Barely after we rang in the new year, here’s a review of 2021 market shares and info regarding the state of the light, recreational aircraft industry. After a surprisingly strong 2020 despite Covid, 2021 returned to Earth a bit but with some shifting between categories. This year the contrast that stood out was between Factory-Built and Kit-Built. In 2020, perhaps because builders were locked down at home and completed more projects, kit registrations blew the doors off factory-built. For 2021, the ratio equalized again with kits narrowly edging out factory-built (nearby chart). Note that for this reporting, datastician Steve Beste said, “We define kit-built as aircraft registered as Experimental Amateur Built. Factory-built are everything else, including SLSA, ELSA, Exhibition, Primary, and Standard.” To understand how Steve solves the FAA database mysteries, check this PDF. How Healthy Is the Market? Generally speaking, the leaders from 2019 and 2020 remain in similar positions for 2021 — the second year everyone endured the virus pandemic.
Let's Review…Part 103 Ultralight Vehicles are a special category within the FAA regulations. How special? Here's the important points:
- These most affordable aircraft need no FAA registration (no N-numbers are needed).
- Part 103 ultralights need no pilot certificate of any kind.
- Because no pilot certificate is needed, no aviation medical is required to fly Part 103.
- The manufacturer can fully build a 103 ultralight or sell in kit form.
- Operating a Part 103 ultralight follows a remarkably simple set of rules (one page, front and back)
The ListThe new Part 103 List presents all known current-day producers and models of Part 103 ultralights in various aircraft types. They may originate in any country although many are U.S.-built aircraft; after all, this is where the regulation started way back in September of 1982 (40 years this year!). While aircraft in the Part 103 List meet this U.S. regulation, very similar (though not identical) programs are also offered in other countries, for example:
- 120 Kilogram Class — Germany, others (120 kilograms is 264.5 pounds; very similar)
- SSDR (Single Seat DeRegulated) and Sub-70 Kilogram — UK, others
- Microlight, and other 103-like regulations — France, various other countries
Gotta Have a Two Seater?Part 103 is strictly limited to a single seat. Not everyone will be satisfied by that constraint. Many pilots, in order to gain acceptance from their spouse or generally to satisfy a desire for more capability, insist they need two seats. Of course, it's fun to take somebody along, but how often do you actually do that? I used to quote an AOPA survey that was done for many years. It regularly showed the average occupancy of a GA airplane was 1.6 persons. Since GA airplanes are commonly four seaters and sometimes six seaters, that means such roomy aircraft are flown solo most of the time if the average of all flights is 1.6 persons. If that's true, then why do many pilots insist on a second seat in their light aircraft? Compared to the overall expense of creating a new aircraft, the cost of adding a second seat and the necessary structure, engine power, additional fuel, and larger wing area should not in theory add a tremendous amount to the cost of building such an airplane. However, perhaps it's like the amplifier for your home theater. Once you decide you've got to have surround sound instead of just a couple of great speakers, you might have to upgrade everything in the system in order to make that all work. Airplanes are no different, of course.
I'll give my opinion because I believe it is quite common; I've asked hundreds of pilots at airshows about this. I enjoy flying solo because what I like best about flying is the great view from aloft, of flying over the countryside and observing things on the ground. Sometimes seeing what I want means banking steeply to have a closer look. I don't do that when I'm concerned about another person in the cockpit with me. I find these flight movements more tolerable (even enjoyable) when I don't have to worry about a person in a second seat.That's not to say I never want to take a passenger. Sometimes doing so can be enormously satisfying and fun. Flying with someone may be a great way to introduce someone to aviation or it might at least keep them from voting to tax your local airport out of existence. Nonetheless, flying solo has a special pleasure and in a Part 103 ultralight, you always fly solo. Of course, this creates some challenges to gain instruction appropriate to that Part 103 aircraft, so two seaters are necessary. When FAA created the Sport Pilot / Light-Sport Aircraft regulation, they scrapped existing "two-seat ultralights" for LSA. Many of the aircraft that followed are not good trainers for genuine 103 ultralights but some are, including Quicksilver 2S or M-Squared's Breeze II or CGS Hawk II.
The Heart of Affordable AviationThis website regularly promotes aircraft you can afford. This means something different to almost everyone but nearly every aircraft in the Part 103 List fits in the affordable category. All are less than $100,000 and some are less then $20,000 with a range in between. Of course, since they've been around for 40 years, lots of used aircraft are available. See this series of articles from April 2020 describing aircraft for less than $10,000 (used). Since our SLSA List has consistently been one of the most popular features on ByDanJohnson.com, I hope you will enjoy the resource offered under the name Part 103 List. Please… go check it out and tell others. Tail winds!
To welcome a brand new year in affordable aviation, I am pleased to announce the launch of our Part 103 List. This new list presents 89 Part 103 entries for models built by 57 manufacturers. [UPDATE 1/18/22 — We made the 103 List even better with the “Model column now leading to info right here on ByDanJohnson.com, when available. Other article changes are shown in red text. —DJ] Too many people believe this is a minor sector with “no fixed wing aircraft that qualify.” They’re wrong; we have 38 fixed wing producers alone. Some others among the general aviation pilot population thought that Part 103 ultralights had disappeared completely. They could not be more wrong. Not only are plenty of Part 103 ultralights being produced, they come in many diverse shapes and plenty of them are being sold. Clearly, it’s about time a list like this one got published to put the record straight!
A N N O U N C I N G … ! The Part 103 List is now available. Check out our newest resource feature supporting your interest in affordable aviation. Read everything on this website with no paywall — though we appreciate your support through membership.This the largest resource for information about light, recreational, affordable aviation — thousands of articles and videos and much more. Check our growing library of short videos on the ByDanJohnson Affordable Aviation YouTube channel. In addition, you can find nearly 1,000 LSA and Sport Pilot kit videos featuring Dan on Videoman Dave's "Light Sport and Ultralight Flyer" YouTube channel + view hundreds of our best videos archived here in a searchable format. Have you tried our Market Share resource, called Tableau Public? Tap or click the big blue button or hit this link to get a graphical help file on how to use it. Or, get the full description of how this list is assembled. Thanks for your visit. We genuinely appreciate those of you who have become members!
A N N O U N C I N G … ! The Part 103 List is now available. Check out our newest resource feature supporting your interest in affordable aviation. Read everything on this website with no paywall — though we appreciate your support through membership. This the largest resource for information about light, recreational, affordable aviation — thousands of articles and videos and much more. Check our growing library of short videos on the ByDanJohnson Affordable Aviation YouTube channel. In addition, you can find nearly 1,000 LSA and Sport Pilot kit videos featuring Dan on Videoman Dave’s “Light Sport and Ultralight Flyer” YouTube channel + view hundreds of our best videos archived here in a searchable format. Have you tried our Market Share resource, called Tableau Public? Tap or click the big blue button or hit this link to get a graphical help file on how to use it.
You can hardly follow any media without finding some article about the latest whizzbang electric propulsion multicopter project that "will transform urban transportation!" Or so they breathlessly exclaim.Fine. I look forward to going from a downtown hotel to the airport in minutes versus slogging through ground traffic for an hour. Will these arrive in some near future? Maybe. Even if they do arrive sooner than later, would a pilot feel entirely comfortable flying in an autonomous, computer-controlled aircraft? Only you can answer that question. You might get a chance sooner than you think. Whatever you think right now, would you change your mind if you got to fly one of these machines, safely, of course? Since autonomous operation is part of the plan, a current-day Lift Aircraft Hexa could take over any time and land safely on its own. Heck, my ancient (3-year-old) DJI drone can do that, with zero input from me. These things are pretty smart. So is a Tesla. The controlling technology is largely here. So… would you go fly one? From its base in Austin, Texas, Lift Aircraft has announced big plans. Reviewing their historical performance, it appears this company is capable of advancing rapidly to real-life products. Contrarily, some of these multicopter or swing-wing (Osprey-like) projects promote futuristic Urban Air Mobility (UAM) schemes focused on bringing in millions of dollars, delivering more promise than product. On the other hand, Lift's short history shows a steady movement toward their goals. They've checked a lot of the right boxes, enlisted some experienced talent, and look to be on their way, even finishing their first "shipset" and claiming, "Lift is the first company in the United States to start serial production of an eVTOL aircraft."
- In November of 2017 — Lift Aircraft founded.
- December 2017 — Design work underway
- July 2018 in Lago Vista, Texas — First unmanned flight
- October 2018 in Lago Vista, Texas — First manned flight
Should You… Support or Object?As I wrote this article, I knew sharp-eyed readers might (1) question Hexa's weight and (2) accept its weight or not, some would lament this could chance unraveling the almost 40-year-old Part 103 regulation. Now, numerous readers have said for years that the rule needs updating but many others argue that asking for any change might put FAA's least restrictive regulation at risk. With those two points in mind, what say you? It doesn't matter if you love or hate Hexa. Do you welcome their novel approach to meeting 103 parameters or do you think it could jeopardize Part 103? Mosaic, the new regulation expected by the end of 2023, is significantly aimed at accommodating eVTOLs, UAMs, and drones into the airspace. Most readers are focused on how Mosaic affects LSA but multicopters are a major reason why Mosaic exists in the first place. However, the new reg is still two years away. Therefore, a multicopter that can actually qualify with FAA as a Part 103 vehicle and is (nearly) ready for the market has an early lead. Slipping into a sweet spot, Lift and their Hexa need not wait for Mosaic, yet will benefit from its arrival.
Here's how the Part 103 calculations work for Hexa:
- Base empty weight allowance: 254 pounds
- Floats (30 pounds each x 7 floats): 210 pounds
- Ballistic parachute: 24 pounds
- Total allowed: 488 pounds
- Current Hexa empty weight: 432 pounds
- Excess allowance remaining: 56 pounds
Will "the Public" Fly Hexa?To reassure pilots and everyone else, Lift has put major attention on safety. "Hexa is semi-autonomous so, regardless of what the pilot does, it will only fly in a safe manner within the limits programmed into the autopilot computer," notes Lift as they work to bring flying to the public. For example, "The aircraft is continuously calculating the energy required to 'return to home' based on altitude, wind speed and direction. Regardless of what the pilot does, the aircraft will automatically return and land when the battery approaches this level plus a reserve, and it can also automatically land in designated safe landing areas, if necessary.” Hexa presently has a 15-minute flight endurance The plans are more explicit in several ways and you can explore their website to learn more. Does "semi-autonomous" mean you are simply along for the ride? You direct the flight but you (theoretically) cannot screw it up. Is this "cheating?" Are you merely a person saying where you want to fly and the aircraft does it all for you? These are worthy questions pilots may ask. One answer is that pilots already use design features to operate aircraft more safely: LSA have straight-and-level or 180-turn buttons and very effective autopilots. Engineers went to great trouble to assure an aircraft recovers well from a stall or has landing gear able to absorb hard touchdowns. Are these design features "cheating?" Over many years in this business I've heard dozens of ideas about how to get more people into aviation. This one sounds as good as any and better than most. After an hour in their simulator, Lift Aircraft says anyone can go fly, safely. If — that's a big, giant IF — the software is robust enough, yes, I can believe that. Would it still be flying as a pilot does today? Well, truthfully, few current pilots might be willing to agree but it could produce better outcomes, that is, less crashes. This story is just beginning and I'll circle back if readers show an interest. But here's an important point. Lift does not intend to retail sell their Hexa 103 but rather to rent them at a facility they call "Vertiport" (image). The first is already underway but that's material for another article. I'll tell you what — if a Hexa comes my way, I'd love to take it for a flight. Would you?
