A Message of Thanks on a Day of Thanksgiving Does a “simple aircraft” seem a contradiction in modern aviation? Today, a mid-range LSA is commonly equipped with sophisticated digital avionics, autopilot, articulating fowler flaps, carbon airframes, powerful engines, numerous safety items and quite a bit more. Doesn’t everyone want those features? Is is even possible to fly an aircraft without all these advanced devices and services? Who would want such a simple aircraft? You might be surprised. Over the years I’ve come to believe that Part 103 ultralights (see a lengthy list of 103s) are selling at roughly the same rate as Light-Sport Aircraft (market stats). I frequently get pushback when making this statement but I believe part of the answer is that these aircraft don’t fly where larger, more powerful, faster, noisier aircraft fly. Most 103 aviators fly out of fields or airparks.
North Wing Design Solairus
Phone: (509) 682-4359Chelan, WA 98816 - USA
Magical Weight ShiftI love the handsome, innovative European designs reviewed recently (Aero Day 1 and Aero Tour and Aero Wrap-up). I am pleased these companies continue to show their passion and technical prowess. However, I live in America so I also like to boast about our home-grown companies. North Wing is a gleaming example. Note to fixed wing pilots: If you haven't flown weight shift you may not appreciate the simple elegance of this control system. No, the controls are not really "backwards." Pulling the control bar toward you is not like pulling the joystick aft; what you are really doing is moving your weight (and the trike carriage) forward relative to the wing. "In 1998, we designed and built our first single place trike (the Maverick) featuring a strutted wing," related Kamron. He was first to use struts on a delta wing, he reports. Yet even while Kamron created a growing number of trike models, he kept supplying the wings for other trike builders in the USA and other countries. "At North Wing, our main design criteria is to offer … a choice of wings that deliver easy handling, making them fun to fly," said Kamron. I can confirm his opinion; I have described the wonderful handling his wings offer in numerous articles (on Apache or Maverick or his Solairus). "On our quest for optimal safety, we feel our #1 goal when designing wings is precise control and handling even at low speeds," he elaborated. "When conditions out there get a little rough, we hope you will agree handling is going to be your biggest concern." Trikes can be flown in fairly windy conditions but handling can then be more challenging because they are weight shift, relying on the pilot's technique and muscle to control the wing (technique is the more important; trike flying is a thing of finesse). Easier handling is a godsend. "Each wing design must pass specific parameters such as coupled feel in handling between pitch and roll, and a nice gentle stall," Kamron concluded.
North Wing's Full Line-UpThe Washington state company is one of the most successful trike producers not only in the U.S. but in all of recreational aviation history. "We have manufactured thousands of wings and hundreds of trikes," North Wing noted. For many Americans, buying in the USA is important. "North Wing is an American company, and we maintain a large inventory so parts availability is only a few days away," assured North Wing. That in-country service and availability will relieve you and can help keep your insurance cost lower. When you visit the main North Wing website, you'll be quite amazed at the volume of information available. Yet they also have another site that deals with some of their accessory, clothing, spare parts, and other elements business. Check out North Wing Sports for even more information. Seriously, you can spend a while on these two websites and learn about everything you could want. The chart below shows the extensive list of weight shift aircraft North Wing presently manufactures. As their voluminous website demonstrates, it would take a long article to cover their entire line, so I'll select one of their top designs for a quick review. Those that want more have only to visit their websites; that will keep you busy for some time. Lots more information on North Wing can be found here on ByDanJohnson.com or on Videoman Dave's YouTube channel. Before getting into some additional detail, let's check the price point (although, as always, for current information contact the manufacturer because prices change over time). North Wing's top-of-the-line Scout XC Apache is a Rotax 912-powered trike that lists for $59,890. This is the most expensive aircraft North Wing offers. Single place trikes from North Wing are priced as modestly as $16,900, ready to fly. Somewhere in that range you might find something you like and can afford. Scout XC Apache — This LSA airframe is a "revolutionary design" said North Wing, incorporating Scout aircraft design suspension, welded 4130 aircraft steel main structure (back frame), a 4130-steel dual mast, and trailing