Can you hear it? Do you notice pilots all around you preparing for the annual pilgrimage to Oshkosh, Wisconsin for AirVenture 2023? Preflights happening. Engines firing up. Courses set on the EFIS. We’re off to the biggest aviation week of the year! One pre-show announcement came from one of our most stable and long-lived producers in recreational aviation, Sensenich Propellers. Based in Plant City, Florida not far from Lakeland where Sun ‘n Fun happens every year, Sensenich will be going on the road with the rest of us as we make our way to upper midwest U.S. Come on along. Hope to see you on the grounds… though maybe not because on the busy days literally hundreds of thousands of pilots and friends will be examining tens of thousands of aircraft and every imaginable kind of aviation gear, including props, of course. Now for Lycoming’s O-320 On July 11, 2023 Sensenich received a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) for its carbon ground adjustable pitch STOL propeller on Piper Super Cub Aircraft with O-320 engines.
Phone: 813-752-3711Plant City, FL 33563 - USA
Flying the RV-12With several dozen hours in an RV-12 I've come to more fully understand why so many pilots are enthusiastic about their RV, the majority of which are not -12s, yet the whole Van's Aircraft line (RV-3 through RV-14) share common characteristics. Among those are sprightly performance and simply marvelous handling. I will let the two videos below provide most of the nuts and bolts details that pilots crave. In the following words, I'll relate some of my experiences and discoveries after flying the -12 for more hours. To begin, I'm a high wing guy. Most pilots have a clear preference for high or low wing configurations. Some think low wings look "less awkward" and "more streamlined." They are entitled to that opinion, but for me, the number one reason to fly an aircraft with an engine is visibility… to observe a beautiful landscape unfold below. I've found aerial sightseeing is a common desire among aviators. If so, a low wing gets in the way. RV-12 places the wing sufficiently aft that from either seat you actually do have some downward visibility, but it is not as broad as a high wing design, especially one with cantilevered construction; no wing strut gets in your way. High wing airplanes are usually much easier to enter, a factor for older, less flexible pilots. Yet among low wing designs, RV-12 is easier as you enter from the front of the wing (see step in a nearby photo). You can use structure to help climb up on the wing and once you get to that point you can simply step onto the floor. You don't have to step in the seat as on some low wing aircraft. Most folks don't like having to do that and some low wing owners have a towel to put on the seat to keep dirty shoes off of it. I'm ambivalent about whether the engine should be in the front or the back. On a weight-shift trike, I love having a wide-open view up front. I've also enjoyed the AirCam which puts twin engines in a pusher configuration and sticks the pilot way out in front of the wing, giving enormous visibility. Tractor-engine aircraft offer some efficiencies pushers lack, for example, better cooling, a very important design aspect. Speaking of engines, Van's chose the Rotax 912 series for their RV-12 LSA entry. I think it was the right choice although pilots have other great choices from Continental, Jabiru, UL Power, plus a number of auto conversion engines that can be used on kit-built aircraft. I'm very familiar with Rotax's 9-series so having one haul me around in RV-12 inspires confidence. Since RV-12's wings can remove, designers put the fuel in the cabin. I've never noticed any fuel smell but you may have 20 gallons of avgas or premium mogas on board and it is directly behind the right seat. In a severe upset, this could be troublesome. On the other hand, RV-12 is one of the easiest landing LSA on the market so any upset is that much less likely. RV-12 is "Made in America" and factory service is readily available plus thousands of RV owners can probably help or consult on any problems you may have. The RV-12 I flew (above in front of hangar) was a 51%-owner-built aircraft. After purchasing it, Joe hired an RV expert go over it thoroughly, correcting some builder deficiencies. Joe's RV-12 has a single, large (10-inch) Dynon touch screen plus autopilot with all the usual benefits of those avionics. It was never fitted with an airframe parachute as I'd always prefer. All these attributes and more (a total of 25 choices) form the basis of PlaneFinder 2.0. That feature — one of the most popular