From the time I was just a kid, one of my favorite aircraft designs has been the Taylor Mini-IMP. Looking like the love child of a sailplane and the Douglas X-3 Stiletto, it was everything I imagined flying should be (and still do). And unlike the X-3, the Mini-IMP’s homebuilt availability and prop-driven affordability made the dream seem so temptingly tangible.
The jet-fighter-esque, single-seat Mini-IMP first flew in the early ’70s. The tiny, racy homebuilt was a successful rethinking of Molt Taylor’s stillborn two-place IMP (Independently Made Plane). It featured a pusher prop driven by a mid-mounted engine (usually a 150-200 HP certified aircraft engine or a Revmaster VW conversion) via a remarkablely advanced driveshaft design that used a limited-slip dry-fluid clutch, load-isolating bearings and a flexible disk coupling to avoid harmonic vibration or undue loading of either the prop or the engine crankshaft. It also featured an integral engine cooling fan.
The Mini-Imp distilled flying down to the most pure, unencumbered experience possible. Gross weight is only 1,000 lbs, and you don’t climb into a Mini-IMP so much as strap it on. Molt famously described his Mini-IMP as “The nearest thing there is to a witch’s broomstick.” With its retractable tricycle gear and sleek fuselage, it could reach 200 MPH with a Continental O-200 installed, and cruise at a very efficient 150 MPH with only 60 HP on board. While the flight characteristics are much snappier than the typically sluggish, forgiving Cessnas most low-time pilots fly, the Mini-IMP nicely balanced responsive performance with stability, predictable behavior and reasonable take-off and landing speeds. The fact that the Mini-IMP used fairly conventional construction techniques highlights Taylor’s genius.
Taylor went on to create two more IMP variations, the smaller Micro-IMP (which never flew) and then the even more radical front-engined, rear-propped Taylor Bullet. Molt’s other airplane designs are remarkable as well: the Aerocar[!], the Coot amphibian, and the Navy’s XLRQ-1 Amphibious Assault Glider.
Molt Taylor died fifteen years ago, but the plans for the Mini-IMP are still available from the Mini-IMP Aircraft Company. I’m old enough now to know that I’ll probably never build or own my own Mini-IMP, but flying one remains on my bucket list.