On the last day of the last airshow of the year — unbelievable as that sounds — I examined a superbly-finished gyroplane that Powered Sport Flying‘s Vickie Betts saw at the Mentone PRA fly-in earlier this year. She was impressed. She was not alone. Another designer of very striking hardware is Larry Mednick of Evolution Trikes. (An interview with him revealed that in this very strange year, his company is having their best year ever.) Larry encouraged me to go check out Gyro Technic as he enthusiastically described parts and components on the gyroplane that he found “exceptional.” If the guy behind the elegant Revo weight shift trike thinks an airplane from a competitor is worth a look, I was certainly going to take his advice. He was correct. The components of this gyro are highly CAD engineered but also exhibit an artistic flare.
Legendary Tri-State Kites*To a large network headquartered in Mt. Vernon, Indiana, Mark Smith is something of a legend. Known for continually improving his airplanes, he was always inventing and innovating. One proof among many, Mark Smith created an aftermarket steerable nose wheel system for Quicksilver aircraft before the factory developed their own. Multiple component changes purported to improve handling, performance, and durability. Tri-State Kites’ selling of Quicksilver brand aircraft went on for many years; Mark was once one of Quicksilver Aircraft's top dealers. Throughout, he was improving, tweaking. Perhaps it was inevitable that this would evolve into the manufacture of whole Quicksilver-like airplanes built of the numerous changes Mark had engineered over the years. Smith wrote, "There were nearly 10,000 MX [Quicksilver models] sold over the years, with most of the models sharing many of the design features of the MX. There are many changes that make the plane fly better, handle better, steer better, handle wind and gusts better, and so on." Directly from their matter-of-fact website, "Modifications to this sturdily-built ultralight abound (they refer to those thousands of Quicksilvers sold). Most are not terribly expensive and create a much more flyable plane. Recommended changes would be lower tail tubes and the tapered stabilizer. They also sell dihedral-reducing cablesets for wire-braced Quicksilvers; earlier models used a large amount of dihedral to enhance the rudder-and-elevator-only controls. Tri-State Kites said, "These install without major modifications." Those parts are but a few of many alterations the Mark Smith enterprise has created over many years of serving the Quicksilver market. Created to make the airplanes fly faster, handle better and last longer, they also streamline the aircraft, give it distinctive looks, and enhance strength in ways big and small. Today Tri-State Kites is actively building and selling entire aircraft. Call them a "Quick" or a "Smithsilver" — this is now its own brand of aircraft. Some are Part 103 eligible. Andy assured me single seat models can qualify. Tri-State Kites reported a active and complete business with sales, training, and maintenance. They even offer on on-site "hotel" for customers to use. Contact Andy Alldredge by email or email Tom Smith.
They Do It AllExcept for engine, tires, wheels, and brakes, Tri-State makes every component that goes on the Smithsilvers. They even sew their own wing coverings, assembled from sturdy Dacron sailcloth. Sewing of wings (or sails) is a specialized craft. I have experience with hang glider wings (more complex than you think) and I was quite impressed with the detail and precision shown on their wings displayed at Midwest LSA Expo 2020. I did interviews with Andy Alldredge about Tri-States' business and his Falcon 503 project plus Tom Smith. Look for them later this year.
* Why “Kites” in Tri-State Kites?When hang gliders were a lot simpler than today’s sophisticated models, they were often called “kites,” a term that followed even earlier boat-towed rigs that literally had to be tethered like a kite to stay aloft. Even the earliest hang gliders were more than mere kites but the name was quick and easy, and it stuck. Mark Smith started in this business so long ago that "Kites" still worked as a snappy reference, even if it may sound odd for an airplane company in the age of LSA. For an interesting view of the early days of ultralight aircraft in the USA, read Tri-State Kites' website. It's full of folksy tales such that even though Mark Smith is no longer with us, you get a sense of the man from reading his words.
If you know light, recreational aviation, you simply must know the Quicksilver brand. The Southern California company made a fantastic splash in the early 1980s, outselling in one year more total units than Cessna, Piper, and Beech combined! I’m guessing a good percentage of readers have taken a flight in one of their models. More than 15,000 were sold. They are still available and Air-Tech Inc offers full support plus new kits. This story isn’t about that famous brand. To most who glance at the nearby photos your first instinct is see a Quicksilver. A closer inspection shows otherwise. I spoke with leaders of Tri-State Kites — Andy Alldredge and Tom Smith, representing the second generation of Mark Smith’s operation. Mark Smith passed away in 2015. Legendary Tri-State Kites* To a large network headquartered in Mt. Vernon, Indiana, Mark Smith is something of a legend. Known for continually improving his airplanes, he was always inventing and innovating.
Hawk Family ExpandsUnless you've been off-planet for the last few decades, you should know CGS Hawk. With more than 2,000 aircraft flying, this simple yet highly effective design ranks as one of aviation's true success stories. The initials CGS date back into the 1970s when Chuck Slusarczyk — later, the designer of Hawk and its several variations — manufactured hang gliders under the business name, Chuck's Glider Supplies, later shortened to CGS. At Midwest 2020, I interviewed Joseph Shirley, boss of Hawk Manufacturing, the newest member of the Hawk-building family. Joseph runs an active prototyping and machining operation in southwest Ohio, but he is working closely with the man most associate with the Hawk brand these days, Terry Short. The video below identifies another father and son team, which bought rights to build the single place Hawk 103 and Hawk Ultra. Terry will continue with the two place Hawks and the Hawk Special LSA. Now comes Joseph, who went for a week visit to learn from Terry and reported staying a month. He will assist Terry in building airplane. He said that Terry will continue building the primary elements but he will fill an increasing role in keeping this very popular airplane in the sky. Joseph reported that his team has transferred all drawings, including some engineering drawings and other simple hand drawings from the old days, turning them into SolidWorks CAD drawings. This will help assure a higher state of quality to all parts and components but it also helps kit builders by providing major improvements to the build manual, a task most talented designers find to be one of the hardest parts of creating a kit aircraft. Chuck Slusarczyk and I share a history in hang gliding days, back when we were both young and handsome. Regretfully, Chuck is in failing health these days but I believe he would be proud how well his design continues to do and he'd be impressed with how far people like Terry and Joseph have taken his once-modest but always-beloved Hawk. Watch for more on Joseph Shirley's operation in an upcoming video.
Hawk TundraThe nearly completed aircraft we saw at Midwest 2020 was an eye-catcher indeed. What distinguished it for me was the landing gear ending in 27-inch tundra tires. This lifts Hawk up to a "big boy" level for its new owner, who also wanted the 80-horsepower Rotax 912 that so many love as a nearly "bullet proof" engine. He is also getting a Dynon avionics panel centered around their top-of-the-line SkyView HDX. I never thought of Hawk as a bush aircraft. It's history as a simple ultralight from the early 1980s suggested it was a more fair weather flyer …not that there's anything wrong with that, of course. The Hawk being created why Joseph and his troops gave a completely different vibe. If it was flying, I would have been sorely tempted to take this beefy-looking aircraft out to a creek bed to see how it handles an unimproved surface. Given its modest flight handling qualities, sturdy and proven construction, and its slow speed capabilities, I'm guessing Hawk Tundra would do especially well.
Technical Specifications for Hawk Arrow II:
- Empty Weight — 550 pounds
- Gross Weight — 1,100 pounds
- Wing Span — 31 feet 6 inches
- Wing Area — 147 square feet
- Engine Size — 65-80 horsepower
- Rate of Climb — 600-1200 feet per minute
- Cruise Speed — 55-80 mph / 48-70 knots
- Stall Speed — 35-40 mph / 30-35 knots
- Never-Exceed Speed — 110 mph / 96 knots
- Assembly Time for First time Builder — about 300 hrs
* Those with good memories may recall that several years ago, back in February 2020, the Copperstate/Buckeye Fly-in and Air Fair happened, but that was before Covid slammed into everyone's lives so most can be forgiven for forgetting that we did have another airshow in 2020 …but it was the year's only other one of any size.
The Hawk family continues to expand. While we wait for CGS Aviation in Ohio to fully enter the market, here's a video interview with the father and son team building the single seat Hawks. https://youtu.be/eLcn7n-XOBg
I saw a lot of smiles at Midwest LSA Expo 2020. A common phrase was, “This is the biggest” — by which they meant only* — “airshow of the year. It’s even bigger than Oshkosh 2020.” ? As I’ve often repeated, Midwest has been social distancing since long before you heard of that phrase. I believe it to be a reasonably safe environment. However, a warning for those concerned about exposure: some hand shaking occurred (between consenting parties) and not everyone wore masks outside as they viewed the aircraft on display. I heard of two companies and one group specifically prevented from attending due to government mandates and other concerns at home. Similarly, my video-creating colleague, Videoman Dave, a Canadian national, was forbidden by U.S. border authorities from attending. His aviation business, which feeds his family, was judged non-essential. Longtime journalist Tim Kern — of 121five.com, an aviation news outlet — dug into why Rans Aircraft was unable to attend.
Merlin Lite DelightAmong affordable aircraft, Part 103 ultralights have a solid position, both as fixed wing aircraft or alternatives like weight shift, powered parachutes, and gyroplanes. However, such "alternative aircraft" may not be what you had in mind. Many are open cockpit and pilots trained in a Cessna or Piper can feel uneasy being out in the open (even if behind a pod and windscreen). Also, weight shift trikes, powered parachutes, or gyroplanes handle differently from stick (or yoke) and rudder. Other pilots may want an aircraft that can cope with the elements better. Metal can offer better endurance. Aeromarine LSA boss Chip Erwin is offering a full enclosure on his newest and Merlin Lite can make Part 103 numbers, if you use an emergency airframe parachute and make other appropriate equipment choices. Chip believes his new Part 103 "magic" ultralight is truly revolutionary. “This is not your 1980s ultralight," claimed designer Chip. “I know, I was there. Our new Merlin Lite has real aircraft features and appeal: seven windows, a cockpit door, decent baggage capacity and space, an instrument panel with an EFIS and GPS. And the list goes on.” Merlin Lite is available with either tricycle gear or taildragger, Chip reported, and features all-aluminum construction, dual independent hydraulic brakes, tundra tires, five-position flaps, pushrod controls with bearings, and substantial aft cabin area with the CG envelope to use it. "Deep deploying 50-degree Fowler flaps and tundra tires with independent dual brakes make the Merlin Lite an ultralight bush plane," he added. "Based on Merlin PSA, a popular single seat personal sport aircraft that costs less than $40,000 and cruises at 120 mph, Merlin Lite's cockpit is almost as large as the Merlin's, but the powerplant is scaled down and the 3-D tapered wing aspect ratio is increased," said Chip. Merlin Lite is available completed and ready to fly away, or can also be built as an Experimental and flown with a Sport Pilot ticket, or even a glider certificate, flying Merlin Lite as a motorglider. "Its cantilevered high wing means no lift strut," explained Chip, "making Merlin Lite quite easy to get in and out, a feature with increasing importance. Plus, the large baggage area can carry a full-size airline roll-on bag, camping gear, or even your favorite pet." In addition to the enclosed cockpit with a proper door, air vents, and multiple windows, other "magic" features included in this true Part 103 ultralight are electric trim, an EFIS with artificial horizon and GPS, a dual-ignition, liquid-cooled, and electric-start engine with an EMS. The 12VDC system also includes a USB charger outlet for a phone or iPad. Options include cabin heat and defroster, Temperfoam seats, and long range fuel tanks (when building an Experimental Amateur Built version). "We are offering an introductory price of $35,500 for a ready-to-fly Merlin Lite that includes a BRS-500 emergency airframe parachute system. The order book is now open and current waiting time (depending on configuration and options) is five months. When configured as an ultralight, Merlin Lite meets the FAA's Part 103 rules, which means no license, medical, registration or certification is required. The first public display will be at the Midwest Light Aircraft Expo in Mt. Vernon, Illinois beginning September 10, 2020. For further information Aeromarine LSA or e-mail Chip.