destinations on ByDanJohnson.com — is almost completely made up of this-or-that choices. It couldn't be much easier to use and many find it kind of fun to see how an answer changes the "Matching Aircraft" list that results. What PlaneFinder 2.0 truly does is narrow your choices, eliminating aircraft that don't have the features you want, leaving you with a smaller list of aircraft you can evaluate to find your best airplane. Try it. I'll bet you like it (free of charge after you register with only your email). That's enough about me and what I think of RV-12. Check out these two videos and learn more about Van's terrific RV-12. Happy flying! Tail winds, everyone! The nearby photo shows me on downwind for runway 6 at Spruce Creek Fly-In airport, a home to some 700 aircraft and hangar homes, 1,600 total homes, and around 4,000 residents. In-flight review — from Sebring 2014… https://youtu.be/Z1Mi_DgqgVM Post-flight review — more details… https://youtu.be/Q5TWZk-YRGo
Over the years, curious pilots have asked me what aircraft I fly. I’ve had the pleasure to evaluate a great many models; the number crossed 400 a couple years back. My usual quip is that this experience makes me a pilot of many and a master of none. I usually add that anyone with a good number of hours in their own airplane knows far more about it than I do. However, I have gotten to fly a small number of airplanes for a higher number of hours. The most recent such experience is with a Van’s RV-12, because a neighbor of mine at my home airport allows me to enjoy his airplane. It’s a nice arrangement that I value highly; thanks, Joe! I usually avoid identifying what I’m flying for a couple reasons. First, I don’t own a Light-Sport Aircraft because that can get uncomfortable in an industry where I fly one after another to report on them.
Look No Further A Flash of LightningOf course, fast glass will never replace gnarly back-country airplanes on giant tundra tires. If you like that sort of operation, you're lucky to have many choices. Yet aviation’s leading draw may be going fast as more is always better, right? Indeed, one reason Arion makes a kit as well as their LS-1 Light-Sport model is because then they can access the excellent speed potential of this slick design. Let the drooling begin over these beautifully-contoured flying machines that can race 135 to 190 miles an hour for a fairly modest investment. Arion's LS-1 is a complying Light-Sport Aircraft that meets all the parameters and succeeded in passing a detailed FAA audit with flying colors a few years back. Lightning XS is the Experimental model on which you can install a more powerful engine. That these handsome aircraft are also 100% designed and manufactured in the USA may be sweet icing on the cake for many readers.
Bolts of LightningLightning LS-1 is an all-composite design paired with metal hardware elements. All components are made in house by Arion’s experienced staff. More than 100 Lightnings are flying American skies. The company reported 160 Lightning models are flying world wide dating back to Lightning’s first flight on March 3, 2006. “Lightning LS-1 is designed and built around Jabiru’s powerful 3300 six-cylinder aircraft engine,” noted Arion. “With a displacement of over 200 cubic inches and a direct drive crank, this compact beauty outputs 120 horsepower to deliver performance rarely matched in a Light-Sport Aircraft.” Lightning has no trouble hitting the LSA speed limit of 120 knots (138 mph). “[However, we] spent more than three years making the kit Lightning as efficient and fast as we could, so slowing down to 120 knots was a complete reversal of our thinking but one that had its benefits,” said principal and designer, Nick Otterback. “By changing the airfoil slightly and adding three feet of wing span, LS-1 stalls below 44 knots clean, giving our aircraft an impressive 52-knot approach speed.” A Jabiru 3300 delivers solo climb in excess of 1,200 fpm and owners can expect 1,000 fpm at its 1,320 pounds gross weight. At cruise speeds of 120 knots, the Jabiru burns a miserly 5.5 gallons an hour. “These are real performance numbers a pilot can rely on; not on a perfect day at sea level or flying around solo, but all loaded up,” stated Nick. Most companies list useful load, but Arion said the more meaningful payload can be up to 470 pounds. That will allow two big Americans plus some luggage, assuming weight and balance concurs. “Now standard equipped with 40 gallons of fuel, a Lightning pilot can go over 800 nautical miles with VFR reserves,” Nick added. Lightning XS is sold in kit form. The taller XS with more ground