Not long ago, Americans couldn’t buy products from South Africa because of that country’s apartheid policies. Our government employed economic sanctions that kept South African aviation developments off our radar. However, as their ultralight producers did business with Europe, the Southern Hemisphere country kept up with ultralight aviation despite the sanctions imposed by the United States. One South African ultralight product is the Aquilla, a sturdy trike from Solo Wings in South Africa. If the name Aquilla sounds vaguely familiar and a bit Italian to you, go to the head of the class. You’d be right on both counts. Aquila – spelled with one “l” – is a constellation in the Northern Hemisphere and the Milky Way. Exactly how a star in the northern skies inspired someone in South Africa I don’t know. Aquila is also a city of central Italy northeast of Rome. Nonetheless, Solo Wings owner Aidan De Gersigny, who has been involved with hang gliding since the late 1970s, says Aquilla means “Eagle” in Latin, a name he used for a hang glider he sold 15 years ago.
South African Star
|Empty weight||336 pounds|
|Gross weight||825 pounds|
|Wing area||150 square feet 1|
|Wing loading||5.5 pounds per square foot|
|Kit type||Fully Assembled|
|Set-up time||2 hours|
|Notes:||1 Other wings are available from Solo Wings.|
|Standard engine||Rotax 582 2|
|Power||65 hp at 6,500 rpm|
|Power loading||12.7 pounds per hp|
|Cruise speed||42-62 mph|
|Never exceed speed||81 mph|
|Rate of climb at gross||550 fpm|
|Takeoff distance at gross||200 feet|
|Landing distance at gross||100 feet|
|Notes:||2 As tested; 50-hp Rotax 503 dual carb is standard.|
|Standard Features||Double-surface wing certified in South Africa; dual foot controls including foot throttle for both seats; steerable nosewheel (push right, go left); suspension at all wheels; separate, heavily-padded fabric seats; wheel pants; instrument pod; saddle bags; Rotax B-gearbox; 2-blade composite prop; 13-gallon polyethylene fuel tank with quick drain (useful to remove water); fuel gauge; hand throttle; full instrument package; landing light; wide tires. Wings are available in sizes 14, 15, 16.5, and 17.5 square meters (or 150, 161, 177, or 188 square feet).|
|Options||65-hp Rotax 582 engine; 60-hp HKS 700E 4-stroke engine; luggage pod; ballistic parachute system; selection of props, custom colors, intercom systems, instructor bars.|
|Construction||Aluminum airframe; steel landing gear parts; wire bracing; fiberglass wheel spats and nose fairing (optional); Dacron wing covering. Made in South Africa; distributed by U.S.-owned company.|
Cosmetic appearance, structural integrity, achievement of design goals, effectiveness of aerodynamics, ergonomics.
Pros - South African trike with a 17-year history (Windlass model came before Aquilla). Features of the design include the angled mast that provides more cockpit room at the rear seat, sturdy construction able to handle the rigors of training, and a wing designed by a company which was once involved in building hang gliders (who are known for demanding good handling).
Cons - Few components set the Aquilla apart from other trike brands (though the rear seat foot throttle is one). Maximum payload is lower than some brands, at 362 pounds (assumes fuel of 13 gallons - contact Bateleur to qualify the tank for the Exemption to FAR Part 103).
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 - One of the Aquilla's strengths is a simplicity that leaves some systems out of the mix. Central T-shaped instrument pod gives a close reach to switches and gauge knobs. Remote choke. Dual foot throttles. Rear ignition switches. Standard landing light. Foot pedal brake assures plenty of muscle strength. Though not a "system" the Aquilla can be supplied with a fiberglass cargo pod under the seat.
Cons - It's a trike, so no flaps and the Aquilla doesn't have the trim some newer trikes have. You are dependent on the standard fuel gauge as the body skirt covers the tank. Electric starting and pull starting only available with costlier E gearbox. Electric cabling for instruments and switches is exposed on underside of fore/aft keel tube.
Instrumentation; Ergonomics of controls; Creature comforts; (items covered may be optional).
Pros - Well suited for instruction with rear steering and rear foot throttle, a rather unusual feature in trikes. If entering on the left side (proper as it's opposite both foot throttles), a fixed bar is provided to aid entry to the rear seat. A permanently fixed bungie cord helps secure control bar to forward support tube when parking. Angled mass gives rear occupant more "head room."