Is Merlin Lite Affordable for You?Merlin Lite finished and ready-to-fly — $31,000 equipped with electric-starting Polini 250DS two-stroke engine, carbon propeller, tundra tires, airspeed indicator, electric trim, hydraulic brakes, 12-volt power supply, engine instruments, fuel gauge, air vents, EarthX lightweight battery, and 4.15-gallon wing tank that “still gives 3.5 hours endurance, “ said Chip. To qualify for Part 103 a BRS-500 is required (FAA allows additional weight when so equipped), priced at $4,500 If you don't care about Part 103 privileges and want some options, here is what is available:
- 3.125-inch EFIS with GPS — $950
- Second wing tank — $600
- Painting — $2,500
- Cabin heat and defroster — $450
- Temperform seats — $350
- Tricycle gear — No additional charge
- Speed wing — No additional charge
- Freight to USA — $2,000
- Packing / crating — $500
- Merlin Lite Quick-Build EAB airframe kit — $22,000
- Polini 250DS engine and firewall-forward package — $7,000
- Freight to USA — $2,000
- Packing / crating — $500
* More About Search To find truly affordable aircraft, for one example, search for "vintage ultralights" you will be lead to our April 2020 series on ten super-affordable airplanes, all of which are available second hand for less than $10,000. You may not know that Search can be more specific. After you use Search, a page shows you whatever is found but you can drill down further — click "Try our advanced search option." After your initial search, you will see, "Not finding exactly what you expected? Try our advanced search option." Click on the "Try our advanced search option" link and you can narrow the search to: 1️⃣ specific brands of aircraft manufacturers, 2️⃣ specific aircraft models, or 3️⃣ FI.R.M. List companies, meaning products and services that do not make airframes or engines. This Advanced Search is quite powerful to sift through more than two million words or hundreds of different aircraft reported on ByDanJohnson.com.
See Merlin Lite for the first time anywhere at Midwest LSA Expo 2020 in just a few days. Until then (or for those who cannot attend), here's a video review of the Merlin PSA. https://youtu.be/qCUtoxh5UUg
Are you looking for an affordably-priced airplane? On this website, you can find many choices of aircraft that qualify, with something to fit the budget of almost any pilot. Using the Search bar at the top of the page, you can look for any text anywhere on this website. Have you tried it? More on this below…* In this article, let me introduce a new aircraft to you …and, no, this is not Merlin PSA. Merlin Lite Delight Among affordable aircraft, Part 103 ultralights have a solid position, both as fixed wing aircraft or alternatives like weight shift, powered parachutes, and gyroplanes. However, such “alternative aircraft” may not be what you had in mind. Many are open cockpit and pilots trained in a Cessna or Piper can feel uneasy being out in the open (even if behind a pod and windscreen). Also, weight shift trikes, powered parachutes, or gyroplanes handle differently from stick (or yoke) and rudder.
Rare and/or New AircraftMC-01 by Montaer — We almost didn't see it. Insurance has been getting harder to find and more costly. That's true for all aircraft but the situation is especially challenging for a new design (even if it significantly resembles an earlier design). However, Gregg Ellsworth and AIR (Aviation Insurance Resources) came to the rescue so now importer Ed Ricks of Montaer USA has a good chance to get this all-new design to Midwest 2020. When you look at the image of MC-01, some of us see the Paradise P1NG. No surprise, as the designer once worked with Paradise. While the new model bears a close resemblance to the earlier SLSA, that one has largely disappeared from the U.S. market, so Montaer is filling a void. Paradise, and now Montaer, have long offered a yoke control with a voluminous three-door cabin. It makes people think Cessna 150 but larger (and it performs substantially better). The first U.S. delivery will also have hand controls, a choice available to offer assistance to some pilots. Merlin Lite by Aeromarine LSA — If you know Merlin, you should be asking, "…Lite?" Wasn't it already light? Ah, that is Merlin PSA. This is Merlin Lite …and yes, it is lighter, if you can believe that. Proprietor Chip Erwin of Aeromarine LSA is one of those can't-sit-still people and he's taking his early success with Merlin PSA even further with a lighter-yet, lower-cost-yet model powered by the Polini Thor engine that tens of thousands of powered paragliders use. The good news is you don't have to run this one off the ground. I'll have more on this, possibly before Midwest 2020 because this model is literally hot off the factory floor. Put this in perspective. Merlin PSA, also a single seater, is an all-metal, fully enclosed, well-equipped aircraft that you can assemble for around $35,000. Options and choice of engine can increase the base but it is easily one of the great bargains in aviation. A 60-horsepower four-stroke V-Twin engine will make the "bigger" Merlin soar into the sky, but just for fun, come see Merlin Lite at Midwest 2020. SmithSilver by Tri-State Kite — Owner Mark Smith's enterprise is "the nation's leading source of quality aftermarket parts for the complete line of the Quicksilver ultralight aircraft, and has been in business more than 33 years" he expressed. Mark has become a guru of the Quicksilver type, has made numerous components for them, and will have something called SmithSilver at Midwest 2020. I'm as curious as you and look forward to checking it out. BTW, are you puzzled by Mark's business name …specifically "Kites?" When hang gliders were a lot simpler than today's sophisticated models, they were often called "kites," a term that followed even earlier boat-towed rigs that literally had to be tethered like a kite. Even the first hang gliders were more than a mere kite but the name was quick and easy, and it stuck. Mark's time in the business goes back far enough that his business name could reflect that …even if today it sounds a bit odd for an aircraft company. Read for yourself Mark Smith's history of design ideas for the Quicksilver aircraft. Sparrow by Carlson — This oldie but goodie has not been seen for some time but thanks to the people behind the MiniMax series of affordable aircraft, the Sparrow is returning to the market. Lots of readers remember this once-popular model. Following the death of Ernie Carlson a few years back, the brand fell out of sight for most buyers even though Ernie's wife, Mary, kept the business running. Now with help from David Cooper of Team MiniMax (and some partners), the single place Carlson Sparrow will be returning to the market, with plans for the two-place in their mind but still on a back burner. This project is still new but come to Midwest 2020 and ask questions. F2 by Flight Design — I have reported this impressive new top-end Special LSA before but for most Americans, this will be their first viewing. I saw it in Aero 2019 but it had not flown then. It's all wrung out and approved now and I look forward to a flight in the bigger, better model. After Midwest 2020, F2 will go home with Tom and Tom Gutmann of Airtime Aviation, the world's largest dealer/distributor for Flight Design aircraft. As winter follows in a few months, Airtime's base in Oklahoma makes sense versus Flight Design USA in Connecticut. This is the first F2 in America so they're sharing the treasure. Vashon Ranger — While it's not brand new, Ranger R7 is new enough that many LSA enthusiasts have yet to see one and Vashon Aircraft has never displayed at Midwest before. The brand has done respectably well as our industry reports, as seen on Tableau Public, demonstrate. After their first deliveries in 2017, Washington-based Vashon has grown rapidly, thanks to a familiar construction at a good price (starts just below $100,000 fully built and reasonably well equipped). Through the first half of 2020, the company had already almost matched all of 2019, so despite the virus, more Rangers are taking to the sky. You should check this one out in person, but I'll be angling for a flight in the new design so we expect to report more and capture video. SD-1 (kit) By SD Planes —Readers of this website like affordable aircraft and the SD Planes single place kit is surely a great value in light aircraft. Construction is significantly wood. If you don't already know, building from wood is achievable by most, much less challenging that kits that involve welding or composite work. Check this video for more about building the airplane and for a look at the two seat model from the same designer. SD-1 is a modest project, not only from the build effort but you can keep the base price below $20,000, an amount the importer said includes the engine. If you simply can't see yourself building a single seater — no matter how much fun it might be — U.S. rep John Vining has the SD-2 Sportmaster. Both share the same ease of construction. VL3 by JMB Aircraft — This spring, we had a contest going on between three speedy European aircraft: Sweden's striking Blackwing, Switzerland's super-sleek Risen, and JMB Aircraft's VL3. Of these, only one will be at Midwest 2020: VL3. You already know this airplane under the marketing name Gobosh. It was sold as a fixed gear, fixed pitch prop Special LSA. In Europe, where no speed limit applies to what they then and still call "microlights" or European ultralights, companies like those mentioned above seek the highest speed they can achieve. All use the Rotax engine, so it becomes about airframe smoothness, wing efficiency, and getting as lean as possible, hence retractable gear. For now in the U.S., such aircraft must be built as kits but in 2023, such models will become LSA (or maybe Light Personal Aircraft, depending on what FAA eventually decides about a possible new category). Fusion 212 by Magnus — Did you wonder if this handsome aircraft disappeared? That's understandable because we haven't seen it for a short time (and, of course, not this unusual year). I did a flight in Fusion and you can check it out in this video. What could be better? You could attend Midwest 2020 and fly it yourself. At minimum, you can talk to the representatives, ask questions, and closely examine the all-composite aircraft built in Hungary but represented by Magnus USA. This list is not inclusive of all players but you can check the Midwest 2020 program to see all expected exhibitors.
Who Won't Be Present?I understand a few cannot be present and while I certainly respect their decision not to take chances, well… darn it! I'll miss these folks. Rob Rollison the proprietor of the very successful Aerotrek line has elected not to go. He cited concerns about the virus and how that can affect a show that is already modestly attended. Such things matter to vendors swayed by high traffic at shows like Sun 'n Fun or Oshkosh, but an individual pilot actually benefits from a smaller number of attendees. Although the company appears on the site layout, apparently Rans has elected not to attend after many years of doing so. This is just that kind of year, I guess. Two other aircraft are not quite ready yet. These include two entries from Deon Lombard's Aeropilot USA distributorship. He is expecting the first M-8 Eagle, rebadged as L600 Eagle to provide continuity for the earlier Aeropilot Legend/L600 Deon formerly represented (he still owns the dealership for several more months but will then switch to the L600 Eagle; I will report more on that later). In addition, Deon is bringing in from South Africa the sleek composite RV-like Whisper kit-built aircraft. Perhaps at DeLand in January or certainly by Sun 'n Fun 2021, both aircraft should be available for your inspection. Deon will have the InnovAviation FX1 we saw at Midwest 2019 (here's our video on that model). He'll also have a very special opportunity for one buyer of the same aircraft I flew. Come and see for yourself. However, while we regret missing a couple regulars, I'm pleased those who show should (fingers crossed) have plenty to look at and I expect to make several reports from the event — the last of the year since DeLand Showcase has pushed into 2021 (January 28-29-30). Travel safely and I hope to see you in Mt. Vernon!
To help you psych' up for Midwest 2020, here's a few videos assembled by Videoman Dave. He's putting up lots before this event — go to his YouTube channel to see many more. https://youtu.be/oSpq6vZ4skQ https://youtu.be/mMV824eEbRk https://youtu.be/eq0FfmDvNtE https://youtu.be/P25dFK_RCY8
I hope you can attend 2020’s Midwest LSA Expo — the last airshow in 2020. If you cannot attend, rest assured your trusty reporter will be onsite and gathering all the info on the coolest aircraft I can find. What will be available? Well, if I am honest, we will have to see when we arrive to be certain. In these virus-impacted times, things have a lousy way of changing at the last minute, however… Those who attend should see a few aircraft that few Americans have seen before. Here’s a quick take, not forgetting the statement about how arrivals can be altered beyond the wishes of any particular vendor. Rare and/or New Aircraft MC-01 by Montaer — We almost didn’t see it. Insurance has been getting harder to find and more costly. That’s true for all aircraft but the situation is especially challenging for a new design (even if it significantly resembles an earlier design).