link front steering. "Unlike trikes constructed using a tube-and-gusset-plate configuration with their single support mast, drag struts, side support cables and bungee cord suspension, the Scout XC airframe will maintain its structural integrity for years to come," boasts North Wing. "You can enjoy years of sturdy and confident flying knowing your trikes' rugged and well-designed suspension won't get worn out." Scout XC Apache features as standard equipment several design elements that have arrived over the years… An airfoil mast that reduces drag and improves tracking at higher speeds by reducing yaw and twist of the mast thanks to a stronger, more aerodynamic mast profile. The airfoil mast shape provides extra space for your passenger and eliminates the "helmet buzz" of the aft seat occupant touching helmet to a single mast that transmits engine vibrations. A nosewheel steering dampener provides adjustments to reduce the "shimmy" that may occur during landing. You will appreciate the solid yet responsive feel of its trailing link suspension. The front suspension works so well, it can survive a full front wheel landing at 60 mph! "Finned wheel fairings also reduce drag and improve tracking, and look great too, believes North Wing. Aircraft-grade Matco brakes ensure firm control on the runway. Aluminum leaf spring suspension reduces drag with a slim profile, and is built from rugged and strong 7075 Aluminum. An adjustable front seat conveniently changes the position of the front seat, very handy when using Scout for flight training. Prices for all North Wing trikes can be found at the end of this article. Scout XC Apache can be ordered with a variety of options. Scout XC is accepted by FAA as a Special Light Sport Aircraft when paired with the powerful and reliable Rotax 912UL engine — the 100 horsepower Rotax 912S is also available — and their Conquest Light-Sport Aircraft wing. For more details, see the video below. "You can also fly the Scout XC as a Experimental LSA when using any other engine and/or wing configuration," said North Wing, noting they supply kit versions plus ready-to-fly models. Scout XC Apache provides a nice layout of gauges with room left over for your custom needs. Visit their comprehensive website to see all the ways you can personalize your North Wing trike.
North Wing is very upfront about it prices. Every item they sell is on one page for your easy comparison. https://youtu.be/0Nky0tYk8io
Let’s return to affordable aviation after two wonderful shows full of shiny new aircraft. Turbine engines and sleek composite fuselages interest plenty of pilots but then most of us come back to reality and start looking at aircraft we can afford. Some can pay the invoice on a high-end aircraft to enjoy its capabilities. That’s terrific. Who knows… you might score their used aircraft for a large discount in a few years. For many, though, new is nice yet something much more modest will suffice if it gets them safely up and down to enjoy the view of their surroundings or simply practice a few touch and goes. Any way you can fly is a good way, I’d say. I’ve been around recreational aviation a while. So has been North Wing, the company formed by Kamron Blevins. He started building wings for trikes 26 years ago in 1996.
LSA are getting more power, to wit, Rotax’s new 915iS with 135-horsepower and the Continental Titan line with 180 horsepower. I do not think this is the end of the horsepower boosts …plus LSA speed and/or weight changes could conceivably follow in the USA but are currently not limitations in other countries that accept the ASTM standards as a basis for approval or certification.
I'd like to talk about power. With LSA restricted to 120 KIAS, it seems unlikely we'll get much engine development to increase power unless regulations change to either allow an increase in speed or gross weight.
What would be the point of more powerful engines on LSA?
Well, that topic could take us down quite a lengthy path. Let me offer a somewhat shorter reply. You are right about many tech developments — and on that I point you to an article published recently in General Aviation News' "The Pulse of Aviation." Two thoughts: (1) I believe the LSA sector has reached an interesting level of maturity. The pace of major innovations may have slowed but the most important developments are now common on most LSA (and light kits). This situation is not so different than smartphones that totally upended mobile a decade ago with the introduction of the iPhone. In a similar time period, that industry has also matured and development has lost its torrid pace. (2) The funny thing about innovation is you often don’t know how or when it might emerge. Electric propulsion is one possibility and then we are seeing the first glimmer of a new class of aircraft with a collection of spinning blades or rotating wings. Who can guess where precisely that is headed? Whatever the coming changes, they will work first on lighter aircraft. My article referenced above tries to speculate a bit.
