“Air in your hair!
Space on your face! A breeze on your knees!” A former colleague of mine used to repeat this short mantra to illustrate the joy of open-cockpit flying. It was catchy and engaging and his customers liked it.
With 15 Light-Sport Aircraft now possessing their FAA Special Light-Sport Aircraft (SLSA) airworthiness certificates, not a single one is open cockpit, though the IndUS Thorpedo, Legend Cub, and Tecnam Sierra can enjoy partially open cockpits.
Special Light-Sport Aircraft will eventually add more of this genre of light aircraft but one of the beauties of FAA’s new regulation is that it does not eliminate two previous categories: Amateur-built 51% kits or Part 103-compliant ultralights.
With 21¼4 years left before operators of 2-seat 496-pound empty weight ultralight exempt trainers must register in FAA’s new Light-Sport Aircraft category, and with 41¼4 years left while these machines can be used for compensated training flights, the segment still has lots of life remaining. Even after the usage period expires, these aircraft can transition to Experimental Light-Sport Aircraft (ELSA), though they can no longer be flown for hire, their owners can operate them as Light-Sport Aircraft with full privileges. And, of course, you can fly a 51% kit if you possess a Sport Pilot license or better for as long as the aircraft remains airworthy (though you cannot conduct paid training).
This situation predicts a good potential future for models from M-Squared, a company that makes open-cockpit aircraft that are fun and perform as you expect an “ultralight” to perform.
Joy On the Water
Float-flying ultralights have long been some of the most enjoyable waterborne aircraft in all of aviation. They leave the water quickly, fly comfortably down low to the surface where the viewing is great, and cost but a fraction of general aviation seaplanes.
This month we’ll look at M-Squared’s Sprint 1000 on inflatable Full Lotus floats. Thanks to owner John Walsh, I was able to re-experience the sheer fun of fly
ing an open-cockpit airplane on these floats on a huge, semitropical lake.
Walsh’s M-Squared model was formerly owned and operated by John Dunham when he supplied the aircraft and piloted for an IMAX film team using very expensive cameras weighing 70 pounds. Costly film productions need a smooth flying platform to preserve the dramatic scenes the large format cameras can produce. After the film project concluded, Walshacquired the Sprint 1000 and put it into service giving flight instruction in the Florida Keys.
This workhorse Sprint 1000 is powered by a 65-hp Rotax 582 and has extensive stainless construction to survive the harsh exposure of salt-water usage. A clutch system allows the engine to idle with lower vibration, another feature that endeared the model to the IMAX camera team.
Walsh’s Sprint 1000 has straight (nonamphibious)
Full Lotus floats that made for smooth touchdowns even on a choppy Lake Parker on the day I flew with Walsh. Since M-Squared reports +6/-4 G limit loads the Sprint 1000 boasts a whopping 1,400-pound gross weight capability. For a rather dramatic comparison, wire-braced Quicksilver 2-place ultralight trainers list a 720-pound gross weight.
The Sprint 1000 uses M-Squared’s single-surface wing, which helps it leave the water in a short time. The company uses close 14-inch rib spacing to hold the wing’s shape precisely. This slow-flying wing stalls at only 35 mph even with the heavier airframe, straight floats, and a large radiator.
Many M-Squared Models
To those who know how long M-Squared owner Paul Mather was employed by Quicksilver in the past,
it’s hard to believe his Alabama-based company will be 10 years old in 2006. During that time, Mather has steadily built his family of aircraft to eight different models (not even counting the floatplane models, which could equal 10, or even 12 if you count all permutations), though some differences between M-Squared models are rather modest.
Mather’s company offers quite a variety of single- and double-surface wings with different seating and engines. One model, the Ultra-X, uses a symmetrical airfoil for high-performing aerobatic specialty flying. But all the others stick to the same wing shape and planform in two sizes: an upper-only surface wing or one with conventional double-surface using ribs in both surfaces to create an effective wing shape.
Since it appears the rest of aviation uses double-surface wings exclusively, you could be excused for wondering why a single-surface wing is desirable. Putting a finer point on it, why aren’t single-surface wings a negative? Here’s why.
