In a show as vast at EAA’s AirVenture Oshkosh, it is presumptuous to attempt covering everything of interest. What follows are some new aircraft I found in the categories I cover on this website. Other projects were certainly worthy of special note but with the goal of a fast dash through the latest and greatest, I’m keeping this one fairly lean. I’ll cover other developments in subsequent articles.
So, here’s three aircraft you haven’t seen before AirVenture 2016 plus a revised project involving an increasingly popular engine. I’ll start off with a famous guy checking out a famous engine to propel one of my favorite airplanes. We begin our quick review with Lockwood Aircraft‘s AirCam.
Of course, you know his face. When I once heard Harrison Ford speak, he said modestly (paraphrased), “I earn a living making faces.” I never thought of acting in such simple terms, but I accept such skills are part of the job. He’s made faces successfully enough in many movies to be able to afford several fun airplanes and now he’s getting into an AirCam. Developer/manufacturer Phil Lockwood said, “We were keeping a low profile to preserve [Harrison’s] privacy but the cat is out of the bag now.” As an AirCam fan myself, I predict Ford’s facial repertoire will frequently include a broad smile.
The newest and perhaps most unexpected aircraft at the show was SkyCruiser offered in the USA by U.S. Sport Aircraft based in Texas. This U.S importer has long represented Czech Sport Aircraft’s SportCruiser, which has ranked up high on our market share report for years. Literature for the new model makes no mention of CSA, instead referring to Czech 4 Sky. Nevertheless, U.S. Sport Aircraft boss, Patrick Arnzen indicated he would bring in the new model from CSA.
In this article I am covering aircraft that seem to be pushing the envelope but a sign of maturity in the LSA segment shows developments in all directions. One of those is a return to simpler, easy-to-fly aircraft. Looking somewhat like another very successful design, Aerotrek’s A220, SkyCruiser represents a model from about one decade back. When the LSA regulation first created aviation’s newest segment the typical customer was often someone seeking a carbon fiber speedster with autopilot, a full glass panel, and all manner of bells and whistles. Many developers stepped up to fill that demand and simpler (less costly) designs were left behind. Now, they’re back!
SkyCruiser, as seen on U.S. Sport Aircraft’s Oshkosh space, is powered by a Rotax BRP 912 ULS, and tops out at 1,232 pound gross (88 pounds less than allowed as a SLSA). At a fairly modest 723 pounds empty, the taildragger still offers a 509 pound useful load or a payload of full fuel (17.6 gallons) and two 200-pound occupants with minimal baggage. Stall is listed at a slow 34 knots and maximum cruise is 86 knots. SkyCruiser appears to come well equipped with the latest from Dynon and more.
Perhaps it is because of the success of CubCrafters, but the rush remains on for companies developing vintage-style aircraft with big engines. While Rotax continues to power the majority of light aircraft around the world using their ubiquitous 9-series engines, some builders want more. For slower airframes Cubalikes — to use a phrase coined by Bill Canino of Sportair USA, which also offers a muscular model in this same space — adding a massively powerful engine delivers supershort takeoffs and thrilling climb rates.
One engine is clearly winning the high-power race. Originally developed by Lycoming part maker Engine Components International, or ECi, the Titan X-340 has become a powerplant of choice for those seeking 180-horsepower. Other companies like UL Power and Viking also have potent engine offerings but after Continental Motors bought ECi in 2015, the Mobile, Alabama company has parlayed their famous brand into several entries in the light kit and Light-Sport space. Now enter the Kitfox Titan
One very slick Titan installation appeared on a factory Kitfox brought to Oshkosh by owner John McBean. His team always does impressive detail and finish work and the Kitfox Titan seen nearby was a prime example. An airplane that works extremely well with Rotax (still offered, of course) should be nothing short of spectacular with the big Titan engine doing the pulling. I can’t wait to fly this one!
It may look familiar (indeed it has some common heritage) but Triton America‘s SkyTrek is a significantly different airplane than those it resembles. The airframe is smoother with more sweeping lines aft of the canopy. The structure is beefed up and able to handle a higher G loading. The nosewheel has been strengthened to last better in flight school use.
A main difference in this model from others with similar overall looks is that SkyTrek is fabricated in China. Its principle designer, Tom Hsueh, has long been established in the USA and has worked with some of the largest aviation companies. Although Tom says, “I have a Chinese face,” he works from offices in Washington State. His may be a new name to most readers, but I have been talking with Tom for a couple years and believe he can become a player in the U.S. marketplace as well as in China. To Triton’s and Tom’s credit, he reported the Chinese CAAC has certified SkyTrek for sale in that country.
Not only a new manufacturer of Light-Sport Aircraft, Tom has bigger ambitions. In 2009, Triton America, which does business as Triton Aerospace, acquired all the design rights and hardware inventory for Adam Aircraft, a company that formerly built and certified a six-seat, twin engine, twin-boom, pressurized, all-carbon-composite FAR 23 aircraft.”
To wind up this brief look of new flying machines we come back to Murphy Aircraft Manufacturing, still run by founder Darryl Murphy and still based in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada. It’s been nearly a decade since we saw any new light planes from this once-prolific producer. Darryl said that when the Canadian dollar soared high compared to the U.S. dollar, it became impossible to sell to Americans, by far his company’s largest market. So, he used his large facility and impressive forming machinery to make aviation and other parts for different manufacturers. He seemed pleased about the return to building kits; welcome back, Darryl!
While showing his new Radical, Darryl indicated he’s been hearing from potential customers that they’d like a Special LSA Rebel and he reports work is proceeding on that in parallel. Meanwhile he introduced a new model that goes hand-in-glove with the new batch of higher powered, higher gross weight aircraft taking several companies beyond the Light-Sport space. This may be one artifact of the EAA/AOPA push to eliminate the third class medical. Darryl acknowledged Rebel is a good foundation for the Radical, however, the new model is essentially a brand new design. “With more payload, more wing area, and capable of using engines up to 220 horsepower, [Radical] will incorporate many of the best features of the Rebel, Elite, Maverick and Super Rebel,” he said.
Looking around Oshkosh, I found ultralight, light kit aircraft, and Light-Sport Aircraft all looking healthier than many seem to think. In addition, the arrival of the 180-horsepower Titan and even larger engines combined with higher gross weight/high payload designs seem created to appeal to those who no longer need a medical. The new program won’t be effective for a year and still has hoops through which a pilot must jump, but it does open the door to new designs. Light aircraft engineers and manufacturers seem up to the task and customers appeared intrigued by their new offerings.
I’ll have more from Oshkosh after catching up with other work, but I found the light sector very alive and doing quite well, with or without a third class medical.