A popular American childhood story called “The Little Engine that Could” relates to this article. The Merlin PSA (Personal Sport Aircraft) from Aeromarine-LSA is a modern single place airplane that does everything you want — well, other than carry two people — while remaining highly affordable. Given that some Light-Sport Aircraft shoot past $200,000 (some even past $300,000!), Merlin looks very reasonably priced for the rest of us. A large number of LSA enthusiasts have complained that present-day LSA have become way too expensive for their budgets. Back when we were still awaiting Light-Sport Aircraft many pilots thought LSA would cost $50-60,000 and it seems not many choices are available in that range. Some are, but most are quite a bit more costly. It’s important to be accurate. Understand that $60,000 in 2002 — when people were speculating about the price of a LSA — is the same as $83,000 today, when you calculate the purchasing power of either number at those times.* Now think of Merlin’s price tag.
Phone: 262-408-0124Lakeland, FL
Aircraft of InterestWe saw a rare sighting of an Icon A5 on display with another on a lake doing demo flights. The California company has in several recent years limited its airshow appearance to a splashy big tent at Oshkosh. It was good to see the team from the factory's flight school and operation in Tampa, Florida make a showing. Scott Severen as US Sport Planes made his first appearance as the new man handling sales nationally for Jabiru, focused on their J230-D and J170-D models. Scott has played many important roles in light aviation and he's a veteran choice to take over from Pete Krotje and his Shelbyville, Tennessee team as Pete slides gracefully into a well-deserved retirement, as he has planned for a couple years. Aeropilot USA boss, Deon Lombard, reported a solid first year with six sales of the L600. He also added a dealer in the east while he handles the west from his California base. From what I could see, interest is growing for this handsome 80%-scale 182 lookalike done in composite. We looked over the HKS-powered Merlin Chip Erwin brought on behalf of his Aeromarine-LSA company based in the Tampa area. Videoman Dave and I are charging around scooping up videos and knocked out seven or eight on Day One. Look for plenty of fresh video in the weeks ahead to follow Dave's deluge of videos in advance of Sebring. Tomorrow's forecast: another fine day (or two or three) ahead, weatherwise with airplane noise first thing and all day! C'mon down if you can…
For all who could not attend, our title forms a common question. On day one of the fourteenth running of the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo, even many onsite asked how the first day went; I’ll bet I heard the question a dozen times. Short answer: A great start! The airport that hosts the annual event lucked out with a day of gorgeous weather, in the high 70s (25° C). Clear blue skies and modest breezes made for a beautiful beginning. They booked a full display of more than 100 vendors and plenty of shiny aircraft to examine. Morning hours looked to have reasonably good attendance; the parking lot was on its way to a good fill at 8:30 AM. These shows rarely seem crowded — and that’s not a bad thing if you want to talk to an aircraft designer or take a demo flight — but at times various aircraft were surrounded by visitors.
See Merlin at Sebring 2018.Two HKS-powered Merlins will be at Sebring, Aeromarine LSA reported. “We will bring a Merlin from our build program that isn’t yet 100% completed,” said Chip. "That will give people a chance to see how easy it is to build their own Merlin.” The fully enclosed Merlin claims to be one of the quickest-build 51% kits available. I went to observe a customer building his own Merlin to see how easy and quick it really was. I came away suitably impressed. "So complete and builder-ready is the Quick Build Kit that most major assemblies and skins are already tacked into position for shipping (using colored soft rivets)," Chip explained, "requiring the builder to actually do some disassembly to bring it to the 51% stage." “There is no 'Slow Build' option,” deadpanned Erwin in his characteristic humor. “Precision matched-hole technology means that the holes punched are not just pilot holes; the accuracy is so high that holes in the skins match the holes in the ribs and bulkheads at final size, so next to zero drilling is required," Chip said. "This precision saves dozens if not hundreds of assembly time hours.” My own eyes proved to me that this precision matched-hole technology works as advertised. The all-metal Merlin PSA is presently flying in several European countries and in the USA today powered with both the more economical Rotax 582 and the HKS powerplant. Merlin PSA quick-build kits with the HKS are now being delivered in the USA with delivery positions available for delivery this spring, Aeromarine LSA reports; some slots remain for the Builders’ Center, as well. The kit (without engine, instruments, and paint) has an introductory price of only $16,500. Depending on engine, BRS, and panel options, completed and painted aircraft cost from $35,000 to $50,000. That's quite affordable by most budgets.
