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How to build a fighter airplane for $25,000 or is this guy crazy?

How to build a fighter airplane for $25,000 or is this guy crazy?

How to build a fighter airplane for $25,000 or is this guy crazy?

For Sale: Fighter plane. Speed: extra slow. Weight: very heavy. Armament: minimal. Delivery date: in six years. Price: $25,000. (Service included). Inquiries: Carman, Manitoba.

When I first saw The Defender, I couldn’t decide if Bob Diemert was a genius or simply crazy. Years later, I still don’t know. When director Stephen Low saw an article in the Globe and Mail about Diemert’s plans to build a low-tech fighter plane to sell to the Canadian Armed Forces, he knew it had the makings of a great documentary. Low was concerned that Diemert’s plane would take too long to build. Diemert assured him it would be ready in a few weeks. Six years later, the plane finally had its test flight.

For those of you who know nothing about fighter jets, let me point out that a single Canadian Forces CF-18 fighter jet costs $30 million new. Paint extra. For $25,000 you could probably buy two tires for the front landing gear. Or maybe just one tire.

For the sceptics out there, Diemert did build a fighter plane for $25,000. The proof is in this fascinating documentary. His long journey is told by Low and Producer/cameraman Charles Kenowal with wry humour. Whether it’s testing new wing designs using specially calibrated instruments (two rusty bathroom scales) or taking the design on a journey to the very limits of the aerodynamic envelope (mounting it on the back of a pickup truck), the film shows us a resourceful man who doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit.

Now I know very little about aviation, but it seems to me that if you build an airplane with heavy reinforced armour plating and stubby wings, driven by a weak engine, chances are it’s going to have a hard time getting off the ground. Diemert disagrees. A slow moving tank needs to be followed by a slow-moving airplane.

Now, I know very little about military strategy, but it seems to me…

Diemert is certainly a genius when it comes to restoring vintage warplanes from the Second World War. In the film, he undertakes the difficult restoration of a Japanese Zero found decomposing in the jungles of the South Pacific. This ambitious project was fraught with many setbacks and delays; eventually taking much longer than anticipated (I’ll let you watch the film to see just how long it did take). Even to this day, he continues to restore old warbirds throughout North America.

The film was shot over a six year period starting in 1982. Low told me that Diemert was very cooperative and saw the humour in himself and in his project. He had been working on a design for this fighter, later christened The Defender, since the late 1970s but had to put the project aside on several occasions to restore an old fighter in order to raise some money. Twenty years on, both he and his assistant Chris Ball still keep in contact with Low on a regular basis.

The documentary had its world premiere on May 25th 1989 at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in the presence of Diemert and would later play on the CBC  in March 1990. It would also play on television in the USA, Malaysia, Japan, Korea, Cyprus and the USSR and on Channel 4 in the UK. Low told me that he still receives e-mails about the film from people who saw it on Channel 4 where it was a huge hit.

The jury is still out on whether Diemert is a genius or simply marching to a different drummer. One thing for sure, he is a fascinating person who I admire for his drive and determination. Now if only someone would buy his fighter plane.

Enjoy the film.

The Defender, Stephen Low, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

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  1. Amazing Article and very nice information for blog.

    — autocadfiles2018,
  2. Thanks for sharing such an informative information. Keep it up

  3. Here’s a perspective for you:

    Really, the amount of money is not at issue that Mr. Bob Diemert spent to develop his “fighter”.
    However, there are certain characteristics which tend to define a fighter:
    1. It is the dominant aircraft in the airspace. This usually means it has * high rate of climb (typically jet engine)
    * very maneuverable or agile
    * functions as a weapons platform
    * may have low radar cross-section
    * has high thrust to weight ratio
    * use materials with high performance (tensile and compressive) strength to weight ratios.
    * and apply efficient design and engineering

    Missiles and robotic aircraft are increasingly able to push the flight envelope to displace even the more recent additions of jet aircraft.

    Most countries do not have the need, interest or desire to pursue aerospace or aircraft engineering. So many disciplines, resources, skills and interests really come together to engineer and design aircraft. Behind the elegant deadly beauty of fighter aircraft comes very many talented people pursuing many specialties. Quite a few engineers and specialists dedicate their entire lives to aeronautical engineering using a great deal of highly advanced mathematics, finite element math, statics, dynamics, structural engineering, materials science, etc.

    That said, the role of the individual pushing their dreams is not dead; we should value individuals pursuing their dreams and that is exactly what this film does.

    Mr. Bob Diemert appears to be a talented aircraft restorer with high aspirations. The movie was definitely interesting, sometimes funny, with genuine human interest. I really enjoyed it.

  4. WOW!!!! Mr.Diemert is definitely a genius…BUT… its Restoring Aircraft! not designing them. I can’t believe for a minute he thought his design was better then the CF/18 let alone the speed factor. The Defender may have less moving parts and more reliable (lol) then the CF/18 but thats about it.

    Is Mr. Diemert still alive?

    — Luana,
    1. Hello. Thank you for your comments. When I spoke to the director of the film Stephen Low in July 2009, Mr. Diemert was still alive. He was, at that time, still running his airstrip in Carman, Manitoba and still restoring old aircraft.

      best regards

      Albert Ohayon
      NFB English collection curator

      — Albert Ohayon,
  5. I used to live beside Bod and went to the airport almost every single day for most of my life, My parents still neighbours with bob, And boy could I tell you stories about him and Chris!!!

    — Patrick Wolfe,
  6. I want a copy of this film, Bobs wife in the film is an aunt of mine, I know them very well and talked to Bob just yesterday. I’m only able to find a link to the internet version, is there one I can purchase somewhere? or a better quality that can be downloaded?
    There really needs to be a sequel to the film, alot has transpired since it was released, however the shop, Bob and Mr. Ball are very much still the same.

    — Adam,
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