Flying a Sprint 1000 (or another single-surface wing) will help you discover the special kind of flying that comes with remarkably slow “loiter” speeds and nearly unbelievable low stall speeds. A single-surface wing delivers this capability for flights just above the surface – a real joy for many pilots. Slower flying single-surface wings optimize that flight realm. Flying at 35 mph means the landscape passes at a relaxing, leisurely speed.
Slow-speed capabilities of single-surface wings don’t limit all M-Squared airplanes. To better understand what M-Squared offers, you have to look at their entire line. Single-surface models include the single-seat Breese SS, the 2-place Breese SS, and the Sprint 1000. Double-surface models include the single-seat Breese DS, 2-place Breese DS, Sport 1000, plus the racy Ultra-X. The company also makes a single-surface hang glider towplane called the American Tugz, making a total of four single-surface models and four double-surface models.
Single-seat Breese models come with the 2-stroke 40-hp Rotax 447 as their standard engine. The Breese 2 (2-place) models come with the 2-stroke 50-hp Rotax 503 and the Sprint 1000 or Sport 1000 models come with the 2-stroke 65-hp Rotax 582. The Ultra-X and American Tugz come with the 75-hp 2-stroke Rotax 680. You can order the land or floatplane versions with the 4-stroke Rotax 912 and M-Squared offers some models – such as the Breese SS – with the 4-stroke 60-hp HKS 700E engine.
Typically, water operations require larger engines than those installed as standard equipment. Additionally, many M-Squared models can be fitted with pilot enclosure pods for those in climates where fully open cockpits may not be optimal. And then, of course, you can add options ranging from instruments to parachutes.
If you want to cover a lot of ground or if you transport your plane by trailer, M-Squared designs are going to make you work for it. M-Squared designs have a 1-hour field assembly time and their wings do not fold. Many buyers of folding wing designs never fold their wings but if it’s important to you, you might need to look elsewhere unless you’re the more patient type.
In-flight trim comes standard on 2-seat M-Squared models, which share a joystick between the occupants. This position is good for float operations where you’ll pull the stick aft generously while getting the floats to slide up on the surface and get on step. The large range of possible movement helps stick forces remain light by giving mechanical leverage.
M-Squared supplies a very long list of standard equipment items on what they call a “fly-away” aircraft. One example is the 16-gallon dual wing tanks that, when flown at lower power settings, can help you stay aloft for better than 3 hours even in this floatplane. You might operate at loiter speeds for more than 4 hours if you were so inclined.
The fly-away model in deluxe form is highly complete for $42,000, a price that qualifies as a value when compared to most floatplanes. The airplane includes 100-hp Rotax 912S with electric starter and 15-amp battery; 3-blade Warp Drive carbon-fiber prop with nickel leading edge; EIS digital engine monitoring; 15-inch main gear tires with aluminum wheels and 6-inch drum brakes, 13-inch nosewheel plus 1650 Full Lotus floats (so you can go both ways); BRS 1050 VLS parachute; a pilot enclosure; and your choice of fabric colors.
Folks who fly floatplanes from a conventional, enclosed cabin don’t know what they’re missing on a warm summer day on a lake. M-Squared’s cockpits are wide open – though partial enclosures are offered as options – and they deliver contact with the air like you’d get on a jet ski or ski boat.
All M-Squared 2-place models have a tandem set of pilot-surrounding steel structure to protect the occupants. Stainless steel is used for float operations. The company usually locates instruments in an instrument pod above and in front of the occupants’ heads. Switches on these panels were easily reached, though it can be difficult to read their purpose labels when fully belted. You also must take your eye well away from your flight path to check the gauges, but this location does keep the electronics and delicate internal instrument parts away from water spray in float operations. Walsh used a Hall Brothers airspeed indicator, which is very durable and reliable in land or water operations.
When I first sit in any M-Squared design, I feel the seat is angled back more than I might prefer. However, in flight the position is comfortable. M-Squared seats and rudders are not adjustable for pilots of different heights.