The following lists highlight some but not all of Lift's plans. The company seems highly focused on safety. That's probably good for their corporate future but also good for the future of anyone who flies Hexa.
Could Lift Aircraft set up rental facilities and how would they guard against problems?
- FAR Part 103 allows rental of aircraft
- Redundant 2-way communication with Control (experts guiding a renter's flight)
- Dedicated controllers monitoring flight telemetry
- Multiple remote pilots on standby
- Assisted preflight and safety briefings
- Emergency assistance and intervention
What happens if a pilot gets in trouble while flying Hexa?
- Flight controlled by computer with joystick input (the pilot does direct the flight, is not just along for the ride)
- "Let go" of stick is a controlled hover
- Automated precision takeoffs and landings
- Automatic low battery Return to Home
- Automatic wind speed, direction adjustments
What are some safety features has Lift incorporated into Hexa?
- Eighteen motors, propellers, and batteries
- Safely land with up to 6 motors disabled
- Highly reliable — only 18 moving parts!
- Propellers out of reach
- Enhanced visibility
- Distributed batteries (away from pilot; located under each motor)
- All critical systems at least 2x redundant
- Design factor of safety — more than 2 everywhere
- 18 separate batteries for fault tolerance
- Batteries located way from pilot (thermal runaway tolerant)
- Safe emergency landing capabilities on water
- Energy-absorbing center float crumple zone
- Whole aircraft air-cushion deploys with low-altitude emergency airframe parachute
You can hardly follow any media without finding some article about the latest whizzbang electric propulsion multicopter project that “will transform urban transportation!” Or so they breathlessly exclaim. Fine. I look forward to going from a downtown hotel to the airport in minutes versus slogging through ground traffic for an hour. Will these arrive in some near future? Maybe. Even if they do arrive sooner than later, would a pilot feel entirely comfortable flying in an autonomous, computer-controlled aircraft? Only you can answer that question. You might get a chance sooner than you think. Whatever you think right now, would you change your mind if you got to fly one of these machines, safely, of course? Since autonomous operation is part of the plan, a current-day Lift Aircraft Hexa could take over any time and land safely on its own. Heck, my ancient (3-year-old) DJI drone can do that, with zero input from me.
Rotax Power 141 Horses …andSometimes the changes are big (iOS 15.0). Sometimes the changes are incremental (iOS 15.2). Significant changes often arrive through small steps forward. News from Rotax Aircraft Engines represents one of those smaller yet valuable updates: more electrical power. Why is this needed? Because, in case you somehow missed this change, cockpits are increasingly electronic. We like keeping our devices charged. Older engines may not supply enough juice for everything.
Features of the Rotax 915iS C24 (and the certified 915 ISc C24):
- No added weight
- New extra light 24V converter (max. 150g)
- Enables 24V aircraft board systems
- Supports digital displays and glass cockpit
- Adds reserves for auxiliary instruments, tablets, and gadgets
- Supplies powerbuses with 24 voltages
- 24V power supply delivering up to 800W
- Ample power for most installations
Wave Engine Start; First Flight ScheduledSpeaking of 915iS engines, Vickers Aircraft happily told us that the Wave amphibian first engine start proceeded without issue. If that doesn't seem like much, well… it is. Getting an airframe right for first flight importantly means getting the engine elements right, such as mounting, cooling, plumbing, electric, and more. Team Vickers succeeded (nearby image). This was even more meaningful as Vickers installed RS Flight Systems’ single-lever control equipment (approval of which is expected in the coming FAA Mosaic regulation) regulating an MT prop. Learn more about single-lever control. Getting the engine start behind them means they can push forward for first flight. Like many such projects, the devil is in the details. A global lockdown plus growing delays in shipping goods around the world complicated normal development challenges. Vickers thought they'd get in the air earlier in 2021 but as company leader Paul Vickers stressed, "We have always been driven by safety and quality, not dates; we will always take the time that is required." Aircraft design work is commonly followed by construction of a proof-of-concept aircraft in which to do first flights. Almost always, the aircraft subsequently goes through significant changes. Seeking a more efficient way, Paul used technology to eliminate duplicative steps. His goal was to get the Wave project so close to a finished aircraft that he and his team would face far fewer clean-up tasks than usually follow a P-o-C first flight. Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so we'll find out how well his careful planning went after first flight. When is that estimated to happen now? "We hit a large milestone yesterday (December 23rd) with our first engine run. It went beautifully!" He now projects, "First flight around January 15, after the break." More info: Vickers Aircraft
Inflation Hikes Prices …but If You Act Soon
We all know a wide range of goods have become more expensive in the last two years. Beyond business changes and closures, inflation has leaped into the forefront of news around the globe. The U.S. has broken 30-year records. Economists report 7 to 10% of currency inflation. Will that affect the prices of aircraft we know and love. Of course, it will.Try as they might to contain increases with various techniques, JMB representatives at Alion Aircraft said "Even for us the costs of inputs are rising significantly." “For that reason we will have to increase the price of the JMB Aircraft VL3 by about 6% very soon,” they said. Given inflation is running higher than that, according to several sources, a 6% bump is only keeping up. "That is the bad news…" wrote Adam Coubal. "The good news is I can reserve this year's price for you if you act right now. "Here is a deal," he observed. "If you book a demo flight as soon as possible and if we shake hands before the end of January 2022, the good old price is yours." A 6% savings while inflation is jacking up many prices qualifies as a valid offer for those who act soon enough. For pilots who don't want to wait until JMB builds and ships a custom order, "We have one 912-powered VL3 in stock and ready for sale," said Adam. More info: Alion Aviation
Dynon in a Bonanza? …and Why that's Good for You
Tie-Down Securely with SafeTAnchorThe humble yet important tie-down anchor. If we had a perfect system, so many variations would not be offered. But if you had to leave your airplane out as a storm rolled in, you'd want a secure connection to old Mother Earth! "We have invented and patented a safetanchor for planes and other uses. Easy to install yourselves and patented in the USA," wrote the company. Design of the anchor’s top allows it to pivot from hook-up to becoming completely flat. This makes the entire surface of anchors flush to ground level without removing them and so you can drive vehicles over it, cut the grass, prevents tripping of personnel, and being a hazard to cleaning machines or snow removal equipment. More info: SafeTAnchor
HAPPY NEW YEAR ‼️
Now that 2021 is historical and following two years of Covid uncertainty and business interruptions, many readers can breathe a sigh of relief for an better 2022. We have two full years remaining before FAA’s Mosaic regulation becomes active. During that time you’ll need to respond to the proposal I predict we will see at Oshkosh 2022 (only seven months away). Until then, what might happen in the world of light aviation? I don’t know any better than you. The future is as unknowable as ever. So many things can happen …who expected Covid-19? With my eye to the sky I’m pleased to start the new year out with some fresh news. Here are five stories to kick off 2022. Rotax Power 141 Horses …and Sometimes the changes are big (iOS 15.0). Sometimes the changes are incremental (iOS 15.2). Significant changes often arrive through small steps forward. News from Rotax Aircraft Engines represents one of those smaller yet valuable updates: more electrical power.
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.
Flight Design F2In early December 2021, Flight Design in Germany announced F2 is now an EASA CS-23 certified aircraft. CS23 is a full-certification system modeled on FAA's Part 23 approval process. Achieving this is a high bar to hurdle. “We couldn’t be happier to see this important step for the F2 program, which ultimately will lead to the F4 four-seat version and the all-electric F2e,” said Matthias Betsch, Head of Flight Design's Design Organization department that created the F-Series and many of its advanced concepts. "The F2-CS23 is the next step in Flight Design’s ‘Vision Zero’ concept which incorporates all commercially available safety features appropriate for this type of aircraft," the company elaborated. "These features include: a passive stall and spin resistant airframe design; airframe emergency parachute system; Amsafe-brand airbags and inertial reel harnesses; Garmin ESP (electronic stability and envelope protection); a strong occupant-protective enclosure for the pilot and passengers; automatic fuel management; simplified controls such as a combined throttle and brake lever; and a more modern, car-like atmosphere and operation." The company CEO, Daniel Guenther, said "This is an important milestone for our business and a tribute to the hard work by the F2 design team and our different businesses within Flight Design general aviation.” F2 is imported to America by Flight Design USA, and is represented by Airtime Aviation, the leading seller of LSA in the country. The F2-CS23 comes with an long list of standard features such as an all-Garmin G3X avionics suite; two-axis autopilot; Rotax 912iS fuel-injected 100 horsepower engine with a DUC certified propeller; Beringer wheels and brakes, perforated leather seats, heat exchanger heating system; and Whelen lighting. “EASA's CS-23 category is an internationally-recognized certification standard which will allow the new F2-CS23 to be easily accepted in all markets worldwide,” said Dieter Koehler, Project Manager the F2 and F4 projects. Flight Design sees the F2-CS23 as "an excellent choice for flight schools with its wide and easy-to-enter cockpit, fuel efficiency, unique safety features, and state-of-the-art avionics suite. All new Flight Design aircraft come with carbon compensation up to TBO under Flight Design’s Pro-Climate plan." F2-CS23 follows the company's F2-LSA that began deliveries earlier in 2021.
