Americans know Zigolo thanks to U.S. importer, Chip Erwin. He brought the genuine Part 103 ultralight to the USA but also to other countries where he found customers. Those who know Chip are aware he has many international connections. Beside importing aircraft to the USA and helping customers build them, Chip experimented with electric propulsion for Zigolo. In short, he did a lot for Italian producer Aviad but Chip is now focused on his Merlin PSA and Merlin Lite plus his Hybird V-Twin, 60 horsepower, four stroke engine. You’ll be hearing more about that as Sun ‘n Fun 2022 approaches. Welcome to Zigolo Mg21 Check out earlier articles on Zigolo — here’s a full pilot report — but know this: While Mg21 shares the name Zigolo, nearly everything about the new model from Aviad developer Francesco Di Martino is different.
Phone: 262-408-0124Lakeland, FL
You've Got Video!For a few airshows now, I've had to do my job and Videoman Dave's job. Maybe I should clarify: I mean the on-site camera work plus the keeping track of what we're doing next, handling a load of gear, planning the next day's video stories, downloading huge video files each evening and placing them somewhere to be used later, and charging up everything you own as you sleep. While we're shooting a video, Dave takes a director's view of where we're going and guides us along. He's also very aircraft-savvy so if we lack a piece of information, he can often provide it. The show must go on, you know. Despite the challenges of working at a great distance, I've been sending loads of raw video up to Dave in Canada and he has been editing away hour upon hour. In this article, I want to introduce you to four recently released videos I think you will enjoy. Merlin New-Age Electric / Innovative — One of the most innovative creations I saw at Oshkosh was Merlin Lite with DEP-OD. Huh? The military-like abbreviation means Distributed Electric Propulsion – On Demand. "Yeah, what does that mean," you ask? While this electric-aided aircraft was a demonstrator — not the Merlin Lite Part 103 aircraft Aeromarine-LSA is about to start delivering — it could become a Part 103, possibly. That isn't important because the two Merlin versions are for different needs. A Part 103 Merlin Lite already needs so little room to take off and land that shortening it is hardly necessary for regular use. Merlin Lite will come with the new Polini 303 that is sweeping championships and, in a surprise outcome, bolting on the new engine resulted in more legroom. My first introductory article about Merlin Lite was our most-read story for all of 2020. In this video learn the latest changes to this flying machine that attracted so much interest. https://youtu.be/Gaah_1WBViU
Oh-So-Fast JMB VL3 / Speedster — Shooting like lightning across the sky, JMB is now beginning to install and deliver their sleek speed machine with Rotax's potent 915iS. How fast can you go on 6-7 gph? Pretty darn fast. In the video below, we saw some of VL3's impressive speed capability while being propelled by Rotax's turbo 914. No question remains in my mind that this is one of the genuine speedsters in the LSA space …in fact, it will give a good run to most kit-built aircraft. At Oshkosh, as at Sun 'n Fun, importer Alion Aviation — joined at AirVenture by JMB Aircraft boss, Jean-Marie Guisset — displayed their VL3 with Rotax's most powerful 915iS turbocharged, intercooled, 141-horsepower engine. This seems to fulfill the prophecy that "if something is good, then more is better, and too much is just enough." I'd say you should keep your eye on VL3 except you might need to look quickly to catch this one. Like many airplane exhibitors, Jean-Marie lead his team to protect their smooth birds when hail threatened one night at Oshkosh. No damage was reported but the team got a bit less sleep moving their aircraft to protect them. https://youtu.be/xdWaP_DWkT4
Roomy and Well-Behaved Montaer MC01 / Touring — One of the most common questions I get involves payload. How much stuff can you carry and how do big fellows fit? I get it. We enjoy eating our hamburgers and we want to carry our gear with us. Some LSA are rather limited but others, well… how about this roomy choice? One of the newest entries, Montaer found a good home (and representation) by linking up with Alex Rolinski and his Aero Adventure team at the DeLand airport. They recently moved into new quarters not far from their former location. Once all the inventory and tooling are fully relocated, the Montaer USA crew will sell and service the Montaer in an interesting cooperation with the group at nearby Seamax USA. Aero Adventures already does service work for Seamax LSA in addition to supporting their Aventura line. Now they will have this all-metal, high wing, big-capacity Light-Sport Aircraft, the MC01. With its cavernous interior, three-door access, and finely-finished wing (just try to find the rivets on this beauty!), Montaer's new flying machine will start its U.S. distribution. Alex reported they sold the first models at AirVenture 2021. https://youtu.be/z7lx43BIOZQ
Affordable and Handsome Ultralights / Affordable — Tri-State is one of those companies that's been around a long time yet you may still not know of it. Well, that won't do. You should know about Smithsilvers or Quicksmiths (casual, not official references). Tri-State Kite Sales, which did not exhibit at AirVenture, remains one of America's best-kept secrets about highly affordable aircraft. A strong local community has built up around the Mark Smith-created enterprise …a loyal bunch of customers any manufacturer would love to serve. While the model closely resembles the Quicksilver line (represented today by Air-Tech, Inc.) and while Tri-State does make many after-market components for the popular brand, Tri-State has their own whole aircraft as seen in the video below. The company fabricates all parts in house including the artful job of sewing the Dacron wings used on this line of aircraft. In fact, they do lots of replacement and original equipment part making, enough so that they stay very busy and going to every airshow — even big ones like Oshkosh — have not been a priority. Hopefully, they'll make a return visit to the Midwest LSA Expo coming up in just a couple weeks. Come check it out; I hope to see you in Mt. Vernon, Illinois September 9, 10, and 11, 2021. https://youtu.be/-bzi2HN2hd4