clearance offers a redesigned forward fuselage structure that gives the builder the option to choose engines up to 180 horsepower. Landing gear offering higher ground clearance permits bigger props on this new kit to allow the speedier model to hit speeds of 160 knots (184 mph) or more. Firewall aft, XS is much the same as the classic Lightning including its 42-inch wide cabin. Arion first displayed an XS powered by a Titan XIO340 at Sun ‘n Fun 2019, although the company also supports “legacy” piston engines O200 to O320 at 115 to 160 horsepower plus UL Power’s UL520is engine making 180 to 200 horsepower. Arion offers several propeller choices for the engines above. “For fixed pitch we like Sensenich wood or composite ground adjustable props,” said Arion. “We have tested in-flight adjustable props as well. For the Titan or Lycoming types, Whirlwind Aviation makes the RV200 series lightweight constant speed prop. For Jabiru or UL Power we have tested the Airmaster series.” Installation of an in-flight adjustable prop can increase performance but, of course, builders must accept added expense and plan for extra weight on the nose as they work through the build process. For those unsure about building a kit, you can always choose the LSA model and pick it up ready to fly. If you want to speed up the assembly process, Arion offers a builder assist center at their Shelbyville, Tennessee facility about an hour south of Nashville. Lightning owners in the western USA can try this deluxe Arizona builder-help center. Here's one owner's experience building Lightning at that center.
Titan-Powered Lightning XSSome pilots (me, for instance) thoroughly enjoy the beauty of flying slowly, of drifting leisurely over the landscape at a “human speed” that allows enough time to enjoy the expanse of an aerial view of your surroundings. Yet the allure of going fast is great, quickly chewing up the miles en route to your destination. When contemplating a cross country trip of a lengthy distance, fast cannot be too fast. In addition to a higher TAS, we all yearn for a tailwind that will raise our ground speed by another 20 mph. Lightning with the big Titan engine required a bulging nose cowl, Nick said. Taller landing gear for bigger props, bigger brakes, and 40 gallon fuel tanks are also among some of the features of this kit. How fast does Lightning XS go? Early testing revealed max cruise at 165 knots (190 mph) TAS at 8,500 feet density altitude at full gross. Climb is a stunning 2,000 fpm. These figures may sound boastful but but reflect real-time experience as recorded by the no-nonsense Nick Otterback. Most buyers may elect more than the basics but the fully-built Light-Sport Aircraft version of Lightning, called LS-1, is base priced at the genuine bargain of $115,000. Yet if you have time, the interest, and enjoy constructing a kit, Lightning XS has a base kit price of $39,900 with the Titan firewall-forward kit. A builder assist program is available for $4,000 extra. The program lasts four weeks. Of course Lightning XS is not a Light-Sport Aircraft and will require a Private or better certificate plus a medical, though BasicMed will suffice. If you don’t want to acquire a current medical, you can choose the SLSA version. Choices are good and Arion delivers sparkling performance with dashing good looks regardless of which variation you prefer.
Listen to developer Nick Otterback tell you lots about the superspeeder Lightning XS with 180 horsepower. A second video goes into depth about the Titan line of engines. https://youtu.be/gqOL9oZNzAw https://youtu.be/cycCQeOVwoo
You’ve heard some pilot say: “That airplane is so sleek it looks fast even when sitting parked on the ramp.” This is one of those airplanes. While most light aircraft producers concentrate on either kits or fully-built, a few swing both ways. Some builders unwilling to experiment with two very distinct business models permitted others to contract build a fully-built version while they focus entirely on kit building. Few have managed to do well with both endeavors but Arion seems to have solved the challenges. Arguably the shapeliest and smoothest aircraft in either the kit or RTF space is Arion Aircraft’s Lightning series. Nearly everyone agrees these qualify as fast-when-sitting-still types. Even one of the many electric airplane wannabe producers, Bye Aerospace, chose Lightning as its airframe template because they needed the smoothest, most modern look they could find. Look No Further A Flash of Lightning Of course, fast glass will never replace gnarly back-country airplanes on giant tundra tires.
