he proven airframe and modern panel of the Sky Skooter make perhaps the oddest, yet most appropriate of mates. Each from a different age – the T-211’s unique ribbed wing beckons from the 1940s while the ePod streaks ahead in the 2000s – they nonetheless complement each other.
The Sky Skooter is the fun little variant of the T-211 series, including the FAA-certified T-211 and the ASTM standards-compliant (LSA certified) Thorpedo. The company can deliver just about any version of John Thorp’s groundbreaking design, the very one that lead to Piper’s Cherokee, which sold tens of thousands.
Complementing the joyful and innocent Sky Skooter with the most pleasant in-flight handling comes the visitor from the future: IndUS Aviation’s ePod. Putting these together for a flight review shows the past and the future of light-sport aviation.
The T-211 has a long, rich aviation history. The model dates back to designs studies in the early 1940s that lead to the Lockheed Little Dipper, a single-place light aircraft created by legendary designer John Thorp. This work later led to a 2-seat pusher called the Big Dipper. By 1945, this plane had evolved to the Sky Skooter, a 65-hp Lycoming O-145-powered aircraft that earned its CAA Type Certificate as a normal category aircraft (the Civil Aviation Authority was the predecessor of the FAA).
By the early 1950s, the Sky Skooter had acquired a 90-hp Continental C-90 engine. As it developed and evolved, the T-211 led to the 180-hp preliminary design for the Piper Cherokee in 1956. That storied company eventually built the PA-28 Cherokee with 150 hp. Thorp’s work influenced other designs as well, such as the 2-place, twin-engine Wing Derringer, which began life as a twin-engine version of the Skooter.
Thorp’s prolific design work led to the T-18 that became popular among homebuilders. In 1960, one of the all-metal, 2-place, high-performance models built by Don Taylor became the first homebuilt to fly around the world.
In 1963 the Sky Skooter Type Certificate was amended to provide for a 100-hp Continental O-200. This was design designation T-211 for John Thorp.
One of the most distinguishing characteristics of the airplane is the ribbed wing design, a feature also found on other aircraft in the WW II time frame. The ribbing is also found on the horizontal tail surface, which is an all-flying stabilator, advanced for its day.
When a Texas surgeon named Ram Pattisapu, who was born in India, formed IndUS Aviation in ’94, he also formed a working partnership with Taneja Aerospace and Aviation, Limited (TAAL) of Bangalore, India. TAAL builds T-211 airframes and ships completed airframe subassemblies for American sale to IndUS Aviation at Dallas
Executive Airport in Texas.1
In 2005, IndUS Aviation added a foot of span and 10 more square feet to the wing, in my experience nicely contributing to a reduced landing approach speed.
The advantage of the ribbed aluminum wing and horizontal tail is that this construction saves a lot of interior riveting as far fewer internal ribs are used. The wing forms a sort of external structural rib, greatly easing the assembly process.
One other popular feature of the Sky Skooter is its sliding canopy. Of designs using this entry means, few can fly with the canopy slid back. The T-211 can do so any time the occupants desire. Ultralight pilots might enjoy this configuration for local flights in pleasant weather; I know I sure did.
Inside the Sky Skooter cabin, you’ll see a deluxe general aviation-style appointments including a fully finished interior of leather seats, carpeted floors and a fully finished interior, plus four elastic-banded stash pockets for aircraft logs, sectional maps, and other items you may want in flight.
Behind the seats is a luggage area that can hold 80 pounds of gear, though you won’t be able to reach many of these items in flight. Contrasted with some of the more spacious light sport aircraft, the Sky Skooter is a relatively snug-fitting
cockpit, about an inch wider than a Cessna 150. Two large fellows may not fit inside comfortably, though average-sized occupants will find adequate elbowroom.
The Sky Skooter’s flap lever is mounted forward of a centrally mounted hand brake lever. A detent button is used only to release the flaps; flaps deploy automatically as you pull aft on the easily accessed lever. Forward of the brake lever is the fuel shutoff.
Two notches of flaps are available, deploying to approximately 15° and 30°. Originally the flaps had a 45° down setting, but that proved to be more than is necessary and it was modified later.
A trim wheel is just to the left of the center console; both occupants can reach it easily but the right-seat occupant can’t see the setting easily. Each seat has a joystick comfortably positioned between the occupant’s legs.
