At the close of business on January 31, 2008, 2-seat ultralight trainers and overweight single-seater “ultralights” – as readers of this publication understand these aircraft – will cease to exist. More correctly, they must have been converted to Experimental-Light Sport Aircraft (ELSA) if their owners want to continue flying them; otherwise these pilots’ options are sharply limited. But as Part 103-compliant ultralights continue and if ultralight trainers go away, how will new ultralight pilots be trained for flight in these lightest of aircraft? Happily, the subject of this month’s flight review answers that question. Arguably the first fixed-wing ultralight to make the jump – not to ELSA conversion status but to full, Special-LSA (SLSA) approval – is Higher Class Aviation’s Sport Hornet. Gaining Higher Class We first saw the Hornet when Jim Millett brought this new design to Sun ‘n Fun ’94 (the event’s 20th anniversary). It was a bold move into a market looking well established.
NH:Higher Class Aviation’s Sport Hornet
|Empty weight||630 pounds|
|Gross weight||1,260 pounds 1|
|Wing area||170 square feet|
|Wing loading||6.5 pounds/square foot|
|Useful Load||630 pounds|
|Payload (with full fuel)||522 pounds|
|Cabin Interior||34 inches|
|Fuel Capacity||18 gallons|
|Baggage area||none 2|
|Notes:||1 Higher Class plans to increase gross to 1,320 pounds in the near future.|
2 Space available, but weight & balance allows no baggage unless flown solo; a cargo pod under the cockpit is being planned.
|Standard engine||Rotax 912S|
|Prop Diameter||Three-blade composite|
|Power loading||12.6 pounds/hp|
|Cruise speed||(75% power) 101 knots/116 mph|
|Stall Speed (Flaps)||43 knots/49 mph|
|Never exceed speed||125 knots/143 mph|
|Rate of climb at gross||1,000 fpm|
|Takeoff distance at gross||400 feet|
|Landing distance at gross||285 feet|
|Range (powered)||410 nm, 4.5 hours (no reserve)|
|Fuel Consumption||about 4.3 gph|
|Notes:||Basic panel instruments, 100-hp Rotax 912S with electric starting, removable doors (cannot be opened in flight), hydraulic brakes, electric flaps and pitch trim, dual controls, 4-point seat belts, entry doors on both sides.|
|Standard Features||Basic panel instruments, 100-hp Rotax 912S with electric starting, removable doors (cannot be opened in flight), hydraulic brakes, electric flaps and pitch trim, dual controls, 4-point seat belts, entry doors on both sides.|
|Options||Aluminum tube-and-gusset airframe, all-aluminum wing covered with painted dope and fabric. Made in USA; distributed by U.S.-based manufacturer.|
Cosmetic appearance, structural integrity, achievement of design goals, effectiveness of aerodynamics, ergonomics.
Pros - Innovative design with a robust construction. Wing construction based on dual spars and struts. Rotax engines provide predictable operation. Company is one of the "ultralight" fixed-wing designs to win SLSA approval and a Rotax 582 model will further lower the price and interest ultralight instructors.
Cons - No matter how you look at it, the Hornet does not resemble most of the new flock of SLSA designs; still looks like an "ultralight" (even if that label is unfairly applied). Tail stand adds weight (though makes entry easier).
Subsystems available to pilot such as: Flaps; Fuel sources; Electric start; In-air restart; Brakes; Engine controls; Navigations; Radio; (items covered may be optional).
Pros - Electric trim and flaps are standard and bring smooth, easy control. Electric trim was quite effective at offsetting stick pressures. Electric start is standard with Rotax 912S. Tail stand is easily cabin retractable. Hydraulic brakes were effective; toe brakes available. Easy engine access.
Cons - Control buttons on the joystick were not fully intuitive. Also, I found use of the trim was necessary in this airplane. I was unable to determine trim position with visual inspection in the test Sport Hornet. Panel room is somewhat shy if you want all the latest digital equipment plus radios.
Instrumentation; Ergonomics of controls; Creature comforts; (items covered may be optional).