Welcome 2021!Given my obsession with airshows (that hopefully delivers to you the aircraft news and video you seek), it is a great pleasure to announce two new dates. I think these shows setting dates in the new year is a great and wonderful thing. First up is the recently-rescheduled Deland Showcase. The dates were announced today as January 28-29-30, 2021. After a decision by the city leaders of DeLand, the show that has run the last four years in November, lead organizer Jana Filip said, "We wanted to look at late January for a new show date, but had to be sure that we were reasonably free of conflicts, could still field the necessary resources, and have a weather prognosis to support the event.” “We are now happy to confirm January 28-30, 2021 as the new event date for the fifth annual DeLand Sport Aviation Showcase,” Jana added. Most readers will recall the 15-year-old Sebring Expo used similar January dates. That event ended after the 2019 finale. Earlier Jana and her team had reported good interest and I'm betting that even more vendors will be ready for an event come a fresh new year. Next up — The Aero Friedrichshafen show, which I consider Europe's best show by far, has new dates. This revelation beings a great, enormous sigh of relief from this airshow junkie. Lead organizer Roland Bosch sent a message via LinkedIn saying they had changed dates so Aero does not overlap with Sun 'n Fun. Wait! …new dates? Yes, after having to cancel Aero 2020 and planning for similar dates in 2021, Roland wrote, "Hopefully, we'll find in the future a date later in the year so we can avoid an overlapping with S+F. But it's not so easy. Grrrhhhh!" I resigned myself to a year like 2020 when I would have done all I could for a few early days at Sun 'n Fun and then dash off to Germany to attend Aero for a few days, missing portions of each. Better than going absent at one of the events, splitting my time is far from optimal plus it's quite a workout. Good news, though! Recently Roland sent another message. "Bad times. Nearly all shows are canceled [in 2020] because of the damn pandemic. Let's hope for [better things in] 2021." Then he added, "You know we moved to avoid overlapping with S+F. Stay healthy!" Wait! …new dates? Yes, the new Aero dates are April 21-24, 2021. Whew! With Sun 'n Fun slated for April 13-18, 2021, that gives a couple days of breathing room between these two important events …time to pack new clothes, clean photos off my devices, and repack for Europe. What a relief! I am so excited and pleased, I almost don't know what to say, except… "Thank you, thank you, thank you, Roland and team." This change assures the month of April 2021 may set an even higher record of visitors and I will be furiously gathering news and video for many stories from these two events. Especially after the dry desert of 2020, my expectation is that both Sun 'n Fun and Aero will be enthusiastically welcomed and that aircraft developers will be out in force with their newest and coolest flying machines.
Then, In Days… Midwest LSA Expo!While I'm ecstatic about the Sun 'n Fun and Aero 2021 timing, in only a few more days, I leave for Mt. Vernon, Illinois, home to the Midwest LSA Expo. I've been hearing from quite a few folks, including some genuine surprises, and hope for a great event run by the affable and effective Chris Collins and his team. I hope you are going, too, but I will definitely be onsite to capture the light recreational aircraft news. HURRAY!
Here are three videos from earlier shows as a preview of what we'll gather at Midwest 2020: https://youtu.be/CluUho2D3aU https://youtu.be/vTZsSfUR52c https://youtu.be/e_8X9DziCrQ
OK, let me admit right up front that I am something of an “airshow junkie.” I just gotta go. Some of you may feel the same, I suspect. I don’t suggest you need to go to them all, but if people who do what I do don’t have airshows to attend, you get less cool news about great aircraft and flight gear. That said, I’ve been able to keep a good flow of recreational aviation news that you readers find interesting. April 2020 set an all-time record. That was eclipsed in July 2020 and August kept the growth going to another record. While pleased about the increasing number of visitors — and while everyone being isolated probably drove more pilots to this website — it nonetheless illustrates the value of journalists attending shows and bringing you the latest and greatest. Welcome 2021! Given my obsession with airshows (that hopefully delivers to you the aircraft news and video you seek), it is a great pleasure to announce two new dates.
Garmin IFR Colt"Wait," I hear some of you exclaim! "A Light-Sport Aircraft cannot be used for flying with reference only to instruments." Wrong! Rather than repeat what I have already written several times, I invite you to explore this article which makes an attempt to explain the situation surrounding IFR or IMC, that is, flight in actual instrument conditions; different from filing to fly in the IFR system for training or other reasons. Certainly, most readers will see the value in a new, modern, fuel efficient, comfortable, and marvelously-equipped Light-Sport Aircraft versus a 30-50 year-old Cessna 172 or other legacy general aviation aircraft. One has the gear a student may one day find in an airliner he or she flies. The other has older, analog gauges that are disappearing from modern aircraft. In fact, most LSA have zero round dials in them. That's the way it will be going forward. Texas Aircraft announced, "The addition of the Garmin G3X flight display and GTN 650 touchscreen navigator to the options list is mainly in response to the many requests the company has received from flight schools wanting to offer Garmin’s long list of advanced features and capabilities to their students." The company added that this equipment will be offered as "options for its new-generation Colt-S and Colt-SL Special LSA." “In the short time since the Colt was introduced, it has received a lot of attention from flight schools looking for a modern and affordable technically advanced aircraft (TAA),” stated Texas Aircraft Manufacturing’s Customer Engagement Team Member, Scott Musselman. “Couple the Garmin avionics with the Colt’s attractive pricing and low operating costs, and you’ll have an ideal industry standard training aircraft for entry-level up through instrument and commercial training.” Scott explained that while the Colt’s standard Dynon avionics package is TAA compliant and amazing for flight training, "flight schools are asking for Garmin." Providing Garmin equipment can help reduce the time and cost associated with training students on multiple avionics systems as they progress. “Today’s students want to train on the same avionics they will be using later as they advance into more complex Garmin-equipped aircraft,” Scott said. “The wide variety of Garmin avionics that we will make available for the Colt will give flight schools and private owners a great deal of flexibility in how their avionics are configured.”
More Pricing OptionsWhile Texas Aircraft upped their game for flight school operators they also kept the individual buyer in mind. “We are now offering Garmin-equipped Colt aircraft with the basic VFR package starting at $139,000," said Scott. The fully-equipped, “Heavy IFR” Garmin package is priced starting at $170,500 (see below). “So, whether you want a sleek single-display Garmin G3X Touch panel or dual G3X Touch instruments for a truly impressive digital screen experience, we offer choices,” Scott said. “All Garmin-equipped IFR-capable Colts come standard with a G5 backup. We are extremely excited to be able to offer Garmin’s popular line of avionics in our new-generation Colt.”
Optional Garmin Avionics for the new-generation Texas Aircraft Colt Special LSA: All pricing and equipment is subject to change
- 10.6-inch G3X Touch configurable touchscreen display with built-in synthetic vision
- GTN 650 touchscreen GPS/IFR Navigator
- G5 back-up instrument
- GMC 507 autopilot control with level mode
- GSA 28 smart three-axis autopilot
- GMA 245 audio panel
- GTR 200 and 20 COM radios
- GTX 45R remote ADS-B Out/In transponder
Electric-Motor-Powered eColtElectric power is certainly coming to light aircraft. The tipping point will be dictated by battery development. I have written plenty about this as well. Almost everyone knows at least some facts about batteries. Everything we carry around these days seems battery powered and all of us are ever in search of an electric outlet to get more charge. Until battery energy density takes a substantial leap forward, electric airplanes have some clear limitations. Yet primary flight instruction — at least done in the pattern within easy reach of landing back on the field — is one early potential for electric powered LSA. However, not all batteries are identical. — The British Lithium-Sulfur (Li-S) battery technology company, Oxis Energy and Texas Aircraft Manufacturing are developing an electric power system for Colt and initially, Oxis projects that the flight time will be in excess of two hours and an approximate range of 200 nautical miles. While still short of true cross country flying, this sounds encouraging. Huw Hampson-Jones, CEO of Oxis Energy, said, “Oxis Li-S technology offers significant benefits to aviation. The use of sulfur as a non-conductive material provides enhanced safety and is superior to current Lithium-Ion technology. Our 90kWh battery system is 40% lighter than current Li-Ion technology and will be powered by its 'High Power' cell at 400Wh/kg." Oxis is involved in the design, development and now the move towards commercial production of Lithium Sulfur cells for battery systems. Oxis manufactures and produces all aspects and components in the making of the Li-S cell and does not use any toxic or rare earth material in the composition of its Lithium Sulfur cell technology. Oxis has been granted 193 patents with 115 pending. Texas Aircraft's Matheus added, "Our eColt, manufactured at our factory in Texas, will use Li-S battery cells made at the Oxis factory. The powertrain will be supplied by WEG and the battery and its management system (BMS) will be provided by Akaer Group of São José dos Campos, Brazil." (Note that while Texas Aircraft is an all-American company, Matheus and his team hail from Brazil so they have many connections in that southern hemisphere country.) "This project is in early stage," said Matheus. "We are not changing the Colt, but we are studying the possibility to add some battery packs under the plane (maybe looking like a Cessna Caravan cargo) but this is still under discussion since we are also evaluating adding the battery packs into the wings."
At last year's Midwest LSA Expo (the 2020 event IS ON and starts September 10th), we flew Colt: https://youtu.be/DkPD07-z0Wc
I always enjoy when a new airplane company arrives on the market and sets plans in motion to expand and improve their flying machine. Texas Aircraft and their Colt 100 Light-Sport Aircraft is one such company. Lead by the energetic and ambitious Matheus Grande, Texas Aircraft is moving on several fronts. Here is some update on the Colt builder based in Hondo, Texas. Garmin IFR Colt “Wait,” I hear some of you exclaim! “A Light-Sport Aircraft cannot be used for flying with reference only to instruments.” Wrong! Rather than repeat what I have already written several times, I invite you to explore this article which makes an attempt to explain the situation surrounding IFR or IMC, that is, flight in actual instrument conditions; different from filing to fly in the IFR system for training or other reasons. Certainly, most readers will see the value in a new, modern, fuel efficient, comfortable, and marvelously-equipped Light-Sport Aircraft versus a 30-50 year-old Cessna 172 or other legacy general aviation aircraft.
Goat TheoryReed and his company are based in Arizona. In this part of the great American West, lots of folks want off-field capabilities. Like most states, Arizona is full of rich experiences and many or most of them cannot be reached with, let's say, your local flight school's rental Cessna 172. To make the airplane fit the terrain Denny wanted to access — creek beds, desert landscapes, mountainous terrain and more — he knew he needed a very durable, strong, and well-performing trike. When I think of trikes, I think of Evolution's wonderful, deluxe Revo but I would never try landing it on some rocky creek shore. Or perhaps I think of North Wing's terrific soaring trike called Solairus. It does what it is designed for very well, but again, skip the rock-strewn creek bed. You need a much tougher carriage but if you have a problem in the outback, you might also want a machine that you could inspect or repair easily in the field. Is a simple yet strong trike possible? Sure, but… "When you chase strength and when you chase simple, you get ugly," observed philosophical trike designer Denny Reed with a smile on his face. "When we first showed it, I was real proud of it but one of the first comments we got was, 'It looks like a post-war Russian tractor.'" Denny laughed aloud as he related the story. That's why Goat looks as it does. If it seems a riot of tubes going every which way, consider the thought Denny put into it. "Every notch, every cut, every bend, every tig weld seems like it has a story," he said while not ignoring the wisdom of and guidance from other aviation designers, "We nonetheless wanted something that said off-road, crawler, racing." After a few iterations, he was happy and production began. Customers were waiting.
Wild Sky Builds Goat for Quality not QuantityEven after investing more than $100,000 in welding jigs alone, Wild Sky only expects to build 13-14 aircraft per year to maintain the quality they seek. However, Denny keeps the overhead low and commented, "I think we deliver a lot of aircraft for the money." The entire frame is welded chrome moly with a ceramic coating. Like most trike builders, Denny does not attempt his own wing. That type of construction is its own art and science that one company has proven to do better than anyone else. The company, another trike builder called North Wing, manufactures wings for trikes for other carriage manufacturers. After more than 30 years in the business, North Wing owner, Kamron Blevins largely owns the space. (He also builds wings for Evolution among several other trike aircraft suppliers.) A couple foreign trike builders make their own wings — AirBorne comes to mind — but I cannot name another U.S.-based wing supplier. North Wing is it …because they do it very well. Built to Last — I love this statement from Denny as he created Goat, "We bent it. We broke it. We scared the crap out of ourselves. Literally. We spent five years and over $1 million prototyping with some of the best minds and pilots we knew." Prices start at $36,500 (in summer 2020; subject to change). Of course, you can spend more, but with that modest starting cost for this tougher-than-nails trike, Goat qualifies as an "affordable aircraft" as this website promotes. (Of course, "affordable" means something different to every single pilot, but at about the cost of an average new car, I'd say this was a very fair asking price.) More pricing details are available here. Rather than asking you to read all the ideas that went into Goat, check out the video below and let Denny tell you in his own words what he had in mind. "I enjoy teaching," Denny said, returning to what is obviously a favorite topic after he described details of how he builds Goat. "After 9,200 hours and 300 students, we have a perfect safety record." He added, rightly so, "I'm very proud of that." He related stories of students who spoke with him years later saying, "I understand why you were so hard on me during training, Denny." So it's no surprise that he reported getting "a hundred applications a year for trike school." Here's two videos: a newly-produced one from Videoman Dave shot in 2020 plus my own short take on Goat from 2019.
