Winner of the Outstanding New Design award in its public debut at Sun ‘n Fun ’95, the SuperFloater was a well-received by many who flew with the ultralight glider. The light weight unpowered machine is a 20-years-later redesign of an aircraft created by Larry Hall and Klaus Hill in the mid-’70s. The SuperFloater was completely redone at the request of U.S. Aviation, who sensed the new market for the easy-flying glider – aging hang glider pilots, as well as ultralight pilots looking for a change of pace from power in flight. The ’95 SuperFloater has a beefed-up airframe for more frequent duty and tow launching. The high-dihedral wings were flat and flattened and the span extended for additional performance. Full-span ailerons replaced rudder and elevator-only controls. The ultralight sale plane is now supplied as a ready-to-fly, test-flown aircraft. The SuperFloater can be towed aloft by almost any ultralight with an excess of power.
A great old name has returned! The Flightstar is back. Actually, the design has survived various ownership changes quite well. The original Pioneer Flightstar became the Argentine Aviastar. Now original designer, Tom Peghiny, has bought the plane and the name. It’s all-American again, too, made in the USA. Above you see the F.A.R. Part 103-legal version, the Flightstar Classic. The Classic has a big brother single seater and of course, a two-seat trainer. The Classic is the company’s primary fun machine, though. All the Flightstars were designed under accepted engineering methods. They’ve also been given the touch by Peghiny, an ultralight pioneer who aviation business experience dates back to his teens. It’s easy to see this successful combination if you examine individual component design and finish. The Flightstar has an avid following of five hundred owners who love the way their planes fly. The Classic has simple features and low price while maintaining wonderful handling qualities.
You can’t find as many bargains in ultralight flying as you once could. Increasing sophistication of ultralights has, with economic factors, driven up prices. The Hurricane offers 1994 pilots a good deal, however, with prices in the $7,000 range for a complete, bolt-together kit. These days, that’s one great price! The Hurricane is a derivative design, owing its shape to aircraft like the Avenger, Phantom, and Mirage. Company owner Don Eccker has made numerous changes to the plane and a modern Hurricane has become its own airplane. Eccker was long associated with the popular Avenger which eventually left the market. He filled the gap with his Hurricane. Eccker and his staff reveal a fine attention to detail coupled with a love of flying. This shows readily in the Hurricane. The plane boasts very responsive handling which still imparts a feeling of solidness. Performance is good enough that Eccker performs exciting aerobatics with great competency.
Everybody knows that trikes are composed of a chassis and a wing. Many companies specialize in one or the other for good reason; the two manufacturing skills are quite different. For years North Wing Design owner, Kamron Blevins, has built the wings that lift many trikes. Now his Washington state based company does it all. A couple years ago the company introduced their Maverick trike, notable for its clean, simple, white chassis and unusually strut-braced delta wing. Later Blevins introduced his ATF model, a simplified and even lighter chassis which can connect to a conventional hang glider wing. Remaining busy, by spring of 2000 he offered the two-seat Apache model. In every case, of course, the trikes uses the company-produced wing. Beginning in the days when he supplied trike chassis makers with wings until he began to offer the whole trike aircraft, Cameron has clearly been listening to customers. From my inspection he has incorporated many features that trike buyers have sought over the years.
A decade ago, the popular Canadian ultralights the Beaver and Chinook appear to be in danger of disappearing. Fortunately that’s no longer the case thanks to the Holomis family and their purchase of these two classic Canadian designs. Even better, during the last 10 years the company has made improvements to the design while leaving alone their basic shape and appeal. A “Plus” added to the name is the simple indicator that means many small improvements. With a thriving family machine shop operation providing a foundation, the company makes good use of its engineering and fabrication capabilities to support the airplane business. This synergy is appreciated by anyone buying the aircraft in the last decade. It gives Aircraft Sales and Parts (ASAP) staying power that assures customes. While both the ultralights have a substantial following is (the Beaver has sold in the thousands by itself), the Chinook has become my favorite of the two thanks to its agile handling and spectacular visibility.