Icon Aircraft A5California-based Icon Aircraft wants to expand their international sales and to facilitate that, the company chose to pursue Primary Category approval by FAA. Icon has already achieved SLSA approval; number 137 on our SLSA List. "In countries that do not have a Light-Sport category (Canada and others), the Type Certified version of the A5 can be imported and registered as a Primary Category aircraft," the company explained. They are searching for partners outside the U.S. that want to be Icon Aircraft dealers. Icon's Primary Category certification is well along the lengthy process. "All of our paperwork has been submitted to the FAA for review and the only remaining item on our to-do list is noise testing to ensure we are within compliance. We don’t expect this to be an issue and are planning to complete it in January." "Once that is done," the company continued, "it’s fully over to the FAA to finish reviewing our paperwork. The estimate we’ve received from the FAA and our certification team is that the project should be completed and our type certificate in hand by March or early April, 2022." Primary Category certification also has benefits in the U.S., Icon reported. One is that any A&P is authorized to work on it. Because it is not a SLSA, owners will not need to use designated Icon Service Partners, though the company will still encourage them to do so. Another benefit is international travel, for example, flying your Icon A5 to islands in the Caribbean, or to keep your A5 on a yacht when you are in another country (image). "Light-Sport Aircraft do not receive a Type Certificate," Icon explained, "so typically, special permission is required before you can fly in another country just like if you are flying an Experimental aircraft." Some exceptions exist, notably in the Bahamas, which does allow U.S.-registered LSAs. The Bahamas is further unique among other countries in that they accept FAA's Sport Pilot certificate. "International expansion has been a critical part of our business plan since day one,” said Jason Huang, President of Icon Aircraft. “People in the U.S. have been able to enjoy adventure flying in the Icon A5 for several years, and we will continue to produce the SLSA version. But now we are excited to introduce the A5 to others around the world. Type Certification is one of the many investments Icon has made to grow our capabilities and improve the A5. We know it will be appreciated by our international deposit holders and sales partners, and we are all very excited for this day to come." "Note that we will continue to make the SLSA version, as well," assured Huang. This continues the chance for American pilots to fly A5 without the need for an aviation medical, using only their driver's license in lieu of a medical approval. Why not pursue approval using the coming regulation often referred to as Mosaic? "Mosaic is an FAA initiative that doesn’t translate globally," stated the company. "Thus, pursuing Primary Category Certification is the action we needed to coincide with our global expansion plans." https://youtu.be/dxpFU7UfsQo https://youtu.be/4kBRY79lw5Y
Rather loudly and persistently I beat the drum about “affordable aircraft,” but readers also enjoy learning about other aircraft. I will never write about jets or multimillion-dollar turbines but I will continue to follow any “light” aircraft that meets LSA parameters now or after the Mosaic rule. In this article I will describe how two aircraft are pursuing conventional certification: Flight Design’s F2-CS23 and Icon’s A5. Contrary to common language, LSA are not “certified.” Instead a manufacturer declares they meet ASTM standards and FAA “accepts” that declaration. Frequently at first, FAA audited producers in a point-by-point check of their declaration plus verifying that producers use generally-accepted best practices in their manufacturing. Companies with prior approvals may not be required to undergo an audit; it’s always FAA’s choice. I’ve been involved with ASTM for many years and I can attest to these standards being very rigorous. They were welcomed by many countries where they are in active use.
Buyers Without RemorseJohn started, "Skyleader 600 looks like a great aircraft. I had actually just noticed this model a couple days ago because there is a used one listed for sale on the Web. As a potential first time buyer, I would be interested to have you address the question of service for these smaller manufacturers. "By way of example," John continued, "there are nearly 300 SportCruisers registered in the US, as well as nearly 350 Flight Design models, but only 3 Skyleaders. I’m not picking on Skyleader; there are many manufacturers with just two, five or 20 registrations in the database." Matter of fact, our N-number database is another useful reference we offer. You can use the ByDanJohnson.com Tableau Public link to find every single LSA in the U.S. registry (you'll have to drill down a bit, but here's an infographic on how to do that). John continued, "I imagine it’s easier to find a mechanic who is familiar with something that has hundreds of units in operation, rather than just a few. If I want to buy a less common aircraft, do I have to think about availability of qualified service ahead of time? Do I need to locate a mechanic first, even before settling on a particular model? I’ve never owned an airplane before, so this is a big unknown for me." John didn't ask about insurance but that's another large question, especially these days for pilots over 70 years old. I recently interviewed on video one of the leading insurance agents, A.I.R.'s Gregg Ellsworth to get the latest info on that important topic. Regarding mechanics — If a LSA uses all-metal construction, you can find capable mechanics almost anywhere. If your dream plane is largely composite, finding a mechanic can be much harder. The larger companies like Flight Design, building their CT series from almost all carbon fiber offer varying levels of training. If a dealer or mechanical shop obtains factory training — as does Airtime Aviation, the largest seller for Flight Design anywhere in the world — their people can fix anything and may be able and willing to work on other brands. In the LSA world, the manufacturer dictates who gets to work on their airplanes so it's best to go direct to the source to learn the availability of qualified mechanics. You can find nearly any LSA company using our SLSA List (loaded with links). If your dream LSA uses a Rotax engine, you will have little trouble getting service because the big Austrian powerplant manufacturer has trained hundreds of mechanics. Continental-powered LSA can also be maintained by many Airframe & Powerplant (A&P) mechanics, virtually anywhere in the world. Jabiru engines are maintained by Arion Aircraft (also producer of the Lightning-series of kit-built or fully-built SLSA aircraft). As Jabiru engines were designed to be simple to facilitate repair, any A&P can also work on them. Other engines may be more challenging but all have some service centers, though perhaps not close to you. Some LSA organizations have focused on providing service to many brands. One such is U.S. Sport Planes located in the north Dallas, Texas metropolitan area. Run by Scott Severen — the North American Jabiru importer — U.S. Sport Planes has a long history of working with numerous brands. Others offer similarly broad service, such as Aero Adventure, which can work on multiple seaplane brands. My best advice is to contact the manufacturer or the importer of the aircraft that interests you and ask who can assist you closer to home. Please remember, though, that LSA suppliers or mechanics aren't McDonalds restaurants you can find everywhere. They are all specialized service providers. You may need to travel to them but as they are experts, it may be worthwhile to engage them versus a general A&P who may not know your particular airplane. Even after 17 years, LSA are still the "new kids on the block" so some mechanics may not wish to service them.
What IS Affordable?Another reader, Dan E., made other comments I frequently hear. He wrote, "The definition of what people consider 'affordable' varies widely." Not only does it vary by every individual; it can change depending on many other circumstances. "For me," Dan wrote, "a used $35K Cessna 150 or a $45K Piper Cherokee 140 are affordable, but a new $150-200K two-seat SLSA is not, and I have neither the time nor the interest to build my own ELSA." In truth, an ELSA (Experimental LSA) typically will not save much but can bring some other advantages. To save a more significant amount of money, you'll need to build an Experimental Amateur Built ("51% rule") aircraft. This will take a bigger investment of your time, but with the coming MOSAIC regulation professional builder-assist centers are expected to expand notably. Dan finished, "I thought that making entry-level planes more affordable through mass production to get more pilots flying was the original purpose of the LSA movement? What we ended up is a bunch of boutique manufacturers, each offering SLSA that appeal to someone who might otherwise buy a sportscar in the same price range." The truth is lots of people had expectations about the Sport Pilot/Light-Sport Aircraft regulation introduced in September 2004. "Mass production" was never one of the goals. Likewise, some membership organizations expected a huge new wave of pilots that would join their organizations. That was not a realistic assumption, either. What we did get was a simpler pilot certificate with no medical exam required and a profusion of aircraft of many types. When the choices are many, the suppliers may be smaller. In fact, I have often used Dan E's term "boutique manufacturer" and I still think that is appropriate. Since Sport Pilot/Light-Sport Aircraft was introduced, we got 156 new models and we now have many good used LSA, often with just a few hundred hours on them. If you look long enough, I'm confident you can find something worthwhile, and you can find somebody to keep it maintained for you. A central goal of ByDanJohnson.com is to help you find them.
Can Anyone Help?The good news? — After 17 years of Light-Sport Aircraft, a nationwide — even a worldwide — network of aircraft sellers, maintenance centers, flight schools, and builder-assist centers are available. You can can look throughout this website by using our Advanced Search to find them. Keep in mind you may need to travel to find the right airplane or the right mechanic. I cannot personally address every inquiry but you can find most enterprises using the resources on this website. For many years, one of our most-used features is the SLSA List, which is filled with links. Using it will work better than most search engines. Finally, in the age of social media, many aircraft types have a Facebook group that caters to that brand. Pilots who own the aircraft of your dreams can be very helpful in finding good purchases or good mechanics. Of course just because you "read it on the Internet" doesn't mean a fact is true. Please seek out second (or more) opinions before buying and before engaging a mechanic. The better companies will get great reviews from their customers. Good luck and tail winds, everyone! Fly safely and often. Here are some vintage videos showing what may now be used Light-Sport Aircraft. Visit Dave Loveman's Light Sport and Ultralight Flyer YouTube channel for hundreds more. https://youtu.be/oAV2uTIQvbY https://youtu.be/F0-XqlBeYpY And, here's a whole playlist of very affordable Light-Sport Aircraft aircraft… (28 short videos). https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLaVWZY8ydbtA_cId1itTWbgvdqpAZPy2P
The last airshow of 2021 is over. The Christmas holidays are beginning to dominate everyone’s calendar. Yet recreational pilots — being enthusiastic aviators — are thinking about flying in 2022. The Covid pandemic of 2020/2021 appears not to have slowed enjoyment of flying for fun… for most of us anyway. I sincerely regret anyone who suffered during this period but sport aviation has held up surprisingly well. In this article, I will tackle a couple reader questions, the sort I hear all the time. To answer several people with one response, I asked reader John Joyce if I could use his question and name. He consented, so here we go… Buyers Without Remorse John started, “Skyleader 600 looks like a great aircraft. I had actually just noticed this model a couple days ago because there is a used one listed for sale on the Web. As a potential first time buyer, I would be interested to have you address the question of service for these smaller manufacturers.
DeLand Showcase Midwest LSA Expo and AffordabilityFirst the good news. Yes, you can find affordable aircraft (here is a series of examples). Yes, you can find them at the sector-specific shows that serve the affordable end of aviation. The smaller shows charge a lot less to vendors and this makes it easier for companies building lower-cost aircraft to exhibit. The truth is that every time I survey vendors at these two events — plus the Copperstate event — representatives report sales even as they often make comments about low foot traffic. I usually ask, "Do you care about big crowds of people or the chance to connect with pilots who might actually buy your aircraft?" The conversation often ends with sellers remarking that even though the crowds were smaller, they sell aircraft or at least gain good prospects. Nearly all return year after year. Pilots who attend these events are usually quite pleased because they can ask all the questions they like, they can get in aircraft to see how they fit, and they can take demo flights with far greater ease than at the big events with their large numbers of attendees. Beyond the show, if you search around ByDanJohnson.com, you can find reports on many affordable aircraft. Try Advanced Search to zero in on a specific company or model. Yet what is affordable for one pilot may not be in the budget of another. This is true with almost everything you can buy. Have you priced a loaded full-size pickup truck lately (wow! …those babies are expensive!). For some, $10,000 is the right cost. For others $100,000 is "affordable." It depends on you and your finances so whenever I write that loaded word, I know I will hear from some readers who think I am all wrong. Nonetheless, here are a few aircraft I found at DeLand Showcase on the one day I was able to attend this year. I'd call some of these affordable even if you may disagree.
