Jim Bede was a colorful man who loved aviation. He was a brilliant engineer whose aircraft designs revolutionized the home built market. Those close to Jim remember him as a mentor, a friend, and a father figure. He always had a mischievous smile when you spoke to him and was always quick with a joke. Jim was a devoted lifetime member of EAA (Lifetime #3758). He would frequently share fond memories of the early days of EAA, such as how he and Paul Poberezny would make ‘Smoke Oil’ – their secret concoction of various alcohols. It was there way of sneaking drinks onto the airfield.
Jim was born April 17th, 1933 in Cleveland, OH. His love of airplanes started early in life and his passion for design was with him always. He graduated at the top of his class from Wichita State University with a degree in aeronautical engineering and joined North American Aviation as a performance engineer. He left there in 1961 to start Bede Aircraft Corporation.
Considered one of the best airplane designers ever, Jim Bede designed and built more planes, received more awards, holds more patents and has garnered more attention than nearly anyone else in the aviation industry. Jim made his first foray into the experimental aviation world with his original BD-1. It had innovative features that included bonding the aluminum structure instead of riveting. This later evolved to become the Grumman Yankee. His later designs include the BD-4 and the extreme long range BD-2 - in which Jim broke three distance records and took a shot at a solo globe-circling record in 1969. One of his most famous designs is the iconic BD-5J, which was powered by a jet engine and became known for its flying sequences in the James Bond movie Octopussy.
Jim’s contribution to the homebuilt evolution is monumental. The BD4 was truly the first home built kit aircraft. He never quit trying to build a more efficient design which was affordable to the average aviator. He dedicated his life to designing homebuilt aircrafts and helping people build them. Jim was always there for anyone who asked anything of him, even to a fault. He would take calls at any time and if he didn’t have an answer for a problem, he would work on it until he solved it.
Jim, a devoted husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, friend, and a beloved member of the aviation community, was surrounded by his wife, children and his grandchildren on July 9th, 2015 when he succumbed to a brain aneurysm. His enthusiasm for aviation lives on through the Bede Family Foundation which focus is to introduce kids to the wonderful world of aviation.