Easily one of the most fascinating airplanes to appear and show well as the airshows of 1999 was the east European-built Skyboy, sold in this country by Interplane. In truth it’s not only sold here by this outfit, Interplane is the name of the company building these aircraft in the Czech Republic. It may not be of American heritage but from what I could tell it quickened the heart of Yankee pilots. Under the direction of Jaroslav Dostal, a veteran of the LET Aircraft Company which builds 19- and 40-passenger commuters, a group of talented designers created several sport aircraft of which Skyboy is one. It’s abundantly clear these men knew their job as one examines the workmanship on the fully factory-built Skyboy being marketed to American ultralight trainers. Yet the shapely exterior is not the whole story. As you open the door of the Interplane Skyboy you see a nicely finished interior that invites your entrance.
While Phantoms have always been a source of satisfaction to its owners the design has suffered through numerous owners… but not any more! These days Phantom Aircraft, based in Kalamazoo, Michigan is operated by Pat Schulthies who lends his steady hand to the long established brand. Dating to the beginning of the ultralight movement in the early 1980s the new X1-E model also advances the design into the new millennium. In those young days of ultralight flying Phantom was considered a high performing aircraft with snappy handling. Today such a description may fit other brands but Phantom hasn’t lost its edge. For those that may be hesitant about building their own aircraft Phantom may set you at ease. Formally a teacher, Shulthies had his entire school participate in building the now famous “Child’s Play” Phantom. In the end 130 kids had actually worked on building this ultralight and while they did a better job than I could, you should be able to meet the challenge.
The Quicksilver Sport IIS has been transformed from a cable braced ultralight to a strut braced model. Although this simple flying machine is one of the most successful aircraft ever built, the California company managed to make the new model even more appealing as it heads into a third decade of production. The most noticeable change to the new ultralight are the wing struts that completely replace the wing’s upper surface cable rigging. Now the upper surface is free of obstructions to a smooth airflow and has a cleaner appearance. Other changes are more subtle but even with extensive tubular reinforcement the IIS weighs 430 pounds empty, well under the exemption weight limit. With its large 170 square foot wing the newest Quicksilver feels like the ultralight the public expects. This image and its comfortable flying charactertistics jointly account for it being the most popular training ultralight in the world. Experienced pilots from all segments of aviation in many countries have come to love the Quicksilver.
Richard Helms has been one of the stalwarts in the trike development among American companies. Enjoying a positive change in market share (by many expert opinions), trikes are finding customers all over the country. It may be news to you but Helms has been facing this demand for years. With some 300 machines in the field, Sabre may be the leading American brand. The Sabre stacks up well against the more elaborate machines from Europe. Across the Atlantic, trikes got expensive and complex as they searched for more buyers. Helms learned that Americans often admire simplicity and he built to this goal. However, some buyers want more feature laden aircraft. Realizing the potential for the growing light aircraft industry in the eastern European countries, Helms went overseas to cut a deal with Aeros of the Ukraine. In the summer of 1999, Sabre introduced the new Venture trike. With an airframe that makes extensive use of Titanium and a sleek fiberglass fairing, the two-place Venture is a veritable showplace for numerous beautifully hand machined parts.
The New Aircraft Kolb Company gets the new name for a good reason: it has new owners, Bruce Chesnut and Brian Blackwood. These successful businessmen from Kentucky bought the company that produced the ultralights they’ve flown for years. Under its third owner, Kolb appears well poised to remain the prolific supplier it has long been. Following Homer Kolb and Dennis Sounder, Chesnut and Blackwood have a hard act to follow, but they seem well suited to the task. After acquiring the prestigious name, the new owners didn’t alter the aircraft or their characteristics. Why mess with success? However, to maintain the Kolb tradition they’ll have to keep innovating. Dennis Souder did very well at this after he took over from Homer and he remains a consultant so the new owners benefit from his long insight to the ultralight community. However, Brian Blackwood created his own personal Mark III. He installed the Rotax 912 (80 horsepower engine), and didn’t skimp on the good stuff.