For 18 months, the world has been under assault from a bug so small you can’t see it without a big microscope. Plenty of us are hungry to return to what we once quaintly called “normal.” Hundreds of thousands of people at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2021 started back on that path! Let’s review: Lots of people. Lots of exhibitors. Perhaps a record number of aircraft flown to the show by visitors. Airplanes were selling, according to many vendors. Weather was good; it only rained at night. No serious accidents. No subsequent reports of any “superspreading.” I’d say it’s all good, except… I was able to gather lots of material and put up daily posts. That made for very long days and short nights of sleep but it’s what many readers have asked for and I’m happy to oblige. What I did not do was shoot enough video. In the five days I attended, my Apple Watch said I walked almost 75 miles, nearly 15 miles a day on average.
What's Working Today? Electric Part 103In the lead photo (as seen on social media and our homepage), I imply that we are in a Generation 3 of electric aircraft. I admit that is completely arbitrary. The entire field is still too fluid to assign the likes of generations but let me explain my word choice. I recall when Randall Fishman made some of the first public flights (at AirVenture and Sun 'n Fun 2007). His electric trike performed quite well and showed some clever thinking. Randall went on to more sophisticated electric designs but he was too ahead of the market. I'm calling that and similar experiments of their day Generation 1. They are modern-day pioneers. Then came a profusion of more sophisticated entries from around the globe. We have fixed wings, trikes, even gyroplanes that employed battery power to fly. Some of these got more elaborate. I even reported on a genuine hybrid electric C42 from Germany. I call the sum of all these developments Generation 2. These designs represent advances in electric propulsion state of the art. At AirVenture 2021, I saw two examples of what I'll call Generation 3 designs. These are battery electric designs but employ electric in different ways or use unconventional approaches. Fusion eNano — Earlier in the week, I wrote about the Fusion Nano seen in the ultralight area. This product is on-sale and presently uses a lightweight, higher revving Italian two-stroke engine (though the engine manufacturer may change). Nano is a Part 103-compliant gyroplane with a modest price tag. At the other end of the field is an electric project based on this platform. It's clearly early stage but appears an interesting concept employing dual ducted fans for thrust. Since it isn't done, it not worthwhile to speculate about how it will fly or what its range may be. They aren’t the first to try twin ducted fans. This Airbus project called E-Fan had a similar look. Nonetheless, a Fusion eNano as a legit Part 103, is workable as a battery electric propulsion aircraft. I hope we'll see it fly at a further AirVenture, but neither will I be holding my breath. So many of these electric projects don't seem to endure, even the ones funded by billionaires to the tune of many tens of millions of dollars. I hope this one lasts; it's intriguing. Merlin Lite — You look at the images of Merlin Lite and it clearly has a gasoline engine up front (a Polini), so why am I including it in an electric article? Because it has a very innovative "electric assist," I will call it. Develop Chip Erwin calls it DEP-OD, military-like nomenclature for Distributed Electric Propulsion – On Demand. These small wing motors, used briefly to enhance a phase of flight, need only a battery you can hold in your hand because they are not primary thrust power (though they add a good measure to the total). I have a video in the works where Chip will explain this more fully and talk about its merits. Here I will note that accelerating airflow over ailerons is very helpful to slow speed flight and not a new idea. You may have seen the photos of a modified Tecnam Twin with multiple small electric motors lined up all along the leading edge. The idea is to accelerate airflow over the entire wing so this aircraft could perform feats a conventional Twin could not. By pushing air across the aileron, Merlin Lite with these small motors buried in the wings could maintain control down to nearly zero airspeed. The small wing mounted motor accelerates air over the wing, too, making for very, very short takeoffs. "It could cut takeoff roll by three times," Chip suggested. So Merlin doesn't use electric power for main thrust but does make effective use of electric propulsion. As a side note, Merlin Lite definitely will be offered with battery electric for primary thrust. Combine the wing (and possibly tail) in-wing thrust units with main power and you could have an ultralight with up to six motors, said Chip. Does that sound like a lot? Maybe, but Volocopter has 18 motors. Electric has a future, I'm sure, but it has a present as well and it is in Part 103-type ultralights today. I'll try to keep up for those many of you intrigued by electric. Whatever the product timelines, these machines have large appeal.
