Only a little more than 10 years ago, the wall fell in Berlin, Germany and Communism collapsed in the USSR. Before these momentous events, few Americans knew anything about the Ukraine (which was part of the USSR) and even those who did were largely unaware of its ability to produce aircraft.
Yet by the mid-1990s, some Americans became aware of a Ukrainian company named Aeros. One man became an importer of their hang glider line. G.W. Meadows and his Thermal Riding Vehicles business sold so many hang gliders from the former Soviet satellite that the American market leader, Wills Wing, had to drop prices to remain competitive with the lower cost hang gliders from eastern Europe.
In this article I’ll review the Venture, the newest Aeros model for the American ultralight market. But this new Aeros ultralight follows the Aeros Antares (once known as Graffiti), reviewed in the December 1997 issue of Ultralight Flying! magazine. Raisner Aircraft Depot in the U.S. sells the Antares.
The difference here is that Sabre Aircraft director Rick Helms approached the Aeros company – from whom he had already been buying trike wings – asking them to make an entire trike ultralight. Helms wanted something to round out the top of the Sabre lineup. The Venture is the result.
As a new millennium starts, the Ukrainians have invaded the USA and they are doing it with the smoothest trike in their fleet.
Helms stuck his neck out with this design, working with the company and investing in a start-up inventory of more than a dozen Venture trikes. These will be mated to wings like the Stream 16 on our evaluation trike.
Since Sabre sells trikes that start at $6,995, and since their more deluxe Elite model (with the pod) is $10,760, the Venture at $13,500 finishes off a wide price range quite nicely.
For $13,500 you get everything you see on the evaluation machine except for the optional BRS parachute and an electric hour meter. A short list of standard gear includes the smooth fiberglass body, titanium frame, full instruments, brakes, 50-hp Rotax 503 engine, Stream 16 double-surface wing, 4-point restraints at both seats, seat backrest, hand and foot throttle, rear-seat nosewheel steering, and 3-blade prop. While some trikes have this or even more equipment, and while others are less costly, few are packaged together as well as the Venture. Sabre may sell quite a few of these distinctive trikes.
Taking a gamble on new ideas comes fairly naturally to Helms and his wife and business partner, Rosa. The two just completed a move in March from their plant and home near Phoenix, Arizona, to a location further out in Buckeye, Arizona, that gives them an airstrip and room to grow. The Helmses erected an 8,000-square-foot factory and a new home on a 40-acre parcel about 25 miles west of the Phoenix city limits. On the land is a 1,600-foot graded airstrip that works well for the Sabre line of trikes.
All around the area is open land that makes flying an ultralight a pleasant experience. In less than an hour’s flying, you can be over mountain peaks or other natural surroundings. Development may someday encroach on them but for now the Helmses have the luxury of plenty of space and no fussy neighbors.
Rick Helms started the business in 1991 and attended his first airshow in 1992. In the beginning, he remembers that it was only Sabre, Cosmos, and Air Création that displayed trikes at these events. Now, many other trike competitors have emerged. Though he says business growth has been slow, it seems significant to me that Sabre has continued to expand even while new makes and models have discovered the American market.
The Helmses have built an impressive facility with lots of machine tools, including such equipment as a plasma cutter, CNC milling station, 45-ton brake, and several automated drilling tools. The Sabre Aircraft enterprise has paid for all this, Rick says.
Organized with about 3,000 square feet of area dedicated to a machine shop, Sabre Aircraft makes nearly all parts in-house, sending out only for sewing of seats and wings.
Rick says he believes Sabre is the largest seller of trikes in the USA at about 100 units per year. He thought Cosmos and Air Creation sell only about 20 a year each… a number that even if too low by half, still leaves Sabre well ahead in the U.S. market share battle, according to Rick.
Like many trike pilots, Rick had flown hang gliders but it’s now been a long time since he’s updated that experience.
Rick’s wife and business partner is a busy entrepreneur herself. She runs the apparel side of Sabre as her own enterprise with silk screening apparatus and a computer-driven embroidery machine.
When you call Sabre, the phone is answered “Recreational Products,” a term that appears to cover Rosa’s shirt and cap enterprise as well as the trike-building operation.