Long one of Canada’s best loved ultralights, the Chinook – formerly designed and built by Birdman – is another of the country’s designs saved by the Holomis family when they went acquiring ultralight aircraft companies to complement their successful machining enterprise in British Columbia. A simple design with lines unlike any other ultralight I’ve flown, the aircraft has pleasing characteristics that most pilot will enjoy. Larger aviators especially will like the enormous cabin of the Chinook. And like other Canadian designs, the Chinook’s sturdy triangulated construction allows it to operate as a bush plane from almost any open space. Consequently, ASAP likes to show Chinooks with tundra tires or floats, both of which add to the rugged good looks. The wide open cabin is surrounded by well supported clear Lexan giving you a panoramic view from either seat. Tandem aircraft often cramp the aft seat and don’t give it the best visibility, but Chinook sets a new standard.
One of the best regarded light aircraft on the market is the GT400 from newly reorganized and revitalized Quicksilver. The longtime manufacturer of ultralights has new ownership and good things are happening. Fortunately, the Southern California leader stuck with their successful models. According to many who have flown it, the GT400 is one of the best flying single seat aircraft you can buy. To beginners, it is predictable and stable with qualities that allow a new pilot to progress with confidence. To old timers, the GT400 has such refined characteristics that it can please those with many hours logged. Using a control yoke rather than a joystick, GT400 emulates certified aircraft yet for all its sophistication, the design does not lose any of the fun side that makes ultralights so enjoyable. Handling is smooth but responsive. Performance is substantial but not scary. And its stability profile sets a standard for light aircraft.
You have to hand it to Buckeye. These guys and gals work exceptionally hard to refine their line of ultralight aircraft to a trend-setting state of the art. Complementing their award-winning series of powered parachutes, Buckeye has now added their new Endeavor trike. A couple years back, it was Buckeye’s single place Brat that grabbed attention for the Indiana operation. The purple airframe Brat represented a first among powered parachute producers to apply their experience to a related but different form of ultralight flight. Brat resembled the Cosmos Samba trike and offered a simple switch to powered parachute so owners could go both ways. Last year they refined the Brat to a two seat, more extensive aircraft. In the process, the quick switch to powered parachute became more elaborate. Now the Endeavor appears as a fully developed two seat aircraft that focuses on being a trike ultralight. Fortunately it shares the extreme attention to detail that characterizes the entire Buckeye line of ultralight flying machines.
“New & Improved” boasts the advertising for the Flightstar IISL as it was introduced at the start of the 1999 season. Indeed, the statement proved to be more than a catchy advertising slogan. The already-popular ultralight from the Connecticut company managed to go one better than earlier models. A series of changes subtly advanced the state of the art for one of America’s best ultralights. A new cabin fairing was cunningly reshaped to combine smoothly with a new, curvier windscreen. The aft-cabin fabric fairing was made leaner and smaller yet more efficient. And a new engine cowling improved cooling for the Rotax 503 engine installation. The combination of front and rear fairing harmonized to bring smoother touchdowns eliminating the one nagging challenge I’d found in the older IISL. Making consistently smooth landing roundouts is now child’s play. Builders will also appreciate the easier fit of the new fiberglass parts and shipping is more compact (therefore cheaper) than ever due to the change.
Daring to take on deeply entrenched Rotax, Flightstar/H-Power has introduced the first light aviation four-stroke engine to see broad acceptance. Joined with their smoothly contoured Flightstar II, you can have a deluxe ultralight or lightplane that will provide years of flying enjoyment. While two strokes do the job for most ultralight enthusiasts, the four stroke 700E engine from HKS of Japan offer assurances some pilots demand. With its particular strength of mid-range torque, the HKS engine brings interesting differences. Pull up the nose while revolutions are set in the 4000s and the HKS will haul the Flightstar II aloft with no evidence of prop loading common among two stroke engines. Flightstar still sells lots of their very popular IISL models, but on this lighter aircraft, they recommend the Rotax 503. However, now that the same company has adapted the stronger HKS engine, sales are soaring for their Flightstar II with its beautifully formed all-fiberglass cockpit enclosure.
