A company based in Trenton, Florida has taken the Mosquito helicopter designed by Canadian John Uptigrove and brought it into the modern age. For more than 15 years, Dwight Junkin and his team have provided this handsome aircraft delivered ready to fly, largely as you see in these scenes, for a rather amazing price of… well, watch the video (spoiler: it’s remarkably low). Training is, of course, strongly recommended and the company rewards proof of training with a discount, but XEL (the 103 version) has been simple enough for many to learn. Then consider, this single place beauty can also be turbine powered. Check this thing out! ••• TRT — 5:57
Phone: 352-538-1624Trenton, FL 32693 - USA
Part 103 to TurbinesPerhaps you accept that Composite FX's XEL Part 103 model can legitimately make Part 103 using some lightweight floats — and yes, this is legal and proper, see this FAA document guiding field personnel. That model uses the MZ202 engine. The XE290 is equipped with a more powerful engine, additional fuel, and more instrumentation. Of course, you have to build this one but they can help at the factory. Their top-of-the-line is the XET, with "T" for "Turbine." The factory guys seem most stoked about this and no wonder. All XEs, regardless of model, run their engines at high revs during most of the flight. Such engine operation and the need to direct power two ways and at two speeds is why original creator John Uptigrove's transmission simplification was so important. Usually, helicopters have a costly, heavy, maintenance-intensive transmission to take some engine power and send it to the tail rotor at a higher speed while the rest is used to power the main rotor at a much lower speed. Instead of gears, Uptigrove substituted cog belts for this transmission. The quality of belts has so improved that they are now considered to be highly dependable. Cogs, like gear teeth, insure against slippage. This simpler method is a key reason why not only are the XE helicopters well priced but why they have fewer repair problems and are significantly lighter in weight. Cog belts must be changed every five years even if they appear to be in excellent condition. To avoid blowouts, semi-truck operators also change tires every five years whether visually needed or not. However, unlike big truck tires, the XE helicopter cog belts are modestly priced around $50, which seems like mighty cheap insurance for such a critical part.
Are They Safe?First, would you call aviation safe? You probably would and I'd agree. Yet most people looking at our lovely little airplanes suspect we are either crazy or thrill seekers. Are pilots who think helicopters are inherently dangerous equally myopic? As Norbert explained, the light weight of the aircraft combined with that 19-foot, fast-spinning flywheel called the main rotor can make the action of auto-rotating much easier (though he advises you still have to act within one second of engine failure to maintain rotor speed). Simplifying, auto-rotating means turning a helicopter into a gyroplane and gliding to a landing. Learn more by visiting their web page or by viewing the two videos below. Composite FX's XE line heightened my interest in rotary-winged aircraft. You could be similarly affected.
Helicopter SLSA Coming?It's too early to know but FAA's upcoming regulation may possibly accommodate rotary-winged aircraft — in addition to finally letting gyroplanes qualify as SLSA. As the agency significantly changes the rules for Light-Sport Aircraft, new doors could open. Composite FX personnel showed interest in looking into this opportunity and it is not unreasonable for FAA to at least consider these aircraft assuming appropriate ASTM standards can find acceptance (no helicopter standard has yet been proposed). XE safety does not pose a problem; Composite FX has delivered around 500 units and only two suffered serious accidents, according to the factory. Another challenge for XET as a SLSA: FAA permitted only piston engines for LSA when they issued their first regulation in 2004. A reason given for this requirement — which regrettably also eliminated any chance of electric propulsion although this will be fixed in the new reg — was to prevent turbine powerplants. They were considered too complex for Sport Pilots. Yet ask any pilot or mechanic with jet engine experience and they'll say turbines, which spin at very high revolutions, are actually simple to operate. A company in Australia, TurbAero, has developed a small turbine that could be used on LSA and they have written a proposed ASTM standard for such powerplants. Maybe in 2024 you could buy a turbine XET ready-to-fly. Now, wouldn't that be something? This first video is shorter (6 min.) and introduces you to the XE line of single place helicopters from Composite FX. You also get a close look at some of the hardware innovations that help Composite FX maintain modest prices. You may not believe the aerial "taxiing" you'll see in this video. https://youtu.be/FwF311qhf8U
This second video is a full-length interview (14 min.) with factory rep, Norbert Richter. We go through some history of the design and delve into details about construction, operation, and cost. Periodically, while the interview goes on you will be treated to some amazing flight footage. Enjoy! https://youtu.be/xO2rO84PjBc
A month ago as EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2021 ended, the most popular article from my week of reporting from the big show focused on Composite FX. The Florida producer makes a line of single seat helicopters many pilots could actually afford. Those words almost don’t belong in the same sentence: “afford” and “helicopter.” Most pilots have little idea how much they cost because they’re seen as expensive and devilishly hard to fly. A Robinson R22, the company’s lowest cost two seater, starts at $325,000. So, are all helicopters expensive and difficult to fly? “No,” say Composite FX representatives. As helicopters go, light weight can aid ease of operation. The low mass of Part 103 ultralights can be optimal in some situations but don’t take my word for it. With this article I present two fresh videos about this company and their aircraft. Part 103 to Turbines Perhaps you accept that Composite FX’s XEL Part 103 model can legitimately make Part 103 using some lightweight floats — and yes, this is legal and proper, see this FAA document guiding field personnel.