If you flew better than 9,000 hours solely to give trike instruction, you would tend to develop ideas about how an aircraft can better fit the type of flying lessons you want to give. That’s exactly what Wild Sky owner Denny Reed reports. Denny has an enviable position to some. Imagine any fixed wing instructor saying, “I wish the aircraft would do some operations differently for my teaching. I can’t find one that exactly matches what I seek, so, you know what? I’ll just design what I want.” Yeah, sure. Most of us never have that chance. Instead, we learn to adapt to the aircraft. As an example, what if you wanted the throttle in a different place, or any number of possible changes. In a long career that has included talking to CFIs from around the world, I have never met a fixed wing flight instructor who set about making the airplane he truly wanted.
No-Go for DeLand 2020Officials at the DeLand Municipal Airport, lead by longtime airport manager, John Eiff, had hoped to continue on with the annual showcase as originally scheduled (November 12-14, 2020) "to help salvage the embattled tradeshow industry" …but… "it became increasingly apparent that the rising number of Covid-19 cases in Florida would make the event unsafe at this time for guests, exhibitors and volunteers." Jana observed, "Preparations have been running along so well, exhibitor participation was setting a record pace, and we had such high hopes for November." However, she added, "We really must think first of the health and well-being of our visitors, exhibitors, volunteers, other guests and the staff of DSAS and City of DeLand." She said that the city and county have been watching the situation with great scrutiny yet leaders decided to cancel all local events through the end of November, as a result of health concerns. "DeLand Showcase is but the most recent aviation event to have to give way to such concerns," Jana stated. "Sun 'n Fun in Lakeland, Florida was postponed and then cancelled. EAA's AirVenture Oshkosh has been put off to the summer of 2021 and other major aviation tradeshows such as NBAA and AUVSI were either cancelled or forced to go 'virtual.'"
Rescheduled … When?Remember the Sebring Sport Aviation Expo? Cancelled about one year ago, it had won a solid place on the calendar as the first event of the year, in January. Ironically, longtime readers may remember that Sebring was first scheduled for late October …until Hurricane Ivan changed the thinking of organizers. That first year in the fall, I recall flying around Sebring during the event to see an ocean of homes with their damaged roofs covered with blue tarpaulin, so much so that I marveled the world had produced that much of the stuff. Unlike most other aviation events, however; DSAS is still planning to produce a world class sport aviation event as soon as circumstances allow -- hopefully in late January 2021, "a date already suggested by several fans of the Showcase," added Jana. "We're studying everything very carefully, and will have more to say shortly," said Jana, "but until we have more positive data to work with, we're going to study our options carefully until a healthy solution presents itself." "The next showcase will build on the extensive work done in four successful prior events," Jana noted. "A careful look at the 2019 ticket sales, gate receipts, exhibitor numbers and other data proved that DSAS19 reported $2 million in sales and services on the Showcase Field, with an economic impact to the community of over $1.5 million." DSAS staff promised an update "as soon as more data is available." If you wish to offer Jana and her team feedback on the date change, contact them directly. Meanwhile, to see what you might have missed, here's a tour from the 2019 event.
Well, now we know what 2020 holds for airshows. I count three that did or will happen this year, but one of them — the much-anticipated November event, DeLand Sport Aviation Showcase, or DSAS — has now officially been delayed by action of the city leadership, which controls the DeLand airport. The founding administrator, Jana Filip, made the official announcement, “The 2020 DeLand Sport Aviation Showcase is being rescheduled due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.” Since Copperstate/Buckeye Air Fair in February 2020, the end of July saw a modest gyroplane gathering in Mentone, Indiana for the Popular Rotorcraft Association‘s annual convention, followed by the still-upcoming Midwest LSA Expo. Now, as it turns out, the latter event, taking place September 10-11-12, may be the last airshow event of this shutdown year. No-Go for DeLand 2020 Officials at the DeLand Municipal Airport, lead by longtime airport manager, John Eiff, had hoped to continue on with the annual showcase as originally scheduled (November 12-14, 2020) “to help salvage the embattled tradeshow industry” …but… “it became increasingly apparent that the rising number of Covid-19 cases in Florida would make the event unsafe at this time for guests, exhibitors and volunteers.” Jana observed, “Preparations have been running along so well, exhibitor participation was setting a record pace, and we had such high hopes for November.” However, she added, “We really must think first of the health and well-being of our visitors, exhibitors, volunteers, other guests and the staff of DSAS and City of DeLand.” She said that the city and county have been watching the situation with great scrutiny yet leaders decided to cancel all local events through the end of November, as a result of health concerns.
GO, Mt. Vernon!"We believe we have good plans in place to keep everyone safe while meeting the mandates set out by various organizations," said affable and energetic airport manager, Chris Collins. "We feel we can safely comply." "However, we are not taking this lightly," he added quickly. "We simply think the industry and the economy needs to move forward." Midwest LSA Expo started back in 2009 with an open and welcoming atmosphere. This will be the 12th annual MWLSA, a credit to the persistence of Chris and his team. For 2020, the MWLSA group has word from nearby EAA chapters and other groups that enjoy a fly-out to some destination. "Several have expressed a strong interest in attending," Chris said. One indication is business the Mt. Vernon's airport restaurant has been doing. Readers may recall this long-running success story went through a management change in recent years and what was good is now even better. "Our restaurant has been staying busy after reopening a few weeks ago. We've had lots of people flying in to visit and dine," reported Chris.
Will It Be Safe?Pilots go to show to look at airplanes, to talk to the people representing them, and, if shopping for a new airplane purchase, to go for a flight in those of greatest interest. I love that MWLSA has surrounded its logo with the words, "The Sales & Demo Show …Freedom, Friends, Fun!" In eight brief words, that captures why you should attend. All through this year, as people have asked, I have replied that the Midwest LSA Expo has been social distancing since it began. We didn't use that phrase back then but a wide open ramp, well-spaced aircraft, representatives behind their table or on the other side of their airplane or other flying product, and the personal caution anyone can follow will allow good aviation interaction with minimal exposure. Of course, no one can guarantee you won't be exposed but the odds are low — Mt. Vernon has suffered few cases of Covid-19 — and you have good opportunity to keep as much distance as you wish while still attending an airplane event. Other precautionary steps include moving the forums to a hangar where attendees can space out further. This show always provides a full room for my talk — this year I'll focus on the upcoming FAA regulation project for 2023. I'm pleased and proud to fill a room but this year, we'll spread out more to assure those with the highest concerns. The opening evening party Chris has thrown every year, complete with live entertainment and good eats, will not happen this year.
What To See and FlyThe biggest question is who will show with their airplane. Following is a partial list of those bound to be interesting to attending pilots and friends. Vashon Aircraft, SD Planes, and Aeromarine LSA are scheduled to make their first appearance at the 12-year-old event. Another brand new aircraft, the MC-01 from Montaer in Brazil, may also show, assuming U.S. Customs does not hold up the arrival. Unfortunately, that's not certain. For example, Aero Adventure has finished work on their SLSA Aventura but has been waiting for more than four months for an FAA visit from nearby Orlando. "They haven't been given permission yet," said boss Alex Rolinski, so the Montaer arrival is far from sure. Still, it's great to see four brand-new exhibitors even in a year beset by a virus panic. Other attendees will include Magnus and their Fusion LSA; Flight Design and longtime partner Airtime Aviation will show their new F2 for the first time; Deon Lombard's AeroPilot USA will have a never-before-seen M-8 Eagle; the local dealer for SportCruiser will attend; ICP will present their Savannah STOL aircraft plus their associates from Flying Legends will show the Tucano; Aeroprakt will have their Vixxen; Magni will show their gyroplanes; Infinity Powered Parachutes is returning with their line, and a special treat will be SmithSilver, guru Mark Smith's rethinking of the venerable Quicksilver. That list is not complete. Please go to the show's website to see the whole exhibitor list. Even this may expand as more companies consider that this might be the only remaining airshow for 2020. A few "legacy exhibitors" cannot get comfortable with the Covid-19 situation. Some, like Rob Rollison and his Aerotrek line remain uncertain and will not attend," noted Chris. However, exhibitor participation looks surprisingly solid. Indeed, "Midwest 2020 is shaping up to offer the best representation yet of the lighter end of recreational aviation," concluded Chris.
I'll be in Mt. Vernon I hope you will be, too!Hotels and restaurants are also prepared to handle you safely. The town's best hotel (in my opinion) is the Drury, which offers a great price ($95 a night at MWLSA's group rate; use link) for rooms plus several worthwhile amenities. Several restaurants are not far away and they are prepared like most American restaurants these days to handle you as safely as they can. At the end of our conversation, Chris added, "Mt. Vernon has two Interstate highways that bring passersby from many states. Our town has been able to accommodate them safely and we can put on a safe airshow, too!" Anyone who knows Chris is aware he is a straight-shooter.
Many years ago — back in February 2020 — I attended my last airshow. Fortunately, that was not the dark ending to a most trying year. For 2020, the next airshow is Mt. Vernon Airport’s (KMVN) Midwest LSA Expo — slated for September 10-11-12, 2020. Hurray! I don’t know about you (certainly not everyone, I am aware) but I am raring to go. Airshows dictate my annual calendar so this virus-infested year has done a job on my collection of great airplane info to present to you. Fortunately, I have found plenty of other newsworthy materials, but, man!, am I happy to go to Mt. Vernon this year. Those considering attending MWLSA but who are concerned about exposure to the virus can check out their Covid-19 preparations. GO, Mt. Vernon! “We believe we have good plans in place to keep everyone safe while meeting the mandates set out by various organizations,” said affable and energetic airport manager, Chris Collins.
Gotta Fly!"We have sadly seen all our exhibitions getting canceled one by one this summer," wrote Niklas in a mailing sent to Blackwing followers. "Sweden has also been closed to visitors until just a few weeks ago. We will, therefore, make it possible for you to come to Sweden and test-fly our Blackwing BW600RG, with the Rotax 912iS, every Friday and Saturday during fall." "We have also planned demo tours in Germany. Check their website to learn more about the tour plan. The BW635RG, with the turbocharged 915iS, will not be available for test flights, since DULV (German light aircraft approval body) does not allow us to take passengers until we have passed the certification." Learn the dates and locations for the tour by emailing Niklas directly, who also notes, "Our main communication tool is on our Facebook page, with weekly updates. Even before announcing the tour, Blackwing gathered their growing list of owners. "We had our first Blackwing Fly-in on the 1st of August 2020. Seven Blackwings showed up," Niklas noted. "It was great to fly around in the Swedish alps, for the first time, with other Blackwings. Next year we hope that some of our Blackwing owners outside of Sweden will be able to attend. We are also thinking about extending the mountain tour a little further north so everybody can experience the Swedish midnight sun. Great weekend."
What About the 915iS Model?While Niklas and his group work on finalizing the 915iS approval, how does the speedster work with the 100 horsepower 912iS? "Really great," exclaimed Niklas, "with a ram-air installation." He recorded "cruise speeds at 6-, 8- and 10,000-feet are about 153 knots (175 mph) true airspeed." In those measurements, he cites fuel consumptions between "5 to 4.5 gallons per hour" (though he observed that the 912iS is not then running in the fuel-saving Eco mode). Meanwhile, "The 915iS model is getting close to 35 hours of test flights. We are doing testing at outside temperatures above 30 degrees celsius (86°F) to make sure the installation also works well in hot climates." "We keep adding safety features," Niklas continued. "The newest one is that you forget to retract the gear — easily done with the 915iS since climb rate is 2,000 feet per minute — and fly above the maximum gear-extended speed, you will get a warning on the Garmin screen and blinking red lights. The same blinking feature is added when the gears are in transition or if you forget to extend your gear (in addition to the built-in Garmin G3X warnings)."
