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.
Aeromarine-LSA Merlin PSA
Phone: 262-408-0124Lakeland, FL
Aircraft of InterestWe saw a rare sighting of an Icon A5 on display with another on a lake doing demo flights. The California company has in several recent years limited its airshow appearance to a splashy big tent at Oshkosh. It was good to see the team from the factory's flight school and operation in Tampa, Florida make a showing. Scott Severen as US Sport Planes made his first appearance as the new man handling sales nationally for Jabiru, focused on their J230-D and J170-D models. Scott has played many important roles in light aviation and he's a veteran choice to take over from Pete Krotje and his Shelbyville, Tennessee team as Pete slides gracefully into a well-deserved retirement, as he has planned for a couple years. Aeropilot USA boss, Deon Lombard, reported a solid first year with six sales of the L600. He also added a dealer in the east while he handles the west from his California base. From what I could see, interest is growing for this handsome 80%-scale 182 lookalike done in composite. We looked over the HKS-powered Merlin Chip Erwin brought on behalf of his Aeromarine-LSA company based in the Tampa area. Videoman Dave and I are charging around scooping up videos and knocked out seven or eight on Day One. Look for plenty of fresh video in the weeks ahead to follow Dave's deluge of videos in advance of Sebring. Tomorrow's forecast: another fine day (or two or three) ahead, weatherwise with airplane noise first thing and all day! C'mon down if you can…
For all who could not attend, our title forms a common question. On day one of the fourteenth running of the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo, even many onsite asked how the first day went; I’ll bet I heard the question a dozen times. Short answer: A great start! The airport that hosts the annual event lucked out with a day of gorgeous weather, in the high 70s (25° C). Clear blue skies and modest breezes made for a beautiful beginning. They booked a full display of more than 100 vendors and plenty of shiny aircraft to examine. Morning hours looked to have reasonably good attendance; the parking lot was on its way to a good fill at 8:30 AM. These shows rarely seem crowded — and that’s not a bad thing if you want to talk to an aircraft designer or take a demo flight — but at times various aircraft were surrounded by visitors.
See Merlin at Sebring 2018.Two HKS-powered Merlins will be at Sebring, Aeromarine LSA reported. “We will bring a Merlin from our build program that isn’t yet 100% completed,” said Chip. "That will give people a chance to see how easy it is to build their own Merlin.” The fully enclosed Merlin claims to be one of the quickest-build 51% kits available. I went to observe a customer building his own Merlin to see how easy and quick it really was. I came away suitably impressed. "So complete and builder-ready is the Quick Build Kit that most major assemblies and skins are already tacked into position for shipping (using colored soft rivets)," Chip explained, "requiring the builder to actually do some disassembly to bring it to the 51% stage." “There is no 'Slow Build' option,” deadpanned Erwin in his characteristic humor. “Precision matched-hole technology means that the holes punched are not just pilot holes; the accuracy is so high that holes in the skins match the holes in the ribs and bulkheads at final size, so next to zero drilling is required," Chip said. "This precision saves dozens if not hundreds of assembly time hours.” My own eyes proved to me that this precision matched-hole technology works as advertised. The all-metal Merlin PSA is presently flying in several European countries and in the USA today powered with both the more economical Rotax 582 and the HKS powerplant. Merlin PSA quick-build kits with the HKS are now being delivered in the USA with delivery positions available for delivery this spring, Aeromarine LSA reports; some slots remain for the Builders’ Center, as well. The kit (without engine, instruments, and paint) has an introductory price of only $16,500. Depending on engine, BRS, and panel options, completed and painted aircraft cost from $35,000 to $50,000. That's quite affordable by most budgets.
Along with many others, I’m sure, I’m presently en route from Daytona Beach to Sebring, Florida as the 2018 or 14th running of the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo is about to begin. It opens tomorrow, January 24th. By the way, it’s 82 degrees today and the forecast looks reasonably good. C’mon down! Fresh news is breaking about the first flights of the HKS 700E-powered Merlin PSA from Aeromarine LSA. Reporting from Lakeland, Florida yesterday, Aeromarine LSA boss Chip Erwin observed, “[Merlin with HKS is] remarkable, the difference in the feel of the airplane.” Chip’s single seater is proving increasingly popular as he logs sales for his one-seater Merlin PSA (Personal Sport Aircraft). Having flown a number of airplanes with the smooth-running, throaty-sounding, fuel-efficient HKS, I predict continued good fortune for Aeromarine LSA. So many pilots prefer a four-stroke to a two-stroke, that — right or wrong — I imagine the Japanese engine could accelerate sales.
