interested in flying. The Corsair and Mustang are awesome, but that’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Bushmen in the Kalahari desert who have never even seen an airplane probably have it on their list. :)

  4. Charlie Mike
    April 15, 2014 at 11:44 am

    Agreed. Warbirds are an easy choice, for a reason. There is something about them that just commands respect. Not just for what they are and where they’ve been. Its the combination of traits that they possess that elicits a rush of blood to the loins of the true hangar rat. The look, the smell, the sound, (the taste when know one is looking). This amalgamation of characteristics in motion triggers an overload of emotion (curiosity, excitement, awe, fear, love, envy, jealousy, etc) that cannot be replicated by anything else. You are correct Ron, who doesn’t want a warbird?!
    “We see objects of great beauty and we must have them.” G. Costanza cir. 1993

    • April 15, 2014 at 1:00 pm

      Well-spoken, sir.

      P.S. As I recall, shortly after that quote was uttered, Costanza had to make due with prune juice and the Ray Coniff Singers…

  5. Rob
    April 15, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    Ron, that really is a flying work of art! I think we share the same taste in aircraft curves! There’s just something about an aircraft that doesn’t take much coaxing to get her airborne and up to altitude. Thanks for sharing! I didn’t even know this beauty existed!

    • April 15, 2014 at 8:36 pm

      Glad I could introduce you to a new aircraft, Rob! You’re so right, these planes are finely tuned pieces of mechanical art. Like a tourbillon timepiece, they’re comprised of countless hand-crafted parts which fit together in perfect harmony.

  6. April 15, 2014 at 6:40 pm

    Awesome Ron! I have always been a fan, although I’ve never had the pleasure of flying one. It is an amazing design for sure. Kudos to Jessica on the video – superb work, as always!


    • April 15, 2014 at 8:40 pm

      She did the stills AND the video. It’s a major project assembling the photo plane, pilots, weather, and time of day for optimal light, but she makes it look easy. I think one of the harder parts is finding a Bonanza, Saratoga, or other such aircraft whose owner doesn’t mind flying their pride-and-joy with the rear doors removed. :)

  7. Chris
    April 15, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    Beautiful plane! Thanks Ron!

  8. Roger Loomis
    April 16, 2014 at 4:51 am

    Well, thanks for pointing out yet another thing I never did in my forty-one year flying career that I wish I had. You incomplete me.

    • April 16, 2014 at 8:56 am

      I know the feeling, Roger! So many airplanes, so little time. Reminds me of the last scene from “The Right Stuff”, where Yeager is portrayed as reaching for yet another milestone despite all the things he’d already accomplished. It’s apocryphal, yet something about it rings true.

  9. April 16, 2014 at 10:33 am

    Wow what a beautiful airplane Ron! That video is wonderful. I’m back in the states, lets fly soon :)

    • April 16, 2014 at 1:51 pm

      Welcome back; hope you had fun in Costa Rica! Yes, let’s do some flying!

  10. April 16, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    Jessica Ambats is, hands down, the best.

    • April 16, 2014 at 1:54 pm

      Agreed. She has an eye for great light, the best angle for a given airframe, and her videography has a three-dimensional quality about it. I think it has something to do with the difference in relative motion between the camera ship, terrain, and subject aircraft. And she’s a nice person to boot!

  11. April 17, 2014 at 11:33 am

    Where can I find one to buy?

    • April 17, 2014 at 12:33 pm

      Your best bet would probably be Barnstormers, Controller, Trade-a-Plane, or other used-aircraft site. If you want a new one, you’d have to build it yourself; the Venture is an Experimental-Amateur Built category aircraft. I’m not sure if kits are still available. Questair morphed into a company called NuVenture Aircraft. Their web site is still online but it doesn’t appear to have been updated in quite a while.

  12. C Gerker
    April 17, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    I witnessed the crash in 2002 of a Questair Venture at Reno. It appeared to have succumbed to tail surface flutter and pitch pump before nosing into the turf west of the start finish pylon. All I can offer is that workmanship must not suffer nor is the maintenance.