Rick has university-level training in aeronautics, though he did not complete his degree. A counselor convinced him to go into accounting instead and he graduated with this skill, though it did not remain a satisfying occupation. Despite his number-crunching background, Rick lets Rosa run the financial end of Sabre Aircraft and Recreational Products.
It Isn’t Russian
I’ve met a few Ukrainian nationals and they didn’t want to be called Russians even a decade ago. Today, pride is evident in the Ukraine mentality and this pride seems appropriate when you closely examine the Venture.
Nonetheless, the Soviet heritage is obvious in the liberal use of titanium tubing and parts. Made commonplace in the old USSR by their massive military complex, the exotic metal impresses Americans not used to seeing it, especially on ultralights.
Countries like Ukraine, Poland, Czech Republic, and Lithuania are using their broad training in aeronautics and manufacturing to enter fields where they can earn profits. Light aviation has given a starting point for some of these people.
Some eastern European factories employ hundreds of aerospace workers who labor for extremely modest incomes (though reportedly better than they can get in other national industries). They make up for a lack of costly CNC milling machines with skilled handwork. One look at the parts on the Venture confirms their ability. Attention to detail shows everywhere. For example, the shapely wheel pants had unusual focus on a nice fitting to secure the pant (see photo, page 26).
Sabre Aircraft’s machine shop is no slouch operation either, capable of producing a special bracket set to allow the BRS parachute to be mounted securely behind the smooth fairing. A customer had created the mount part, but Sabre has the tooling to repeat the item.
After a close examination and close-up photos were completed, I was anxious to fly the machine. It looked put together so well, I thought it would fly well.
Since first debuting the new import last summer, changes were made to include widening the fairing to allow a larger person in the rear and sloping the instrument panel at an easier-to-read angle. Both were necessary. The panel didn’t read easily from up front and, in back, you’d have to be an unusually slim American to fit. The shapely fiberglass had intruded upon the lateral room so needed by many occupants. As if to prove both the fit – and the performance of the 50-hp Rotax 503-powered Venture – Rick and the customer who owns our evaluation trike flew together at close to 500 pounds of human weight. Amazingly, they still had room for some fuel in the max 525-pound useful load rating of the Venture 500.
All the instruments in the photos are standard equipment except for the electric hour meter seen at the bottom of the T-panel. Too bad they didn’t include this, too, as it distracted from the clean look it had before the recorder was added.
Shoulder belts are available for both seats. They are made from some stout webbing, but their stiffness and the buckle hardware make it tough to snug belts easily. The secret appeared to be pulling the loose end directly opposite of the buckle and not lifting while pulling.
Venture’s rear seat was made more comfortable by a mast angle more vertical than some designs. In those with a forward-leaning mast the rear seat occupant’s head is very close to the mast. With a helmet this is not dangerous but you can get quite a “buzz” from contact during high engine speed operations.
A shortfall is the lack of a guard to prevent the rear seat occupant from accidentally touching a hot muffler, though this may be less likely as the fairing has a fin that may block casual contact. Tell your passengers not to stick their left arm aft.
Pull and Go
I was unable to pull start successfully while fully belted and ready, though more experience might help. However, after loosening the belts, I was successful while still seated. This is common on many ultralights, which is one reason electric starting has become popular. Sabre offers the option for those who want it.
In taxiing and on landing rollout, I found the nosewheel brake on the Venture to be quite powerful. It even grabbed fairly well on Sabre Aircraft’s rocky runway, no doubt also thanks to a larger wheel size.
Using brakes will prove more efficient due to spring suspension used in main gear and nosewheel. The mains are dampened by a heavy-duty spring system that could be sensed even though its stroke is but a few inches.
Large diameter tubing, titanium material, fine machining, plus liberal suspension and shock mounting give the Venture trike chassis a reassuringly solid and secure feeling.
Weighing in at 360 pounds empty weight, Sabre Aircraft reports the Venture is 55 pounds heavier than their Elite model (Rotax 503 and pod), and 120 pounds more than their Sabre 340 with few frills. It is also among the heaviest empty weight of any trike in the U.S. market except the flying-boat types.