Sprint Lite GyroRight at the top of their literature page, seller Blades Over Me wrote "Price: $35,500." Is that affordable? Well, it is one of the lowest cost gyroplanes I've found (along with the Fusion Nano reported earlier in this AirVenture round-up article). Affordability is often better with a single seater partly as less hardware is needed and a less powerful engine can be specified. Despite those comments, I thought Sprint Lite was a handsome aircraft with some interesting features. A video with more detail will follow later but dealer Raul Salazar of Blades Over Me offered a few points I'll describe here. When a single seater has a 100 horsepower engine, you know it will perform enthusiastically. To contain the price, designer Claudio Pagotto selected the Simonini Victor 2 engine, logical since engine and airframe are produced in Italy but offering a cost savings over the Rotax 912 (though lacking the sterling brand reputation of the Austrian powerplant). Raul observed that Claudio went to effort to create an engine mount that better supports the engine compared with designs that hang the engine from a vertical mast (photo). Certainly, Sprint Lite is something of a fair-weather flyer that won't provide much protection to a pilot in a Minnesota winter but if you want "affordable," needing to stick to pleasant days is not exactly a hardship. Those of you with a fascination with gyroplanes (like me) now have another aircraft that may meet your budget.
AeropupFielden Aero showed their Aeropup kit at DeLand 2021 after having reps at Midwest 2021 armed only with literature. I was curious to have a closer look at this Australian entry. American Don Fielden is the U.S. importer and you can look for a video to tell you more when editing is complete (be patient; my video partner will be off his usual fast pace for a few weeks but it will come). Aeropup is a "back to basics flying machine with modern engineering," said Don when we spoke at DeLand Showcase 2021. He added that it is "extraordinarily rugged and an extraordinary value." What kind of value? "The kit is only $18,000 [an introductory price, he notes] and can be flying for as little as $40,000 and 500 hours of build time," said Don. I'd call that affordable but I what I mentioned above still applies. Because Aeropup is a kit, of course you can configure it any way you like. Given a modest 540-pound empty weight (depending on which engine you mount) Aeropup can have a high useful load of 780 pounds. Even using all 24 gallons of fuel capacity, Aeropup offers a payload of 636 pounds, enough for two big American men plus generous baggage. Heavier engine choices will use some of those pounds, but the design should still carry a lot of what you want. A 46-inch-wide cockpit provides adequate elbow room for those boys on board. What engines are supported? Don has installed a UL Power 350 and he's excited about what that powerplant's 130 horses will do for performance. Loaded lightly, it ought to be a rocket blastoff. Like Zenith, Aeropup USA offers a number of choices: UL Power, Rotax — either 582 or 912 — Jabiru (naturally, since it starts life in Australia), VW 2276, and D-Motor (LF-26). "Other compatible engines are also available," added Don.
Aerolite 103I cannot / should not fail to mention Aerolite 103 in any article that talks about affordability. This is one of the champions of budget-worthy airplanes and apparently lots of people know it. The company has been producing kits and fully-built airplanes at full capacity for several years now and is undoubtedly the market leader. When you have a success story, you don't mess with it too much, and builder U-Fly-It has not. Yet incremental changes don't ruin the smooth-running production line so the company often displays something just a little different. This time, DeLand attendees saw a Aerolite with big, fat tires on it. Given the growing interest in tundra tires, this is hardly surprising even if a lightweight aircraft like Aerolite 103 hardly needs them. Dang, they look cool, though (photo). To keep the torrid pace going strong, proprietor Dennis Carley and his group introduced an electric-propulsion version of Aerolite 103 — now dubbed the EZ-103 — at Sun 'n Fun 2021. Learn more about that entry in this article.
Charged to Fly?Speaking of electric propulsion — though not so much about affordability — I can never overlook Pipistrel. Not only has this Slovenian company become one of the top aircraft producers in the light aviation space (see this article), Pipistrel may be the world leader in electric motors as an aircraft powerplant. While their Alpha variant went through a few other names, the Eastern European producer now calls their model Velis Electro. "Velis Electro is world’s first electric-powered airplane to receive a Type Certificate. [Our] two-seater [is] intended primarily for pilot training," stated Pipistrel. Fine. Lots of publications have reported on this aircraft. So have I (see here). One thing that becomes critically important is charging the on-board batteries. We all know from our electronic devices that you cannot stray too far from a power source and you need the right gear to recharge. Airplane batteries are expensive and need smart chargers to get the most life out of them. At DeLand 2021, U.S. rep, Rand Vollmer had the wheel-equipped charging unit position right by Velis and had it plugged in as though juicing up the batteries (photo). This may not be right for you yet, but Pipistrel is doing a great job bringing e-power to our light aircraft.
Ka$h for Float$?Finally, floats. If you like flying off the water — or the safely aspect of quadrupling your available landing areas — you gotta have something to keep your bird out of the drink. Several other producers make floats but an old friend, Lavern Dence, showed one of the coolest ideas I've seen on light aircraft floats. No, I don't mean his use of a beautiful color-speckled carbon fiber, which looks reddish in the nearby photo but his business card made from the exotic cloth had blue accents; either way it is very striking. The construction was up to this handy fellow's usual par but it wasn't the finish that got my attention. Honestly, I would never have seen the feature had Lavern not pointed it out. His website will be KashFloats.com but that's not up yet so he advises, "Just text me at 941-457-8005." They are presently available as straight floats only. The magic is a cleanly-embedded thruster built right into the base of the float. Skip the clunky, draggy look of water rudders and all the mechanical linkage they require. Instead an electric-motor-driven thruster helps you maneuver on water. This is a very clever idea, about what anyone who knows Lavern would expect.
Whatever your budget, I hope you realize I will keep searching at small shows and large ones for aircraft you might be able to afford. Please remember, no matter what I find, that flying machine might fit your budget… or it might not. Only you can know that for sure. Tail winds, everyone!
This website regularly promotes affordable aviation. Can you genuinely find an aircraft you like that is affordable? If so, are the smaller shows — ones I call “sector-specific” — the place to find them? Those two questions come up all the time on ByDanJohnson.com. When you read Flying magazine or AOPA Pilot, the odds are low that readers of this website will find something they can afford. Both titles do a high quality job of covering aviation and I am glad they continue (though Flying is scaling back their print magazine to just four times a year). Yet the aircraft these two periodicals cover are almost never something I can afford; you may feel similarly. The fact is most aviation magazines and the bigger airshows are full of aircraft most of us cannot afford. DeLand Showcase Midwest LSA Expo and Affordability First the good news. Yes, you can find affordable aircraft (here is a series of examples).
Flight Report Excerpts (from an earlier evaluation)Skyleader 500 (now 600, with further refinements) is a handsomely-styled, all-metal LSA with a high-visibility cockpit, a high-performance wing with well-regarded Fowler flaps, tough trailing link landing gear, and a 100-horsepower Rotax 912 engine. Several years ago, company engineers altered the design for American consumption, widening the cockpit to 47.2 inches, 8 inches wider than a Cessna 172 Skyhawk. Harmony in the controls is quite good. Pressures are light and response is crisp without being sudden. I figured rolls from 45° to 45° took about 3 seconds. The Wide Body Skyleader offers very responsive handling with modestly light control forces. Although the [aircraft of that day] slows down well as proved by my experience with stalls, controls remain very responsive right down to minimum flying speeds. With those Fowler flaps extended well aft, the airplane seems content flying at 45 miles per hour (39 knots). With fixed gear and prop, glide remains a very respectable 14:1 (for comparison, a Cessna 150 has a published glide of 9.5:1). I could feel our test plane stretch a glide and sink slowly. Main gear is very forgiving and feels very sturdy. I had three landings [where the representative] said I tended to raise the nose unnecessarily high, which caused me to plop in on the gear. However, this showed how wonderfully well the gear cushioned my touchdowns. I performed approach and departure stalls plus accelerated stalls. Most fell to the right a little faster than I’d consider optimal [please remember this was an airplane from 13 years ago], but recovery was always easy. In no case was power required to recover from stall with minimal altitude loss. After noting the right-hand break, I paid extra attention when I did accelerated stalls to the right. But even with the wing bank at about 45°, the [earlier model] rolled out level, confirming the reasonable stall characteristics of this airplane. In accelerated stalls, a pronounced burbling identified incipient stall. This was less evident in straight-ahead stalls, but when the nose fell through it proved quite a benign action. All stalls came at very low speeds. Checking longitudinal stability and disturbing the joystick significantly forward produced a dive speed of about 120 mph (per the Dynon set in mph). In just two oscillations, the [earlier model] had returned to essentially level flight. Power stability showed that when power was reduced swiftly from level trimmed flight, the [earlier model] dove to 118 Dynon miles an hour… and then quickly leveled out. You can read the entire report for lots more information if you wish, but here's the way I started the earlier report, "I’ve felt before and confirmed again that KP-5 (now Skyleader 500) is one of the sweetest handling Special Light-Sport Aircraft in the fleet." Skyleader 600 is a leading entry in the LSA space but Skyleader North America's website lists a starting price of $119,595 (in late 2021), making it quite a good value for a high-end entry. The U.S. importer also sells other Skyleader models such as Skyleader 400 starting at $94,595 or the high-wing GP One model starting at $86,899. You will likely want to add options that raise your investment, but at the end of 2021, these are very agreeable — dare I say "affordable?" — prices. Breaking News — Following up as this article was posted, Michael announced a 400-hour fast-build kit is offered with every component included. Engine, avionics, and wiring harnesses are additional as usual on a kit. A delivered in the USA price of $75,000 will get you well down the road. With avionics (about $14,000 for single screen Dynon, autopilot, ADS-B, transponder, and comm radio) plus engine may list complete for $110,000. All components are fabricagted using CNC machinery so fitting of parts is straightforward and error-free.
TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS Skyleader 600 all data supplied by the manufacturer
- Gross Weight — 1320 pounds / 600 kilograms
- Empty Weight (base equipped) — 705 pounds / 320 kilograms
- Powerplant — Rotax 912 (carbureted); 912iS (fuel injection); 914 (turbocharged)
- Fuel Capacity — 31.8 gallons (198 pounds / 90 kilograms
- Never Exceed Speed (VNE) — 143 knots / 165 miles per hour
- Cruise Speed at 75% power (VC) — 122 knots / 137 miles per hour
- Maneuvering Speed (VA) — 78 knots / 90 miles per hour
- Stall Speed, clean (VS1) ∏— 39 knots / 44 miles per hour
- Stall speed, best flaps (VS0) — 33 knots / 37 miles per hour
- Endurance — 8.5 hours with 30-minute reserve
- Max Range — 860 nautical miles / 1,000 statute mile
- Takeoff Distance — 820 feet
- Takeoff Roll — 330 feet
- Landing Area — 127.5 square feet
- Cabin Width — 4 feet 2 inches For metric measurements and other information, go to this link
You’ve seen this airplane before but recreational flying enthusiasts with a good memory may ask, “Hmm, that looks a lot like an older LSA …what is it?” Those LSA veterans may be recalling Kappa KP5, one of the earliest entries on our SLSA List (#9). It was originally sold under the European brand name Jihlavan and that challenging name for Americans may be a good reason the Czech producer changed to the better marketing name, Skyleader. For the last few years, Skyleader has been represented by Michael Tomazin doing business as Skyleader North America. I caught up with Michael at Sun ‘n Fun 2021. He had flown the aircraft clear across the U.S. as he is based on the west coast, in Madera, California. You can hear his description of that jaunt in the video below. In the interview, Michael also provides other desirable features of the Skyleader 600.
More and More LSA Seaplanes…Some wonderful projects that have not yet seen the light of market include the following designs. Are they gone forever? No, because the intellectual property remains available. A well-considered design may not find funding or might be too far in front of the market. Bad decision making or plain old bad luck also thins the field. Yet we have many times in aviation seen a design revived, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. No one ever said this was easy. Of these Fab Four, Xcursion has advanced the most and appears to be a marketable product. The others? I'm hopeful but no longer holding my breath for their arrival to market.
Partial List of LSA Seaplanes Reported:
- Chip Erwin‘s Mermaid … first approved seaplane — SLSA #15
- Freedom from Spain … with long motorglider wings — SLSA #44
- SeaMax from Brazil … compact, fast, and a light handling — SLSA #63
- Searey from USA … FAA accepted the day it was audited, a first! — SLSA #129
- Super Petrel from Brazil … a highly developed biwing — SLSA #134
- Icon’s A5 from USA … the original “wow” creation among LSA seaplanes SLSA #137
- Lisa Akoya from France … smooth and expensive, but more “wow”
- MVP.aero’s Most Versatile Plane from USA … a huge splash at AirVenture 2014
- Vickers Wave from New Zealand … powerful and feature laden design
- ATOL from Norway … well proven wood structure, freshly redesigned
UPDATE 11/28/21 — Vickers Aircraft sent fresh images and additional comments. See ••• below. —DJ Excitement is in the air, even as the season wraps up activity here in the USA. Remember, while winter approaches for Americans, summer is coming to New Zealand. That might explain an information deficit of late from LSA seaplane developer, Vickers Aircraft. People have been asking questions and reports have become infrequent. Uh, oh…! Fortunately, the quiet period appears to have a good explanation. Received November 24th, 2021 — “Hi Dan. Sorry (for a delayed response),” wrote Paul Vickers. “We are pushing very hard for a 10 December first flight. We are structurally testing the wing today.” Often called a “strongback,” Paul refers to the I-beam steel testing jig seen in the nearby photo. “This was custom designed and manufactured by our Wave team,” he added proudly. ••• “Wave is not just another LSA,” clarified Paul in follow-up email.
By the NumbersRegular readers (thank you!) know I have been reporting the industry is performing quite well for pilots. New airplanes continue to arrive. Popular models are being produced and delivered. Most importantly, pilots probably increased their flying activity over the last couple years… very different to much of society, which has been cautious about pursuing their normal activities. Some of you enjoy following market trends and here's some info you might find interesting. For 2021, GAMA’s 9-month numbers suggest that the general aviation industry worldwide will deliver somewhere more than 2,200 aircraft. This includes piston, turbine, and jets. Many of these have a work purpose. Single engine piston (SEP) general aviation aircraft can be projected to deliver a few more than 1,100 aircraft worldwide (of which, about 765 or two-thirds of all SEPs will be delivered in the USA). General aviation Single Engine Piston aircraft are the closest comparison to Light-Sport Aircraft and Sport Pilot kit aircraft. How does this contrast to the recreational aircraft market reported on this website? (Data lovers should visit our Tableau Public tally of U.S. registrations for the most up-to-date and most reliable information about LSA and Sport Pilot kits.) With GAMA’s numbers in mind and using some very privileged information I obtained over summer 2021, I project the recreational market will deliver about a third more units than GA SEPs, again worldwide. Based on information I received, I am reasonably confident that LSA and SP kit aircraft shipments worldwide will hit about 1,500 aircraft in 2021. Extrapolating from the private data I was given to include all production of recreational aircraft, I estimate more than 2,000 aircraft will be delivered globally in 2021. Overall, this means the LSA and Sport Pilot kit market will easily exceed GA single engine pistons delivered around the world, but of course, the much higher average selling price of GA airplanes means total revenues generated by GA SEP deliveries are far larger than LSA and SP kit sales. Many recreational Aircraft are quite affordable, where the average selling price of a new GA single engine piston is greater than $500,000.
Christmas Gift?It may be too early for this kind of thing, and I don't typically go very far into gift suggestions. I know most of you visit ByDanJohnson.com to read nuts-and-bolts information and airplane flight qualities, but many pilots have those dark, cloudy days of winter ahead when flying our recreational aircraft is less predictable. So… how about a good book? I am reading "Sky Stories" by a good friend in the publishing game, Dave Unwin. You know his name because he has authored several interesting articles for this website. I always look forward to reading his lively prose. In "Sky Stories," Dave offers 25 chapters, most of which are 4 to 10 pages… in other words, very easy reading. Combine fascinating topic matter — to pilots, anyway — with Dave's enjoyable, British-accented way with words, sprinkled liberally with his keen humor and I believe you could find this book as fascinating as I did. A few of the articles are about aircraft I will never fly: a B-17 for example. However, many of the airplanes Dave describes in "Sky Stories" are airplanes in the affordable aviation segment. He's a versatile writer and an accomplished pilot whose material spans broad airplane topic areas. He's also been and continues to be published in numerous aviation magazines and is certainly one of the leading lights in aviation journalism. Find "Sky Stories" on Amazon ($11.99 paperback or $4.82 Kindle in mid-November 2021) or, contact Dave directly at Pigs Might Fly Publishing. When temperatures drop and the snow swirls, you'll be able to comfortably drift off into the pleasant skies of Dave Unwin. I had fun reading it and I bet you will as well. More nuts-and-bolt aircraft reports will follow; keep clicking or tapping back here!
With the DeLand Showcase 2021 ended, we have officially wrapped up the airshow season for 2021. In retrospect, 2021 improved on surprisingly good results for 2020. Pilots are buying and flying — great! — while producers are maintaining or growing; both are good outcomes we can celebrate. While much of America and the world were topsy turvy over the pandemic and the sweeping mandates placed on individuals and businesses, Light-Sport Aircraft fared reasonably well. Translation: sales held roughly steady despite Covid fear and talk of FAA regulation change hanging in the air. The Sport Pilot kit market and Part 103 ultralights had nothing short of a banner year …and all that was 2020! In 2021, the recreational flying community experienced an ongoing positive trend, but we can happily add into the mix a successful restart to the airshow calendar, lead by our friends at Sun ‘n Fun. From spring through fall, SnF was followed by AirVenture — both stronger than many expected after 2020’s enterprise-threatening cancellations.
Let's Review…Below you will see an information-packed slide that was shown as part of a presentation from FAA. The slide is only one of several FAA presented but this one has so much detail that it is worth reviewing again. Discussing this slide before the group at DeLand, I pointed out a few things in the video, such as:
- Will LSA gain additional capabilities such as weight, speed, capacity, extra seats, retractable gear, in-flight adjustable props and more? Which of the new aircraft will Sport Pilots be allowed to fly? Answers are hinted but another division inside FAA called Flight Standards will decide.
- "Rotorcraft" will be included. This suggests gyroplanes — finally to be approved as fully-built aircraft — but the term rotorcraft can imply accommodations for helicopters, too.
- Aircraft that have received weight exemptions should no longer have to rely on exemptions. Those increased weights may now be incorporated into the regulation so the exemptions (intended as a short-term fix) can be ended.
- New powerplant options will arrive in concert with the capabilities mentioned above.
- A homebuilt sector with "greater range" is expected and with that a formalization of the professional build center concept that has been ongoing for some time.
- The Big One — All these changes are subject to a mantra: Keep Light-Sport Aircraft "light and docile." What does that mean, exactly? In the video I touched on this several times. FAA wants industry and the flying community to define this. That means extra work for ASTM volunteers but permits us, the recreational flying community, to make decisions.
In the talk I often referred to the "training problem" and "LODAs," or Letters of Deviation Authority. For more on this subject, have a look at this article with video created by my advocacy partner, Roy Beisswenger, or this earlier report as the problem emerged.
At the season-ending DeLand Showcase 2021, I gave a keynote address on Saturday attended by airplane owners and sellers. This is a slightly more condensed version of the talk I gave at the Midwest LSA Expo. Even if you’ve seen that video — part of this article, or seen on Dave Loveman’s YouTube channel — this one covers the material in a different way. Since the video below is only 35 minutes, this one can get you up-to-date quicker than the other, hour-long videos I’ve done on this important topic. Every time I post about this subject, interest has been very strong, so going over the material again is worthwhile. At the end you’ll hear questions from the audience that are the same as I hear over and again — training questions, inquiries about speed increases, and questions about whether a Sport Pilot can fly general aviation airplanes.
Ion and Gaea Capital"Gaea Capital [is pleased to] announce the completion of the acquisition of Ion Aircraft Corporation," the company wrote. Located near the University of California San Diego, the capital company is involved with other projects including business jets and eVTOLs plus medical and financial products. Since the acquisition is recent, it is premature to describe where and how Gaea will produce the aircraft. Tim Apgar wrote, "Ion Aircraft LLC, which has been for sale since November 2020, was recently acquired by venture-capital investor Gaea Capital on September 10, 2021. Hopefully, this will enable Ion to finalize the design and enable marketing of their LSA product after many years of development." After the acquisition, Tim updated his earlier communications, "The Ion Aircraft website has been restored — it had been disabled during the acquisition process — and [has been] totally reworked with Gaea branding." He added, enthusiastically, "They appear to be serious about (finally) bringing the Ion LSA into the market." The original developers expressed, "With simplistic flight characteristics, great visibility, and a sophisticated glass cockpit outfitted with Garmin avionics, the Ion 100 powered by Rotax 912 boasts a slow landing speed and a lenient stall. These characteristics make it a flight training and sightseeing flight favorite ideally suited for pilots and it’s perfectly designed to help you soar."