There's already a lot of technology in LSA thanks to the need to save weight, which has me wondering where the sector is going. Can you provide me with some thoughts?
One definition of composite is "made of various materials." In the past "composite" implied fiberglass. LSA already rely on fiberglass, aluminum, and steel but add high-tech materials such as Kevlar, carbon fiber, and titanium. Today, the most advanced designs have significantly carbon fiber airframes, partly for weight but also strength as well as aerodynamic efficiency and design beauty.
Composite versus metal. Is there something else? What type of composites are in common use and what types are under development? What drives composite development? Does metal still have a future in LSA? Is mix-and-match of both the way to go?
That's one beauty of fiberglass and carbon. You can have beautiful shapes and strength with weigh savings. Assembly ease is a factor, too. Those materials will surely persist for those reasons and for future production efficiencies. However, since nearly all airplanes are low-production — essentially hand-built with modest use of robotics, even at the Boeing or Airbus level — prospects for genuine mass production seem distant.
What are the major construction methods? Is there room for the construction method to contribute to the aircraft performance in terms of weight saving? Aircraft like the Ekolot Topaz have fuselages formed in two halves then adhered together like a Revell P-51 model. Is this the way of the future? Is there room for mass production?
Avionics development has seen technology cascade down from GA, but there is some that has been designed from scratch for the LSA sector, such as AoA Indicators. Which way will the technology flow in the future? Is EFIS going to become standard for LSAs or do the traditional clocks still have a place? Have we reached a pinnacle in LSA simply because the sector can operate without technology such as HUDs?
Perhaps we are pushing some boundaries if new ideas and materials are not forthcoming. However, they are forthcoming. I’m not too worried about it. For example, crush zone technology in cars did not add weight — in fact removed it compared to other methods — and this greatly added to safety.
Weight-saving is always an issue for manufacturers. In Australia a land-based LSA can lift no more than 600 kg (1,320 pounds), so what can manufacturers do to increase their useful load? Are we reaching a dangerous situation where the aircraft are getting too light or are too heavy to include some desirable safety features, such as parachutes?
Are regulations stifling LSAs? Should LSAs be able to fly at up to 750 kg MTOW (1,650 pounds gross) to give manufacturers more design freedom? Is there anything that has to change to enable more technology to be used in LSA, and if so, what is it?
You are right that LSA is leading the innovation charge in many ways. Where can the industry go from here? We (LAMA) have spoken to FAA a lot in the last three years as we seek new opportunities within the present regulatory framework. It is perfectly clear that LSA were a significant reason why FAA went ahead with the Part 23 rewrite and use of industry consensus standards. To answer the future question, I again refer you to this recent article. The freshest new tech in aviation may come from outside aviation but I would never discount the passionate, imaginative, and motivated designers and developers operating in light aviation today.
There's a lot there, but there's also a lot to think about. Until the rewrite of FAR23, the LSA sector led general aviation in technology, especially in the use of composites. The new FAR23 is sort of like catch-up regulation for GA, but where does the technology leader, LSA, go to from here?
Recently I had an exchange with Australian Flying magazine editor, Steve Hitchen. He asked some great questions and after giving my responses I realized some of his question were common ones I hear being discussed. So why not share our give-and-take? Steve’s questions are in blue. I’d like to talk about power. With LSA restricted to 120 KIAS, it seems unlikely we’ll get much engine development to increase power unless regulations change to either allow an increase in speed or gross weight. LSA are getting more power, to wit, Rotax’s new 915iS with 135-horsepower and the Continental Titan line with 180 horsepower. I do not think this is the end of the horsepower boosts …plus LSA speed and/or weight changes could conceivably follow in the USA but are currently not limitations in other countries that accept the ASTM standards as a basis for approval or certification.