Now something mostly for fun…
A mid-week demonstration featured Europe’s Volocopter and America’s Opener BlackFly. The two (three actually, a pair of BlackFlys flew) demonstrated their eVTOL flying capability. They could hardly have been more different. Billionaires are investing in, uh, what to call them? …drones, multicopters, eVTOLs, UASs, UAVs, Powered Lift aircraft, the list literally goes on and on. The lack of a widely accepted generic name is one of several indications these air taxis of tomorrow are still in a fairly distant tomorrow. Two industry experts gave me their judgment after viewing the Volocopter and BlackFly demonstrations. Both agreed the Volocopter presented better, performing a true demonstration of its vertical launch then transitioning to forward flight, manuevering, and then doing a landing. Both also said the BlackFly was much less impressive. “They just kind of bobbed and floated around, not doing any maneuvering or making a transition to forward flight,” each agreed. Both wanted to like each aircraft but one clearly won in their minds.
The most popular article of this crazy year — when people have been visiting in record numbers — was about Aeromarine-LSA's Merlin Lite. Tens of thousands of you devoured this article within days of it being posted. The word sensational is vastly overused in modern American society but in this case the word fits the intense interest in Merlin Lite. For the back story, see the article in this link. Despite obvious enthusiasm for this new Part 103 entry, many of you were skeptical. No wonder. An all-metal, fully enclosed aircraft does not closely resemble many of the other Part 103 aircraft that are selling briskly over the last few years. If you were among the doubters this post — and the video below — may serve to allay one of your concerns.
Weighing Merlin LiteDeveloper Chip Erwin came to 2020's Midwest LSA Expo prepared to tackle the hesitation in pilot's acceptance of Merlin Lite as a legitimate Part 103. He brought six bathroom scales plus a fish scale to the show. On opening day, I jumped at the chance to prove to myself and readers that Merlin could actually make weight. To be thorough, weight is not the only consideration. Merlin must also make the speeds of Part 103: a 55 knot level flight maximum speed plus a maximum 24 knot stall. As you will hear in the video, Chip needs to tweak the configuration slightly to assure Merlin Lite does not fly nor stall above limits. He referenced 75 mph cruise speed and a slow speed of of 30 mph. Both are too fast, though just slightly. In a longer video interview to follow, Chip states that he sees no problem in meeting the speed. Not going too fast can be controlled by the right prop setup, especially since the design is already close; top speed can likely be governed by a two-blade, pitch-oriented prop or other alteration. Getting stall down to 24 knots (27.6 mph, where Chip saw "30") is tougher but with full flaps, it will be closer; he reported using deep but not full flaps ("32°" when 50° is available). However, a surer way to achieve the right speeds may be a longer wing that is already built and has flown; see the engineering drawings (below video). Weight from a longer wing may require that the pilot fly without the door, but Chip believes room still exists to lighten Merlin Lite enough for buyers to have it all — full enclosure including door, engine cowl, and most or all of the options seen in the photos and video. The video documents the weighing action conducted inside a hangar that Mt. Vernon airport manager, Chris Collins generously provided so Merlin Lite was not affected by wind. Although I witnessed this using bathroom scales, I checked these with my own weight to see they were within one pound or so of one another (about one-half of one percent deviation). However, Chip will shortly perform a formal weighing using certified scales and an official observer. He's confident Merlin Lite will still qualify and based on what I saw, I agree.
Flying Merlin LiteWithin a short time of returning to his base of operations, Chip took Merlin Lite aloft for its first flight. The video below captures this and shows the aircraft performing well with its Polini Thor 250 engine. Thor 250 outputs 36 horsepower from a single cylinder that Evolution Trikes boss Larry Mednick describes as a smooth running engine that rivals Rotax's 912. That's a big statement but it appears this Polini powerplant dominates the market for the lightest aircraft. Evolution's Rev uses this same engine. Powered paragliders embraced the engine years ago and the company sells thousands of engines every year. Here is a page of full specifications on the Polini line from Miami-based Aerolite. The video spells out some detail in the weighing exercise at Midwest 2020 and provides several clips of Chip's first flight in Merlin. Enjoy…!