Welcome to Part 103 Rotary Wing FlyingI mentioned a chance meeting. What does that mean? It turns out that when a few of us joined J Mont G (his on-air persona name) on EAA Radio from the Fun Fly Zone, I had a conversation with Composite-FX operations director, Norbert Richter, who asked me about FAA decisions reported a couple days ago (article). I told him something of high interest and as we explored this I finally got the message about the transition of Mosquito to XEL. Let's check out this second generation machine.
Can You Fly a Helicopter?
Composite-FX XEL Part 103 Ultralight Helicopter SPECIFICATIONS all figures supplied by Composite-FX
- Powerplant — MZ202, Carbureted, Air Cooled
- Empty Weight — 312 pounds (142 kg) *
- Gross Weight (240 pound pilot) — 610 pounds (275 kg)
- Maximum Airspeed — 70 miles per hour (112 kph)
- Cruise Speed — 62.5 miles per hour (101 kph)
- Main Rotor Speed — 540 revolutions per minute
- Tail Rotor Speed — 2,500 revolutions per minute
- Climb Rate (estimated) — 900 feet per minute (4.5 m/sec)
- Fuel Capacity — 5 gallons (18 l)
- Fuel Consumption (estimate) — 5 gallons per hour (45 l/hr)
- Flight Duration — 1 hour
EAB ModelsComposite-FX's full XE-series model line includes the Part 103 ultralight XEL or three Experimental Amateur Built models: XE, XE 290, and turbine-powered XET. The XE is essentially the XEL with 12 gallons of fuel, while the XE 290 uses a more powerful engine and has a higher-than-103-compliant weight. XET is the flagship of the XE models. Powered by a modified T62-T2A Solar Turbine engine, "the XET sounds awesome with the quintessential turbine whine, smells great with the consumption of Jet A fuel, and is very powerful with a steady 95 horsepower."
Check this video where I get lessons in flying a Part 103 helicopter. https://youtu.be/8FoqDtJLH_M
As EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2021 winds down to a conclusion, a chance conversation brought the handsome aircraft below into clearer focus. I already knew about Mosquito and received a briefing to fly one captured in this 2013 video. I did not grasp how the producer evolved after original developer John Uptigrove‘s unfortunate demise in 2018. What appeared in Composite-FX‘s display in the Fun Fly Zone were beautifully done flying machines that looked heavier and much more complex than John’s original Mosquito. They are neither, fortunately. Owner Dwight Junkin and friend George Boynton replaced John’s open-cockpit Mosquito with a composite fuselage using long experience with such constructions. Dwight’s Florida company ultimately took over John’s work, moving the contents of the Canadian’s workshop to his base in Trenton, Florida. In truth, not only is Composite-FX’s XEL a compliant Part 103 helicopter, it is modestly priced and truly belongs with six other affordable flying machines in my AirVenture 2021 opening article.
Keep Helping, Please!If these aircraft interest you, please review the list and tell me of any additional producers I did not include. I want them all — IF — they meet these four criteria: 1️⃣ Current production aircraft only. If an aircraft is not actively being sold today, I will not include it, however, I have listed some "in development" models as they are from known producers who have made Part 103 aircraft before. Multicopter designs will not be included as none have entered the market to-date. 2️⃣ An aircraft must be able to qualify for Part 103 according to FAA's Advisory Circular AC-103-7. This can include a kit-built Part 103 aircraft that a buyer may register in Experimental class so long as it can genuinely comply with Part 103 parameters. Part 103 Ultralights built from plans will also be included. 3️⃣ Powered, wheeled aircraft in these configurations: fixed wing, weight shift trike, powered parachute, gyroplane, motorglider, or paraglider with wheeled carriage. 4️⃣ No one-off, custom designs or aircraft still in an early development phase. I only want aircraft that a customer can buy for delivery within the next 12 months. To encourage all producers to tell me their delivery numbers, I will anonymize manufacturer data in reporting results and I will protect the data with my reputation. I will not share information provided in confidence but I will summarize results aiming to report a whole-industry production figure. I will report how many aircraft in each of the aircraft types noted in the draft list below. I will report how many are designed and built the USA (see flags). If and when I am given permission, I may report on the more successful aircraft and how many the producer has delivered. This industry data will be quite different from our data on Light-Sport Aircraft, Sport Pilot kit-built aircraft, and modern gyroplanes. You can find out everything about these segments on our Tableau Public page. This data comes 100% from FAA's aircraft registration database. I believe it to be the most complete and most accurate information anyone has on these three segments. Because Part 103 ultralights are not required to be registered with FAA, I will ask each producer to tell me how many aircraft they delivered in 2019 and 2020. I will exercise my own judgement and do my own due diligence to make this information as accurate as possible. I will use my intimate knowledge of this sector to determine if numbers seem unlikely and then I will investigate further. At least over time, I believe this can provide reliable information but even in the first year, it will be the best information anyone has. I suspect the Part 103 List will become as popular as our present SLSA List. Along with PlaneFinder 2.0, the SLSA List is one of our most-visited pages and I think the Part 103 List may come to rival those two because readers of this website like affordable aircraft …and Part 103 ultralights are aviation's most affordable.
