Manufacturer:Task Research, Inc., Santa Paula, California
Type: composite kitplane powered glider
Powerplant: 1 x 44 hp Bombardier Rotax 447 (first prototype, typical)
Significant date: 1984
In 1984, Jim Kern (see insert below) developed the experimental Task TR-60 Silhouette, a handsome single-seater of composite construction which was developed at a time when his company Task Research was actively involved with RAF and contemporary with both the Voyager and the Solitaire (two aircraft that Task Research had built components for).
Despite the aircraft's obvious likeness to the Solitaire, Burt Rutan and his team were not involved in designing the Silhouette (the builder appears on the civil register as Stanley K. Franks). Burt Rutan had told Task that the Solitaire would sell in droves and told Task to build several sets of tooling. When there were no sales, Jim Kern sort of appropriated Burt's Solitaire fuselage design for his own Silhouette kit, without going to the trouble to get Burt's permission. Task took the molds and figured out how to produce the Silhouette from them. This caused the big falling out between Kern and Rutan: when Rutan found out, he discontinued Task as a supplier and helped to set up former RAF employees Michael Dilley and Larry Lombard at Featherlite, which then became RAF's composite supplier.
The Silhouette was a modern, all composite, homebuilt sport aircraft, with wing extensions providing a greatly increased glide ratio of 24 to 1. It was designed utilizing advances in composite homebuilt techniques, providing excellent utility, economy, simplicity & safety. The single-seat cockpit was designed to provide both comfort and convenience, utilizing a conventional centre mounted control stick for elevator and aileron control, and aircraft-style rudder pedals, with toe-activated Cleveland 500x5 wheels and brakes, which provide exceptional handling/steering qualities while on the ground through the fully castoring nose wheel. The first Silhouette prototype with a 47 hp Rotax 447 engine and a fixed tricycle type undercarriage made its first flight on July 3, 1984, registered as N84TR. A second prototype featured a slightly wider cockpit and fuselage and used a Mazda rotary engine and had a modified air intake.
The original TR-60 prototype was later modified to represent the SA-60 Silhouette I model, the designation used by Silhouette Aircraft, Inc for the variant offered, in kit form, for amateur construction with a 47hp Rotax 447 engine as recommended engine. The Silhouette I was available with optional tail wheel undercarriage detachable wingtip extensions. After the demise of the Task group, marketing rights for the Silhouette I were sold in 1989 to Lunds Tekniske (Arne Lund) in Norway, but only very few aircraft were completed, although the type was still being offered in 1998. The Silhouette fared a little better than its "predecessor", with more than 40 plans sold and at least 12 planes built, including one in Norway, one in Zambia and one in South Africa by P.J. How.
The choice of engine varied greatly: Although the prototypes had a Rotax 447 and a Mazda rotary, respectively, at least one Silhouette received a 150 hp Lycoming. Another example was found with a Lycoming O-320; another one was equipped with a very neat custom converted Volkswagen 1834 engine capable of delivering 65 hp, while the South African example used a Volkswagen 2000 Type 4 engine.
The Silhouette was variously described by the EAA magazine as a "sinfully simple", "shapely new performer" and "a kit so complete and easy, it would make Betty Crocker blush" with "a variety of options [refuting] the argument that sport aircraft are limited in use." Its versatility was made all the more obvious when "adding wingtip extensions [turned] a high-speed cruiser into an impressive motorglider."
The prototype is now in the collection of the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington, though it is not currently on display.
Population: about 15 (constructor's numbers given in parentheses)
NOTE: figures in parentheses are for motor glider configuration.
TASK Research Inc. was a production-oriented prototyping and development company whose mission was to help clients move along the path from initial concept to finished product. According to a company release, "TASK Research has the mindset, skills and experience to tackle a project from any starting point - from literally little more than verbal instructions and simple sketches to fully detailed drawings." Task had long been a subcontractor for the military and for many aircraft companies such as Lockheed, Northrop and many more; they also built parts for Rutan—notably for the Voyager, of which they were one of the eight original sponsors.
Jim Kern, co-owner of Task Research Ltd., and his son Rick Kern built "weird, wonderful things" for a living, like an eight-passenger vehicle destined for an amusement park in Japan. Turning other peoples' ideas into reality is fun, Rick Kern said. The Kerns owned Task Research Ltd., an unusual manufacturing company at Ardmore's Industrial Airpark which generated "weird, wonderful things successfully" for more than 20 years. "My dad was a pipeline welder by trade and had a hangar at the airport back in California," Rick said. His father would build small, experimental aircraft as a hobby.
From Task Research to AvTask
After visiting a relative who lived in south central Oklahoma, the Kerns moved to Ardmore in the late 1980s. Rick said he was in the mood to leave California anyway. "I was married and had a child, then I started thinking about where I wanted to raise my children and decided it was time to leave California for good," he said. The Ardmore Airpark turned out to be a perfect match for Task Research Ltd., Kern said.
The father and son team also managed Avion, a government data collection company created in Oklahoma in January 1992, which developed a portable blade balancer and created a system that could extract water from helicopter blades. The company discovered that a particular blade for the CH-47 helicopter became heavier after use, making the blades unbalanced. They talked the military into dropping off a couple of blades for their research, and eventually developed the so-called "Magic Box", which looks like a metal cylinder, 32 feet long and nearly 7 feet in diameter.
Avion and Task Research were later merged into one single interest called AvTask, working in partnership with Boeing to overhaul and get rotor blades that were deemed unflyable back into active service. According to AvTask general manager Donnie Buchanan, the blades are even better than when originally built because before they are released a sealant is put on the blade to eliminate water being absorbed into the blade again. In October 2002, Avion and AvTask were incorporated as separate entities: Avion Manufacturing, Inc. and AVTASK Rotorblade Services, now both relocated in Missouri.
Unfortunately, Jim Kern was killed in May 2005 when an SNJ-6 'Texan' crashed in a densely-wooded area near Haines City, Fla., south of Orlando. Jonathan Hedgecock of Warbird Adventures Inc. was the pilot, and Kern was on board for instructional training. "The plane appeared to have crashed at a very steep angle. There is a crater under the plane", Sheriff Judd said. Authorities said a parachute was found near the plane, but it was not used by anyone on board. Judd said there were no indications anyone tried to leave the disabled craft which was demolished in the crash. Rick Kern apparently no longer works for those businesses which he had created with his father.
NOTE: I have been unsuccessful in my search for a photo of Jim Kern. If you have one that you would be willing to share for this site, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll post it!