Here's the sharp new Solairus (yes, that's the right spelling) from North Wing, the premiere American producer of weight-shift trike ultralights and Light-Sport Aircraft. Solairus easily qualifies as a Part 103 ultralight vehicle meaning no license is needed. The fresh design is a departure from the usual trike and the one we examine is powered with a four stroke engine with electric starting. You'll want to watch the video to get all the details.
Here’s the sharp new Solairus (yes, that’s the right spelling) from North Wing, the premiere American producer of weight-shift trike ultralights and Light-Sport Aircraft. Solairus easily qualifies as a Part 103 ultralight vehicle meaning no license is needed. The fresh design is a departure from the usual trike and the one we examine is powered with a four stroke engine with electric starting. You’ll want to watch the video to get all the details.
Here's another in our growing series of mini pilot reports where you get some of the benefits of a full-length pilot report in a video format. This time it's the new Solairus from North Wing. Any weight shift enthusiast could love it but for those of us who enjoy soaring flight, here's a dream come true... even more so for those who don't live near mountains or an airpark where they can tow you aloft.
Here’s another in our growing series of mini pilot reports where you get some of the benefits of a full-length pilot report in a video format. This time it’s the new Solairus from North Wing. Any weight shift enthusiast could love it but for those of us who enjoy soaring flight, here’s a dream come true… even more so for those who don’t live near mountains or an airpark where they can tow you aloft.
I’ve been writing about very affordable aircraft•, specifically about Part 103 ultralight vehicles. I know some readers prefer speedier or fully enclosed aircraft. Those people are fortunate as many choices are available and, of course, I will continue writing about them frequently. However, many pilots in the USA and around the world do not have a budget for a magnificent carbon fiber personal aircraft that costs $150,000. Even among those who can afford such aircraft, I’m amazed at the renewed interest in these simplest of aircraft. In addition, aircraft as shown in the nearby photos have seen considerable development since the early days of weight shift trikes. In my view, America invented these aircraft back in the late 1970s but as three axis ultralights developed, interest from American pilots drew away from weight shift and the best new ideas seemed to come from Europe, Australia or other countries. However, I now see the freshest developments coming from U.S.
From the land of sky-blue waters comes … no, not a beverage but Canada’s first electric ultralight. And sky-blue waters aren’t the point; instead, it’s all about blue skies and getting up to them for a bit of soaring fun. Thanks to my journalist friend Russ Niles, Editor-in-Chief of AvWeb (one of my favorite aviation websites), I heard about a Canadian friend who’s done some interesting development work. Given the general excitement about electric power and my personal interest in soaring flight, I called up my old friend. Like many of us who enjoy soaring hang gliders, developer Randy Rauck said, “I always wanted to apply electric to a lightweight trike so we could quickly and easily fly our hang gliders up to where the thermals abound.” When he’s not creating a new powerplant Randy runs the Freedom Flight Park in Lumby, BC Canada. “I wanted to try electric to get away from the vibration of a lightweight two-stroke gasoline engine.
Whew! It’s over. Man, Sun ‘n Fun can be the busiest six days of one’s life… well, at least until the next one. In this survey article, I want to skim the very top of what I found interesting at the recently concluded show. Each highlight will get fuller coverage. Before starting, though, I owe a couple shout-outs. *** A huge, enormous thanks to Jim Lawrence who kept you up on a daily basis. Accomplishing that means long days shooting photos, interviewing personalities, and working into the night in a motel room with a crappy Internet connection. It may look easy and fun but only half that assessment is true (hint: it ain’t easy). *** Secondly, another thanks-a-million to UltralightNews, my video collaborator. I have the easy job; they will put in an enormous number of hours to edit and finish more than two dozen new videos that I’ll post here as each is done.