A key phrase for this website is “Affordable Aviation” (in fact, we bought AffordableAviation.com for future use). Our focus is on aircraft that can work within the budgets of many recreational or sport pilots. Reading about bizjets or self-flying drones in major magazines may be interesting but those of us who love to fly prefer flying machines we can genuinely afford. A kit-built aircraft is one way to make airplanes more affordable, and more personal. The great news is you have many wonderful choices. What you may not have is time and that’s why this article covers Merlin PSA. How much time must you invest to get airborne? Would you believe a mere two weeks? Many kits ask for months, even years of your labor plus a place to do this work. If you love the craftsmanship, that may be fine but if you build so you can fly, why not have the process be easier and swifter?
Runway testing and cross country trials of the float-equipped Merlin PSA is complete. Aeromarine LSA owner Chip Erwin reports performing stalls, turns, climb, and cruise tests, each of which passed his criteria, although he continues in trials. The floatplane Merlin has not yet entered the water but that will happen in days after Chip finishes his initial wringing out of the float version. These floats are amphibious so land trials made sense at first.
Chip reports, "I have been using the 1730 millimeter (68 inch) DUC Hélices Flash prop because theoretically it is better for acceleration and climb which is nice to have on a seaplane." He reported good results with about a 900 foot per minute climb rate and cruise at 85-92 mph.
Yet cruise was definably better with the smaller (1660 mm / 65 inch) prop so Chip noted, "From a business perspective I really only need to offer that prop." He added that it works fine on floats or wheels and that makes inventory stocking easier. "Using the 1660 mm prop set for cruise pitch I saw 100 mph TAS at only 2,000 feet, with floats!" Given Merlin PSA's roomy solo cockpit that includes baggage space, hitting 100 mph on floats qualifies as good performance. Even backed off to 5500 rpm for better economy, speed was 96 mph TAS and 91 mph indicated, Chip reported. That's a fair pace given he plans to fly from central Florida to Oshkosh for AirVenture 2016.Longtime light aviation entrepreneur, Chip Erwin (the original developer of the popular SportCruiser) knows a thing or two about floats. Besides developing several airplanes — one of which was a pioneering LSA seaplane called Mermaid — his then-Czech-based company also developed aluminum floats.
Chip identifies three ingredients that make for a good floatplane: (1) plenty of wing area, perhaps explaining why the Brazilian Super Petrel flies well as a biplane seaplane; (2) plenty of horsepower, clarifying why many LSA seaplane designers flocked to Rotax's new 915 that will provide 135 horsepower when ready; and, (3) big floats, which might explain why a set of Aerocet floats for a CubCrafters cost more than $50,000... only for the floats and related gear.
Merlin PSA on floats is a single seater. I'll come back to that but it makes clear why Merlin's wings qualify as big. You might not think a 65-horsepower Rotax 582 represents a lot of power but for a light single seater, it most certainly is. The wheeled version is a very lively performer. Finally, Merlin's floats support 800 pounds, each!, illustrating why a pair of them sit so high in the water. Get all Merlin specs.
What may be more surprising is that the choice of a single seater makes Merlin hit all Chip's points: its wing is large; power is high for its weight; and the floats have minimum draft... all of which make this new light kit a solid performer.Nonetheless, I can hear your lament, "But it's only a single seater." Let me observe two things: First, most airplanes with two or even four seats are most commonly flown solo. Years of surveying told AOPA that the average occupancy of a typical (four seat) GA plane was 1.6, suggesting that overwhelmingly these aircraft are flown with only the pilot on board. Secondly, most seaplanes are flown solo. Chip likes to joke," You can spend $100,000 more than Merlin but that's a lot of money for your cellphone holder... the empty seat next to you. Seriously, think about it. How many times do you truthfully fill both or all your seats?
If you have to take someone or the whole family aloft, go rent a Cessna 172 somewhere. They are common and if you have a medical, problem solved. For all the times when you fly solo, Merlin will offer a dashing example, and one that saves you a bundle. Sold in kit form, you can start with a wheeled Merlin and basic equipment, getting aloft for $28,000 powered by the Rotax 582.
"Alright," you say, "but what if I just don't like two stroke engines?" Even if you don't accept that Rotax has sold tens of thousands of these engines that have been proven reliable in millions of hours of flying, Aeromarine LSA has a four stroke Merlin in late stages of development. By fall 2016, you should also be able to choose the HKS for about $3,000 additional. It may offer slightly less climb than the Rotax 582, but it should cruise at a similar speed and will burn half the fuel. In reality, though, many readers of this website know the Rotax 582 is as bulletproof as a two stroke gets, and the price is right. So is the nationwide, indeed worldwide, support.As he knows floats and fitting them to various airplanes better than many aviation business owners, I asked for more float tips. Chip identified three guidelines.