New video recently posted on Ultralight News YouTube channel… https://youtu.be/AmnR8qOU_t0
UPDATE Oct 28, 2020 — Video interview with Chip Erwin appears at the bottom of the page, containing more information about Merlin Lite —DJ The most popular article of this crazy year — when people have been visiting in record numbers — was about Aeromarine-LSA‘s Merlin Lite. Tens of thousands of you devoured this article within days of it being posted. The word sensational is vastly overused in modern American society but in this case the word fits the intense interest in Merlin Lite. For the back story, see the article in this link. Despite obvious enthusiasm for this new Part 103 entry, many of you were skeptical. No wonder. An all-metal, fully enclosed aircraft does not closely resemble many of the other Part 103 aircraft that are selling briskly over the last few years. If you were among the doubters this post — and the video below — may serve to allay one of your concerns.
HyBIRD, not HybridAs those who know him realize, Chip does not just go out and find components for his airplanes and then adapt them to his designs. He actively works the project. He's done that with Hybird V-Twin, too. For example, this engine has a custom-designed prop made expressly for his Merlin. No, not Merlin Lite as debuted at Midwest 2020. That Part 103 entry uses the Polini Thor two stroke but for the larger sibling simply called Merlin, the more powerful, four-stroke entry is a perfect replacement for HKS. "Aeromarine-LSA's new Hybird V-Twin is a 60-horsepower, liquid-cooled, four-cycle, 800-CC, 80-degree Vee, fuel-injected, electronic engine, with electric start," said Chip. "This engine incorporates state-of-the-art technology with decades of reliable history and thousands in service." "Our matching reduction drive, custom CAD-designed and matched propeller results in the perfect power system for the Merlin aircraft at an excellent price," stated Chip. He quoted an introductory price of $7,500 for Hybird used on Merlin, the somewhat bigger brother to Merlin Lite. Hybird for Merlin includes an engine mount, custom cowl for Merlin, the freshly-developed Aeromarine carbon propeller and spinner, radiator, and all fittings. "There is no TBO (Time Between Overhaul)," Chip bragged! "Our engine replacement price is lower than the cost of most overhauls, so it is cheaper to buy a new engine." A run-out Hybird could still be overhauled, of course, but if that costs close to as much as a new engine, the decision to skip the overhaul time and expense sounds easy. "We adapted a proven belt reduction drive to this engine and designed a custom engine mount, exhaust, and wiring harness," Chip explained. "We even arranged with a PhD-qualified prop designer to create a custom carbon propeller made to match this engine’s torque and power curve."
An Airplane Engine?Although companies like Viking, Aeromomentum, Corvair, and AeroVee have converted automobile-based engines very successfully for aircraft, some pilots question if this type of conversion is satisfactory for airplane engines. It's a reasonable concern for pilots accustomed to very reliable engines such as Rotax's ubiquitous 9-series. I see two aspects to this inquiry. The first is about dependability of the engine, specifically it is up to the task of operation the way most pilots will use it? The second refers to alternative ways to use the engine. Regarding dependability… Hybird V-twin is what Chip describes as "red-neck proven." Hundreds of thousands of this engine have been manufactured and put to the test in ATVs. "These four-wheel vehicles are run hard in extreme off-road conditions. They have proven themselves to be very durable and reliable," Chip said. "Plus, this engine is very modern, with electronic ignition and fuel injection." He added that V-Twin was expressly designed to be run at high power settings. Regarding alternative uses… the Hybird hybrid is not merely using a gasoline engine to charge up a bank of batteries. Instead, Chip is springboarding from an earlier project between Rotax and Flight Design where a 912 was joined to an electric motor for takeoff boost or emergency power …although the older project was not intended for electric-only propulsion. Here is a similar but different project I wrote about in 2015. As the nearby image shows, Chip is planning with colleagues to provide an electric motor for added power, with juice supplied by the engine rather than a series of heavy batteries. This is a most engaging idea. I was excited by the Rotax development but that got shelved. One idea is that an electric motor, in combination with a minimum battery set could provide a short-term boost of power to get you to a landing site without combustion engine thrust. The same arrangement could add power to get you out of a short runway. Additional uses might be forged but simply these two make the idea interesting to me. Hear directly from the developer, Chip Erwin, about his plans for Hybird V-Twin engine.
A new engine was debuted at Midwest LSA Expo 2020 for light aircraft from Aeromarine-LSA. Paired as it is with a new engine-specific prop, this is a refreshing bit of news for ultralight enthusiasts and other single seat light aircraft lovers. It’s called Hybird… and, no, I did not spell that incorrectly. As you’ll hear, the new powerplant has some possibility to be a form of hybrid (this time spelled as you expect) but it is different in that respect, too. Since HKS decided to exit airplane engines — although our favorite datastician, Steve Beste reports he can still get parts for his HKS — the light aircraft industry has had an ear to the ground for a new four stroke replacement. It appears Chip Erwin has what many are seeking. HyBIRD, not Hybrid As those who know him realize, Chip does not just go out and find components for his airplanes and then adapt them to his designs.