Along with many others, I’m sure, I’m presently en route from Daytona Beach to Sebring, Florida as the 2018 or 14th running of the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo is about to begin. It opens tomorrow, January 24th. By the way, it’s 82 degrees today and the forecast looks reasonably good. C’mon down! Fresh news is breaking about the first flights of the HKS 700E-powered Merlin PSA from Aeromarine LSA. Reporting from Lakeland, Florida yesterday, Aeromarine LSA boss Chip Erwin observed, “[Merlin with HKS is] remarkable, the difference in the feel of the airplane.” Chip’s single seater is proving increasingly popular as he logs sales for his one-seater Merlin PSA (Personal Sport Aircraft). Having flown a number of airplanes with the smooth-running, throaty-sounding, fuel-efficient HKS, I predict continued good fortune for Aeromarine LSA. So many pilots prefer a four-stroke to a two-stroke, that — right or wrong — I imagine the Japanese engine could accelerate sales.
A key phrase for this website is “Affordable Aviation” (in fact, we bought AffordableAviation.com for future use). Our focus is on aircraft that can work within the budgets of many recreational or sport pilots. Reading about bizjets or self-flying drones in major magazines may be interesting but those of us who love to fly prefer flying machines we can genuinely afford. A kit-built aircraft is one way to make airplanes more affordable, and more personal. The great news is you have many wonderful choices. What you may not have is time and that’s why this article covers Merlin PSA. How much time must you invest to get airborne? Would you believe a mere two weeks? Many kits ask for months, even years of your labor plus a place to do this work. If you love the craftsmanship, that may be fine but if you build so you can fly, why not have the process be easier and swifter?
Here’s another quick update from new friend, Mike Friend, who is covering Aero along with Roy Beisswenger. I so appreciate these two gentlemen assisting with this wonderful show that I’m having to miss. Fortunately, we are furiously making new videos at Sun ‘n Fun and I am gathering more story material for this website. —DJ Chip Erwin is at it again! Unlike Dan Johnson, Chip Erwin decided to skip Sun ‘n Fun and come to Aero 2017. Aeromarine is going to introduce a fun new retro Sportster for the price of a ground-bound Harley Davidson. Crowds have been flocking around the charming little single seater powered by the Czech Verner Scarlett 5 cylinder motor of 80 horsepower. With an open canopy and an empty weight of 440 pounds or 200 kilograms, Sportster should prove to be a real retro rocket ride. Chip is thinking he will be able to offer the airplane next year for $35,000 including a two week builder assist program at his Florida base.
Electric aircraft are a major buzz with even aviation gian Airbus working on their eFan. That's still years away and will surely be expensive. However, SportCruiser developer Chip Erwin has an all-new motor with specially adapted battery. The details should impress you and he is also developing new single place airplanes -- that he calls PSA or Personal Sport Aircraft -- which will be powered by the new electric propulsion.
Electric aircraft are a major buzz with even aviation gian Airbus working on their eFan. That’s still years away and will surely be expensive. However, SportCruiser developer Chip Erwin has an all-new motor with specially adapted battery. The details should impress you and he is also developing new single place airplanes — that he calls PSA or Personal Sport Aircraft — which will be powered by the new electric propulsion.
How about an electric airplane you can buy for less than $20,000? Delivered as "almost ready to fly" Italy's Zigolo is offered in the USA at South Lakeland Airpark (where you see this aircraft flying). Proprietor Chip Erwin, originator of the SportCruiser, tells us how he added electric power to Zigolo and flew it cross country to Sun 'n Fun 2014. This is not a family travel airplane but for those who enjoy soaring or leisure flying, Zigolo represents an economical purchse.
How about an electric airplane you can buy for less than $20,000? Delivered as “almost ready to fly” Italy’s Zigolo is offered in the USA at South Lakeland Airpark (where you see this aircraft flying). Proprietor Chip Erwin, originator of the SportCruiser, tells us how he added electric power to Zigolo and flew it cross country to Sun ‘n Fun 2014. This is not a family travel airplane but for those who enjoy soaring or leisure flying, Zigolo represents an economical purchse.