You get four vehicles in one when you choose the powered parachute called Para-Ski. The name comes from the fact that you can swap wheels for skiis. With the correct selection this will permit zooming around – without a wing – on either water or snow, giving Para-Ski year ’round thrills. What interests pilots, of course, is the ability to install a powered parachute and go aloft. But even in this airborne environment, Para-Ski offers more versatility. You can exchange the bag wing for a rag wing and, using some changed mount hardware, the Para-Ski become a trike ultralight as well. Para-Ski is just full of differences, for example, its use of four wheels versus the more typical tri-gear favored by most other power parachute builders. Para-Ski feels this gives the machine more stability during takeoffs and landings and sure enough, when the canopy pulls to one side, I’ve seen company pilots keep the machine tracking straight on only two wheels (a tough maneuver with a three-wheeled model).
“What took ’em so long,” is the usual comment when one sees the Sky Raider for the first time. Understandably, many viewers incorrectly think they see a single place Kitfox. In fact, the Schraeder brothers used their experience at working for both the Kitfox and Avid Flyer builders when they introduced their single place Sky Raider. The tiny little machine, from the same airfield as the two larger airplane companies, has made its mark successfully reaching 100 sales in a couple years. Sky Raider clearly answers the request of many who were enthusiastic about the Kitfox or Avid but who wanted a lightweight single seater. You need wait no longer. Even with a 447 Rotax to give it loads of power, you can build the Sky Raider into a 103-compliant ultralight assuming you consider the weight of components you want to add. Keep it simple and you’ll be delighted with a highly responsive lightweight performer.
With the advent of the powered paraglider, trike ultralights lost their position as the smallest of powered aircraft. Once slope-launched gliding parachutes matured, power packages were added. Add a pilot’s seat to a backpack engine and the paraglider became a powered aircraft. One of the most widely known brands to popularize this new concept is Daiichi Kosho Co., Ltd., of Japan. Their DK Whisper series is equipped with a harness for the pilot with built-in seat and a foot bar to yield a comfortable cockpit. The throttle is a hand operated unit with a new “cruise control” feature that lets the pilot fix a power setting for cruise or long duration climbs, which frees the hands for use of a GPS or camera. The latest version of the Whisper blends the proven harness and frame that can reduce both engine torque reaction and gyroscopic precession. Daiichi says their new harness “is so agile that steering can be controlled by shifting body weight.” This weight shift capability adds to the standard method of hand toggles (which hang near your ear) whose purpose is to reshape the trailing edge of the parachute wing.
Not many question Buckeye’s leadership role among producers of powered parachutes. They move a lot of flying hardware. Now to expand even further, Buckeye has offered the Brat, new in a couple interesting ways. Buckeye’s little Brat is a single place aircraft. It can be fitted with one of the company’s canopy wings but that’s no longer all. Swap a couple tubes around and in a few minutes you can fix the trike carriage to a La Mouette Topless wing. This wing is one the top wings carrying hang glider pilots to record flights and contest championships. (Tested earlier with a Cosmos trike, I found the Topless wing offered superb trike handling.) To keep the rig simple and provide for such switchability, the Brat employs hand toggles for canopy wing steering. Their standard powered parachutes use foot pedals to do this same controlling. Flown for its first public introduction at Oshkosh 1997, the Brat appeared to be a particularly slow flyer with light touch handling – I never saw the pilot working hard to control the Brat.
“From Russia with Love.” Campy as the old Bond movie sounds now, we’re in the ’90s and things we love are coming from the longtime former adversary. In less than a decade, the veil has been lifted so we can exchange information and equipment with ultralight enthusiasts in the old eastern bloc countries. Antares is among the first commercial examples, a trike with Ukraine origin. Young designers like Sergy Zolzulia evolved their product in the face of very challenging source problems. When you lack America’s depth of mail order and local suppliers, obtaining certain materials is very difficult. You design around it and move on. Nonetheless, some advantages – like the availability of exotic stuff like Titanium – gave the USSR design whizzes a few extraordinary tools. Today, we have the Antares trike, a solid and trustworthy example of those years of accumulated design experience. In the European tradition, Sergei relied on standard trike construction, but he is able to impress with a very stout airframe employing Titanium components and low prices.