    • April 17, 2014 at 12:29 pm

      Absolutely. High-performance aircraft need high-performance workmanship, inspections, and upkeep in order to fly safely. Having said that, the activities at Reno push everyone’s hardware to the limit, achieving speeds that are often well above what the original designer had envisioned.

  13. Bill Cox
    April 18, 2014 at 6:13 pm

    Ron: The Venture is indeed an interesting machine to fly. I was fortunate back in the late 1980s to spend about 10 hours in one in conjunction with several print articles for Plane & Pilot, Homebuilt Aircraft and a few other magazines. I also wrote, associate produced and did formation work in a Venture for ABC-TV on the series, ABC’s Wide World of Flying at Mojave Airport above the high desert of California. (I believe that video is still available under the name “Wonderful World of Flying” on the internet.)

    The egg shape was a function of designer Jim Griswold’s belief that fuselage length should be minimized whenever possible to reduce wetted area. He believed that when the passenger cabin is accommodated, fit the tail with as little additional empennage as possible. The airplane was a nice flying machine, though I wasn’t wild about the breakout force associated with the side stick. (Breakout force is generated by a set of springs that return the stick to a neutral point in both pitch and roll when you complete a maneuver and release stick pressure.) Griswold also designed the control system for Alan and Dale Klapmeier on the Cirrus SR-20/22.

    The airplane I flew showed me more like 2500 fpm, still quite respectable. (Didn’t get to do that very often, as we were flying formation takeoffs and landings most of the time.) Also, it was not a 300 mph machine – probably more like 280 – though one of the shots on the ABC video was of a 300 mph pass at about 20 feet down Mojave’s main runway (with strong encouragement from the tower). The airplane was not really designed for aerobatics, but since it was an experimental, we did a few rolls for the Betacam. It’s a small airplane but relatively comfortable and easy to fly, despite its high performance.

    It was a truly fun machine, and I’m happy to have had the chance to fly it.

    By the way, in case you’re interested, we also did videos of the Lancair IVP, Aerostar 700P, Machen Superstar, TBM-700, Mooney TLS and many other hot rods on my segments, called “Left Seat Checkouts.”

    Bill Cox

    • April 19, 2014 at 7:10 pm

      Thanks for those insights into the Questair Venture, Bill! I love those WWOF videos. It’s a shame there’s nothing like it on television anymore. Most of those airplanes are still flying, and each has a fascinating story behind it.

      I thought that spring-loaded trim system sounded familiar! Many pilots today know the spring cartridges in the Cirrus line. It has some advantages, to be sure, but it also imparts an artificial control feel that keep the airplane from being quite as much fun to hand fly.

      Still, it’s hard to argue with Griswold’s results, and I can see the upside of keeping the breakout forces a little higher when the airplane is traveling at those speeds. A little control deflection goes a long way when you’re zipping along at 280! Other fast airplanes have similar items in the control system. For example, on the Gulfstream, there’s an eddy current damper (beneath the cockpit floor, as I recall) which serves to dampen excessive control inputs from the pilot.

  14. Zeke Berman
    April 24, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    exquisite film of a beautiful ship. BRAVO!

  15. November 21, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    Nifty and sharp video, I looked at a couple of these rockets years ago at Oshkosh, beautiful ship. wish they were still flying…..!

    • Andre Durocher
      October 1, 2015 at 7:29 pm

      Also, we, Venturions, have a Yahoo group: where you can find lots of information. More and more Venture are flying. This is an all aluminum airplane. By the mile, it is 20% cheaper to fly compare to a Cessna 150. I love my Venture!

  16. Andre Durocher
    October 1, 2015 at 7:08 pm

    They are still flyin and coming back in force after some very goods mods perfected from the Venturions! Check .Andre.

  17. Andre Durocher
    October 1, 2015 at 8:13 pm

    Check this one (Wonderful World of Flying number 14 with Bill Cox).
    You won’t regret!

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