Given the powerful engines M-Squared offers, takeoffs are very quick even considering the higher empty weights of the robust aircraft with floats and structure. I couldn’t measure, but the water run took only a few seconds to come up on step before the plane left.
Single-surface designs like the Sprint 1000 bleed energy quickly, requiring you to keep up your speed on approach and right to touchdown. Slipping won’t do much in this design since it offers little vertical area. Fortunately an exceptionally slow approach speed obviates the need for slips and when operating on water you slow quickly once you settle on the surface, more efficiently than brakes on land. For the same reason, M-Squared planes don’t have or need flaps.
Ultralight pilots will find Sprint 1000 flight controls to be quite responsive thanks to large ailerons, lower dihedral, and a stiffer airframe, which offers a more secure anchor for the control surfaces. General aviation pilots will probably find the Sprint 1000 to be more sluggish, but what they’re noticing is the plane’s slower speed more than the control response rate.
Regardless of your background, precision turns are easily achieved. All M-Squared designs respond authoritatively to rudder input. With its big ailerons the Sprint 1000 demonstrates good crosswind capabilities, though you shouldn’t have to use those qualities in floatplane operations. All water landings are done into the wind.
Even ultralight pilots used to the response feel of slower-flying aircraft may find the Sprint 1000’s pitch response to be more sensitive than expected. This is likely due to a closely coupled tail plane and the close proximity of thrust from the pusher engine. However, this same quality helps during water taxiing.
Given the rudder’s strong component of control authority, you use the pedals significantly to make coordinated turns. You’ll want to do so as adverse yaw is clearly present on the Sprint 1000 though it is no greater than similar designs.
The Sprint 1000 with its single-surface wing excels at low-over-the-water flying. Here’s an airplane that will easily let you pop up and over small islands or fly alongside your friends in their boats (though advance coordination is recommended so everyone knows what to expect).
Given the added weight for floats and structure, the Rotax 582-powered Sprint 1000 floatplane climbs 500 to 600 fpm. The model makes an accommodating aircraft for beginning floatplane flying. It’s quite forgiving but can still cruise at 50 to 60 mph even with the big Full Lotus floats. Maximum speed is 94 mph for a wheel-equipped model, though you’d be pushing hard to get the floatplane version going that fast, I believe.
After flying most M-Squared models, I’ve found them impeccable in stability. Every stall I tried was highly predictable and non-threatening. While the deck angle can become extreme with powerful engines like the 4-stroke 100-hp Rotax 912S, the resultant stall is mild and easily controlled by any trained pilot. Basically, you relax your grip and the plane will fly out of the maneuver with minimum fuss.
Even with their good overall manners, misapplication of Sprint 1000 controls will cause some wallowing at lower speeds. And with the high engine and thrust line, the Sprint 1000 will nose over on rapid throttle movement – especially when using the Rotax 912. Yet as soon as you back off, the Sprint 1000’s longitudinal stability kicks in solidly.
On Your Mark, Get Set, Sprint!
For many buyers, myself included, M-Squared’s fly-away program will meet the need. The company builder-assistance program is required; contact the factory for details and scheduling. Build times are exceptionally low – less than 100 hours. One helpful quality is the sewn Dacron wings that need no finishing or painting. This method of wing covering and coloring also saves weight.
You can order many popular accessories from M-Squared, as demonstrated by the fly-away 4-stroke Rotax 912-powered Sprint 1000 floatplane. But you can get airborne for less if you don’t order all the goodies. Of course, when you add 4-stroke engines the cost rises significantly. Even though M-Squared planes are 100% American-made, Rotax engines are imported, and so currency values have increased engine prices.
At press time, M-Squared’s Paul Mather hadn’t finalized his decision about participating in FAA’s new Light-Sport Aircraft rule. Mather is investigating the costs and complexity of the task and feels up to it. His past experience at Quicksilver is helpful; he was present when the company took their GT 500 through FAA’s Primary Aircraft certification. But with M-Squared’s builder-assistance program and one of the fastest build times in the business an N-numbered Amateur-built aircraft like the Sprint 1000 floatplane can be built even by folks without high mechanical aptitude. You go to the factory to participate in M-Squared’s program; for more details on how this works, contact Mather. He’s worked out his relationship with local FAA officials and they’re comfortable with the company, Mather says.