Men and MachinesNiklas is expecting to win certification for the BW600RG with the 912iS and the two-blade Woodcomp shortly. "The preliminary noise test was 66 dB," he reports. (For comparison, normal human conversation is 60-65 dB.) "We are also planning to add the three-blade MT with the single power lever (no separate prop control lever) for the 912iS. This installation has been working great on the 915iS." Recently, the Swedish company said a Blackwing was registered in the 600kg category in Germany. They also got a first Blackwing approved in Holland. However, Niklas stated, "We are not planning to certify the Blackwing in the LSA category in the USA since FAA does not (presently) approve retractable gear." That will change with the LSA 2023 regulation and perhaps Americans will be interested in the speedy aircraft after that ruleset is introduced. Business appears solid even during these strange times. "Our next available delivery for a BW600RG, with the 912iS, is April 2021. The delivery for the BW635RG, with the 915iS, depends on certification but is estimated to come in June 2021." “We are getting many requests from the USA, reported Niklas. “We are currently looking into different potential partners that would either offer a builders support program or help us with a normal category certification of the Blackwing.” Of course, in three years or so, a new program should ease the way for a fully-built Blackwing with retractable gear and an automatic in-flight adjustable prop (called single lever control). While the Swedish team seems to be accomplishing plenty, they acknowledge the challgenges. "We are sorry for the delay that some customers may experience due to Covid-19 pandemic," Niklas said. "We are doing everything in our power to deliver the planes on time. We are slowly getting the parts missing from our sub-suppliers, and expect to be back on schedule in two months."
What a weird season, or non-season, if we think about all the airshows we should be attending …but are not! However, entrepreneurs do what they must and pilots remain as interested in flying as ever. Given both forms of determination, I expect those who tour with their airplanes will largely be warmly welcomed — although those still deeply worried about Covid may not venture out to the airfield. The good news, the concerned folks don’t have to attend yet those keen on pursuing their love of flight can at least check out a new airplane. You can stand physically distant if you wish and, of course, you can wear a mask although you may elect not to go aloft given a fairly small cabin. Nonetheless, I suspect most flyers will welcome Blackwing CEO Niklas Anderberg, as he takes his beautiful and very fast Light-Sport Aircraft around a series of airports in Europe.
Take to the Air!Tom Peghiny, the veteran importer of the most successful LSA brand in America, has a new nose-to-tail, winglet-to-winglet Light-Sport Aircraft to show airshow attendees …except he can't. Tom has run Flight Design USA since before the category was implemented by FAA back in 2004. He was an early leader in the ASTM process — through its first three (contentious) years, he chaired the all-important Design & Performance Subcommittee that created the biggest chunk of the standards used by airplane producers today. After selling more than 300 CT-series aircraft to Americans, Tom is keen to promote his brand new model. What he lacks is a show to take it to, so what to do? After media reported a flare-up of the virus in places Tom expected to visit, he had to cut back earlier tour plans. Instead, he chose to take the airplane to some key writers, let them fly F2, and they could tell their readership. It's not as good as face-to-face conversations at airshows, but it's an excellent way to communicate with the pilot community. Soon, he'll welcome a writer for AVweb and he will fly F2 down to AOPA's home in Frederick, Maryland to let one of their senior writers have a crack at the new model. How will they like it? I asked what aspects of F2 he planned to show off to these journalists.
"Feels Bigger; Flies Great"Flying F2 since it arrived in the USA — the model was announced at Aero 2019; video below — Tom has been getting more deeply familiar with the new model. "I'm very impressed with F2. It feels like a bigger airplane, very solid in the air. More stable than I expected. Very easy to land." He's comparing to the CTLS that so many other pilots know. "F2 feels more stable in the air compared to our CTLS, which offers a sportier feel." Pressing him for details, Tom recounted the following story from a recent flight. It involved F2's autopilot. "As you know, with the Garmin (or any) autopilot, you have a few stages to get it set up. When you're ready you engage it with an 'AP' button." After several minutes of flying almost hands-off straight and level, Tom realized he'd never engaged the autopilot. "F2 behaves so steadily, that even though I had it ready, I hadn't turned it on yet," Tom said. "It's that stable." “One of the reasons stability is so important is that we are in the process of certifying F2 to Europe's CS-23 version of FAA's Part 23 and also plan to certify it for IFR flight in IMC, making it a logical choice as a training aircraft,” observed Tom. That all sounds great, but how to account for such a stride forward? At least three attributes appear to deliver the improvements:
- F2 has a longer fuselage, about a foot longer than CTLS (22.5 feet on F2 vs. 21.6 on CTLS).
- F2 has a very wide stabilizer, substantially larger than CTLS (10.3 feet vs. 7.8 for CTLS). Additionally, the newer model now uses a fixed stabilizer with discreet elevator where CTLS employs a stabilator.
- Finally, vertical height of the tailplane is impressive. F2's tall tail is approximately 6.2 feet vs. 4.6 feet for CTLS.
Pilot FriendlierWhen the fuselage stretched, it not only got longer and leaner looking but it got wider and taller, too. This increased cabin volume. F2 is two inches wider (50.5 inches) and has a much larger aft cabin than CTLS (which has a hat rack on each side; handy, but much smaller). F2's cabin is higher, better for tall pilots and larger doors allow easier entry. That big cabin is designed to protect its occupants, a long-term effort by Flight Design. "F2 has an extremely rigid cabin; at least two times more than the CT-series." Like CTLS, F2's cabin is built around a center tunnel or beam "that is very stout," Tom added. F2 is also more deluxe. It has an automobile feel to it, Tom thought. Indeed, with AmSafe air bags (interior photo; see black vertical bars), auto style inertia reel harnesses, and gas-piston-adjustable seats that adjust electrically for height adjustment, F2 is clearly a luxury model. Size doesn't come free, of course. The extra interior room, longer span, wider tail, and stretched fuselage add 107 pounds to F2 compared with CTLS, using basic empty weight facts from company brochures (717 pounds vs. 824 on F2). No doubt F2's four foot longer span wing (32.4 feet on F2 vs. 28.2 feet on CTLS) carries weight better and may be another reason, along with the new winglets, accounting for the good handling report. "F2 is very efficient," Tom said. The wing design is higher aspect, using the same chord as CTLS but a longer span. "The higher you go, the better the wing flies. It will be very good for longer cruising flights, above 8,000 feet, for example." If you look carefully (it's subtle from most angles), F2's wing uses cuffs as does the Icon Aircraft A5. I flew that LSA seaplane to find very well behaved manners almost no matter what you did with the controls and airspeed management. That safety attribute earned Icon extra gross weight; FAA granted such because those cuffs provide greatly enhanced slow speed stability. As the linked article above indicates, FAA told LAMA's board of directors that any design that could prove a "stall resistant airframe" to FAA's satisfaction could petition for a higher gross weight so it is entirely possible F2 could also request more pounds. As we discussed the two planes, Tom said he thought I could do the same maneuvers with F2 that I'd done with the Icon A5 and I'd get a similar sensation. "Departure stalls simply don't," Tom described. "With full flaps, it will 'nod' a bit, a kind of pre-stall but with neutral flaps the stick remains effective at all times." Tom worked closely with Flight Design during development of F2, playing key roles. He closed saying, "I knew we could achieve those characteristics but I didn't know how well it would fly." I could almost see his smile over the phone. I look forward to experience F2, perhaps at the Midwest LSA Expo still on schedule for September 10-11-12 in Mt. Vernon, Illinois, east of St. Louis.
Although a mirror reflection of the greater global economy, many pilots are stunned that airshow after airshow has fallen to the virus. It seems like two or three years ago when, back in February 2020, Videoman Dave and I covered the Copperstate/Buckeye show west of Phoenix. Here’s another sure sign of virus-induced time distortion. This year, 2020, was the first year that the Sebring U.S. Sport Aviation did not happen after a good run of 15 years. Yes, only seven months ago, many of us would’ve been heading to Sebring, Florida. Little did we know in those carefree times what cataclysm was to follow starting in March 2020. When cut off from usual routines, what does an inventive entrepreneur do? Take to the Air! Tom Peghiny, the veteran importer of the most successful LSA brand in America, has a new nose-to-tail, winglet-to-winglet Light-Sport Aircraft to show airshow attendees …except he can’t.
The end is near! Or, is it?The reference is to the long-running effort to revise the FAA regulation affecting Light-Sport Aircraft. The new ruleset has been discussed back into 2017 and started to take shape in early 2019. Almost two years later, what is the status? I have reported on this earlier: May 2019 • July 2019 • January 2020 • and April 2020. For additional detail, go back and check those articles. In this newest report — based on LAMA's work with the aviation regulator — I will describe the newest development although a short review of the history is useful. When I ask if the end is near, I mean to ponder if FAA is done with their work. Even some in industry believe FAA is about to release what's call an NPRM: Notice of Proposed Rule Making. An NPRM Is not going to be forthcoming soon. Instead, the agency is preparing for a full internal review of the proposals.
The BackgroundBefore we get to details, let's review the situation. When Trump was elected, he promised to reduce regulation that he believed was holding back the U.S. economy. He has largely succeeded at this goal. New regulations, while not stopping, have slowed from the high-speed work under the previous administration. As FAA began work on the regulation sometimes referred to as MOSAIC, they knew they needed to end other regulations in order to pass this new one. Trump had required that for every new regulation, two regulations must end. MOSAIC is a sweeping regulation. Included are points well outside the world of LSA, for example, some warbird regulations are included as well as new rules about aircraft kit building. Only a portion is specific to LSA, however, that's the part that covered here. LAMA, the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association (of which I am the volunteer president) partnered with the USUA or U.S. Ultralight Association, lead by Roy Beisswenger. The latter represents pilots while LAMA represents aircraft producers and other businesses supplying this market segment with products or services. This was a good link-up resulting in a good run with FAA. The two organizations produced white papers for FAA on each topic where additional opportunities were sought and traveled multiple times to visit FAA in person. LAMA and USUA were fortunate to have great timing. The work began in 2014 before FAA began to seriously contemplate changes to the SP/LSA rule. LAMA and USUA worked to persuade FAA to open up opportunities for builders of and companies servicing Light-Sport Aircraft and the pilots who own and fly them. At the start, they spent a year and several meetings asking industry and pilots what they wanted in changes to the SP/LSA regulation. They got an earful. Wise advice later suggested trimming the wish list to something FAA could handle. If presented with a long list, the effort could reduce, not help, chances of getting what was desired. Six years on, FAA said they have included for consideration every LAMA request, putting these suggestions in the draft regulation that FAA personnel will now begin to closely review. However, at the request of others and on their own, FAA added more changes, such as increased weight, speed, more seats, retractable gear, and more.
Bigger, Better …and More Expensive?To say LAMA and USUA are hopeful about a substantial enlargement of the LSA field would be a timid statement. The organizations are hopeful for a significant expansion, but… The two organizations’ request for more privileges does not mean they think all LSA should become larger, faster, more capable aircraft. More broadly, LAMA and USUA absolutely support smaller, slower, less costly, more highly specialized aircraft that add so much appeal to this segment of recreational aviation. Best is if the "affordable" side of aviation can thrive even as the organizations hope for changes to allow activities such as commercial use.
