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EAA Mourns the Loss of Bud Warren and Phyllis Ridings

Father and daughter alternative engine builders

By Patrick Panzera, Editor – Experimenter, EAA 555743

Phyllis Ridings and Bud Warren
Phyllis Ridings and Bud Warren

Wheeler Express
The Wheeler Express at AirVenture 2006

May 12, 2011 —On Saturday, May 7, Bud Warren and his daughter Phyllis Ridings, both of Geared Drives, were killed as a result of an airplane crash after departing their home airport, Lone Star Executive in Conroe Texas. They were en route to the Central Texas Airshow in Temple when they noticed smoke in the cockpit of the homebuilt Ravin 500 powered by a Geared Drives firewall forward installation. After declaring an emergency, the plane crashed and burst into flames in a wooded area just north of the field.

The fiery crash happened about 9 a.m. a half-mile north of the field from which Bud and Phyllis had just departed on a planned 125-mile flight to Temple. Conroe is about 40 miles north of Houston. Bud (Elzie), 70, was acting as PIC when he reported smoke in the cockpit and declared an emergency. Phyllis, 52, was not a pilot. The plane was owned Loyd Woodward and had hundreds of succeful hours logged, including the trip Bud made from Conroe to AirVenture last year.

The accident occurred as the plane was heading back to the field, crashing in a heavily wooded area. To reach the wreckage local firefighters and the Texas Forestry Service had to bulldoze a path. A friend of the family, John McFarling, said: “He put it down the best place he could. A good pilot like Bud kept it out of somebody's house. He did exactly what he was supposed to.”

Phyllis, survived by two sons Craig Rushing and Brian Rushing, was a successful real estate agent before electing to become Bud’s personal assistant and work for Geared Drives full time.

 Bud Warren built his first motor at age 13 and since then had amassed an enviable record in the automobile racing community. His passion for speed was expressed by building and racing funny cars, boats, and most anything with wheels. His successful Warren Machine Shop business supported these fun activities that grew with time. Airplanes appeared as a means of keeping his hands on the business while increasing his racing presence on the West Coast.

But there is much more to Bud’s legacy: He was a safety inspector for SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association); performed machine work on the NASA Gemini program; was a Commemorative Air Force aircraft restorer and pilot; and a licensed A&P mechanic.

Bud began flight lessons in 1980 and has owned three Mooneys. But around 1990, concerns over potential engine failures brought him to consider an automotive conversion. His Chevy-powered Wheeler Express features his unique design of a gear-driven prop speed reduction unit (PSRU), which he refers to as a “transmission.”

Bud’s PSRU is certainly not the first to use spur gears, but the uniqueness it brings is the automobile-style clutch with its centrifugal pressure plate engagement, keeping torsional vibration under control. The icing on the cake is the ability to install any number of certified constant-speed props.

Bud’s prototype PSRU, as installed in his Wheeler Express, was flown in the Homebuilders Parade at AirVenture 2006. Bud flew the aircraft in the No. 2 position of 17 homebuilts. This was the beginning of a five-year run of attending the major fly-in events around the country, ending with the 2011 Sun ’n Fun Fly-in where Bud presented three educational forums, something he was always happy to do at any event he attended. 

Here’s a list of aircraft that Bud created firewall-forward installations for:

Four years ago, Bud and Phyllis narrowly escaped the fiery wreckage of the Wheeler Express factory demonstrator that suffered an in-flight engine fire when a fuel line failed under the cowl. Bud was able to get the plane down safely and the occupants walked away as the plane was consumed.

From the looks of the wreckage, it will be very difficult to find the origin of the smoke that caused Bud to declare an emergency and turn back to the airport.

The May issue of EAA Experimenter will be dedicated to Bud and Phyllis, including several past articles about Bud and Phyllis’ successes with Geared Drives.

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