Welcome Back to the Shiny SilvaireFrom its mid-century origin in Kansas City, Missouri, Luscombe moved to Trenton, New Jersey. It was was later manufactured in Dallas, Texas, then in Fort Collins, Colorado before moving to Riverside, California under the direction of John Dearden who achieved LSA acceptance for Luscombe Silvaire Model 8. Now, Luscombe Aircraft Corporation (LAC) has gone cross country again, this time to Jamestown, New York in the western part of the Empire State. Here's another brief article with more history of this iconic name. Aeronautical engineer Steve Testrake and Stephen Young acquired the Luscombe assets in June of 2019. The pair established the new corporate entity to hold the assets and build a new factory. "Our goal," said Steve, "is to revive the legacy of the Luscombe." The two Steves will start by building parts for owners of an estimated 1,600 Luscombe aircraft flying today. That will start some cash flow for the new enterprise and will surely be a great relief and a treasured resource to those present-day owners. "Then, we will start assembling complete airplanes using LSA regulations," confirmed Steve. "Built as a Light Sport Aircraft to ASTM industry consensus standards," Steve said, "the Model-8 is … an all-metal airplane originally designed and still constructed to USA CAR 4a standard airworthiness requirements." CAR standards preceded today's Part 23 rules. In New York state, Steve noted that he and his partner want to retain the vintage look of Luscombe 8F Silveraire. That doesn't mean it's old fashioned, though. Hidden behind the classic panel and glove box doors that were popular from 1942 to 1959 lies state of the art power management panel and instruments." (See panel images at bottom.)
A Different Kind of "Green"Nicknamed "Green Acres" is LAC's base-level Luscombe LSA. "It is our lowest cost in the lightest package, intended for operations the way the original Model 8 was flown: very basic," said Steve. He suggests: "Bring your own handheld radio and GPS" much as it was in days-gone-by. Standard equipment include stainless steel firewall and exhaust systems, fresh air vents, a 50-amp alternator, and Cleveland toe brakes for the pilot." Dual controls are available as an option. While the basic "Green Acres" Luscombe Model 8 is deliberately equipped in very basic instrumentation, it does come with two USB charger ports and two 12-volt auxiliary power outlets. Model 8 is powered by a Continental O-200 engine producing 100 horsepower, making the light aircraft a performer; the original had only 65 horsepower. "All of our option packages include Hooker harness safety belts, emergency locator transmitter, and carburetor heat," added Steve. "LAC has committed significant resources to sorting, inspecting, and cataloging our parts inventory," the company reported. This is no small task for such a vintage design. "We have also worked extensively with the professional aviation archivists at AirCorps Aviation in Bemidji, Minnesota to develop a digital archive of Luscombe’s large collection of historical records, engineering drawings, and production work orders. We have inspected and are refurbishing production jigs and tooling to resume production of those hard-to-find parts. LAC is developing close working relationships with the local metal working specialty shops "to leverage the rich Western New York and North Pennsylvania manufacturing base. Using the original Luscombe jigs, restorations [can be] expertly crafted in our 25,000-square-foot hangar at the Jamestown Airport (KJHW). Steve has self-financed the Luscombe program so far but he said the company will generate revenue by producing parts for the vintage Luscombe fleet. Such production has carried many established companies through lean times. Indeed… “The design has been orphaned so long that parts can be extremely hard to find,” he said. “There’s a lot of pent-up parts demand. Owners of existing airplanes have been tremendously encouraging.” Steve Testrake promised to keep me updated on the developing Luscombe plans and I will report that news to readers. We are planning a video interview for Sun 'n Fun 2021, where the new company will exhibit.