He tells this story about a visit from three FAA men. “These fellows came out to check our operation and after spending several hours over a couple days’ time, they found everything clean and proper,” Mather reports. “In fact, they said my shop looked better than some general aviation repair stations in the region.”
That’s good – and no doubt a relief – but it gets better.
Two of the three FAA inspectors were pilots and both came back later to take a flight. They were very keen to experience the float version of M-Squared’s airplane and, after flying it, I think their desire is well founded. The local FAA office has told Mather they are looking forward to working with him as Light-Sport Aircraft is introduced. “These fellows need to learn the new rule as we all do,” Mather adds. But a cooperative relationship will help when and if he chooses to move forward under FAA’s new provisions. Meanwhile, 51% kits that you can build in a few weekends will get you in the air without breaking the bank or shortchanging the fun meter.
If you order your Sprint 1000 now and get on the schedule for the builder-assistance program, you can easily have your floatplane ready and checked out for the 2006 flying season. Then, tell your ultralight buddies what you’ve done and watch how many come out to ask for a flight.
|Empty weight||465 pounds 1|
|Gross weight||1,400 pounds|
|Wingspan||32 feet, 9 inches|
|Wing area||180 square feet|
|Wing loading||7.8 pounds/square foot|
|Height||7 feet, 10 inches|
|Kit type||Fully assembled 2|
|Build time||40 hours 2|
|Notes:||1 Before floats; contact factory for all-up weight with straight or amphibious floats
2 Builder-assistance program offered by M-Squared, as required for N-numbered aircraft like the Sprint 1000. Contact factory for further details and scheduling.
|Standard engine||Rotax 582|
|Power loading||21.2 pounds/hp|
|Cruise speed||50-65 mph|
|Never exceed speed||94 mph 1|
|Rate of climb at gross||650 fpm 1|
|Takeoff distance at gross||135 feet 1|
|Landing distance at gross||60 feet 1|
|Notes:||1 Before floats; contact factory for performance with straight or amphibious floats|
|Standard Features||65-hp 2-stroke Rotax 582 engine, Warp Drive prop, EIS instrument info system, 15-inch main tires on aluminum wheels with 6-inch drum brakes, 13-inch nose tire and aluminum wheel, hand brake, steel cage surrounding pilot, adjustable strut fittings, high-lift airfoil with 14-inch rib spacing, wing-mounted fuel cells.|
|Options||81-hp Rotax 912 and 100-hp Rotax 912S engines, electric starter (standard on 912 models), pilot enclosures, additional instrumentation and EIS with digital instrument gauges, ballistic parachute, 16-gallon wing-mounted fuel cells, stainless steel main frame (especially useful for salt-water float operations).|
|Construction||Aluminum airframe, Dacron wing and tail coverings, steel components including pilot cage. Made and distributed in the USA by American-owned company.|
Cosmetic appearance, structural integrity, achievement of design goals, effectiveness of aerodynamics, ergonomics.
Pros – The Sprint 1000 on inflatable Full Lotus floats is a rugged, well-proven design with fully strutted construction preferred by many pilots. Full Lotus floats work well with the single-surface wing, helping the design to take off in a short run. Design is especially durable with large diameter tubing.
Cons – Struts may be preferred but they’re heavier than cable bracing. Open cockpit has lots of appeal for a sport floatplane but not all pilots enjoy the sensation. Longer field assembly required; no folding wings.
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 – Except for float structure – that you may have to create – the Sprint 1000 is very simple. Wing fuel tanks hold 16 gallons. In-flight trim is standard on 2-seat M-Squared models. Electric starting and full amphibious gear also available.
Cons – Robustly built airframe is heavy for the type and with additional amphibious gear empty weight is even greater. Pull starting on a floatplane may be a problem for some pilots.