Cons - Front seat has only a lap belt, which many consider insufficient in aircraft. Seats, while separated more than some trikes, are still cloth and place pilot between legs of passenger. Though the Aquilla's brake is quite effective, nose brakes on trikes aren't particularly authoritative due to light nosewheel loading.
Taxi visibility; Steering; Turn radius; Shock absorption; Stance/Stability; Braking.
Pros - Very secure gear stance should work well on rougher fields. Effective nosewheel fender and mud flap keeps runway debris out of the "cockpit." Wide tires are standard plus suspension on all three wheels, although wider-still tires are available. Standard brake. Excellent parking area maneuverability, a common trike strength.
Cons - Brakes on the lightly loaded nosewheel are less effective than on main gear (unless you pull in fully to load the wheel). Usual trike challenge to hold the wing still in strong or gusty conditions. No other negatives.
Qualities; Efficiency; Ease; Comparative values.
Pros - Roll with 65 horses pushing was less than 200 feet, I estimate. Landing approaches are facilitated by the Aquilla's slow speed capability (stalls showed 32 mph). Visibility is always a great strength of trikes. Touchdown in the Aquilla was easily predicted and controlled. Robust chassis construction will help on emergency outlandings. Floats have been fitted; not tested.
Cons - No flaps are fitted and slips don't work well in trikes, so you must plan your approach better. Not tested with the Rotax 503 but obviously, takeoff performance will suffer a little. Energy retention has been better in some other trikes I've evaluated. Crosswinds can be difficult in trikes until you have experience.
Quality and quantity for: Coordination; Authority; Pressures; Response; and Coupling.
Pros - The Aquilla's wing is an outgrowth from a company experienced in building hang gliders - those pilots demand finer handling. Hands-off trim speed is a comfortable 45 mph depending on loading and carriage attachment location. Turns to headings went well in the Aquilla, speaking well of handling authority.
Cons - Even in smooth air, I felt the Aquilla lurching around somewhat, possibly a function of the now-dated tall keel pocket configuration. Larger wings available from Solo Wings may handle differently; not tested. Weight-shift controls, while effective and simple are not usually well understood by 3-axis pilots.
Climb; Glide; Sink; Cruise/stall/max speeds; Endurance; Range; Maneuverability.
Pros - Multiple adjustment carriage/wing mount allows a good range of trim speed adjustments (must be changed on the ground, however). Sink rate appeared to be quite good, lower than average among all ultralights. Endurance is reported good by vendor ("2.6 gph" when dual); not independently evaluated.
Cons - Speed range is narrower than many fixed-wings (35-81 mph max, a 2.3:1 ratio). Climb will be a bit soft for the 50-hp Rotax 503 if used regularly as a 2-seater; I recommend the 65-hp Rotax 582 for instruction. Rear wheelpants are more "fenders" than drag-reducing fairings. Vne at 81 mph shows Aquilla isn't built for speed (fine by me, though).
Stall recovery and characteristics; Dampening; Spiral stability; Adverse yaw qualities.
Pros - Stall characteristics are so mild as to be overlooked. Power-on stalls can be pushed to the front support tube without breaking. Power-off stalls are only somewhat more obvious, coming down to the low 30s mph even at gross. Accelerated stalls never happened (though not done radically). Shoulder belt for rear occupant (only).
Cons - Front seat has only a lap belt, widely considered insufficient in an upset situation. Operators must take care to assure the chassis is connected to the wing in the right position of several possible hang points. Thrust always pushes a trike nose up. Some lateral neutrality in steep banks (not enough to be a problem).
Addresses the questions: "Will a buyer get what he/she expects to buy, and did the designer/builder achieve the chosen goal?"
Pros - The Aquilla counts more than 350 sales, with 550 Windlasses before it, making Solo Wings one of the larger producers of trikes in history. Established company with steady U.S. representation in Florida. Well priced with many features standard that are options on other brands. Design has been certified by the South African Department of Civil Aviation. Comes fully assembled.
Cons - Not a well-known brand in the USA (though sales have been made around the globe). Many trikes don't differ enough to build strong brand loyalty; many choices are available (though other brands often cost more). Full assembly means customization is more challenging.