Technical Specifications Luscombe Model 8 LSA
- Maximum Stall Speed — 42 knots
- Maneuvering Speed — 100 knots
- Never-Exceed Speed — 126 knots
- Cruise Speed — 105 knots
- Demonstrated Crosswind Component — 20 knots
- Takeoff Roll (sea level) — 600 feet (add 20% on turf)
- Landing Distance Over 50 Foot Obstacle — 1,000 feet
- Fuel Capacity — 2 x 12.5 gallon tanks, total 25 gallons
- Endurance — 4 hours with 45 minute reserve
- Powerplant — Continental O-200 producing 100 horsepower
- Propeller — Sensenich, fixed pitch
- Base Price — $110,500
Of all the airplanes earning rave reviews over the years, one model stands out above most others in the distinction of handling quality. Over and over I’ve heard from pilots of a certain, umm… maturity, and Luscombe is the brand often mentioned. After flying many airplane models, I’d be hard pressed to tell you which one I thought out-handled the rest. What does that even mean? Handling can be quite personal. Some like a docile, forgiving airplane. In all honesty, that’s probably most of us. It’s annoying (and possibly threatening) to be forced to constantly stay on top of an airplane. Other pilots prefer fast response and a light touch. Luscombe offers a delightful combination of light forces with great response that will make most of us feel comfortable. That’s magic! Welcome Back to the Shiny Silvaire From its mid-century origin in Kansas City, Missouri, Luscombe moved to Trenton, New Jersey.
Recreational and MoreSensenich is so common on the light aircraft that we cover on this website that some readers may not even be aware of the brand's use on FAA-certified aircraft. Of the "well over 850,000 propellers" Sensenich said they have shipped, most went on certified aircraft. They know how to meet those regulations. Recently, the company announced it was won a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) for its carbon ground-adjustable pitch STOL propeller for Piper Super Cub Aircraft. An STC is required when modifying a certified aircraft; usually handled in the field to benefit a single aircraft. This new STC allows installation on PA-18 “150” aircraft powered by Lycoming O-360 series engines, with future STCs planned for Lycoming O-320 powered Super Cubs and certain popular training aircraft. “Our Experimental Amateur-Built aircraft customers have been raving about this propeller for several years, and now we can offer the same step up in performance to our certified customers,” says Sensenich president, Don Rowell. Don continued, "This propeller’s quick and sure pitch adjustment (nearby image) gives the customer the option of maximum performance no matter what the flight profile may be." Sensenich reported that extensive testing required during the certification project in Alaska showed improved take-off, climb and cruise performance compared to what’s considered the industry standard fixed-pitch STOL propeller. "When pitched for the same climb rpm as the standard propeller, climb rate was increased by 140 feet per minute, cruise speed was identical, and full-throttle level-flight speed increased by seven miles per hour. When repitched to match the industry standard propeller's climb rate, cruise speed was increased by eight miles per hour and full-throttle level-flight speed increased by 18 miles per hour." These substantial gains appear to show the recreational aircraft industry that has used these props have long enjoyed improvements that factory-built, FAA-certified aircraft wanted. Performance is not only measured in speed or rate of climb. Weight also matters. Sensenich's new composite propeller is listed at half the weight of the legacy STOL propeller: 21 pounds for the new Sensenich prop versus 44 pounds for a metal unit. The propeller is available in diameters from 78 inches to 82 inches. The STC also covers a 12-inch diameter balanced composite spinner. This STC will be available for new-build propellers starting the first quarter of 2021. Pricing for the propeller with STC documentation is $6,350 FOB Plant City. Adding the spinner brings the price to $7,085 including STC documents. While Sensenich continues to open new markets for their well-received propellers, they remain a leading supplier to the Light-Sport Aircraft, Sport Pilot kit-build, and ultralight segments.
In the early 1930s, Sensenich began making propellers …from wood. Almost a century later, wood remains a very viable material for props and many recreational aircraft owners are happy about that because wood is light and less costly. However, times advance inexorably. Wood lead to metal which gave way to composite, a category now including carbon fiber. Through it all, Plant City, Florida-based Sensenich has managed to keep their products “right on the nose” (except for pusher configurations, of course). The company quartered only a few miles from Sun ‘n Fun introduced metal propellers in the 1940s, developed composite propellers in the late 1990s, and continues to push boundaries in the light aircraft, unmanned, and marine propulsion markets. For those unaware, Sensenich has built a substantial business making large diameter, very-wide-chord props for airboats. Recreational and More Sensenich is so common on the light aircraft that we cover on this website that some readers may not even be aware of the brand’s use on FAA-certified aircraft.