That the Venture doesn’t betray its weight while airborne is a tribute to the wing, which ought to be the main concern of trike pilots anyway. Aeros prudently limits the wing to 886 pounds gross weight, leaving 525 pounds of useful load. Subtract 60 pounds for fuel and the occupants should not exceed 465 pounds, however, I don’t find it too constricting for occupants to be limited to 232 pounds each.
To make this a fair comparison, remember the Venture is very well equipped as standard and lighter trikes will gain weight when you bolt on the extras. Full instruments, 4-point belts, rear steering bars, full suspension and sturdy construction all add pounds. Aeros calculates all these items in the Venture’s empty weight, making its weight number higher.
The truly good news about the Venture’s weight and weight-shift flying is how well the Stream 16 wing seemed to perform. In my repeated experience this wing exhibited a very good glide. I made several landings with various techniques of power use and airspeed. Cutting power for landing required that you are in the right path or you’ll overshoot. When I didn’t reduce power soon enough, I landed well down the runway; I even went around once, rare for me. Despite its bulk, the Venture manages an admirable performance.
The Venture took some coaxing to leave the ground. My common trike technique of pushing out fully as acceleration increases was not optimal due to the pitch resistance. Rick’s technique – witnessed as he took a student aloft – was to accelerate with the bar neutral and to push out as rotation speed arrived. His technique may be more effective for Venture flying and it does ensure a clean break with terra firma, at least once you know the speeds.
Aloft and flying around at 50-65 mph, my eyes tended to water as the wind curled around my small sunglasses. The tiny windscreen did help in this regard, but I had to crouch down over the control bar to make use of it; therefore it was not very functional. If I’d had my now-famous helmet, the pull-down visor would easily have cured the problem and let me enjoy the experience more fully.
“Trim flying” might be letting the aircraft set its speed where “attitude flying” is fixing the aircraft at a desired attitude. Within its comfortable trim speed, the Venture handled with surprising lightness. Keep the ultralight within a smaller range of total movement and the Venture’s feel was lighter than the average 2-place trike. Force the attitude… crank and bank it, and Venture fights back, greatly increasing the muscular force required. This is fine as long as you remain ahead of the trike (which you should), but if you need a deep, quick control change, the Stream 16 resists.
Physically, or ergonomically, the Venture’s control bar position is comfortable. Later in the day, I also flew a Sabre Elite with the control bar set higher, acceptable but not preferable to me. I had to raise my arms too much for my comfort, however, I am also aware that the further you hang below a wing, the better for control precision and lightness (though not necessarily for rapid response). Weight-shift has complexities disguised under its pilot input simplicity.
The Venture’s hand throttle – located similarly to the North Wing Maverick – is between your legs. It wasn’t too much of a reach but it moved opposite a standard aviation throttle. You moved aft to increase power. My personal trike has this, but I consider it a drawback.
The Stream 16 wing’s roll was less demanding of muscle than its pitch. This may be a good thing since pitch had plenty of resistance when you got too far out of trim flying.
In pitch it was easier to pull in than to push out. Trikes don’t usually dive well (under power) and the Venture did better than average. However, when I pushed out in stalls the wing tried hard to put you back in trim flying speed. I don’t say this is a poor compromise, but I tended to rebel at its insistence.
Our evaluation Stream 16 wing had a left turn that could tighten up if unattended. This shows the importance of “tuning” on a trike wing. While the factory can correct this before delivery – Sabre trikes are sold ready to fly – changes over time suggest that owners need to be aware of tuning techniques. Rick also commented that the sail on this new trike had not yet fully seated itself and I’m familiar with this concept from hang gliders.
Sit Back, Enjoy
With two aboard each craft, the Venture with its Stream 16 wing zoomed away from a Sabre trike with its single-surface wing. It also demonstrated an ability to zip around the photo trike with ease, partly attributing to Rick’s comfort with trike flying.
I was able to hold altitude at somewhere between 4,500 rpm and 4,800 rpm. This was done solo but is nonetheless a good figure from a 50-hp Rotax 503-powered 3-blade 2-place machine.