Runway testing and cross country trials of the float-equipped Merlin PSA is complete. Aeromarine LSA owner Chip Erwin reports performing stalls, turns, climb, and cruise tests, each of which passed his criteria, although he continues in trials. The floatplane Merlin has not yet entered the water but that will happen in days after Chip finishes his initial wringing out of the float version. These floats are amphibious so land trials made sense at first.
Chip reports, "I have been using the 1730 millimeter (68 inch) DUC Hélices Flash prop because theoretically it is better for acceleration and climb which is nice to have on a seaplane." He reported good results with about a 900 foot per minute climb rate and cruise at 85-92 mph.
Yet cruise was definably better with the smaller (1660 mm / 65 inch) prop so Chip noted, "From a business perspective I really only need to offer that prop." He added that it works fine on floats or wheels and that makes inventory stocking easier. "Using the 1660 mm prop set for cruise pitch I saw 100 mph TAS at only 2,000 feet, with floats!" Given Merlin PSA's roomy solo cockpit that includes baggage space, hitting 100 mph on floats qualifies as good performance. Even backed off to 5500 rpm for better economy, speed was 96 mph TAS and 91 mph indicated, Chip reported. That's a fair pace given he plans to fly from central Florida to Oshkosh for AirVenture 2016.Longtime light aviation entrepreneur, Chip Erwin (the original developer of the popular SportCruiser) knows a thing or two about floats. Besides developing several airplanes — one of which was a pioneering LSA seaplane called Mermaid — his then-Czech-based company also developed aluminum floats.
Chip identifies three ingredients that make for a good floatplane: (1) plenty of wing area, perhaps explaining why the Brazilian Super Petrel flies well as a biplane seaplane; (2) plenty of horsepower, clarifying why many LSA seaplane designers flocked to Rotax's new 915 that will provide 135 horsepower when ready; and, (3) big floats, which might explain why a set of Aerocet floats for a CubCrafters cost more than $50,000... only for the floats and related gear.
Merlin PSA on floats is a single seater. I'll come back to that but it makes clear why Merlin's wings qualify as big. You might not think a 65-horsepower Rotax 582 represents a lot of power but for a light single seater, it most certainly is. The wheeled version is a very lively performer. Finally, Merlin's floats support 800 pounds, each!, illustrating why a pair of them sit so high in the water. Get all Merlin specs.
What may be more surprising is that the choice of a single seater makes Merlin hit all Chip's points: its wing is large; power is high for its weight; and the floats have minimum draft... all of which make this new light kit a solid performer.Nonetheless, I can hear your lament, "But it's only a single seater." Let me observe two things: First, most airplanes with two or even four seats are most commonly flown solo. Years of surveying told AOPA that the average occupancy of a typical (four seat) GA plane was 1.6, suggesting that overwhelmingly these aircraft are flown with only the pilot on board. Secondly, most seaplanes are flown solo. Chip likes to joke," You can spend $100,000 more than Merlin but that's a lot of money for your cellphone holder... the empty seat next to you. Seriously, think about it. How many times do you truthfully fill both or all your seats?
If you have to take someone or the whole family aloft, go rent a Cessna 172 somewhere. They are common and if you have a medical, problem solved. For all the times when you fly solo, Merlin will offer a dashing example, and one that saves you a bundle. Sold in kit form, you can start with a wheeled Merlin and basic equipment, getting aloft for $28,000 powered by the Rotax 582.
"Alright," you say, "but what if I just don't like two stroke engines?" Even if you don't accept that Rotax has sold tens of thousands of these engines that have been proven reliable in millions of hours of flying, Aeromarine LSA has a four stroke Merlin in late stages of development. By fall 2016, you should also be able to choose the HKS for about $3,000 additional. It may offer slightly less climb than the Rotax 582, but it should cruise at a similar speed and will burn half the fuel. In reality, though, many readers of this website know the Rotax 582 is as bulletproof as a two stroke gets, and the price is right. So is the nationwide, indeed worldwide, support.As he knows floats and fitting them to various airplanes better than many aviation business owners, I asked for more float tips. Chip identified three guidelines.
