An Easy-Flying Ultralight Let’s see. A single-seat plane that can be purchased as an ultralight, assuming your engine selection doesn’t push it over Part 103’s weight limit, or built from a kit and registered as an Experimental-class aircraft, or purchased as a light sport aircraft once the manufacturer meets the ASTM certification. What’s a pilot to do? That’s the conundrum facing T-Bird I shoppers. This single-seater can be a Part 103-compliant ultralight when using a Rotax 277, still available on the used-engine market, though no longer supplied from Rotax’s Austrian factory. Few prospective owners would select this engine, yet a more powerful engine would push the T-Bird I over the Part 103 weight limit. Does that leave only the Experimental amateur-built kit option? The answer is no, and yes. To explain this apparent contradiction, a kit-built T-Bird I with a larger Rotax engine or the 60-hp HKS 700E engine could still qualify under the 51% rule.
|154 square feet
|3.8 pounds per square foot
|Payload (with full fuel)
|6 feet 6 inches
|Aft of seat
|EAB, SLSA, ELSA, Part 103.
|8.9 pounds per hp
|Never exceed speed
|Rate of climb at gross
|Takeoff distance at gross
|Landing distance at gross
|approx. 1.5 hrs; 105 miles
|about 4.0 gph
|Rotax 447 with B Gear Box, taildragger configuration; 15x6 tires; aluminum wheels; lap seat belt; 5-gallon fuel tank; sewn Dacron wing, tail and nose cover; tachometer; single CHT gauge; airspeed indicator; Warp Drive 2-blade prop.
|Various engines; IvoProp or Warp Drive 3-blade prop; full cabin enclosure; speed struts; tri-gear assembly; tail strobe; 12-gallon fuel tank or 20-gallon wing tanks; deluxe instrument panel and a selection of instruments; shoulder harness; color choices; powder-coated airframe; hydraulic brakes; tundra tires; vortex generators; cabin heat; dual wing tip strobes; float system; BRS parachute system.
|Aluminum airframe, welded steel components, sewn Dacron wing and tail coverings, stainless steel cable bracing. Made in USA; distributed by American company.
Cosmetic appearance, structural integrity, achievement of design goals, effectiveness of aerodynamics, ergonomics.
Pros - Now a well-proven design with many in the field, a T-Bird I could satisfy your flying bug at affordable prices. Robust frame, up to rough-field operations. Solid in-air feel. Enclosure offers good protection from elements. Many configurations available to personalize a T-Bird to your desires.
Cons - The T-Bird is not a cross-county machine. To some eyes the airframe looks bulky and brute. To others, the T-Bird I appears to be a Quicksilver knockoff. It would be hard to keep the T-Bird I light enough to meet Part 103 weight limits, though Indy Aircraft offers other choices.
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 - Very simple plane, not a lot of systems to manage. Given pending LSA approval or building a kit under amateur-built rules, you could choose from a long list of options, including 4-stroke engines, skis, or amphibious floats. Good repair access.
Cons - Extremely limited in systems if you wish to make a Part 103-compliant version. The control panel area is quite limited in both the TBird I and II. No flaps are available. No brakes were installed on the test T-Bird I.
Instrumentation; Ergonomics of controls; Creature comforts; (items covered may be optional).
Pros - Enclosure does a good job of protecting you from windblast without limiting visibility. Seating is very comfortable (at least after you get used to the rather reclined posture). A more spacious cabin lets you move around a bit to flex your legs and feet. Entry and exit are easy. Bigger pilots will appreciate the T-Bird I's roominess.
Cons - Seat posture seems overly reclined; when angled back some support structure blocks lateral view. The plastic enclosure can get hot in summertime flying. Entry around a control wheel seemed more awkward than getting in around a joystick. Noise level was rather high (though a 4- stroke engine would be quieter).
Taxi visibility; Steering; Turn radius; Shock absorption; Stance/Stability; Braking.
Pros - Very stable ground handling. Fairly tight turning ability even in nosewheel configuration. The T-Bird's broad stance is helpful in crosswind conditions. Visibility is excellent for traffic checks. No forward visibility restraints when in tailwheel setup.
Cons - For manual ground handling, the TBirds are rather tail-heavy (though the airframe is strong enough that you could push on them almost anywhere). The tailwheel was quite small when operated on soft surfaces. No brakes installed on TBird I (though it hardly needs them, if you plan well).
Qualities; Efficiency; Ease; Comparative values.
Pros - Superbly easy takeoffs and landings at very low speeds; arguably the very easiest I've ever flown. Very short takeoff run or ground roll even without flaps. Strong gear permits off-field landings within reason. Good control authority for crosswind operations.
Cons - Some tendency to drop on the nosewheel on landing in spite of pilot input to hold it off (when no power is used). Exercise care if equipped with tundra tires; the balloon tires can cause an unwanted bounce if technique is wrong. Some pilots fear taildraggers in general (they should choose the nosewheel option).
Quality and quantity for: Coordination; Authority; Pressures; Response; and Coupling.
Pros - Controls are smooth through exclusive use of pushrod linkages. Very good pitch response; won't get away from newer pilots. Though not fast, roll/yaw controls are more than adequate. Response is predictable in all axes. Coordination between controls very good.
Cons - Roll rate is hardly fast if that's what you're seeking. Control wheels tire the arms and make entry harder; when they hit the stops, you're out of control motion. Stick range on very steep turns is limited, especially in pitch.
Climb; Glide; Sink; Cruise/stall/max speeds; Endurance; Range; Maneuverability.
Pros - The T-Bird I speed range includes very low-speed stall and moderate cruise at 55 to 60 mph. Marvelously easy landings. Sink rate is above average. Performance will meet the needs of pilots seeking a fun flying machine (though not for longer cross country flights). Good climb if not trying to stay within Part 103 parameters.
Cons - Entry level-capable ultralight offering only moderate performance in all categories. Pilots wishing to make cross-country flights should look elsewhere. Two-stroke engines bring added noise, vibration, and fuel consumption, but LSA approval would open the door to 4-stroke powerplants.
Stall recovery and characteristics; Dampening; Spiral stability; Adverse yaw qualities.
Pros - Excellent, forgiving stall characteristics. Turning stalls don't tighten up on the low wing. Good pitch dampening. Power-on stalls mush only, never break. Opportunity for safe, slow-speed approaches would help newer pilots. Adverse yaw reasonably low.
Cons - Stalls, though very modest in action, don't occur with much warning from aircraft; that is, no burble or shaking identifies them. No parachute on test aircraft (though offered as an option from the factory). Lap belts only are insufficient to many pilots; select optional shoulder harness.
Addresses the questions: "Will a buyer get what he/she expects to buy, and did the designer/builder achieve the chosen goal?"
Pros - The T-Bird I is a proven, low-cost choice. Configuration versatility is excellent, most pilot interests can be satisfied. Great visibility. Colorful airframes appeal to many, offer personalization. Available as a Part 103-compliabnt ultralight or 51% kit; later as SLSA or ELSA. Indy Aircraft is a stable business associated with other enterprises.
Cons - For those who have accepted the new world of light sport aircraft, the T-Bird may seem a dated design with low performance (though this depends on what you truly want from your sport plane). Clear cockpit enclosure can be hot in bright sunshine. Long option list can bid price up considerably.