Taking a kit aircraft company to full ASTM approval is a very big decision for small companies. Simply assuring you have documents to support a declaration is, by itself, a major task. Then comes a decision about fully building or going the Experimental LSA kit route. A company must first fully build and certify at least one Special LSA, but once done, they can elect to provide a kit only…or to factory build and supply kits. Small shops could fully build 20-30 SLSA and supply additional ELSA kits and parts to make a healthy business. *** We may finally see such entries. Recently I wrote an updated pilot report on the T-Bird I from Indy Aircraft. Boss Bret Kivell said Indy is working on approval. As an ELSA, the single seater could be HKS (four-stroke) powered, which would make it one sweet sport aircraft. Likewise development is underway at Paul Mather’s M-Squared Aircraft where his Sport 1000 could gain SLSA approval later this year.
Indy Aircraft Ltd. T-Bird I '03
Phone: (319) 334-2473Independence, IA 50644 - USA
Aircraft Supermarket Bob and Dorly Ellefson have made quite a commitment to light aviation. So badly did they want to stay in this business, they helped make it work for them in a unique way. The Ellefsons bought a desirable patch of land right by the I-80 freeway outside the largish city of Des Moines, Iowa. They built on a nice piece of this for the Golden Circle factory and put in a substantial paved runway. Over the years, Bob and Dorly have largely gotten out of the real estate business to focus on aviation only. “You have to do what you know,” says Bob. But they have directed their enterprise in two ways. One is Golden Circle Air, manufacturer of the T-Bird line of ultralight aircraft. The other is the Aircraft Supermarket. The Ellefsons made an unusual move for an ultralight manufacturer: they took on other ultralight brands, lots of them, to sell.
|Empty weight||243 pounds 1|
|Gross weight||577 pounds 1|
|Wingspan||31 feet 1|
|Wing area||154 square feet|
|Wing loading||3.7 pounds per square foot|
|Kit type||Assembly Kit|
|Build time||40-60 hours|
|Standard engine||Rotax 447 1|
|Power||40 hp at 6,500 rpm 1|
|Power loading||14.4 pounds per hp 1|
|Cruise speed||60 mph|
|Never exceed speed||90 mph|
|Rate of climb at gross||600 fpm 1|
|Takeoff distance at gross||100 feet 1|
|Landing distance at gross||120 feet 1|
|Notes:||1 Information from factory for Rotax 447 model; tested with Rotax 503.|
|Standard Features||Taildragger configuration, Rotax engine mount, ASI, tachometer, CHT, shoulder harness, aluminum wheels, 2-blade Warp Drive propeller, front windscreen, 5-gallon fuel tank, presewn Dacron sail in choice of colors (no painting required), all hardware prepared for assembly (no cutting or welding).|
|Options||Tricycle gear, choice of engines and engine mounts, 10-gallon wing tank or 10-gallon seat-back tank, cabin enclosure, electric starting, hydraulic brakes, tundra tires, amphibious floats, additional instruments, strobe light, streamlined struts, cabin heater, oil injection, ballistic parachute, 3-blade prop, quick-build kit, full assembly.|
|Construction||Aluminum airframe, steel components, Dacron wing coverings. Made in the USA.|
Cosmetic appearance, structural integrity, achievement of design goals, effectiveness of aerodynamics, ergonomics.
Pros - The T-Bird I is stoutly built with a good safety record. Part 103-compliant if you build carefully and use a Rotax 447 or other light engine. Available in tri-gear for those uncomfortable with taildraggers. Nicely finished with slick sailcloth finish (not used by other Dacron sail designs). Flies, looks, and acts like a genuine ultralight.
Cons - If you want tricycle gear, it will cost you extra, and weight increase may threaten usage under Part 103. Some viewers think the T-Birds appear heavily built (and 2-place models are rather heavy). Breakdown for transport is an hour job for two people. With the Rotax 503 as flown, will not qualify for Part 103 operations.
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 - Simple Part 103-compliant ultralights usually don't have many systems. Trim on previously flown T-Bird I not installed on test aircraft. Brake handle was convenient and effective. Some optional systems are available: electric starting and cabin heating. Easy refueling. Good engine repair access.
Cons - Trim not available on T-Bird I (though I never needed it). Brakes are unidirectional. Flaps are not available (though they're hardly ever needed either). Pull starting is rather challenging if you're belted in. No remote choke lever was installed.
Instrumentation; Ergonomics of controls; Creature comforts; (items covered may be optional).
Pros - Excellent panel for instruments as you can see through it except where gauges are mounted. If you like a yoke control, you'll love the T-bird I. Redesigned with 4 inches more cockpit width, the T-Bird is an ultralight for a big guy. Very easy entry. Joystick option available. Good foot support when working rudder pedals.