List of Ultralight Producers The Part 103 "Draft" List
This list is not in any particular order. Please attach no significance to the position in this draft list. A flag shown after the aircraft indicates both the origin of the design and the location of its manufacture is the United States. This is just for illustration and carries no particular meaning.Before the Part 103 List goes online, I will add web addresses and email addresses for all companies plus links to my articles about that aircraft or company. Here then, 53 producers strong, is the draft list that I fully expect to expand: FIXED WING / THREE AXIS AIRCRAFT This list is still in development; more entries are expected 1— U-Fly-It Aerolite 103 ?? 2— Kolb Firefly ?? 3— Quicksilver Sprint, Sport ?? 4— Better Half VW Legal Eagle ?? 5— Aeromarine-LSA Merlin Lite 6— Aeromarine-LSA Zigolo 7— Badland Aircraft F-series (formerly Kitfox Lite) ?? 8— Just Aircraft 103 Solo (in development) ?? 9— Hummel Aviation UltraCruiser ?? 10— TEAM MiniMax, multiple models ?? 11— Fisher Flying Products, multiple models 12— Aero Adventure Aventura UL (formerly Buccaneer) ?? 13— JH Aircraft Corsair 14— SD Planes SD-1 (qualification pending) 15— AVI/Modern Wings Swan 120 16— Quad City Ultralight Challenger 103 ?? 17— CGS Hawk 103, Ultra ?? 18— Phantom Classic X-1 ?? 19— M-Squared Breeze SS ?? 20— Ekolot Elf KR-01A 21— Earthstar Gull 2000, Soaring Gull ?? 22— Carlson Sparrow (market reentry underway) ?? 23— Sherwood Kub 24— Eurofly Minifox 25— Lazair Nouveau 26— Thunderbird SNS-8 Hiperlight ?? 27— Airsport Song UL 28— Jordan Lake Aero Air-Bike 103 ?? 29— Mitchell Wing A-10D ?? 30— Sector Aircraft Quantum 103 (in development) 31— Simplex Aero Zing, Cloudster ?? 32— Cloudbase Aviation Skylite, Lil’ Bitts ?? 33— Wings of Freedom Phoenix 103, Flitplane ?? 34— Tri-State Kites Smithsilver 103 ?? WEIGHT SHIFT (TRIKES) 35— Evolution Rev ?? 36— North Wing ATF, Solairus, Maverick ?? 37— Air Creation Pixel 38— AirBorne Australia T-Lite 39— Airtime Aircraft Explorer 103 (amphibious) ?? 40— Grif Italia, multiple models 41— Aeros Ant 42— FlyLight PeaBee 43— Ace Aviation Spirit series 44— Eurofly Snake POWERED PARACHUTES 45— Infinity PPC Challenger ?? 46— Six Chuter P3 Lite ?? HELICOPTERS 47— Innovator Technologies Mosquito Helicopter GYROPLANES 48— Fusioncopter Nano gyroplane 49— Star LSA Star Bee Gyro ?? POWERED, WHEELED PARAGLIDERS 50— Blackhawk LowBoy III, Quad ?? 51— Sky Driving Skykart ?? 52— Green Eagle, multiple models ?? 53— Fresh Breeze, multiple models
A note about our Part 103 Ultralight logo — Yes, I know this is actually a drawing of a two-seat Flightstar II. It was the most appropriate artwork I had (thanks, Rich!) of an aircraft not presently in production and one that will not return. I wanted something neutral and I thought this worked. If you noticed this "anomaly," pat yourself on the back for your sharp eye.
UPDATED (again!) 12/11/20: Still refining the list. —DJ A great many of you read the article about the new Part 103 List. Your enthusiasm plus lots of comments reflect the strong interest generated by these lightest, most-affordable, and fun-to-fly aircraft. With input from readers and through more research, I have increased the draft list to the one you see below, now 53 producers strong! Honestly… I expect even more. Many readers were surprised by the number of producers of these aircraft that too many pilots thought were dead and buried by Light-Sport Aircraft and FAA’s requirement that previous two-seat ultralight trainers had to leave paid flight instruction and become private aircraft. As the list shows — and as my plan to attempt counting the number of aircraft built every year proves — Part 103 Ultralight Vehicles are indeed alive and thriving. Keep Helping, Please! If these aircraft interest you, please review the list and tell me of any additional producers I did not include.