FAA Nears "Ex Parte" What Does that Mean?As August 2020 begins, FAA is approaching “ex parte.” During this period FAA can no longer discuss what they are proposing. The regulation change is nearing an internal FAA deadline. This will come between early August and early September 2020. What does this mean? Before FAA can finish the proposal and prepare it for a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking or NPRM, they must go through an internal review. This is no small undertaking. FAA executive management has considerable say in how and where this goes, so executives overseeing this work have begun attending a series of every-week meetings. After the proposal enters the August/September time frame, what the rule writers have prepared will be examined by FAA’s legal department who will, among other things, assure the language is proper and fits correctly within FAA’s other regulations. FAA’s economists must assure the regulation does not put undue economic burden on the public and/or taxpayer. In addition, others inside FAA will have points they wish to make and the people actually preparing the work must accommodate the comments and requests of executives, lawyers, economists, and others. Before the ex parte period starts, LAMA and USUA have a further update on industry requests. The news remains positive.
The LatestLAMA and USUA personnel recently had teleconferences with two essential FAA departments: Aircraft Certification and Flight Standards. Given the extraordinary circumstances surrounding coronovirus, these conversations have been Zoom conferences with all parties working from home. Such communications work well but lack the bigger value of in-person visits. At present, visits to DC would not work. Aircraft Certification — These are the main people to whom the organizations have been speaking. Their aircraft role is obvious but they do not work on the operational side, that is, which pilots may fly LSA 2023 under what conditions, and who may perform maintenance on them. Flight Standards — This group addresses the operation side. For LAMA, one of the most important initiatives has been Aerial Work or Commercial Use of LSA 2023. LAMA believes this is one of the most valuable aspects for both manufacturers and the pilots who operate the aircraft they build. Speaking to personnel from Flight Standards personnel, we opened the discussion by explaining three areas that had not yet been well addressed:
- Pilot qualifications for expanded use of SLSA, such as commercial use
- What kinds of ratings may be required for aircraft with added capability
- Maintenance personnel requirements (recall FAA expects to add electric propulsion)
- What certificate will be needed to do commercial work?
- Sport Pilot? Private Pilot? Commercial?
What LAMA/USUA Originally Requested
- SLSA (fully built, not kit) Gyroplanes
- Aerial Work / Commercial Use
- Electric Propulsion
- Single Lever Control (in-flight adjustable prop)
- Increased weight (likely based on a formula)
- Four seats
- Retractable gear
- Increased airspeed
- Electric / Hybrid propulsion
- “LSA of the future should remain “safe, simple, and easy to fly.”
- “We want to be less prescriptive …to leave more for industry to decide.”
- “LSA has been a successful development”
- FAA sees “opportunities to safely expand this sector of aviation while decreasing burden on the industry” and seeks to “make this a positive for industry.”
FAA’s Overarching PurposeLight-Sport Aircraft designs and the manufacturers of these aircraft have performed well and FAA generally recognizes this. While industry took the early years to get up to speed on the then-new regulation (it was introduced in September of 2004), FAA acknowledged industry is meeting the requirements satisfactorily. Evidence of this is the agency’s use of LSA experience with industry consensus standards as they rewrite the regulation for Part 23 (legacy GA aircraft) certification. FAA rule writers sought to fill a yawning gap between LSA and Part 23 aircraft. On this particular point a whole new category — called “Light Personal Aircraft” — has been floated. LAMA and USUA are looking into this possibility. Allegedly, such LPA would, if enacted, fall between LSA and Part 23 conventional-certified aircraft. Finally, the agency confirmed it has also been reviewing this proposal with CAAs in other countries. That sums the report through July 2020. With internal reviews shifting into higher gear but with the flow of communication coming to a temporary close, industry will be observing FAA actions very closely. LAMA and USUA remain committed to pursue interests of industry and the pilot community.
The end is near! Or, is it? The reference is to the long-running effort to revise the FAA regulation affecting Light-Sport Aircraft. The new ruleset has been discussed back into 2017 and started to take shape in early 2019. Almost two years later, what is the status? I have reported on this earlier: May 2019 • July 2019 • January 2020 • and April 2020. For additional detail, go back and check those articles. In this newest report — based on LAMA‘s work with the aviation regulator — I will describe the newest development although a short review of the history is useful. When I ask if the end is near, I mean to ponder if FAA is done with their work. Even some in industry believe FAA is about to release what’s call an NPRM: Notice of Proposed Rule Making.
Micron-3 Coaxial HelicopterHave a glance at the RD Heli's Micron-3 ultralight helicopter. This is like no other ultralight helicopter I've ever seen, although the idea of coaxial is not new. History suggests coaxial rotors originated with Mikhail Lomonosov a very long time ago, according to Wikipedia. Over the years, many helicopter models have emerged but none so compact as Micron-3 Coaxial rotors are a pair of helicopter rotors mounted one above the other driven by concentric driveshafts, with the same axis of rotation, but turning in opposite directions (contra-rotating; see graphic). Another benefit arising from a coaxial design includes increased payload for the same engine power; "a tail rotor typically wastes some of the available engine power that would be fully devoted to lift and thrust with a coaxial design," say knowledgeable people. Reduced noise is another alleged advantage of the configuration Phoenix Skyblazer is an American coaxial helicopter that was designed by the Nolan brothers and produced by Phoenix Rotorcraft using a pair of 50 horsepower Rotax 503 engines. It never found a market but coaxials are more common in Russia, where the military uses them. According to the Micron website, the aircraft is powered by a single MZ202 engine for which the company reports 63 horsepower at 6250 rpm. A standard fuel tank offers 1.5 hours of flight but an extra tank can be added. The website was sparse about tech specs so endurance and range are unknown but the video below displays an agile and fun-looking flying machine. As the aircraft weighs 348 pounds empty and assuming it was fitted with extremely light floats, it is conceivable that Micron could qualify as a Part 103 ultralight. Certainly it could be assembled as a kit although technical support for a kit project is unknown. I report this as a fascinating light aircraft but I cannot vouch for Micron-3. It presently has no American representation that I could discover. I also have no information on pricing although I have contacted the company to request additional details. If they are forthcoming, I'll add to this article. Generally, though, I can tell you RD-Heli's website has very good English language descriptions. Go explore for yourself. Micron-3 helicopter development was a collaboration by Chief Designer Valery Shokhov and Dmitry Rakitsky after whom RD-Heli company is named.
Fusioncopter JK-2 NanoNow, let's look at a more familiar aircraft type, a gyroplane, but as with Micron-3, the JK-2 Nano is not like any other gyroplane you've seen in recent years. In one way Nano is similar to the original Bensen Gyrocopter. Nano is a single seater. At first, all gyros were one-seaters but since European engineers took the concept and started to advance development, I've seen almost exclusively two seaters. What's even more unusual is that Nano comes from a company call Fusioncopter that started out making, get this! — a four-seat, twin-engine gyrocopter. I'm guessing you've never heard of that either unless you dig pretty deeply among unusual aircraft information. "JK-2 Nano project was created from experience accumulated during research and development of a large, two-engine, four-seat gyroplane designed by Fusioncopter Ltd., with investor funds," explained Jacek Lichota. "Nano is a younger, smaller, but still fully professional brother." Nano is a simple gyroplane that has a partially-enclosed cabin and a fairly traditional configuration. Empty weight is listed as a modest 220 pounds. Large-wheels enable take-offs and landings not only on runways but also from undeveloped fields. Nano uses an aluminum structure, composite body with carbon and kevlar materials. Sturdy-looking 20-inch main wheels allow more confident operation from turf runways or grassy meadows. A suspended 16-inch front wheel also helps negotiate uneven surfaces. The metal rotor was developed by Fusioncopter, the company notes. Unlike bigger, two-seat gyroplanes that commonly use mechanical means, Nano uses a hydraulic rotor prerotation system to shorten takeoff roll. It is powered by a popular powered paraglider engine, the Polini Thor 250DS with electric starter and dual ignition system and Fusioncopter reported that it outputs 48 horsepower.
Nano Q&AI posed a series of questions to Jacek Lichota. How many of your aircraft are flying? "At the moment six, which are all Nanos. We started manufacturing in March of 2020." How long has Nano been flying? "Nano took its first flight on 25th of September 2019. We started to sell Nano on November 18, 2019." Do you believe this will meet U.S. FAA Part 103? "Definitely, yes!" What is the approximate price? "The price is €20.000 (currently about $23,800)." Please see the U.S. representative for exact pricing. Have you any U.S. representation? "Yes, we have a dealer in California." Interested readers can contact Jonathan Barraclough of Tehachapi, California at 661-972-5240. Visit his website or send email. What countries are flying your aircraft? "Today they fly in Poland, Austria, Czech Republic and the next three are going to the USA, followed by two to Germany and two more to Poland." How long has the company existed? "Fusioncopter was founded in 2012. We made two prototypes of our FC-4 four-seat gyroplane, which needs more time for certification; it shares the same technology employed on JK-2 Nano that is just for fun flying." When is the twin-engine model available? "I hope we will perform some flights this year but I do not think it will be commercially available for two years (or 2022)."
JK-2 Nano Technical Specifications
- Rotor diameter — 23 feet
- Empty weight with coolant and hydraulic fluid — 220 pounds
- Maximum take-off weight (limited by regulations) — 440 pounds
- Fuel tank capacity (limited by regulations) — 5 gallons
- Never exceed speed — 70 mph
- Maximum speed — 55 mph
- Minimum speed — 22 mph
- Cruising speed — 45 mph
- Maximum climb speed — 400 feet per minute
- Take-off run — about 150 feet
- Landing distance — 0-30 foot roll
- Fuel consumption — approximately 1.5–2 gallons per hour
New Info Since Article Was PostedMany of you asked about prices for these two rotary winged aircraft. The Fusioncopter Nano was price quoted in the article above. What follows came from my inquiry to RD Heli. What is the approximate price of this aircraft? "Price of a kit starts from 2,500,000 rubles." That amount converts to about $33,500 at today's exchange rates. Find more detail on the kits on RD Heli's website, then scroll down to images and click on the kit image, not the order button. How many are flying? "We sold more than 10 units. Not one unit was sold to private pilots. All of them were sold to companies."
Additional Tech Specs:
- Maximum speed — 72 mph
- Cruise speed — 55 mph
- Fuel capacity — about 7 gallons
- Fuel consumption — 4.5 gallons per hour
- Empty weight — 348 pounds (10 more than the maximum allowed under Part 103)
➡️ This article was UPDATED on July 31, 2020 with additional information — see after video… Some pilots love to whirl their wings over their heads. Many others like the idea of rotary flight — offering short takeoffs and landings plus ease of operation in windier conditions. A majority have not (yet) acted on their interest but perhaps they are waiting for the right aircraft, maybe one of these. One is a very light coaxial helicopter from Russia. The other is a single place gyroplane from Poland. Micron-3 Coaxial Helicopter Have a glance at the RD Heli’s Micron-3 ultralight helicopter. This is like no other ultralight helicopter I’ve ever seen, although the idea of coaxial is not new. History suggests coaxial rotors originated with Mikhail Lomonosov a very long time ago, according to Wikipedia. Over the years, many helicopter models have emerged but none so compact as Micron-3 Coaxial rotors are a pair of helicopter rotors mounted one above the other driven by concentric driveshafts, with the same axis of rotation, but turning in opposite directions (contra-rotating; see graphic).
Carbon CorsairGerman developer Jörg Hollmann took a different approach, one that consumed a few years of effort. He wanted an aircraft that resembled the famous World War II F4U Corsair fighter. One glance at the nearby photos or the two videos below tells you he did very well. Here's a bit of history about Corsair's inverted gull wing. "Corsair is a newly developed aircraft following the German LTF-L [very light aircraft] regulation," said Jörg. "As well [Corsair meets] many other national regulations, for example, the British SSDR, the Italian, French, Czech, Polish and even the U.S. FAR Part 103 regulation." For the latter Jörg said the empty weight, MTOW and speeds are slightly reduced." In countries where speed is not regulated, Corsair can hit 125 miles per hour. "The general layout — a low inverted gull wing — has been successfully used in several aircraft already," explained Jörg. "The Chance-Vought Corsair surely is one of the more famous aircraft with this concept." Jörg notes the main advantages to this configuration are a low interference drag between wing and fuselage as well as an ideal landing gear position, "which allows as well a nearly perfect angle for take off and landings." Corsair is adjustable to pilots of many sizes. "The ergonomics have been optimized with the help of our local flying club," Jörg recalled, "[so Corsair] is suitable for pilots ranging from 5 foot 4 inches to 6 foot 8 inches (1,60 to 2 meters). Cockpit width is 23.6 inches (60 centimeters). "Our seat is adjustable in four length/height positions and the incline is independently adjustable in 11 positions," he said (see in video). "Rudder pedals are adjustable as well and the stick has two positions." In other words a fairly wide range of pilots should fit in Corsair.