The first was the pattern of a more wing area, plenty of power, and large enough floats. The second point is that floats tend to cost about 20% of climb and cruise performance and, of course, this factors in to how long it runs on water before launching; less time is always better because floatplanes can take a pounding on some water surfaces. That's why you always hear seaplane people discussing the number of seconds before they leave the surface. The third point is that, in general, you don't lose payload by adding floats. That sounds counterintuitive given the weight of floats and amphib gear, but Chip maintains that, "The floats lift themselves, using shape and angle of attack." Because seaplanes fly a bit slower, they can also tolerate turbulence reasonably well.
You can catch the video below to see — via text lines added in editing — facts about how long Merlin remains on the ground, on hard surface or turf, plus other parameters.
However, I come back to that old saw about what is the essential ingredient to make flight possible: money! Merlin PSA on floats — even equipped with BRS parachute, TruTrak ECO autopilot, ADS-B out transponder, amphibious gear, and all the features you'd expect on most recreational aircraft — will list at just $65,000. Given that is less than we expected a dozen years ago for most Light-Sport Aircraft, on wheels!, that is a definite bargain. Yes, you have to build it; it's a kit. However, the $65K price tag is for the quick-build model including builder assistance in central Florida (not far from Disney so the family can amuse themselves while you pull rivets). In a couple, three weeks you'll be close to done and that isn't bad for an airplane bound to put a smile on your face.
It’s summer. It’s hot. The water beckons. Yet, you’re a pilot. How do you enjoy both? Get a seaplane, preferably a Light-Sport or light kit seaplane. You have several choices. The trouble is that any seaplane is priced well above landplanes of similar configuration. Some LSA seaplanes smash through the $200,000 barrier. That may represent a fair value for what you get but it exceeds the budget of many recreational pilots. How about $55,000 to $65,000? That sounds better, doesn’t it? Runway testing and cross country trials of the float-equipped Merlin PSA is complete. Aeromarine LSA owner Chip Erwin reports performing stalls, turns, climb, and cruise tests, each of which passed his criteria, although he continues in trials. The floatplane Merlin has not yet entered the water but that will happen in days after Chip finishes his initial wringing out of the float version. These floats are amphibious so land trials made sense at first.
One of the fast paced developments I’ve observed has been Aeromarine LSA’s new Merlin PSA. “PSA” stands for Personal Sport Aircraft and the Florida company may be truly onto something interesting. While recognizing they are very capable airplanes, many lament the cost of carbon fiber speedsters with glass cockpits and autopilots. Aeromarine LSA perceives an opening. Introduced at the U.S. Sport Aviation 2016 event in Sebring last month, proprietor Chip Erwin said Merlin PSA drew questions: “It only costs $35,000?” and, “That price really includes the engine?” A longtime entrepreneur in the light aircraft manufacturing game, Chip sees a way to attract buyers with a very modestly priced aircraft that is fully enclosed, made with all metal construction and with interesting powerplant choices. The first U.S. Merlin PSA is powered with the 65 horsepower Rotax 582 that provide outstanding performance for such a light aircraft.
SEBRING 2016 PREVIEW — Why do pilots and friends flock to Sebring? Several good reasons come to mind: • Weather is flying-friendlier than in America’s snow belt; • More than 130 exhibitors include dozens and dozens of the most popular and successful Light-Sport Aircraft, light kit aircraft, and ultralights; • Many educational forums are presented; • Hear speakers and panels; • Excellent demo flight possibilities; and, • for those in the business of serving LSA and light kits, the LAMA Dinner on opening night promises to be interesting with a “Great Debate” of engine manufacturers. Sebring Expo is also the place where new aircraft appear, trying to get a jump on the aviation calendar with new offerings. In this article, we bring one of these to your attention. I’ve written about Chip Erwin’s newest development before (here and here). At Sebring 2016, you will finally get to see an example so fresh the paint is barely dry … yet you will hardly miss its attention-getting color.
Are you intrigued by an affordable yet well-performing single-seat Personal Sport Aircraft? In a time when so many claim light aircraft have simply become too expensive, one aircraft is coming to challenge that belief. Some rather grudgingly acknowledge that, yes, you can buy a low-cost aircraft but that it won’t satisfy your desires … that it will have an open cockpit, or is too slow, or uses an engine you don’t know, or that it lacks the right instruments, or it will be a weight shift aircraft or a powered parachute … or something that disqualifies it for them. Well, even our friends at Flying magazine — thanks to popular writer Pia Bergqvist, who also covered such aircraft as Quicksilver‘s wide-open Sport 2 SE — gave recent prominent coverage to what importer/developer Chip Erwin is doing with his Merlin PSA. Does the name Chip Erwin ring a bell?