Ion Aircraft TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS all specifications provided by the manufacturer
- Length — 24 feet (7.32 meters)
- Wingspan — 32 feet 6 inches (9.91 meters)
- Height — 6 feet 5 inches (1.96 meters)
- Fuel Capacity — 120 pounds (54 kilograms)
- Useful Load — 552 pounds (251 kilograms)
- Powerplant — Rotax 912ULS
- Propeller — 3-blade Warp Drive carbon fiber pusher
- Maximum Cruise Speed — 132 knots or 152 miles per hour (244 kilometers per hour) at 75% power*
- Stall Speed (best flaps) — 37 knots or 43 miles per hour (69 kilometers per hour)
- G Limits — +4.4 –2.2
- Rate of Climb (maximum at sea level) — 1,610 feet per minute (8.2 meters per second)
- Take-off Run — 500 feet (153 meters)
- Takeoff Ground Roll — 500 feet (153 meters)
* This cruise speed is presently only permitted on Experimental Ion aircraft, which the developers expected to supply.At AirVenture 2012, I spoke with Steve Martin (not the comedian) about Ion. He hoped to get the aircraft available as a home-built kit by 2013 but things took longer. https://youtu.be/NmGE0XIk1II This view of an Ion taking off shows retractable gear for present-day EABs or possibly future LSA.
A few years back at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, I discovered a good-looking design but I did not see it each year. When I talked to developer Steve Martin, the project appeared interesting but it was not complete (at that time). The next year, I’d look for Ion Aircraft and might not find them. Such is the nature of developing a small aircraft. Most aircraft buyers have little idea about the million and one things that must come together to create a design. Once the aircraft has proven itself, the challenge starts anew to put a completed model into production. Usually financing becomes an obstacle to clear. I’ve faced this scenario myself — with a motorglider called Cumulus back in the 1990s — so I can confirm this is no easy task. Nonetheless, I was pleased to receive a notice that Ion found a buyer for the project, a venture capital company at that.
When It Looks This Good!You can follow my previous reporting of this superlative development in other articles:
- SW-51 Production Model First Flight (2021)
- SW-51 Kit Introduced (2019)
- SW-51 ScaleWings Takes Over (2018)
- SW-51 Makes Maiden Flight (2014)
Quick(er) Build KitIn October 2021, Sebastian Glueck, formerly with TQ avionics observed, "After TQ reduced their efforts to become a market player in the U.S. — and after the Corona pandemic interrupted many activities — I joined ScaleWings and we are pushing to bring this one-of-a-kind kit to the market." Christian and Sebastian recently sent news about ScaleWings Aircraft launching shipments of a “Quick-Build Kit” of the SW-51 Mustang. Calling it "the world's most accurate P-51 Mustang replica at 70% scale," a standard SW-51 kit — with MTOW of 750 kilograms or 1,654 pounds — includes "the complete all-carbon body parts, control elements, seats, and the electrically driven retractable landing gear." The company describes SW-51's unique feature: "more than 100,000 details (rivets, screws, etc.) of the original P-51 Mustang are faithfully worked into the carbon surfaces of the delivered kit, creating a near-perfect reincarnation of the legendary icon." "This is beyond any previous kit execution in the market," said Christian and Sebastian. I'm inclined to agree for the singular fact of SW-51's incredibly authentic mimicking of the World War II original. According to ScaleWings, the standard SW-51 kit includes:
- Center wing
- Outer wings
- Control surfaces and system
- Electrical retractable landing gear
- Seats (leather, front and back)
- Fuel system (two 13-gallon wing tanks)
North American’s World War II-era P-51 Mustang has consistently won polls of pilots asking to identify their favorite aircraft. You may love your LSA or Sport Pilot kit or an ultralight aircraft, but nearly all pilots occasionally dream of owning — or at least flying — a P-51 Mustang. Let’s face it. You probably can’t afford to buy one and it’s almost certain you don’t have the budget to maintain it and fly it. The fuel bill alone for an hour’s flying will make you gasp. So, what do you do if you have a Walter Mitty-esque urge to own and fly a P-51 but you don’t have a couple million laying around unused? Why not build your own? When It Looks This Good! You can follow my previous reporting of this superlative development in other articles: SW-51 Production Model First Flight (2021) SW-51 Kit Introduced (2019) SW-51 ScaleWings Takes Over (2018) SW-51 Makes Maiden Flight (2014) As you see from the timeline above, it has taken a while for the twists and turns of development to unravel themselves.
Riding the WaveSome years back I flew with Pipistrel dealer, Robert Mudd, to more than 17,000 feet. Conditions would have allowed us to soar even higher but at Flight Level 180, you enter Class A airspace and we were not prepared for that. Lift was abundant, though, so we had to go find sinking air to stay out of controlled space. You can read my full pilot report on Sinus; most information remains relevant but some specs and all pricing has changed. Check for Pipistrel dealers for current prices and for used aircraft availability. Robert continues to be a soaring enthusiast, hailing from New Mexico. He relates the following story about flying a wave near Albuquerque. If you aren't sure what wave is, read on.
Knowing about waves can help you better negotiate mountain flying.Roger wrote, "A local glider pilot, John Wahl, has been forecasting mountain wave for the Moriarty, New Mexico area but never getting much real feedback as to the accuracy of his predictions." Mountain waves form when moving air rises over mountainous terrain. As the air rushes up the slope, layers above repeat the lift. Upper air is pushed aloft by the lower atmosphere climbing a mountain's windward side*. See nearby diagram and learn more about wave soaring. Robert continues, "In late October 2021, he forecast wave for a Saturday so I borrowed Hugh Bivin's Sinus, N21PX, and took John along to see if the wave would be as forecast. We had his plots of where it should start and end geographically. We had oxygen, a data logger, warm clothes, and a sense of adventure. "We took off about 10:15 AM and climbed west-northwest under Rotax power. Our home field elevation is 6,200 feet. "The orientation of the wind aloft was not the best for wave to form. An ideal wind direction is 260 to 280 degrees so as to be perpendicular to the Sandia mountains, which rise to 10,500 feet. The wave was forecast to be at the northern end of the Sandia range, and be at an angle to the mountains. Wind aloft was about 230 degrees, not ideal by any means. This would be a good test of John's forecasting method. "We saw a line of clouds had formed along the forecasted direction. We got to the upwind side about 15 miles west of Moriarty and turned to run parallel to it. These were the roll clouds [sometimes associated with wave conditions] but really did not look much like a traditional roll cloud. They were just a line of not very tall cumulus. But we started to see an increased climb rate some distance upwind of them. We were about 8,500 feet above sea level. I slowly brought the power to idle but we did not climb, so I returned back to climb thrust. A short time later I tried that again and we found ourselves climbing with idle power. I shut off the motor and feathered the prop. We were still climbing! It became very quiet. "We continued on a north-northwest track, climbing modestly at about 1.5 to 2 knots, about 150-200 feet per minute. The forecast was for stronger lift ahead so we continued. Sure enough, just where John had forecast stronger conditions, we found that. The best climb rate we saw was 3 knots or about 300 feet per minute. We stopped the climb at 17,910 feet. We could have gone higher, I think to at least 20,000 feet, but the wave window was not open. "John was very happy, as was I. His forecast was validated under unusual conditions. "We turned around and more or less followed our track back, still in wave, but staying well below 18,000 feet. "The view was fantastic. As we flew out of the region of better lift we started a long slow decent and turned slightly to the southeast toward home. "We landed after 1.25 hours of flight time, about an hour of which was power off. Naturally, the landing was done power off. As we cleared the runway I un-feathered the prop, started the motor and taxied to the hangar. "This flight could not have been done except in a motorglider, and the fact it was done in a Sinus made it all the more interesting. I figured we used about 3 gallons of fuel. The flight was not just for fun but to validate John's forecast model; so there was a strong sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. "This illustrates the potential of research that can be done in a touring type motorglider. Because both pilot and researcher were side by side, coordinating the flight path was easy (unpowered sailplanes almost always have tandem seating). We were able to motor right to the area we wanted to explore, and, of course. always had a safety out with the motor. "All in all, it was a flight to remember for the research, fellowship, and the fun of it." —Robert Mudd, October 2021
TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS Pipistrel Sinus LSA Motorglider
- Wingspan — 49 feet, 1.5 inches
- Wing Area — 132 square feet
- Length — 24 feet, 1 inch
- Height — 6 feet
- Maximum Takeoff Weight — 1,213 pounds
- Standard Empty Weight — 644 pounds (typical weight 661 pounds)
- Useful Load — 569 pounds
- Payload (with full fuel) — 471 pounds
- Stall Speed (best flaps) — 35 knots
- Maneuvering Speed — 76 knots
- Maximum Rate of Climb — 1,063 feet per minutes at 62 knots
- Minimum Sink Rate (a key soaring term) — 217 feet per minute
- Takeoff Ground Roll — 433 feet
- Glide Ratio — 27:1
- Power Cruise — 110 to 115 knot with 80 horsepower Rotax 912
- Fuel Capacity — 15.9 gallons
- Fuel in optional long-range tanks — 24. 6 gallons
- Fuel Consumption — 3.1 gallons per hour at 110 knots
- Configuration — Available in tail dragger or nosewheel
- Endurance — up to 7.5 hours
- Maximum Range — 850 nautical miles
- Propeller — Feathering propeller option (approved for LSA motorgliders)
- Cockpit Width — 44 inches
- Baggage — 55 pounds capacity with external access option
Probably like a lot of you, I enjoy different kinds of flying but if asked to state one favorite, it’s an easy question to answer. I’m a great enthusiast of soaring flight. Over decades of sampling a large number of aircraft of every description, I’m still drawn to a machine, which lacking any kind of powerplant, relies on the performance of the design and the skill of the pilot to stay aloft. I remain fascinated with locating rising columns of heated air. Circle well enough into one of these invisible thermals and you may be rewarded with an invigorating sensation of lift, of riding the swirling airmass thousands of feet into the air …silently. It’s mesmerizing to observe the ground fall away as you are propelled higher and higher. You may never have felt such thing and you may be hesitant about launching into the air in an aircraft that will allow only one approach and landing per flight; no exceptions.
Today the manufacturing of CGS's Hawk line falls to two entities after the brand's most recent rescuer, Terry Short, chose to focus on his own strengths. Terry had saved the design from its second owner after the original creator, Chuck, retired from the business. When Terry got busy building airplanes and supplying parts, he realized that it was a more diverse enterprise than originally anticipated. Therefore he was open when Bob Santom approached him.In 2017, Bob Santom and his wife Marlene came to agreement and the Santom family took over rights and production of all CGS Hawk single-seat aircraft. This includes the Classic, Arrow I, Sport, Plus, and Ultra. As he operates "CGS Hawk Single and Ultra," Bob is assisted by his two sons, LB and Jonah, though the latter is part time as he has a full-time gig with Cirrus Design. Learn more about the Santoms. Classic and Sport models are not presently supplied, but the Santoms have been supplying parts to many grateful owners of those models. Their overall task needs a little further description.