Growling Into the AirIn our original, longer video (below) you hear the sound of Corsair's engine with its distinctive low rumble. Some call it a "bark," others have said "growl." Jörg said, "We selected the Verner Scarlett 3 VW, a four-stroke, three-cylinder radial engine, [which was] purposefully designed as a light aircraft engine." The Vernor produces 42 horsepower at 2500 rpm using a displacement of 96 cubic inches (1.6 liters). "The high engine torque allows the use of a rather big and efficient propeller," observed Jörg, again mimicking design parameters of the F4U Corsair. "We use a ground adjustable 63-inch (1,60 meter) carbon prop that can produce, depending on the blade pitch, up to 220 pounds of static thrust, more than enough for Corsair's empty weight!" U.S. importer SportairUSA, well known for their representation of the Zlin Shock Outback and Shock Ultra, is scheduled to receive their first Corsair in September 2020 (though shipping and Customs inspections are less certain due to the virus). Corsair is not your low priced ultralight option, but with an all carbon fiber tube primary structure, I assume most readers are well aware this is a more costly production. SportairUSA may price Corsair in euros (€75,000) due to fluctuating currency at this time but the dollar equivalent is around $89,000 at today’s exchange rate. This is merely an estimate; please check with SportairUSA boss Bill Canino for details. If you like the idea of a lightweight, Part 103 aircraft (no license, no N-numbers, no medical) that is certain to turn a lot of heads at any airport you visit, Corsair is definitely a distinctive and interesting ultralight. * Empty weight of the basic airframe, without fuel, cannot be greater than 254 pounds (115.2 kilograms), however, FAA guidance (Advisory Circular 103-7) provided some exceptions. If you add an airframe parachute, FAA permits an extra 24 pounds. The lightest of such systems can weigh perhaps 18 pounds, so the designer can "buy" an extra 6 pounds. FAA doesn't encourage "cheating," but neither do they expect an owner to remove the parachute and all its elements so the aircraft can be weighed without it. Similarly, an allowance is permitted for flotation equipment — either twin floats or a single float with sponsons. Put all these elements on and an ultralight vehicle could weigh as much as 338 pounds empty. Here is the entire AC-103-7 document from January 30, 1984; it remains unchanged.
Most ultralight aircraft (officially: “ultralight vehicles”) are rather simple constructions. They must be to stay within the tight constraints of a 254-pound maximum empty weight.* That’s not a negative comment about them. Actually, it’s the opposite. To build a flying airplane that weighs less than the engine alone on a Light-Sport Aircraft, a designer has to be unusually clever. All aircraft are constrained in weight by the laws of physics. Ultralights are further constrained by regulation. A key way to keep an aircraft light is to keep it simple. Indeed most 103 ultralights are quite basic. However, as years passed some engineers have found intriguing solutions. I recently wrote about the composite Swan. Why not one using extensive carbon fiber? Carbon Corsair German developer Jörg Hollmann took a different approach, one that consumed a few years of effort. He wanted an aircraft that resembled the famous World War II F4U Corsair fighter.
Kolb TriFlyProducers of Part 103 aircraft, such as Kolb Aircraft report consistently strong business for the last few years. Many pilots find it hard to believe this statement as they've been told for years, "You can't find a sufficiently powerful three-axis aircraft that can truly meet Part 103." Nonsense! That's just plain wrong and here's proof: Go to a producer of Part 103 aircraft and ask about delivery time. You'll probably find a longer wait than you expected. Kolb and U-Fly-It, builder of the Aerolite 103 say they are building at capacity so they use Part 103 kits as a way to keep up with demand. Other producers of 103 models, including UltraCruiser, Fisher, Mini-Max, Badlands, SD-1, Minifox, Kub, and Swan, report steady sales of their entries (this list is not exhaustive; even more choices can be found; nor does it include used Part 103-compliant aircraft). Neither does the preceding include weight shift (Rev or Solairus), powered parachutes (Challenger 503), single-place motorgliders (Elf) or new entries (Corsair). Why are single-place aircraft growing in popularity? Several good reasons account for Part 103 success but prices for these least-regulated aircraft remain surprisingly low* for flying machines that… do not require a pilot license, do not demand an aviation medical of any kind, do not need FAA registration and N-numbers. Plus, the manufacturer can fully build this aircraft for you (and most do). You can also build it from a kit, of course, and if you keep it within the Part 103 requirements, all those freedoms apply to your kit just the same as a factory built. In addition, a kit does not need to meet the so-called 51% rule.
Gone TriFlying!Kolb's FireFly is a long established model from one of America's best-regarded airplane manufacturers. Like nearly all Kolb Aircraft, FireFly is a taildragger …although the company’s models represent some of the easiest-to-handle taildraggers you’ll find in all of aviation. Cool as taildraggers may be, the last couple generations of pilots overwhelmingly learned to fly in tricycle gear aircraft. Most don't care to advertise their lack of history with "conventional gear." To address potential customers telling him they were unsure about their success with a taildragger, Kolb main man, Bryan Melborn engineered a tricycle-gear version of FireFly. He inventively calls it TriFly. In truth TriFly also comes with a tailwheel. That's some of the magic because Bryan reports you can definitely perform a three-point landing (main gear touching down in concert with the tailwheel) in TriFly. You can keep rolling out all the way to a stop without the nosewheel contacting terra firms. When the movement stops or you relax the joystick, TriFly will go back to tricycle mode and you can taxi back to your hangar or tie-down. Or, if you prefer, land TriFly like any Cessna; that works well, too. My personal experience with Kolb Aircraft — having flown numerous models over many years — indicates that great handling qualities are a Kolb trademark: light controls with good response, nearly perfect for most pilots. Performance in matters such as takeoff roll, landing distance, and climb rates are superb. As a Part 103 aircraft, speeds are limited by regulation but TriFly fills the envelope fully. In every way, Kolb taildraggers are a delight to operate and, truly, you should not fear the taildragger. If you are unsure or if you don't want to meet the insurance demands for a taildragger then TriFly may be the perfect combination. You can have it both ways all in one machine with no adding or removing components.
Kolb TriFly Factory Specifications
- Seating — 1
- Wing Span — 22 feet
- Wing Area — 117 square feet
- Length — 20 feet (same folded)
- Height — 69 inches (same folded) / 75 inches with 3-blade prop
- Width — (folded) 57 inches at wheels / 66 inches with larger prop
- Empty Weight** — 250 pounds (typical, with base equipment)
- Gross Weight** — 500 pounds ** Note Weight is approximate and may vary. Manufacturer's tolerances in tube wall thickness, engine size, and doping and painting of the aircraft are a few of the many items which may introduce weight variations.
- Fuel Capacity — 5 gallons
- Load Factor (at limit load) — +4 G / –2 G
- Power — 40 horsepower (various powerplants can be used; check with factory)
- Reduction Unit — 2.58:1
- Propeller (standard) — 66 inches diameter, two-blade
- Stall Speed — 27 miles per hour (per FAR 103.7) / 27 mph (actual)
- Never Exceed Speed — 80 miles per hour
- Takeoff Distance — 150 feet
- Rate of Climb (based on a 175-pound pilot) — 750 feet per minute
- Top Speed — 63 miles per hour (per FAR 103.7)
- Cruise Speed — 63 miles per hour
- Build time with Factory Quick Build (approximately) — 160 hours
- Full Assembly Option — Available completely built
https://youtu.be/GwcF7AqR8Bg In comments about this video, alert viewer MichaelPMc observed, "The sound your hat makes when it goes through the prop." Here's what the keen-eye observer meant in case it slipped your notice.
Some pilots are wary of taildraggers. This is hardly surprising since only tricycle-gear aircraft have been used in primary flight instruction dating back into the 1970s. Most pilot have no experience with taildraggers but nearly all have heard of the dreaded ground-loop tendency such gear configuration can allow. Indeed, when investigating insurance for a taildragger, you will have to prove you have some experience or get training from a suitably-experienced instructor — and you won’t find many able to help you. How about if an aircraft went both ways? What if an affordable aircraft allowed you to fly with tricycle gear but permitted you to practice your taildragger technique yet still use the nosewheel’s self-straightening capability if you start to get a little “sideways” (literally or figuratively)? Kolb Aircraft has an answer. Kolb TriFly Producers of Part 103 aircraft, such as Kolb Aircraft report consistently strong business for the last few years.
What's Available Now?Today, interested parties must choose the single-seat Swan 120 — the number relates to the German Part-103-like program that allows an aircraft under 120 kilograms or 264 pounds to fly with reduced regulation. That's great. Swan 120 is reportedly a well-flying aircraft; I have not had the chance yet. Yet lots of potential buyers may prefer a two seater and as the video below shows, I did see a finished version of such at Aero Friedrichshafen 2019 (like many others, the event was cancelled for 2020 but will return on April 14-17, 2021). At this writing, however, Swan 240 is not offered for sale. "The Swan two-seater will take some time," wrote Peter Hügel, head of Modern Wings in Germany. Peter works with manufacturer Radu Berceanu. Radu owns a larger company, Avi, in Romania where he makes all sorts of industrial composite components for trains, aircraft, and backyard swimming pools. He's an aeronautical engineer with 25 years experience in composite construction. As with similar companies, the airplane portion of the business is a smaller segment of the overall enterprise although Berceanu is very passionate about aviation. Unlike Swan 120 that qualifies as a 120 Kilo Class aircraft under German rules, a two-seat Swan 240 at about twice the weight must earn approval in a higher class. Peter observed, "Swan 240 [cannot use rules for] Swan 120 Europe-wide." Instead, Swan 240 must qualify under EASA rules or those from the CAA of each European country. While rules in many countries are similar for light aircraft, they are not identical. "It is still not quite clear what max takeoff weight Swan 240 is allowed to have, 600 or 640 kilograms," clarified Peter. "The rules are different, which is one of the reasons why we still wait a little bit." In the USA, Swan 240 would have to be a kit or go through the approval process for Light-Sport Aircraft (no small task).
Good To Go!"Waiting a little bit" is a problem laid partly at the foot of the virus pandemic, Peter felt. "It's not going the way we wanted. The airplane examiner, who comes from Germany, faces travel restrictions, so the approval project will take additional time." However for those interested in the single-seat Swan 120, Peter confirmed, "Yes, I am actively selling and representing Swan 120. When Swan 240 is ready, I will represent that model as well."
Swan 120 Features
- Large, fully enclosed, ventilated, waterproof cabin.
- One door, left or right
- Heating option
- Fiberglass control panel equipped with airspeed indicator, altimeter, compass, and slip/skid ball.
- Base Engine — Polini Thor 200 EVO, air cooled, electric starter, 28 horsepower at 8000 rpm
- Upgrade Engine — Polini Thor 250 EVO, liquid cooled, electric starter, 36 horsepower at 7500 rpm
Transport & Storage
- When folded, the aircraft measures: 11 feet (length) x 5 feet (width) x 6 feet (height).