This website focuses on the affordable end of aviation. However, “affordable” is a relative term. I’ve written about Icon’s A5, which may set the bar highest among Light-Sport Aircraft at around $247,000 for a well-equipped LSA seaplane. (See our Video Pilot Report.) If you had the money would you buy an A5 or a Cessna 172 Skyhawk for around $400,000. You probably have a response but then, the question is rhetorical because most readers likely don’t have a quarter-million to do drop on a LSA, no matter how magnificent it may be. I’ve also written about the $16,000 (or so) fully-built Aerolite 103. Some think that’s a wonderful deal on a very nice single seat airplane. Yet at least one person wrote on my Dan Johnson Media / Affordable Aviation Facebook page that even Aerolite is too expensive. Fair enough. We all have different budgets.
The following article is a guest editorial by Chip Erwin, a name many rightfully associate with the highly successful SportCruiser LSA. A restless entrepreneur, Chip has been working behind the curtain for several years. He emerged with the Zigolo and is now proposing a fresh name for a segment that seems to have energy behind it. I have reported on England’s new SSDR 300 category and I have observed the rejuvenation of Part 103 vehicles. So, on our recent travels to China, I encouraged Chip to express what he has in mind. Article Update 6/15/15 — At the end of this article see our video shot at Sun ‘n Fun 2015 regarding Chip’s electric motor and plans. Is “affordable aircraft” an oxymoron? For most people, probably yes. One answer could be a class of aircraft I like to refer to as a PSA, or Personal Sport Aircraft.
I didn’t see this one coming. Maybe you didn’t either? In the new millennia gold rush represented by companies either being bought by Chinese businesses or gaining investment from wealthy Chinese business people or by setting up shop to sell in China (or even Cessna’s ill-fated effort to have their Skycatcher manufactured in China), one element I’ve never heard of is Part 103 in China. This least-regulated-of-all aviation category is solely an American thing, isn’t it? Well … yes and no. Germany has opened the door to a Part 103-like development in that country under the 120-kilogram class (using a number that is 264 pounds or very similar to Part 103’s 254-pound empty weight limit). England has their SSDR class (SSDR being the abbreviation for Single Seat De-Regulated). Despite following those developments, I’ve never heard a word about China and any less-regulated sector. “The first Zigolo in China was introduced to the public in that nation on July 17th at the Jingmen Airshow,” reported representative Chip W.
For many of us, the principal reason we fly is for fun. Not to go anywhere but up, or for no other reason than that the sky is always waiting, but never impatient. Unfortunately this very pure idea became subverted along the way, as the Cubs and Champs of our forefathers were replaced by the efficient but banal 150 and PA28. As the fun diminished the costs rose in proportion. One of the original ideas behind the whole LSA concept was affordability, but with some aircraft now priced up to $200,000 that particular principle seems to have been forgotten [though more modestly priced LSA do remain available]. Consequently, when Chip Erwin of Aeromarine LSA told me at the 2014 Sebring LSA Expo that he was bringing a new aircraft to market that required minimal assembly yet cost only $16,000 including the motor and a parachute rescue system you can bet I was interested.
People are starting to arrive in Florida. Today, we had a pleasant lunch conversation with Dynon’s president Robert Hamilton. He observed that Dynon enjoyed their best year ever in 2013 and they continue bringing new avionics innovations at modest prices. Fellow Dynon staffer Kirk Kleinholz was in the state even earlier traveling around offering tech support. Great work, Dynon-ers! As we all enter the last-minute rush to head to the tenth Sebring, a few news items arrived and I’ll run through them so you have some idea of what will be present at the LSA event. Progressive Aerodyne announced they received FAA acceptance for the Elite version of their Searey Amphibious LSA. Searey Elite is mightily powered with a Rotax 914 turbocharged engine; you can see a short video of it launching in this article. “This stylish aircraft offers many advanced features such as a large sliding canopy that can remain open while flying.