Bringing Hawk in to the New MillenniaAfter Terry Short elected not to go it alone, he accepted the Santom's offer and they have been working for four years to develop the single-place Hawk line. They've done reasonably well with it, delivering parts to help many vintage Hawks continue flying and also building new aircraft, more than a couple dozen of them, and the future looks solid. Bob sounds realistic about business prospects and has built his enterprise to conservative expectations, so it should last a long time. In 2019, Terry also reached agreement with Joseph Shirley, who now builds the two-place models under the business name CGS Aviation. In both operations — the Santoms in Port St. Lucie, Florida and Joseph Shirley in Loveland, Ohio — still cooperate and work with Terry Short of Lake Wales, Florida. Everyone appears to play nicely together, with Joseph sending single-place requests to the Santoms and the Santoms doing the same for the two-place models. Terry continues to work with both entities, an excellent cooperation that satisfies everyone. That's how it is today. How did we get here? A very long time friend of mine, Chuck Slusarczyk created Hawk after being in the hang glider building business for many years. This was the literal beginning of ultralight aircraft and Chuck was most assuredly one of its leading pioneers. However, in those days, no one had computers for CAD or CNC, so drawings were done on drafting tables and documentation could not be kept up-to-date as rigorously as it can be today. When Danny Dezauche took over the design, he did what he could, but I examined what he received and he faced a major challenge. The documentation needed quite a bit of work. Danny kept the brand alive but he was realistic about the daunting amount of work ahead. It was probably appropriate when Terry Short took over. When Bob and sons got into the design, they made a serious effort to update manuals and assembly drawings, which customers had told them were deficient — even while telling the Santoms how much they loved flying their Hawks once assembled. Bob and sons set about improving the documentation but they had help and relate an interesting tale how a customer assisted them. The Santoms recalled, "One of the Hawk’s most faithful owner/builders, Jerry Smith, [had created] a calibrated jig/fixture for the Hawk fuselage assembly, reportedly the only such jig/fixture in the country. Jerry developed that fixture as a result of the 25+ Hawk aircraft he personally built or assisted his friends build. He also helped friends who purchased pre-owned Hawks that did not fly 'hands off' as they were designed to do. Jerry would mount those 'crooked' fuselages in his fixture, and was able to straighten them up, to 'fly right.' Jerry is a true craftsman, with the added benefit of over 3,000 of flight time in various Hawks."
Hawk AffordabilityThe basic kit price is $12,500. Most airplane kits then require you to deal with covering, which adds significant expense but more importantly, lots of labor. In fact when you're done covering, you've got to paint and most sub that work out because painting is something of an artform. With Hawk, you just buy sewn Dacron "sails," a term carried over from the days when such wing coverings were adapted from sailboat sails. You slip them on, tighten them up, and you are largely done. Years later, when replacement may be needed, you can simply buy a new set of sails, which is much lower cost and far less labor than recovering (though dope and fabric coverings may go many years with no need of replacement). Dacron sails are $3,100 so the covered kit price is $15,600 before engine. CGS Hawk Single's website lists a selection of Hirth engines, but as the nearby images show, the Florida producer installed a Polini on the model shown at AirVenture 2021. The Italian engine has come to dominate the single cylinder, lightweight engine category; examples are commonplace even though the powerplant got its start with foot-launched powered paragliders. Whatever your choice, the engine may run $3,000 to $6,000. Add a few instruments and a couple other refinements and your Hawk Ultra could total $22,000 to $25,000 in flying form. Bob Santom said the Polini engine (scroll to the end of linked article) seen in nearby images is a new powerplant for them — though he noted the Italian company made many thousands of engines for Vespa motorcycles. "Lots of folks appear drawn to this engine with its bright blue cooling-fluid hoses," observed Bob after they displayed at AirVenture 2021. A fast-build kit, requiring only 100 hours on average to complete (for first time builders) lists for $4,500. Add this to the above and you're still in less than $30,000 for a brand new aircraft. Almost regardless of how you configure your Hawk, this is one aviation's great bargains. CGS Hawk Singles is based in Florida at the Treasure Coast Air Park (FL39). Contact them directly for more information. This video was recorded shortly after the Santoms took over the single place Hawk line — and before CGS Aviation took over the two place model production from Terry Short. https://youtu.be/eLcn7n-XOBg
Since Chuck Slusarczyk’s first Hawk won Best New Design at Sun ‘n Fun in the spring of 1982 — the same year Part 103 was released — this affordable series of models has continued to increase its flock of smiling owners. Today around 2,500 Hawks of all varieties are flying. By my benchmark, that number separates lesser brands from those that achieve genuine market penetration. Today the manufacturing of CGS’s Hawk line falls to two entities after the brand’s most recent rescuer, Terry Short, chose to focus on his own strengths. Terry had saved the design from its second owner after the original creator, Chuck, retired from the business. When Terry got busy building airplanes and supplying parts, he realized that it was a more diverse enterprise than originally anticipated. Therefore he was open when Bob Santom approached him. In 2017, Bob Santom and his wife Marlene came to agreement and the Santom family took over rights and production of all CGS Hawk single-seat aircraft.
But First…Please note the graphic to the right. This concerns a matter I hope you recognize as extremely important. At present, flight instruction in Special, Experimental, Limited, and Primary Category aircraft requires a LODA. Failure to have one while conducting paid instruction can get you in trouble, and such illegal activity includes you paying for transition training after you bought a new aircraft. FAA’s July 2021 enforcement action opened a Pandora’s Box and has dramatically affected flight instruction in recreational aircraft of many types. Conventional flight schools using CFIs operating Standard Category / Part 23 airplanes are not affected. I hope you'll check out the video below — it's just 7 minutes. More importantly, I hope you want to contact your political representative and urge their action to support a fix to FAA’s big stumble. To assist you, links to contact your rep' appear in this article (scroll to bottom of page). AOPA said FAA's ill-fated action forced 40,000 pilots out of compliance overnight. Think about that! If you missed this very upsetting news, check this earlier article, which has two videos to help understand the situation.
Be Like Wes Parker?Hailing from Greensboro, North Caroline, Wes Parker seems to have found a groove many pilots would like to discover. The Celebrity you see in this article was his fourth Experimental aircraft acquisition. How he did this is the core of a story about how people can afford recreational or sport aircraft. Based on many airshow conversations, I believe many of you share some qualities with Wes. He’s a longtime A&P mechanic who works for HondaJet in avionics using his electrical engineering background. Let’s just say he’s handy and knowledgeable. Many kit builders I've met also bring skills and experience to a project. Basically, Wes did what some people do: buying, fixing up, enjoying for a time, then selling. For non-aviators, this procedure commonly involves cars, houses, or motorcycles but it can also include airplanes. Before you sell, you get to enjoy, and Wes does. He’s flown his acquisitions plenty but the idea is the same — buy an airplane needing some attention, apply your skills (and some cash), enjoy the airplane, eventually selling it to a new buyer. Wes is good enough at this that he has often come out ahead, leveraging his previous acquisition into a new airplane at minimal new cost. In Wes’s case, his electrical engineering skills and hands-on experience encourages him to seek out interesting aircraft which have work remaining or repairs needed for its electrical system. You may possess particular skills you could apply similarly. Timing and preparation is important, too. Wes said, "You gotta be ready to buy." Research your target, seeking ones where you can apply your skills but also have the money and be ready to make an offer. Wes started with a Zodiac 601XLB (see image toward bottom). An older owner had done a nice job with much of the airframe but the electrical system needed lots of work. “I added some money and used my skills. My wife contributed the striking design of the wrap. We enjoyed flying it but a buyer came along and I cashed out.” Then came a Lancair 360. The story is similar: an informed buy, finishing or fixing, enjoying, reselling and coming out ahead of investment and expenses. This method didn’t always work perfectly. An investment in a Van's RV-3, for its engine in particular, proved to be a "learning experience." Wes hoped he could energize a Beech Skipper that needed a more potent engine but a required STC turned out not to be available, so that project was less profitable. When Wes decided not to play the Airman’s Medical game, he returned to flying Sport Pilot-eligible aircraft. Into his life came Celebrity.
Celebrate CelebrityThe handsome Celebrity biplane you see nearby was another case of an older owner doing good work within in his skills but having a substantial share unfinished. In this case, you guessed correctly, the Fisher Flying Products Celebrity needed electrical work. Wes found the aircraft after posting a wanted notice on Barnstormers.com. Because he seeks what might be called “distressed kit projects,” Wes gets good deals. A prior owner is glad to recover some funds and get a project they’ll never finish off their conscience, As with all good free market transactions, both sides get what they want or no deal happens. Wes made out again but the older builder could not enter the front cockpit to check out Wes so he proceeded solo with cautious crow hops and worked his way up to solo flight. "I had little taildragger time and no biplane time, but since no one was available to check me out, I took it slow and ended up soloing the plane shortly after buying it,” Wes recalls. Wes acquired the Celebrity early this year and already has 100 hours on it. He flew the biplane from home base in Greensboro, North Carolina to Oshkosh and back (13 hours each way). While up in Wisconsin attending the show, he participated as the only biplane in the AirVenture Cup air races. “Since I was the only entry, I won,” Wes smiled, “and I could’ve won Unlimited Class, too, as no biplanes entered.” Wes and I spoke for 45 minutes and he told story after story of his fun in recreational aviation. I can’t relate them all here but I came away impressed at how far one fellow can go following his method. A few extra photos below tell more of his airplane history. By buying carefully, adding his own labors, and selling to someone glad to have a fully-finished Experimental, Wes has been able to keep his cost of acquisition surprisingly low. Based on figures we discussed, I'd guess Wes is in about the value of a deluxe new SUV and I’d call that achievement both inventive and economic. Get more facts about Celebrity direct from the factory. https://youtu.be/0J7vcuqppIg
Wes Parker's Experimentals
Let’s keep a focus on aircraft affordability. Look, we love recreational aircraft. In how they deliver enjoyment, they are closer to boats, RVs, and motorcycles than they are to a Cirrus SR22 or a Bonanza. Some owners justify the latter saying they use their airplane for company travel. When an airplane’s price tag approaches $1 million, business use is surely necessary. Very few of us can even drean of dropping a cool million on an airplane. Rather, I often hear from readers that a $125,000 Light-Sport Aircraft is “way too expensive!” In this article, I’ll tell you something of Wes Parker‘s story and explain how he came to own the aircraft pictured nearby at a modest expense. But First… Please note the graphic to the right. This concerns a matter I hope you recognize as extremely important. At present, flight instruction in Special, Experimental, Limited, and Primary Category aircraft requires a LODA.