2018 Results Keep Adding UpYesterday's Day One post related several conpanies giving satisfactory results for their sales this year. Perhaps encouraged by a buoyant economy, pilots are choosing new LSA but in parallel more importers and manufacturers are helping to move used LSA. The fleet has grown enough to generate a good supply of low-time, desirable Light-Sport Aircraft. Any representing looking to sell new machines can boost their enterprise by also facilitating the sale of used aircraft. In either new or used transactions, pilots win as they can acquire aircraft that interest them. It's all good and 2018 is proving to be a respectable year. Seamax is another company pleased with their U.S. developments. We interviewed lead designer and business owner Miguel Rosario to find his lightest-of-the-LSA-seaplane-fleet Seamax is developing their business on the campus of Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. With care and long experience, Miguel has built an active enterprise that has supplied more than 150 aircraft around the globe with about 10% flying in the USA. That number is sure to grow with the Brazilian company's American operation, an excellent price point among LSA seaplanes, and sprightly performance SuperPetrel reports delivery of eight units in the last year after establishing their U.S. base. Global sales over many years are now approaching serial number 400 according to representatives from the Ormond Beach, Florida enterprise of Brazilian investors associated with Scoda Aeronautica. This seaplane maker is also growing its installed base in America for this long-established design that was thoroughly updated when Scoda (formerly Edra) Aeronautica took over Super Petrel. An FAA audit proved the quality of their work as they earned SLSA credentials. Inside the tent, we did an interview with Sensenich president Don Rowell. The very popular maker of wood, metal, and composite props reported strong business that is challenging the company to keep propellers in stock. To address the demand, Sensenich is expanding and bringing new CNC equipment. We will be visiting the factory just before Sun 'n Fun 2019 to give viewers a tour of their new facility and equipment. As with yesterday's report, this is not an exhaustive review of each exhibiting company. Yet the sum of reports from company after company reinforces the view that 2018 qualifyies as a solid year. I see the happy smiles of new pilot owners on the field.
At a reception ending Day Two, DeLand Showcase Director Jana Filip reported that front gate receipts were greater on Thursday than either Thursday of the two prior years of the Showcase. Then she announced Friday’s gate was greater than the two previous Fridays. DeLand Showcase 2018 is the third running of the event. Showers rolled in threatening Showcase’s perfect weather record although the rain didn’t start until exhibitors and sponsors had gathered in the main show center tent. Under shelter, live music was presented by the Flying Musicians Association, lead by professional music man, Gary Filip. A catered dinner fed the group and as the evening concluded, the rain died off as if on cue. A couple tents were damaged by strong winds including one in the Dreams Come True booth of Steve and Debbie Minnich and an EAA Chapter food tent. No airplane damage was reported.
Sensenich (pronounced Sensen-ICK) is one of the best-known prop manufacturers in the world, long supplying Lycoming and Continental aircraft engines, but also airboat makers. In 2012 Sensenich came out with a line of props specifically aimed at the Light-Sport Aircraft community and they can serve Rotax and Jabiru as well as Lycoming and Continental. Join us while we visit with company president Don Rowell at AirVenture Oshkosh.
In Light-Sport aviation, we have many international suppliers … of aircraft, engines, instruments, and much more to include propellers. I embrace the worldwide suppliers and don’t fret about America’s position. The truth is, any international supplier has to have a U.S. representative so American jobs and profits are part of that global supply chain and most aircraft built overseas have a substantial percentage of U.S.-produced components. Still, as an American, it is great to see solid U.S. companies prospering. One of those is Sensenich Propellers and last week, I took a tour of this enterprise based in Plant City, Florida (near Lakeland, where Sun ‘n Fun is headquartered). I was shown throughout the facility by President Don Rowell, a 37-year employee of Sensenich (pronounced SEN-sen-ick). He directly manages the Plant City operation since 1993, after relocating from the company’s founding plant in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Both facilities continue to operate and are divided by prop material.