Pros - Entry and exit are simple to both seats (not common with all tandems), especially with the tail stand holding the Hornet level. Four-point seatbelts were appreciated. Broad pilots will like the roominess afforded by tandem seating. Most controls within an easy reach. Lots of payload available.
Cons - The throttle on this test Sport Hornet, built for its large owner, was hard to reach and less finely adjusted. No baggage/cargo area (except the rear seat when flying solo; underside pod coming soon). As with most tandems, the aft seat has limited forward visibility.
Taxi visibility; Steering; Turn radius; Shock absorption; Stance/Stability; Braking.
Pros - Visibility is very good from the front seat whether on the ground or in flight. Even the rear has decent visibility and is better than many tandems. Goodyear suspension does its job beautifully; firm yet well dampened. Turn radius was tight. Very good clearance for rough field use
Cons - Brakes were strong but hand brakes don't please everyone (toe brakes are available for those pilots). Nosewheel steering effectiveness was diminished because the Hornet sits lightly on the nose. Nondifferential braking lessens taxi maneuverability (toe brakes will fix this at optional cost).
Qualities; Efficiency; Ease; Comparative values.
Pros - Ground roll on takeoff was reasonably short (400 feet). Takeoff and landing visibility are excellent from the front seat. Approach speeds can be held low, 40 mph with practice. Out-landings are less threatening, thanks to good clearance and the excellent suspension system. Flaps were very useful, pitching the nose down to improve visibility on final.
Cons - Crosswind landings done at the slowest speeds may run out of stick range. Slips weren't as effective as some other ultralights or LSA. Takeoff roll may seem long to ultralight pilots (but recall the high gross weight of this upgraded original).
Quality and quantity for: Coordination; Authority; Pressures; Response; and Coupling.
Pros - Few pilots will call Hornet controls fast; controls were reasonably light and pleasant. Coordination was also satisfactory. Precision turns to headings were accurate from the start and the Hornet holds a mild bank turn easily. Adverse yaw was somewhat better than average.
Cons - Roll rate may not be fast enough for some pilots, though many ultralight pilots will find the Hornet perfect. Stick range was limited in some crosswind landings when wide deflection was needed. Rudder deflection was less effective than expected after a reshaping of the vertical stabilizer was complete.
Climb; Glide; Sink; Cruise/stall/max speeds; Endurance; Range; Maneuverability.
Pros - Among ultralights, the Hornet is pretty fast (though not so much compared to many SLSA). Hornet also flies well at low power settings. Engine and prop appear well selected. Sink rate was good at less than 500 fpm. Slow flight possible at 4,500 rpm, a fairly low number for an aircraft of this size.
Cons - For a distant cross-country flight, even the Rotax 912S-powered Sport Hornet may not be fast enough (cruises around 105 mph). Takeoff distance of 400 feet might seem long to ultralight pilots (though not to any general aviation pilot). Fuel consumption of the Rotax 582-powered model may not be as good as with the larger Rotax 912.
Stall recovery and characteristics; Dampening; Spiral stability; Adverse yaw qualities.
Pros - Power-off stalls broke mildly in the mid- to high-30-mph range. Power-on stall never broke, instead just bucking around in an obvious protest that should guide your response. Longitudinal stability tests were good in spite of a nose light trim condition (due to the test Hornet being set up for a large owner).
Cons - Throttle response checks came out fairly neutral (though this is a good performance compared to other high thrust line pusher designs). Carved consistent turns even at 60° bank angles. Adverse yaw was about as expected. Earlier negatives about this design have been fully resolved.
Addresses the questions: "Will a buyer get what he/she expects to buy, and did the designer/builder achieve the chosen goal?"
Pros - Feature-filled design illustrating lots of innovation and creative problem solving. Reasonably efficient aircraft. Performs well at low power settings. Stout construction will set most pilots at ease, even general aviation pilots used to heavier iron. Approval as an SLSA, at $49,995 is a welcome development (and a lower-cost Rotax 582-powered model may be even more alluring to ultralighters).
Cons - Small company with less capacity to support customers than some larger SLSA companies. Delivery times may vary due to small (but dedicated) staff. Though design has met ASTM standards, some nonultralight pilots may write off the Hornet as a too-simple airplane, possibly affecting resale.