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).
Oshkosh ReduxSometimes called "Disneyland for Airplanes," if you like things that fly — whatever form they take — you can probably find it at Oshkosh. Like a kid in a candy store, everywhere you look offers sweet temptations. Oshkosh is so sprawling you can't see it all but this post along with the video below tries to capture objects of interest to readers of this website and viewers of Dave's "The Ultralight Flyer" YouTube Channel. In a nearby photo you'll see Dave's new rig that gets the two of us around Oshkosh in head-turning style while transporting Dave's heavy stash of camera gear. In the photo, my usual riding position is occupied by Midwest LSA Expo producer, Chris Collins. AirVenture draws immense crowds — on the busiest day, the headcount may exceed a quarter million people milling around every aircraft, inside display, or outdoor food court. That makes impossible a goal of keeping every one of them six feet apart. By comparison, Midwest LSA Expo has been social distancing for more than a decade. This show allows plenty of room to keep your separation but you can still examine aircraft and have plenty of time to talk to those representing it. Join us in Mt. Vernon, Illinois this coming September 10-11-12, 2020.
Last Year OuttakesNormally I stick so closely to aircraft and engines — because that's what interests readers most — that I must leave out a number of other points of interest. Here I'll catch a few of them… Magnificent Magni — Magni Gyrocopters, the second-largest-selling gyroplane line (after AutoGyro), has been doing an admirable job of putting out news during the lockdown. No one can go to shows or gather in groups, so the Italian producer has created newsy emails. The gyro giant has been celebrating James Ketchell's around the world gyroplane flight in 2019, announcing their addition of Rotax's powerful 915iS engine, winning Spanish certification, and helping to uncover elephant poachers in Africa. More than 1,200 Magni gyroplanes have been sold, mostly in Europe but models are flying all over the world. The company's side-by-side, fully-enclosed Orion M24 model is shown nearby. ePower Zigolo — Although it seems a long-delayed project, the electric propulsion of Aeromarine LSA's Part 103-capable Zigolo continues in development. At Oshkosh, the Florida enterprise showed their Zigolo electric prototype with externally mounted battery pods that can be jettisoned in the event of problems. The super light aircraft — with a gasoline engine, it easily qualifies for Part 103 — is well described by our associate Dave Unwin in this pilot report. Any delay in Aeromarine LSA getting to larger production of an eZigolo is, in fact, normal. Note how enormously well-funded companies like Kitty Hawk or Airbus have abandoned electric propulsion as they wait on the batteries of the future. With vastly less cash, developer Chip Erwin continues to make intriguing progress in his lightest-of-all aircraft. See-Thru Lazair —Is this iconic Canadian design coming back, or not? At present, the good news is that Gene Yarbrough, proprietor of Lazair Nouveau is making parts again for the long-out-of-production light aircraft. Learn more about this popular design and Gene's enterprise but a glance at the nearby photo shows how distinct this aircraft is compared to any flying machine. Lazair was even more eye-catching back in a time dominated by Quicksilvers and CGS Hawks but even today, its clear coverings, inverted-V tail, and twin engines set this fascinating aircraft apart from most others. Nearly everything about Lazair was different, but the image shows the central structure clearly and it is easy to imagine how unique this looked when all other ultralight vehicles were so basic… and draggy. Lazair's smoothness and attention to lower drag made it work well on two tiny engines. Power was originally supplied by two modified Pioneer Chainsaw engines of approximately 5.5 horsepower each though these were later replaced by two, single-cylinder, 9.5-horsepower Rotax engines. FAA Meets with Industry — FAA has kept a tradition dating back to the beginning of Light-Sport Aircraft in 2004 — the new regulation was announced at Oshkosh that year and became official on September 1st with the first aircraft accepted by FAA at Sun 'n Fun 2005. In the Heritage Museum located near the entrance to AirVenture, FAA leadership gathers with airplane manufacturers and other interested parties to review the coming regulation widely known as MOSAIC. The Small Airplane Directorate's Terry Chasteen (seen speaking at top left in the nearby photo) also provide his annual safety briefing to those in attendance. In 2019, the yearly conclave was attended by some of the top executives in FAA. The occasion provides a rare chance for industry to have a conversation with rule writers. Talking to Reporters — For years, Americans and many others have been hearing plenty about Big Media; comments are not particularly positive. However, in aviation, media players (like yours truly) are more understanding and may portray industry's efforts in a more upbeat way. Facts and details about interesting new aircraft, are the focus of most aviation writers and videographers. In one impromtu image seen nearby, Flight Design USA's Tom Peghiny is interviewed on camera by reporters from Aero-News Network behind the media tent at EAA's AirVenture media headquarters. In many places at Oshkosh, you may notice variations on this kind of reporting. Videoman Dave and I are happy to be among those working to create content readers and viewers enjoy. The value of companies running into reporters at events like EAA AirVenture Oshkosh shows why these events are so important. With that in mind, we hope all events can return to normal for 2021. Here's our race-around tour of AirVenture 2019.
