Regular readers know I have closely followed the Merlin developments. I use plural because developer Chip Erwin has steadily built this single seat flying machine into a whole fleet of its own. At Sun ‘n Fun we saw a display of three airplanes in different variations. Let’s begin with a focus on the modest cost of Merlin. I promote affordable aviation all day long. That word “affordable” means something different to every single pilot so every time I use the word someone is going to tell me, “It’s still too expensive.” Look I get it. I’m a consumer, too. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy a deal? So here’s the short answer: “Finished Price: $34,000.” That’s a direct quote from Aeromarine-LSA. I know some may say that doesn’t work for them but in this day and age, that is a bargain for a ready-to-fly aircraft. When that buys an airplane built like Merlin Lite, one equipped the way Chip has configured it, I consider that one of the great values in aviation.
Aeromarine-LSA Merlin Lite
Phone: 262-408-0124Lakeland, FL
Four Stroke Power for Light-Sport Aircraft Aircraft? YES! …a Modern Rotax 582 Replacement
2020 Sensation!The one and only airshow in 2020 was the Midwest LSA Expo… about to start this week! Two years ago, in preparation for the show, Chip Erwin lit up the blogosphere with his Merlin Lite entry (image below). Here's more about that all-metal, weight-making Part 103 aircraft (our most-read article of 2020, which was then our strongest year ever). At Midwest 2020, Chip also introduced an engine he called Hybird. No, not hybrid (I had to correct my spellchecker three times on that one; it did not like Chip's alteration of the letters). "The Aeromaine Vtwin is a 60 horsepower, liquid cooled, four-stroke, fuel-injected, electronic-ignition engine with electric starting," Chip summarized. "This engine incorporates state-of-the-art technology with decades of reliable history and many in service," he reinforced. An engine built in the thousands per month makes a solid foundation yet it isn't factory ready to be mounted on an airplane. That requires some added components. "Our matching reduction drive with custom CAD-designed and matched propeller results in the perfect power system for the Merlin aircraft at an excellent price," Chip maintains. "The Vtwin engine is supplied with a reduction drive and complete Merlin firewall forward package including including: engine mount, Merlin cowl, Aeromarine-LSA carbon propeller and spinner, radiator, and all fittings.
Breaking the Mold?How about this? No TBO! That's right. Chip claims you never need to overhaul your Vtwin. Why not? "Our engine replacement price is lower than the cost of most overhauls, so it is cheaper to buy a new engine." Why did Chip venture down this path? Wasn't developing an airframe and its many aspects enough challenge? The departure of HKS from the aviation market was one driver. "The void in the availability of a 50-60 horsepower, four-stroke aircraft engine may be one reason that there are few single-seat aircraft," Chip speculated. "Rotax has reduced their offers of two-stroke engines and most pilots prefer four-cycle." Chip observed, "We have an exclusive agreement with the manufacturer of a CanAm-style Vtwin engine. We have created all the elements needed to transform the basic engine for aviation use. We even developed a custom carbon propeller made to match this engine’s torque and power curve and the Merlin’s speed range." Hundreds of thousands of this engine have reportedly been manufactured and put to the test in ATVs. These four-wheel, off-road vehicles are run hard in extreme conditions. They have proven themselves to be very durable and reliable. Chip believe this is a perfect pre-qualifier for the Vtwin in aircraft use. He added, "This engine is very modern especially compared to nearly every aircraft engine. It has electronic ignition and fuel injection. And it is designed to be run at high power settings."
Cost of a Vtwin?Aeromarine LSA is offering the Vtwin engine with reduction drive and wiring harness for $7,250. This price is for people building another aircraft or replacing a Rotax 582 on one they already own. For more details, contact Aeromarine LSA. To install on the Merlin, Aeromarine LSA offers a complete package of firewall-forward components for $10,750, including engine mount, Merlin cowl, Aeromarine carbon propeller and spinner, radiator, and all fittings. If you want features that exceed a Part 103 Merlin Lite, you will need to assemble a kit so you might like to see an example of the instruction quality. Here are the instructions (a PDF file) that Aeromarine LSA has produced to install their redrive assembly. Get the Blog — Listen to Chip. He is full of information and brings an entertaining style. If you don't get to see him at airshows, you can check out various videos and other content about his company and products right here. Perhaps even better: read his blog which sounds just like him. It is up-to-date (his latest post was just yesterday). If you want to stay current on Chip's progress, he uses words and photos to keep enthusiasts informed. I expect to see Chip and team again at the Midwest LSA Expo — he's a regular. Who knows what he might pull out of his hat for this event? Wait and see…!
- Aeromarine-LSA contact info including lots of content about the company
- "News from the Hangar" blog
- Midwest LSA Expo event (September 8-9-10, 2022)
- Rotax Aircraft Engines
- Merlin Lite introduction (2020)
A common question from affordable aviation enthusiasts asks about four stroke engines, either for genuine Part 103 ultralights (available but somewhat more challenging) or for very light aircraft. Such inquiries are commonly for aircraft that have previously used a Rotax 582. The last two-stroke offered by the big Austrian engine manufacturer — builder of the ubiquitous 9-series four-stroke engines — was the Rotax 582. Producing 65 horsepower and earning a good reliability rating over many years, the 582 has been a dependable powerplant for the lightest powered aircraft that are larger and heavier than genuine Part 103 ultralights. 2020 Sensation! The one and only airshow in 2020 was the Midwest LSA Expo… about to start this week! Two years ago, in preparation for the show, Chip Erwin lit up the blogosphere with his Merlin Lite entry (image below). Here’s more about that all-metal, weight-making Part 103 aircraft (our most-read article of 2020, which was then our strongest year ever).
Video Bonanza! Despite Covid and Distance, Fresh Light Aircraft Videos Continue to Arrive
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.
AirVenture Day 4: Generation 3 Ultralight Electrics — Where Electric Propulsion Works Today
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.
Weighing and Flying Aeromarine-LSA’s Part 103 Merlin Lite — Does It Make Weight?
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…!
This video show views of the Merlin Lite but also the weighing of the aircraft, proving it can make Part 103 weight. https://youtu.be/r3jlcangoUI
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 Lite Developer 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.
Merlin Lite… New, All-Metal, Fully-Enclosed, “Deluxe” Part 103 Ultralight
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.