- Complete disassembly can be done in 10-15 minutes
- Wingspan — 25.6 feet
- Wing area — 111 square feet
- Length — 17.4 feet
- Height — 8.5 feet
- Wheel base — 5 feet
- Load factors — + 4G / -2G
- Empty weight, with emergency airframe parachute — 254 pounds with Polini 200 / 260 pounds with Polini 250
- Maximum takeoff weight — 550 pounds
- Stall speed — 38 miles per hour
- Stall speed with option flaps — 28 miles per hour
- Cruising speed — 56 mph Polini 200 / 66 mph with Polini 250
- Maximum speed — 62 mph with Polini 200 / 81 mph with Polini 250
- Rate of climb — 440 fpm with Polini 200 / 520 fpm with Polini 250
- Take-off Distance — 360 feet with Polini 200 / 295 feet with Polini 250
- Landing Distance — 260 feet
- Takeoff Distance Over 50-foot obstacle — 750 feet with Polini 200 / 625 feet with Polini 250
- Landing Distance Over 50-foot obstacle — 550 feet
- Range — 165 statute miles with Polini 200/ 200 statute miles with POLINI 250
We live in an age of sophisticated two seaters, a large flock of wonderful aircraft of every description. Such two-place flying machines lead in sales and perhaps that’s to be expected. Around 80% of light aircraft buyers prefer three-axis fixed-wing aircraft. This is hardly surprising as that’s what nearly all pilots have used for primary training since the ’70s. To select another aircraft type means going out on a tree limb. This is especially true with what I call “alternative aircraft” — weight shift trikes, powered parachutes, motorgliders, and gyroplanes. It would include lighter-than-air, too, if we had more than a single entry. However, some three-axis fixed wingers also disregard Part 103-compliant aircraft. Some say, “Those things are flying lawn chairs,” by which they try to disparage the category hinting they’re too “flimsy.” Most who say this probably never sat in one let alone flew one. One entry I’ve written about (see my earlier report) appears to have be viewed differently, perhaps as it has a full enclosure and is built of composite materials.
20 Years of Dynon"In 2000, we were frustrated with the lack of affordable modern avionics for sport aircraft," remembered Dynon, "and [we] decided to do something about it." The result? Dynon led a sea change in modern GA aircraft avionics, equipping over 20,000 sport aircraft and then venturing into the "certified" world of colorful EFIS screens for legacy airplanes. Dynon's first D-10 started shipping in 2003 and they've moved forward smartly ever since. Today, pilots forget that the first fancy computerized instruments for aircraft cost more then than an entire Light-Sport Aircraft today. Dynon almost single-handedly drove down the dizzyingly high prices to something sport pilots could afford and we embraced them enthusiastically. Dynon went on to become titanium-strong pillar of the aviation marketplace.
Join Dynon in Oshkosh Without Leaving Your Home"We’re sad that we won’t get to see you at Oshkosh ," lamented Dynon Avionics, "but we’re excited to bring you a variety of forums, 'Virtual Booth Visits,' webinars, and other live events during EAA's Spirit of Aviation Week. We'll cover everything Dynon, Dynon Certified, and Advanced Flight Systems." Dynon has more than information, problem-solving sessions, and learning presentations, however. "We will also give away prizes to those of you that participate via our Zoom or Facebook Live events," said the company. Prizes may include Dynon jackets, Aircraft Spruce gift cards, Dynon Bucks, Made-in-Washington-state products, and more. One lucky grand prize winner will receive a Dynon D3. What's that? It's what the west coast company calls their "pocket panel." You won't actually carry it in your pocket, but this is Dynon's clever idea to put EFIS avionics into the 3.125-inch round openings that most of the U.S. general aviation fleet has in their instrument panels. Learn more on their D3 page. To end it in typical Dynon fashion, welcome to Saturday's Hangar Happy Hour. "We'll take your questions and will have avionics handy. But this is a pretty casual meet and greet. We'll be sitting around chatting about all things Dynon and Advanced, drinks in hand. We invite you to join us!"
Perhaps it’s too bad the airplane sellers can’t do something similar, but avionics developers have found a way to be Almost-at-Oshkosh and they invite you to join them. See Garmin’s approach here. We’ll join our friends at Dynon while they host their version of “Virtual Oshkosh 2020” and while we’re at it, we can congratulate this Washington state company as they celebrate 20 years. ?? Let’s hop in the Way-Back Machine and beam ourselves to late 1999. The world was an analog place. Sure, we had PCs and cellphones but both were pretty clunky, costly, and slow by today’s standards. Digital cameras were just becoming accepted and nobody took pictures with a phone. Yes, the World Wide Web was available (for a whole five years) but, honestly, it wasn’t that fascinating a place back then. I know, as this was the same year I started building ByDanJohnson.com — I hope you’ll believe me when I say it was tougher then than now.
Virtually Yours…The team at Garmin has cooked up an online version of a regular occurrence at their AirVenture display where they deliver seminars and offer experts to help explain or debug your gear. In the age of digital, two points must be made. One, these new gizmos can do everything but make you lunch. Compared to the analog instrumentation of days gone by — all those rows of round steam gauges we used to navigate or fly IFR — pilots have so much more information available to them today. That’s good. Two, these new gizmos can do so much, it can be overwhelming. Oh, eventually we get used to the many new features. Then we come to think we can’t live without them. Yet if you don’t use them all the time, you may need a tune-up. When digital avionics are new, most of us need a helping hand to learn the ropes. Whatever you may need or desire, Garmin has a plan. (For the record, Dynon has done similar efforts — they call it a "virtual booth visit" — to augment their airshow outreach; good for both companies.)
Like Going to KOSHOn July 8th 2020, Garmin announced they were kicking off a new virtual AirVenture Oshkosh. “[We have] a comprehensive line-up of virtual AirVenture Oshkosh events,” the Kansas company said. “Beginning Monday, July 20 through Saturday, July 25 — the days when the live show would have occurred — Garmin will host a series of free educational webinars and product demonstrations, and feature unique opportunities that will bring the Garmin exhibit experience direct to its customers.” Customers can view a detailed list of events, dates and times. “While we are very disappointed AirVenture Oshkosh will not physically take place as expected this year, we are thrilled to bring eager attendees, loyal customers and friends as much of the Garmin experience to you virtually, and in the best way possible given the times,” said Carl Wolf, vice president of aviation sales and marketing. “Our team has put together a terrific agenda of events for the week, so please join us for as much of it as you can. We look forward to seeing you again in person in 2021!”
Garmin serves aviation markets from jets to helicopters to kit-built aircraft to LSA to ultralights. I have selected from the wide curriculum to highlight sessions I believe may be of interest to readers of this website.Training webinars will also be available throughout the week and are led by Garmin’s aviation training department. They will feature a general operational overview of Garmin products. Customers can attend any of the following webinar or training topics throughout the week.
Garmin “University” Selected Items for Sport Pilots
- Latest portables: aera series, inReach, more
- Cost effective autopilot upgrades
- Garmin Pilot flight planning: Getting started & pro tips
- Solutions for experimental aircraft
- Sporty’s and Garmin Present: Preflight weather with Garmin Pilot
- Garmin Pilot: Cross-country planning
- G3X Pilot Academy: Introduction
- G3X Pilot Academy: Autopilot
Garmin is going to Oshkosh 2020! No, wait, that can’t be. Oshkosh is going to Garmin! Nope, that’s not right, either. Ah, how about Garmin simulating being in Wisconsin, in effect, bringing a virtual AirVenture airshow right into your home. Now we’re talkin’! Actually, this is rather cool. I don’t know about you, but when I go to Oshkosh, I race around from display to display getting the latest news. Because hundreds of airplanes and engines are located outside, that’s where I’m focused. Getting inside the buildings to visit hundreds more displays generally happens only for specific news. Almost never do I get to explore avionics or flight planning software. That’s all changed for what would be Oshkosh 2020. Virtually Yours… The team at Garmin has cooked up an online version of a regular occurrence at their AirVenture display where they deliver seminars and offer experts to help explain or debug your gear.
LiteFighters"Our goal with LiteFighters," Sam identified, "is to make a sweet little fighter replica based on our modular concept that can be built quickly, keeps tools to a minimum, and uses low-cost components to keep the overall aircraft affordable. Pull-rivet construction throughout makes assembly a snap. The truss frame makes it easy for anyone to layout and build an accurate frame." By the way, ScaleBirds LiteFighters have large cockpit dimensions ("same as an RV-8") that are designed to fit real-sized aviators. "These [are] very fun machines; speedy, and capable of mild aerobatics," Sam said. LiteFighters offer the kind of flying a weekend warrior wants to do. "LiteFighter aerodynamics are driven by requirements," Sam explained, giving as examples: "low stall speed with gentle stall characteristics, high climb rate, great speed for the power, excellent maneuverability, and fun scale-sized airframe." When Sam mentions "modular," he means that ScaleBirds designs are based on a structural core airframe with skins being "hung" on the outside primarily for aesthetic and aerodynamic purposes. Modular construction "allows us to develop the core components and structure once, and offer many models of warbird that fit the same frame." For a builder, this method allows a quick and simple build of an airframe that is square and true. "The bulk of the aircraft can be built and assembled before closing it off with the skins," Sam noted. He reported that this type of construction was popular leading up to World War II. It worked then, he feels, and it works today. Landing gear will be fixed for all LiteFighters to keep the designs light, reliable, affordable, and to comply with Light-Sport parameters allowing someone with a Sport Pilot certificate or exercising those privileges to fly their aircraft. "Retractable gear will likely be available for some models as an option," Sam added.
Curtiss P-36 HawkSince coming up with the ScaleBirds name and concept in 2011, the first project is one we examine in the videos below is a 55%-scale version of the P-36 Hawk. Scott Watrous explained some of the history of this design in the second video below. ScaleBirds is comprised of a small team from southeastern Connecticut. "Our experience is in art, design, engineering, robotics, manufacturing, and of course, aircraft," Sam observed. "We have been using all of our skills and developing new ones in order to deliver something new to the world of flying." These replicas are single seat sport planes, designed to be economical and fun. "We have also done design work, and built parts for, a larger two-seat aircraft: a 63%-scale F6F Hellcat," Sam reported. "It will be completed as the first example of what we call the SportFighters series."
Round Vernor PowerIn 2016 ScaleBirds came to agreement with Verner Motors in the Czech Republic to act as a U.S. dealer and maintenance source for their expanding line of light aircraft radial engines. Vernor engines preserve that old-time look but are actually new designs of recent construction. Engines are available through ScaleBirds with 3-, 5-, 7-, and 9-cylinders and from 42 to 158 horsepower. Prices start below $10,000 and the line is generally competitive with new engine prices from other companies. Notably the five-cylinder, four-stroke Scarlett will work for many lighter kit designs. It outputs 83 horsepower (78 continuous) and can operate on either 93-octane mogas or 100LL avgas. Because it also offers strong torque — 218 foot-pounds at 1900 rpm — the Scarlett 5 can easily swing a 78-inch prop which gives it great climb power. The ScaleBirds team report they offer full-service maintenance and overhauls for the Vernon engines. "We went to the Czech Republic and were trained in the operation and maintenance for these powerplants," Sam clarified. The five-cylinerVerner Scarlett 5S is a modern radial aviation powerplant. "With specs and performance that put it right next to other 80-horsepower engines, the Scarlett 5S is still lighter than the other direct-drive engine options and without the cost and complexity of the higher-revving redrive engines of similar output," Sam said. While the design team likes the round Vernors for some applications, "LiteFighters are designed for a variety of available aircraft engines from 65 to 140 horsepower. The in-line fighters like the P40 will be based on the Viking 130, AeroMomentum, and Rotax 912UL, while radial powered models will be geared towards the Verner 5Si or 7U engines," Sam explained. "This will not preclude other popular options such as Continental, VW, Jabiru, and various two-stroke options, the D-motor, as well as other auto conversions such as the Suzuki G engines with redrives." Video watching is great while America remains sheltered at home. Here is a trio of ScaleBirds videos — two about the P-36 Hawk in recent and earlier states of development plus lots of talk about radial Verner engines, which ScaleBirds imports. Grab some popcorn and enjoy!
ScaleBirds is not your run-of-the-mill kit aircraft company. In truth, all kit builders are amazing to me. People who labor for years to design an aircraft, craft methods for making the constituent parts, assemble it all, work out bugs in construction, fly the aircraft, then smooth any rough edges of its flight qualities, start producing kit components — and the manual it will take for a non-expert to build the kit (perhaps the hardest task) — and finally, start the effort of telling people about the airplane, market it, sell it — and the big one — try to turn a profit for doing all the preceding. Any way you cut it, birthing a new design is an immense project. Sam Watrous, his son Scott, and their merry band of (mostly volunteer) ScaleBirders are not merely doing all the above. They are emulating vintage American military designs in reduced scale and trying to get the details right so the kit versions look as much as possible like the originals.