It’s almost July and any active pilot knows what that means: Oshkosh! Except not this year. ☹️ I interrupt the ongoing battle with Covid-19 to take you on a nostalgic tour of Oshkosh-19. View this excursion by video below. Hey, when you can’t go to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2020, why not simulate from the safety and comfort of your home or backyard? Just like Netflix urges you — “Watch It Again!” This brief virtual tour of aircraft and people from AirVenture last year may have you wishing you were starting to pack your bags for the big show this year …sigh!… Oshkosh Redux Sometimes called “Disneyland for Airplanes,” if you like things that fly — whatever form they take — you can probably find it at Oshkosh. Like a kid in a candy store, everywhere you look offers sweet temptations. Oshkosh is so sprawling you can’t see it all but this post along with the video below tries to capture objects of interest to readers of this website and viewers of Dave’s “The Ultralight Flyer” YouTube Channel.
LSA and Sport Pilot Kits
- US Sport Planes — will feature not one, but two of their speedy high wing composite models powered by Jabiru
- Aeromarine LSA — entries including Merlin and Zigolo; both will be available with electrical propulsion
- Bristell USA — the sleek, luxurious low wing from BRM Aero enjoyed a strong year of sales in 2018
- Fly High — this newer company will display a surprise entry from TL Ultralights, maker of smooth carbon fiber LSA
- SWT Aviation — presenting the super-popular CarbonCub that has risen toward the top of the sales charts
- Dreams Come True — offering a closer look at the deluxe Evektor Harmony with a special price on the one displayed
- Pipistrel — see a long-winged, long-gliding Sinus and learn about the entire line available such as Virus SW
- Viking Aircraft Engines — see a Rans S-12 with the Viking 90 installed; their planes are always eye-catching
- Florida LSA — examine a CTsw (the "hot-rod" version of this popular model) and check out a good price point
- Sport Aero Services — representing a very clean Breezer, another attractively priced LSA available for immediate delivery
Light Aircraft EnginesRotax — maker of the new 915iS plus many other 9-series models widely used in LSA and Sport Pilot kits Continental Motors — the builder of the 180-horsepower Titan engines that have taken LSA and SP kit by storm Jabiru — maker of thousands of engines used around the world; see one of their several popular models. Viking Aircraft Engines — based on Honda's advanced components, Viking has a range of engines available at excellent prices AeroMomentum — based on Suzuki latest automobile engines, AeroMomentum offers wonderful value
Need a Free Ride?If you visit the core area of Sun 'n Fun, you know it is a fair walk to Paradise City. Yet it is a great draw as many see that Sun 'n Fun's "alternate airport" in Paradise City represents something of an airshow-within-an airshow. As with AirVenture, Sun 'n Fun is a sprawling affair and it takes a while to hoof it from one location to another. Thanks to Rotax Aircraft Engines, LAMA is again pleased to offer a free ride on one of two 6-seater golf carts. Operated by volunteers from Paradise City, you can catch a ride from the foot court area of Sun 'n Fun's main area to the Rotax exhibit at the main entry gate for the show and from that point to the LSA Mall. These golf cart shuttles run back and forth all day at no cost to rider. Look for the golf carts with the Rotax logo prominently displayed and stick your thumb out for a ride. I hope you are coming to Sun 'n Fun 2019. If you cannot, check back here for news as I find it.
This year celebrates 15 years of Light-Sport Aircraft and its companion pilot certificate, Sport Pilot. This year also celebrates the 12th year of LAMA providing the LSA Mall. What a fascinating ride it has been! For 2019, LAMA will again host its special location at the big spring celebration of flight that is Sun ‘n Fun. LAMA is able to mount this attraction thanks to longstanding support from Sun ‘n Fun management and many industry players. The purpose of the LSA Mall is twofold: (1) present aircraft to visitors in a convenient, enjoyable setting, and (2) showcase the light aircraft industry in one location. The LSA Mall is not limited to Special Light-Sport Aircraft but features Sport Pilot-eligible kit aircraft and ultralights plus specialty light aircraft that may be of interest to pilots. For 2019, the LSA Mall will add a few previously-owned LSA, as this part of the light aircraft market is developing.