Cons - Full enclosure, if option selected, may limit cockpit for large pilots. Seat is comfortable but felt overly angled back and lacked upper back support. Fairly windy despite nose fairing; I used my helmet eye shield. No other negatives observed.
Taxi visibility; Steering; Turn radius; Shock absorption; Stance/Stability; Braking.
Pros - Tailwheel steering was precise. Overhead brake handle provided an excellent leverage point; hydraulic system installed. Solid on its gear. Standard equipment large tires (15x6) make rougher terrain easily negotiated; soften ride on bumpy ground. Good visibility.
Cons - Brakes were nondirectional; though steering is good, turn radius is not particularly tight. Lean-back angle of seat while taxiing didn't suit me well. Pretakeoff checks may require S-turns to see overhead traffic.
Qualities; Efficiency; Ease; Comparative values.
Pros - Standard equipment includes big (15x6) tires and aluminum wheels; makes for softer landings. With available tricycle gear ($920 extra), takeoffs and landings get no easier. Short takeoff roll with Rotax 503, as tested. Good control authority for crosswind operations.
Cons - If you really prefer a nosewheel, as most do, you pay another $920 for the hardware. A taildragger with large tires can balloon on landing. Holding off for touchdown gets the nose up fairly high (but produces a proper 3-point landing).
Quality and quantity for: Coordination; Authority; Pressures; Response; and Coupling.
Pros - Basic ultralight-style handling, just what many pilots want. Ailerons are plenty authoritative for all reasonable conditions and situations. Very predictable handling. Precision turns to heading work out well. Choose from joystick or yoke, as you prefer, one of few designs to offer this.
Cons - No one would call a T-Bird I "fast" or "crisp" (which is precisely what some pilots want). Yoke seemed to hit the stops quickly (though I never ran out of aileron on the day I flew). Pitch also seemed limited in range (though not in aerodynamic ability).
Climb; Glide; Sink; Cruise/stall/max speeds; Endurance; Range; Maneuverability.
Pros - As equipped, with a Rotax 503, the T-Bird I was very lively; good combination (standard Rotax 447 should also be plenty). Good flyer at slow speeds; handling remains authoritative. Also cruised fairly well on Rotax 503, maintaining 60 mph easily. Noise and vibration at cruise power settings are quite tolerable. HKS 4-stroke engine application in development (good choice, I think).
Cons - The T-Bird I will probably never win an international contest (unless having fun becomes a meet task) - uses more fuel than would win contests and causes more refills. Sink rate was probably a little faster than average (though big wing carries its load well at the right speeds).
Stall recovery and characteristics; Dampening; Spiral stability; Adverse yaw qualities.
Pros - Very pleasant stall qualities - good for beginners. No bad stall breaks discovered, no wing fall if accelerated, easily anticipated. Positive throttle response to power changes (despite high thrust line). Adverse yaw reasonably low. Pitch response was predictable.
Cons - Lack of trim was missed, forces are light, but I couldn't properly evaluate longitudinal stability. Some overbanking tendency noted; I needed to "high-side" or use reverse aileron in some steep turns. No other negatives noted.
Addresses the questions: "Will a buyer get what he/she expects to buy, and did the designer/builder achieve the chosen goal?"
Pros - Great choice for a new ultralight pilot; years of fun with easy characteristics (especially nosewheel model, with which takeoffs and landing are a joy). Huge list of optional extras you may want. Low build time ("40 to 60 hours," per factory). Having yoke or joystick, taildragger or nose gear makes a versatile aircraft that can help when you resell as well.
Cons - Not the least costly basic ultralight; basic flyable aircraft will cost better than $12,500. Not a high performance model in any way (which is exactly what many pilots need). Can't make Part 103 without a serious effort to choose very few, hopefully very lightweight options.
Ten years ago, in the spring of ’93, I flew and reported on the nosewheel T-Bird I. Part 103 was barely 10 years old then and Sport Pilot/Light-Sport Aircraft concepts were a decade in the distant future. This month we’re going to take a look at the taildragger T-Bird model. The good news through this passage of time is that the T-Bird I remains a delightful aircraft to fly. Anyone entering ultralight aviation should consider this plane among the fleet of possibilities. Maybe you’re a bit overwhelmed by the steady stream of talk about FAA’s proposed Light-Sport Aircraft rule. The concept may be a bright light on the aviation horizon, but with another 6 months or more to wait, the patience of many pilots is wearing thin. Even though I’m excited about this proposed new class of aircraft, I remain a true believer in the lighter, simpler, less expensive theory of ultralight aircraft.