Despite its ability to hold altitude on lower power settings, Venture’s climb rate was not particularly vigorous. Due to the nonsensitive altimeter (1,000 feet of change causes less than an inch of pointer movement), I could not measure climb rates accurately.
With Rick and me on board, maximum speed seemed to be about 70 mph. While solo, this figure was 65 mph. Rick says he’s seen a steady 72 when more heavily loaded.
The Venture proved to be very pitch stable; pushing out to the forward support begins a substantial pressure back against you that is relatively difficult to resist. Stalls appeared to break very low in the 30s if not down into the high 20s. Stalls done gently never resulted in a break and full-power stalls never broke. No accelerated stalls were attempted but it is obvious the Ukrainian engineers have done their job well. The Venture felt stable almost to a fault.
Rick Helms’ effort to bring the Aeros Venture to America is worthy. It’s a fine aircraft that any trike enthusiast would be proud to own. I’ll fly one again any time.
Special thanks to James Hann for flying our photo trike while I shot air-to-air photos, and to Dan Osborne for graciously allowing us to use his personal Venture as an evaluation aircraft.
|Empty weight||360 pounds|
|Gross weight||886 pounds|
|Wing area||162 square feet|
|Wing loading||5.5 pounds per square foot|
|Kit type||Fully Assembled|
|Standard engine||Rotax 503 dual carb|
|Power||50 hp at 6,500 rpm|
|Power loading||17.7 pounds per horsepower|
|Cruise speed||65 mph|
|Never exceed speed||70 mph|
|Rate of climb at gross||700 feet per minute|
|Takeoff distance at gross||250 feet|
|Landing distance at gross||150 feet|
|Standard Features||Full pod, dual bucket seats, dual shoulder belts, full instrumentation, front drum brakes, front trailing link suspension, aluminum fuel tank, storage bags, windshield, cruise throttle, foot throttle, remote choke lever, 3-blade composite prop.|
|Options||66-hp 2-cycle Rotax 582, electric starter, ballistic parachute.|
|Construction||Aluminum tubing, titanium, presewn wing coverings. Made in the Ukraine; assembled in the U.S.|
Cosmetic appearance, structural integrity, achievement of design goals, effectiveness of aerodynamics, ergonomics.
Pros – Sleek new design from Aeros of Ukraine imported by Sabre Aircraft. Extensive use of titanium, rare in the U.S., but commonplace in former USSR countries. Large diameter tubing and double, heavy side wires and a stoutly-built chassis help deliver a solid feel. Standard Stream 16 wing offers good speed range with reasonable handling, a good compromise.
Cons – No testing documentation to review. No manuals to inspect. No track record for this trike (though Antares trike from same producer has been good and company also has a well-received line of hang gliders). Unknown capability to replace damaged titanium tubing (Sabre is new to importing this trike chassis though they have brought in Aeros wings for years).
Subsystems available to pilot such as: Flaps; Fuel sources; Electric start; In-air restart; Brakes; Engine controls; Navigations; Radio; (items covered may be optional).
Pros – Fuel “gauge” offered for pilot check of quantity. Hand throttle and choke controls located at base of instrument panel, a spot unlikely to be bumped inadvertently. Engine access is easy and engine is upright mounted. Trike fold-down is easier thanks to mast joint above engine; leaves engine securely braced during transport or storage.
Cons – Pull starting proves challenging if belted in securely. No trim adjustment offered. Hand throttle is a greater reach than some pilots will want and was counter-intuitive in its direction of movement. No great radio location is available if desired.
Instrumentation; Ergonomics of controls; Creature comforts; (items covered may be optional).
Pros – New fiberglass fairing yields more room to rear occupant than first version (from summer 1999). Instrument panel more ergonomically slanted for easier access and reading. Backrest on front seat improves comfort for both occupants. Four-point seat belts on both seats. Entry ease is good. Rear seat steering is provided. Seats proved quite comfortable during more than an hour’s flying. Some cargo area is provided inside of fairing.