Gone Flying …for You!Our VPRs have proven popular with some approaching a million views and several with hundreds of thousands of views. In my early days of writing aircraft reviews, I produced hundreds of such reports. Indeed those articles were the original foundation of this website. They date back into the 1980s and some even in the '70s. Yet, times change. After YouTube, Vimeo, and other video-hosting sites arrived, they drew huge viewership. YouTube is often said to be the #2 search engine on the Internet after Google. People love videos! Videoman Dave informed an inquiring group of pilots that his Light Sport and Ultralight Flyer YouTube channel now generates 1.8 million views a month (for all his 1,000+ videos, which include all the ones in which I perform). We joined the parade and now create VPRs, involving mounting up to eight Garmin Virb cameras as well as shooting from the ground, plus a stand-up review where I relate information immediately after flying the aircraft. Obvious, pilots enjoy these and we'll keep making more. Magnus Fusion — Magnus Aircraft USA is the manufacturer of a Hungarian design called Fusion 212. Designed in 2013 with first flight in 2015, and FAA acceptance as a Special LSA in 2017, Fusion is one of the newest aircraft in the SLSA List, in the #146 spot. The U.S. assembly site brings in carbon components from Hungary but the American operation is acknowledged by FAA as the official producer of the LSA version, according to boss Istvan Foldesi. This all-carbon-fiber design is a low wing side-by-side model with dashing performance featuring quick climb rates with the Rotax 912 ULS. Fusion cruises at 110-115 knots and exhibited very accommodating handling. Watch for many more details and get plenty of views when the video is released. SilverLight AR1 — To handle this VPR a bit differently, I asked pilot/instructor Greg Spicola to pretend I was a new gyroplane student. That's close to accurate as I have about four hours under my belt in a variety of gyroplanes. However, except for a few differences associated with a spinning wing, AR1, like all gyroplanes, can be flown essentially as a you'd operate a fixed wing LSA. "Power before pitch" was a mantra Greg drilled into me and that with a few other differences — such as operating the rotor pre-rotator and learning to brake the rotor disk before making abrupt turns on the ground — are easy enough to learn. It only takes a bit of "unlearning" so one's fixed wing habits don't result in the wrong actions by the pilot. These aircraft are special in many ways — the ability to descend vertically (although not land that way) and to make seriously tight turns about a point — that combine with massive visibility at affordable prices …all of which explain some of the growing popularity of these aircraft types. Again, look for many more details and views when the video emerges from the edit suite. As the show wound down, we did an interview with Executive Director Mike Willingham and Executive Assistant Bev Glarner. The longtime team are the key players behind the event these days but we also asked questions about the airport itself. Watch for that update when editing is complete, but please be patient as Videoman Dave is already working his way across the southern states en route to Copperstate 2019. This year, the long-running event has moved from from October to February. If you live in the southwest, come on out to the event and give a wave when you see us dashing about to record more great video interviews and VPRs for you.
The final day of the Sebring U.S. Sport Aviation Expo brought good flying conditions until mid-afternoon when light precipitation returned. The good start allowed us to record two Video Pilot Reports (VPR), one on the Magnus Aircraft all-carbon-fiber Fusion 212 and the other on the fully enclosed SilverLight Aviation American Ranger AR1 gyroplane. The videos will take some time to edit but I’ll provide a quick glimpse below. One surprise arrival was Aeromarine LSA‘s Mermaid. Remember this model? This Chip Erwin creation was really the forerunner of the modern LSA seaplane category. Before Mermaid, we had Progressive Aerodyne‘s Searey and Aero Adventure‘s Aventura. Both those models have been upgraded for the time of ASTM standards compliance but early in the new millennium it was accurate to call them “ultralight seaplanes” built of gusseted aluminum structures covered with sewn Dacron surfaces.