Insurance Rates — Do you pay an insurance bill? If you answered yes, then you know about a significant increase in your premium. Maybe you can't find insurance for your special aircraft. Maybe you can't even get an insurance agent to give you a quote. Is the cause for this price gloom because LSA or Sport Pilot kit aircraft are falling out of the sky? No, that's not it. Like so many industries, insurance has many complex factors and the video at the bottom of the page will fill in even more blanks. Yet the main cause of rising prices is a departure of four insurance companies that once took the risk. Consider that when things were good — say in 2018 when rates were still quite reasonable — Aviation Insurance Resources (or AIR) said they had a dozen companies that would quote. Losing four of 12 is serious and, as you might expect, when the supply lowers and demand is increasing, prices tend to rise. Aluminum Prices — Some years ago when Flight Design and their CT-series were selling more than 100 units a year in the USA alone, a problem arose. Boeing had completed their Dreamliner 787, ground-breaking because it used loads of carbon fiber to keep weight down and strength up — the same benefits that appealed to Flight Design and other LSA designers that used it. Yet after Boeing starting buying whole mill runs of raw carbon fiber material, prices rose dramatically. Even worse, since Boeing kept emptying the shelves, so to say, supplies tightened. Higher costs and reduced availability was a major problem for smaller producers like Flight Design. In 2021, aluminum prices have risen to the highest level in 10 years due partly to a military coup in mineral-rich Guinea which is snarling the lightweight-metal supply chain. Guinea is (or was) the world's largest supplier of bauxite before the military recently suspended the country's constitution. Bauxite is crucial for the manufacturing of aluminum. Shipping Costs — FedEx on Monday said shipping rates would go up an average of 5.9% next year across most of its services, the first time in eight years that it or rival United Parcel Service has strayed above annual increases of 4.9%. That will affect your shipment of goods ordered online for delivery to your house. Regrettably, it does not end with FedEx and UPS. Numerous importers of LSA and other products have told me how their container shipping expenses have shot skyward faster than a Blue Origin space flight with a billionaire on board. I've heard many quote between double and triple the rates per container compared to a couple years ago. Welcome to the world of inflation-stimulated price increases combined with tariffs, sanctions, and taxes… all of which are on the rise globally. Lead Times — After three days of the Midwest LSA Expo, I don't think I would be exaggerating to say that perhaps 20 aircraft sold during the event. Considering this event draws a relatively small group of attendees, that many aircraft sales is amazing, I believe. Many of the same vendors reporting sales at Midwest say they never do that well at Oshkosh, which is orders of magnitude larger. Previously, airplane representatives at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2021 reported solid business and a growing backlog of orders. That's good for them but means longer waits for pilots who went forward with a purchase but now must cool their jets as they await delivery. Many of these producers have learned that it doesn't pay to expand their enterprise to build more airplanes when demand is high because it is hard to get smaller quickly when demand slows. Some of the best producers instead prefer a steady pace where they can control quality better. It's hard to fault that approach but it does mean longer waits as we are now experiencing. Regulatory Uncertainty — The good news is… the wait for the new MOSAIC regulation will eventually end, probably by December 31, 2023. The bad news is… until then, uncertainty is the watchword. When people don’t know what is ahead — either on the producer level or at the consumer level — individuals tend to hesitate. Aircraft sales people have full order books right now and hopefully that will sustain them through any dry spell. I’ll end this dreary review by quoting a favorite author of mine, Harry Browne, who wrote, “Anything can happen. Nothing has to happen.”
Can We Beat This Thing?Are these five choke points the end of it? Regrettably, no. The sheer unsustainability of government expenditures far beyond revenue, especially with much of it funded through debt, predicts rising interest rates and that forecast always proves threatening to the stock market. If my theory about high correlation between stock values and airplane sales is correct, any stumble in equities could bring difficult times. On the plus side — because a plus side always emerges — this industry of relatively small businesses has already shown itself to be remarkably resilient, through the 2008 financial recession as well as the Covid panic. Businesses able to survive those two body blows can probably continue straight and level despite additional turbulence. The last line of defense in any unknown future is actually you, you and your continued interest in recreational aviation. I believe “where there’s a will there’s a way” and with a growing number of used aircraft and other affordable choices that could be flown out of a farmer’s field, no problems can snuff out a pilot's enjoyment of flight. https://youtu.be/L_hmkg097Ts
Numerous reports involve rising inflation in the last year. What’s driving this? Despite public spending at levels never seen before, inflation had seemed tame and the economy appears remarkably strong even after the last year and a half of dislocations and restrictions? However, trillions cannot enter an economy without impact. The lion’s share of those immense sums found their way into financial assets, including stocks. What has this to do with Light-Sport Aircraft? Over many years of ups and downs, I’ve noticed a high correlation between stock market buoyancy and airplane sales. Both are soaring right now. Unfortunately, some dark clouds are gathering. Insurance Rates — Do you pay an insurance bill? If you answered yes, then you know about a significant increase in your premium. Maybe you can’t find insurance for your special aircraft. Maybe you can’t even get an insurance agent to give you a quote. Is the cause for this price gloom because LSA or Sport Pilot kit aircraft are falling out of the sky?
Thunderbird Aviation Line of ModelsBack in the '80s, the Sorrells set out to create Hiperlight as high-performance aircraft using relative low horsepower. Thunderbird Aviation was established officially in 2002 when Ron reports being "lucky enough to stumble across a tiny ad in one of the aviation trade journals. They were advertising the sale of the tooling and rights for the Hiperlight." He went for it. A decade later, in 2013, Ron continued, "Rights and tooling became available for the Hiperbipe, which was originally designed in 1975 as a fully-aerobatic, cabin-class biplane. It filled out our product line." The Part 103 vehicle entry, SNS-8, works well on only 28 horsepower to carry 500 pounds gross weight. "It meets the requirements of Part 103 to be a legal ultralight vehicle," said the company. An SNS-9 two-place Hiperlight was designed to accommodate a 65 horsepower engine, which "provides excellent short field performance, while at the same time making it a viable cross county machine." Finally, "the SNS-7 Hiperbipe is the fire-breathing big brother of the SNS-9," said Thunderbird, adding that SNS-7 was designed to compete in the sport aerobatic class, while at the same time being a comfortable weekend or cross country aircraft. Observe that the relative position of Hiperlight’s two wings is different than most biplanes. Most designers have placed the upper wing forward of the lower wing. Contrarily, "SNS" stands for Sorrell Negative Stagger. As you can see in these images, negative stagger certainly aids forward visibility while requiring less structure to attach landing gear, among other benefits. Other than the number of seats, all SNS models bear a remarkable resemblance incorporating as they do a "lifting body" fuselage. The nearby aft view highlights this visually. The two-seat SNS-9 is presently available in basic kit form, which requires the builder to do 51% of the assembly. This has been the case during all of Ron's two decades of representing this design. "Soon we will be offering them fully assembled and ready to fly," he added on the company website. A basic kit starts at $35,900 but it gets much more interesting.
Prepare to Be AmazedIn the interview, as you can hear for yourself, Ron is suggesting that Hiperlight as a Special LSA for (that is, fully-factory-built) could sell for a target of about $65,000. To fully appreciate that number, let me take you back in time. In 2004 as the rule was announced, speculation was high that special Light-Sport Aircraft could or should sell for $50-60,000. Today, I hear people lament all the time that such a price cannot be found. In truth, that's incorrect today. You can find aircraft that sell for that number or less but what you find at that price may not be what you want. I'm thinking of several weight-shift trikes or powered parachutes that sell for roughly those numbers ready-to-fly. However, fixed wing choices are also available and a growing market of used LSA are much more affordable. However, we cannot ignore what has happened to the purchasing power of your dollars in the past 17 years. Let me do the caluculations for you. Assuming you accept the government's CPI as an accurate gauge of inflation, what $60,000 bought you in 2004 will take $81,000 today. Essentially, for you to go buy things you want, you'll spend 35% more dollars to buy the same items. You know this from your own daily purchases. Simply put, a LSA selling for $81,000 in 2021 is priced the same (in purchasing power) as $60,000 was in 2004 when the SP/LSA rule was announced at Oshkosh that year. Therefore, Hiperlight, if it truly comes to market at $65,000, is actually cheaper than we expected in 2004… quite a bit less, actually. I find that amazing even as I acknowledge that $65,000 may not be "affordable" for everyone.
SNS-9 Hiperlight Thunderbird Aviation (Michigan) TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS
- Wing Span — 23 feet 4 inches
- Length — 18 feet
- Height — 5 feet 4 inches
- Wing Area — 148 square feet
- Engine (planned for SLSA) — Jabiru 2200, 81 horsepower, four cylinders
- Fuel Capacity — 12 gallons (15 gallons planned for SLSA model)
- Empty Weight — 380 pounds (some change may occur with SLSA model)
- Gross Weight — 875 pounds (some change may occur with SLSA model)
- Maximum Speed — 113 miles per hour
- Maximum Cruise — 85 miles per hour
- Range — 260 miles
- Stall Speed — 39 miles per hour
- Take of Distance — 300 feet
- Landing Distance — 300 feet
- Rate of Climb — 600 feet per minute (higher performance expected with Jabiru 2200)
- Glide Ratio — 12:1
- Rate of Sink — 325 feet per minute
- Load Factor — +3.8/–1.9
- Assembly Time — 300-400 hours
LSA Flight Instruction AOPA Asks Your HelpPlease allow me to draw your attention to a request from AOPA president Mark Baker asking for your help in fighting FAA's misstep over flight training. As this can tremendously impact training in Light-Sport Aircraft and experimental kits, this matter is critical. Please read and act if you believe FAA must change their position. …and THANK YOU!
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I consistently promote that this website focuses on “affordable” aircraft. I used quotes because affordable literally means something different to every single individual. None of us has the same budget and our financial picture can change tomorrow. At AirVenture 2021, I interviewed Ron Jones of Thunderbird Aviation about a two-seat Hiperlight he displayed in the Fun Fly Zone. The design by the Sorrell brothers has been around for decades but not until now has it been available as a ready-to-fly SLSA. In truth, it’s still not available but Ron said, “It’s coming” and it could arrive in time for the 2022 recreational flying season. Thunderbird Aviation Line of Models Back in the ’80s, the Sorrells set out to create Hiperlight as high-performance aircraft using relative low horsepower. Thunderbird Aviation was established officially in 2002 when Ron reports being “lucky enough to stumble across a tiny ad in one of the aviation trade journals.