Instrumentation; Ergonomics of controls; Creature comforts; (items covered may be optional).
Pros – Stainless steel (optional) pilot cage in tandem sets of pilot-surrounding structure add to a secure feeling. Occupants easily share center stick during training. Very easy entry especially compared to other floatplanes. Instruments mounted overhead away from possible water damage (except for ASI).
Cons – Wide-open cockpits aren’t for everyone, which may affect resale. Taller or shorter pilots have neither seat nor rudder adjustment. Seat is angled back generously, perhaps too steeply for some pilots. No cargo area.
Taxi visibility; Steering; Turn radius; Shock absorption; Stance/Stability; Braking.
Pros – Full Lotus inflatable floats are popular for the soft ride they deliver and for their durability; combine well with the Sprint 1000’s short run. Full Lotus floats support walking well. Amphib nosewheel option is steerable and main gear stance is very wide. No water rudder needed with the Sprint close-coupled rudder.
Cons – Lack of water rudders means you must throttle the engine to produce enough airflow; makes beachings and dockings somewhat more challenging. Electric starting is even more valuable on a floatplane where pull starting can be more difficult.
Qualities; Efficiency; Ease; Comparative values.
Pros – The Sprint 1000’s ease of takeoff demonstrates the value of single-surface, high-lift wings; even more true on water operations. Powerful acceleration with 2-stroke Rotax 582. You set a modest pitch angle and the Sprint 1000 flies off the water smoothly. Approaches can be made at 40 to 45 mph.
Cons – As with most similar designs, the Sprint 1000 bleeds energy quickly so you must maintain good speed right down to the surface. Slips are largely ineffective in this type aircraft (though they’re hardly needed, especially for water operations where you slow quickly on the surface).
Quality and quantity for: Coordination; Authority; Pressures; Response; and Coupling.
Pros – The Sprint 1000 controls reasonably well, thanks to large ailerons, lower dihedral, and stiffer airframe (though the weight of floats and structure diminishes response somewhat). Precision turns are easily achieved. Responds quickly to rudder-only input. Good crosswind capabilities.
Cons – Due to rudder’s influence on controls, you use the pedals significantly in coordinated turns. Pitch is more sensitive due to the closely coupled tail (the same quality that helps in water taxiing). Adverse yaw is clearly present on the Sprint 1000, despite low dihedral.
Climb; Glide; Sink; Cruise/stall/max speeds; Endurance; Range; Maneuverability.
Pros – Flying over water at low heights is especially fun in a slower flying Sprint 1000 floatplane. Water run is short with 2-stroke Rotax 582. Climb is better than 500 fpm even with float/structure weight. Good floatplane trainer for new water pilots. Can cruise at 60 to 65 mph.
Cons – Speed range on the Sprint 1000 is shallow, though typical for the design type. Max speed is only 94 mph; 60 mph is pretty slow for cross-country flying (though floatplanes are often flown too far). Consumes plenty of fuel due to its low speed and heavier weight.
Stall recovery and characteristics; Dampening; Spiral stability; Adverse yaw qualities.
Pros – Stalls in any configuration were modest events. Steel around the cockpit provides good occupant protection. M-Squared supports use of, and has a good installation for ballistic parachutes. Four-point pilot restraints are generally not used on seaplanes, though M-Squared normally supplies them.
Cons – Stalls break while they don’t on the lighter land model. This heavier Sprint 1000 floatplane wallows somewhat just before stall. With the high engine and thrust line, the Sprint 1000 with Rotax 582 noses over on throttle up. Adverse yaw is significant.
Addresses the questions: “Will a buyer get what he/she expects to buy, and did the designer/builder achieve the chosen goal?”
Pros – Almost 10 years old, M-Squared has become an established brand with proven products, made highly robust with large diameter tubing. Strutted look is what many buyers seek. Larger fuel tanks are standard. Prices are reasonable though you must build from kit.
Cons – Without an optional enclosure, you’ll be limited to warmer climates or shorter seasons in this wide-open design.