The first was the pattern of a more wing area, plenty of power, and large enough floats. The second point is that floats tend to cost about 20% of climb and cruise performance and, of course, this factors in to how long it runs on water before launching; less time is always better because floatplanes can take a pounding on some water surfaces. That's why you always hear seaplane people discussing the number of seconds before they leave the surface. The third point is that, in general, you don't lose payload by adding floats. That sounds counterintuitive given the weight of floats and amphib gear, but Chip maintains that, "The floats lift themselves, using shape and angle of attack." Because seaplanes fly a bit slower, they can also tolerate turbulence reasonably well.
You can catch the video below to see — via text lines added in editing — facts about how long Merlin remains on the ground, on hard surface or turf, plus other parameters.
However, I come back to that old saw about what is the essential ingredient to make flight possible: money! Merlin PSA on floats — even equipped with BRS parachute, TruTrak ECO autopilot, ADS-B out transponder, amphibious gear, and all the features you'd expect on most recreational aircraft — will list at just $65,000. Given that is less than we expected a dozen years ago for most Light-Sport Aircraft, on wheels!, that is a definite bargain. Yes, you have to build it; it's a kit. However, the $65K price tag is for the quick-build model including builder assistance in central Florida (not far from Disney so the family can amuse themselves while you pull rivets). In a couple, three weeks you'll be close to done and that isn't bad for an airplane bound to put a smile on your face.
It’s summer. It’s hot. The water beckons. Yet, you’re a pilot. How do you enjoy both? Get a seaplane, preferably a Light-Sport or light kit seaplane. You have several choices. The trouble is that any seaplane is priced well above landplanes of similar configuration. Some LSA seaplanes smash through the $200,000 barrier. That may represent a fair value for what you get but it exceeds the budget of many recreational pilots. How about $55,000 to $65,000? That sounds better, doesn’t it? Runway testing and cross country trials of the float-equipped Merlin PSA is complete. Aeromarine LSA owner Chip Erwin reports performing stalls, turns, climb, and cruise tests, each of which passed his criteria, although he continues in trials. The floatplane Merlin has not yet entered the water but that will happen in days after Chip finishes his initial wringing out of the float version. These floats are amphibious so land trials made sense at first.
One of the fast paced developments I’ve observed has been Aeromarine LSA’s new Merlin PSA. “PSA” stands for Personal Sport Aircraft and the Florida company may be truly onto something interesting. While recognizing they are very capable airplanes, many lament the cost of carbon fiber speedsters with glass cockpits and autopilots. Aeromarine LSA perceives an opening. Introduced at the U.S. Sport Aviation 2016 event in Sebring last month, proprietor Chip Erwin said Merlin PSA drew questions: “It only costs $35,000?” and, “That price really includes the engine?” A longtime entrepreneur in the light aircraft manufacturing game, Chip sees a way to attract buyers with a very modestly priced aircraft that is fully enclosed, made with all metal construction and with interesting powerplant choices. The first U.S. Merlin PSA is powered with the 65 horsepower Rotax 582 that provide outstanding performance for such a light aircraft.
SEBRING 2016 PREVIEW — Why do pilots and friends flock to Sebring? Several good reasons come to mind: • Weather is flying-friendlier than in America’s snow belt; • More than 130 exhibitors include dozens and dozens of the most popular and successful Light-Sport Aircraft, light kit aircraft, and ultralights; • Many educational forums are presented; • Hear speakers and panels; • Excellent demo flight possibilities; and, • for those in the business of serving LSA and light kits, the LAMA Dinner on opening night promises to be interesting with a “Great Debate” of engine manufacturers. Sebring Expo is also the place where new aircraft appear, trying to get a jump on the aviation calendar with new offerings. In this article, we bring one of these to your attention. I’ve written about Chip Erwin’s newest development before (here and here). At Sebring 2016, you will finally get to see an example so fresh the paint is barely dry … yet you will hardly miss its attention-getting color.
Are you intrigued by an affordable yet well-performing single-seat Personal Sport Aircraft? In a time when so many claim light aircraft have simply become too expensive, one aircraft is coming to challenge that belief. Some rather grudgingly acknowledge that, yes, you can buy a low-cost aircraft but that it won’t satisfy your desires … that it will have an open cockpit, or is too slow, or uses an engine you don’t know, or that it lacks the right instruments, or it will be a weight shift aircraft or a powered parachute … or something that disqualifies it for them. Well, even our friends at Flying magazine — thanks to popular writer Pia Bergqvist, who also covered such aircraft as Quicksilver‘s wide-open Sport 2 SE — gave recent prominent coverage to what importer/developer Chip Erwin is doing with his Merlin PSA. Does the name Chip Erwin ring a bell?