Cons – Foot throttle (on right foot peg) was angled back too much for my comfort, though others may not object. Hand throttle was a little far to reach easily. Rather windy as with most trikes. Small windscreen is mostly cosmetic; I advise a helmet with good face protection.
Taxi visibility; Steering; Turn radius; Shock absorption; Stance/Stability; Braking.
Pros – Nosewheel brake is more effective than expected; on gravel surface it could lock up the wheel. Very sturdy gear legs system should work well on the roughest surfaces. Suspended main gear leg (upright one) helps absorb bumps; spring system hidden behind fairing. Suspended nosewheel with trailing link construction. Visibility is superb as on most trikes; same for ground maneuverability. Generous ground clearance.
Cons – Usual trike “Nautilus Machine” effort is needed to control wing in gusty, strong, or crosswind conditions; large, beefy wing guarantees a fair muscular effort is needed.
Qualities; Efficiency; Ease; Comparative values.
Pros – Landings are as easy and secure as on most trikes; very sturdy gear and suspension system nicely smoothed a rocky runway surface. Wide stance should help in cross-runway crosswind landings. (I made several landings in crosswinds without difficulty.) Braking effectiveness was surprisingly good for nosewheel system.
Cons – Takeoff required more push-out and a longer run than expected (could ease somewhat if chassis-to-wing mount point was moved aft, though this may bring other side effect). Slips in trikes are not effective. With no flaps, other means like better planning or S-turns must control landing approaches.
Quality and quantity for: Coordination; Authority; Pressures; Response; and Coupling.
Pros – Control ease seemed better than some other brands with similar wing size and chassis weight; flight within trim speed range was lighter than some other large 2-place trikes. Reversing roll rate was 3.5-4 seconds, not atypical for 2-place trikes. Steady state turns held bank angle with almost no pilot input. Overall solid feeling in flight.
Cons – Usual heavier trike inability to snap precisely to headings (as is possible on most 3-axis designs). Evaluation wing had a slight turn in it that needed to be “tuned” out. Crosswind capability is weak as on all trikes. Though the Venture is perhaps better than some heavier trikes, 3-axis pilots will find it requires lots of muscle for faster response.
Climb; Glide; Sink; Cruise/stall/max speeds; Endurance; Range; Maneuverability.
Pros – Speed range was impressively wide among trikes, with stall below 30 mph and top speed above 70 mph. Engine ran smoothly and felt very well dampened by engine mount system; standard 3-blade prop helped. Aircraft was able to hold altitude at well under 5,000 rpm, a good achievement for a Rotax 503-powered 2-place trike. Nice flying qualities at very low speeds.
Cons – Climb with Rotax 503 was limited to 600-700 fpm (though nonsensitive altimeter made this evaluation less accurate). Flying solo, I was unable to get speed much past 65 mph (though I consider this more than ample); 2-place flying saw 70 mph. Nearly all trikes are limited in forward speed as excess power results in a climb.
Stall recovery and characteristics; Dampening; Spiral stability; Adverse yaw qualities.
Pros – Four-point restraint system is stoutly built and appreciated, as was optional ballistic parachute system. Good longitudinal stability; dive recovery devices appeared to work well. Stalls broke in very low 30s perhaps high 20s (no way to check ASI accuracy). Full-power stalls never broke. Very pitch stable, you’d have to try hard to get in trouble with inappropriate pitch.
Cons – Pushed to the forward support tube, the wing insistently forces the control bar aft, desired or not. Slight turn in wing made some evaluations less certain. Power response changes climb in all trikes; add generous power and you climb, regardless of desire.
Addresses the questions: “Will a buyer get what he/she expects to buy, and did the designer/builder achieve the chosen goal?”
Pros – Overall finish of trike compares well with the best European trikes; hardware is also very close to the best. Use of materials like titanium adds appeal and is viewed as very strong. Comes complete with many items optional on other designs. Can qualify for Part 103 2-seat training exemption weight (though fuel capacity may be a problem; ask Sabre for advice).
Cons – Those needing more power can select the Venture 600 with 66-hp Rotax 582, but at additional expense. New trike with uncertain acceptance. No known certification applies. Whole aircraft delivery is presently very fast, but parts supply speed not determined.