Who Is Succeeding?In one day, we did not speak to every vendor and we did not get to the inside booths yet. However, those we did approach for news and updates provided feedback that was significantly on the positive side. Here is a partial recap (again cautioning that this is not inclusive): Icon Aircraft's production engine appears to be firing on all cylinders, according to Tampa Regional Sales Director Scott Rodenbeck. We heard about delivery numbers growing from five aircraft a month to 10 a month and a forecast for 15 shipments in December. These numbers will show up on our market share report based on N-number registrations. Increased production has reduced the delivery wait to only seven or eight months, down from literally years back when the California company was taking deposits left and right but not yet manufacturing. Bristell USA is having a banner year that should end close to 20 units sold for the deluxe and superbly equipped Bristell LSA, reported company leader Lou Mancuso and right hand man, John Rathmell. Beside delivering strong sales for Czech producer, Milan Bristela, Lou's growing enterprise is also establishing a flight academy at the Sebring airport to offer younger pilots a lower cost path to careers as pilots. We will have video on this development. Duc Hélices is another company choosing Sebring for their operation, reported Michael Dederian, the company's main face at airshows — after a few seasons nearly all producers know him. The popular French prop maker is opening a subsidiary in early 2019 to better serve U.S. customers. They plan to celebrate the American enterprise at the Sebring Sport Aviation Expo on January 25th. Van's Aircraft made a big change this year. After bringing in ready-to-fly manufacturing to the world's largest manufacturer of aircraft kits — the immensely popular RV line — Van's is backed up for nearly a year, reported Atlanta-based, Vic Syracuse. That wait may come down as the company ramps up its new in-house production, but it's clear RV-12 is a success story. We recorded an interview with Vic about the new model, now known as RV-12iS. Yes, it uses the Rotax engine but that's not all the changes in the renewed model. Paul Mather of M-Squared Aircraft is opening new doors. He continues to build his M-Squared models as he has for many years but now the longtime veteran of light aircraft manufacturing has diversified to provide builder assistance to owners wanting a Zenith CH-750 Cruzer powered by the Continental Motors O-200D engine. After a slow start activity has picked up and Paul is pleased with the aircraft he's added to his stable. We plan a Video Pilot Report using the model seen at DeLand Chip Erwin of Aeromarine-LSA also reported growing sales for his well-priced, fast-assembling Merlin PSA (Personal Sport Aircraft). Besides sales to customers, he is using the single place aircraft for some government duties and these activities are keeping the Florida businessman on the move, literally, and from a business evaluation. We shot a video with Jay Kurtz of South Lakeland Airport (which many Sun 'n Fun attendees know very well). After building 40 (yes, 40!) aircraft, his most recent project has been the Quick-Build Merlin. After just a single day, I'm excited to see what happens in two more days of the DeLand Showcase 2018. Look for another report tomorrow.
Day One of the third running of DeLand Showcase is complete. As Videoman Dave and I scoured the show grounds looking for good stories, we spoke to a few vendors reporting that 2018 has been a good year. Our video news gathering exercise brought a pleasant discovery. Many companies are reporting a solid year of sales. The light aviation industry is composed of many small companies. None are corporations the size of Cessna or Cirrus so they don’t require hundreds of unit sales to break even. A U.S. importer delivering 20 aircraft can experience a good year from sales and other services they offer. When several companies report noteworthy sales success it suggests the market is healthy and customers are buying airplanes they want to enjoy. In parallel, the used LSA market also appears active and a virtuous circle begins to take form. The show itself enjoyed the great organization we have come to expect from director Jana Filip.
Build, Buddy, BuildFull disclosure. Merlin is a kit. It is not a Light-Sport Aircraft. You have to build it. The good news is Merlin is a surprisingly fast-build kit. I have often stated that I am not a builder but to become a better educated journalist, I went to a location where Chip was helping a customer build his. I watched his effort and asked him many questions. As Chip notes in the video below, Merlin comes in from the fabricator in Europe significantly assembled. See the nearby photos to see the state of build at the beginning of the kit assembly. It already looks like an airplane not merely a collection of many small parts and aluminum sheets. This level of completion is FAA approved; Merlin is ready to go on the 51% kit aircraft list. I don't want to minimize the work effort as that could diminish the efforts of those who do the work. Indeed, plenty of details remain from what you see in the images. Yet the task is made much easier by one giant step provided by the Europeans. By now many readers are familiar with the term matched-hole construction. This means the holes where a rivet will be secured are so accurately punched by CNC machinery that no jigs are needed. You line up the holes, drill to rivet size, pop in a rivet, and move to the next. Next comes precision-matched-hole where the holes are so perfect that no further drilling of pilot holes is needed. They are ready for the rivet as delivered. Merlin goes a further step beyond. The holes already have special, colored rivets that hold the parts in place. A builder removes them, does the under-skin work as needed — wiring, linkages, fuel lines — and re-rivets. I watched some of this occur and it is fairly amazing as a process. I might even attempt it and I'm not a builder. With dedication and especially with some professional assistance as is possible today, a builder can finish the project in as little as two weeks. Is that work effort worth it, considering you can hold the price below the once-expected price of a LSA? Only you can answer that question but Erwin's Aeromarine-LSA company based in central Florida has brought affordability back into the picture. Is a single seater enough for you? It very well may be considering airplanes are frequently flown solo. Learn even more in the following video recorded at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2018. https://youtu.be/24ShnUX4Kpg * The dollar amounts are generated using the U.S. government's Consumer Price Index.
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.
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.