A Dynon flight instrument and the ePod face the left-seat occupant with power switches and key electric starting on the far left of the instrument panel. Near the center of the panel are engine throttle, choke, and the carburetor heat control. The occupant in either seat can reach these without a stretch. Both sides have headphone connections and fresh air controls.
Both seats have rudder pedals but the center-mounted hand brake is unidirectional. Easily operated from either seat, the hand brake affords good leverage with adequate stopping power and this configuration is familiar to ultralight pilots.
General aviation pilots used to braking with their toes or heels may have some relearning to do, though IndUS Marketing Director Scott Severen observes that many Piper airplanes used a hand brake.
After going aloft with my checkout pilot, Bob Widmer, and given my experience with two other T-211 models (the Continental-powered T-211 and the 120-hp Jabiru 3300-powered Thorpedo), I felt comfortable enough to try a few landings.
All three landings I performed in the Sky Skooter turned out well. I found the 85-hp Sky Skooter flew much like an ultralight in that you need to assure adequate speed to retain energy for the landing flare phase. During 2005, IndUS Aviation added to wingspan and area – 10 more square feet came at the wingtip growing the wing to 115 square feet. This helped lower the stall speed from the earlier models and extended the flare window.
So, I approached at around 50 knots (57.5 mph) indicated where earlier I’d been advised to approach at 70 knots (80.5 mph). The faster speeds were rather conservative, perhaps, but the extended and enlarged wing clearly allows you to bring in the Sky Skooter somewhat slower, which will be helpful at short, unimproved airstrips.
I found that using the first notch of flaps on landing didn’t accomplish much. In fact, most T-211 pilots don’t use any flaps. You definitely don’t use any flaps for takeoff, as you’ll only add drag.
According to IndUS Aviation, the Sky Skooter can take off in approximately 350 feet, a clear benefit to using the small Jabiru engine that is about 150 pounds lighter than the Continental. This lesson again proved to me that lightening an airplane could be valuable, as less power is needed to perform some of the same functions.
The Sky Skooter can land in an equally short distance so it should feel right at home at most ultralight airparks. With generous clearance afforded by its main gear and nosewheel, you won’t worry about turf runways at all. The Sky Skooter can be fitted with wheel pants, but they will tend to restrict you to smoother landing surfaces.
Love the Handling
All the T-211 variants, including this Sky Skooter, will impress most pilots. Well-harmonized controls are very light to the touch without being sensitive. The roll rate is not particularly fast but the Sky Skooter’s well-engineered linkages make handling light and pleasant. John Thorp designed control pushrods and bell cranks with ball bearings throughout, and it shows when you move stick and pedals.
The Sky Skooter executed beautiful steep turns. I did 60° steep turns for two full turns and found it easy to keep the ball coordinated. That’s not something I’ve found true on many light sport aircraft, which tend to require more input than the Sky Skooter. To me, this suggests good applicability of the Sky Skooter to training applications. Not much back stick was required to hold altitude, and adverse yaw was minimal.
I also found power-on and -off stalls to be very mild. In several trials, I found no stall showed any tendency to fall on a wing. Neither did they show the slightest tendency to break over. IndUS Aviation sales literature states, “Stall resistant. Spin proof.” I didn’t explore spins without a parachute on board, but I can attest to the stall resistance. I think you’d have to push very aggressively to get the Sky Skooter to misbehave.
I performed power-on stalls at full power, power-off stalls entered gently much more aggressively, plus I did accelerated stalls. In every case the Sky Skooter showed very benign characteristics. Power-on stall occurred at below 45 knots (51.8 mph) indicated while power-off stalls occurred at around 50 knots (57.5 mph) indicated, though IndUS Aviation literature states 43 knots (49.45 mph).
While at cruise altitude, I measured the descent rate at 700 fpm over a 2-minute timed descent. This is mid-range among all light sport aircraft I’ve flown and comparable to many ultralight designs.
Though my landings were reasonably good, I did plop the airplane on the ground once. Regardless of my technique, the Sky Skooter’s tough gear absorbed the load as though it were nothing. Flight school operators will love this airplane, as will their students.
On our first go-around, I noted rotation came at about 50 knots (57.5 mph) indicated airspeed.
Thanks to its lighter weight - and perhaps because Bob and I flew somewhat under maximum takeoff weight - the Sky Skooter enthusiastically left the ground in only 350 feet of roll. IndUS Aviation provided the measurement I couldn’t take and I’ve found their brochure figures to be honest. Though the lower-powered model lacks Thorpedo’s robust performance (with the 120-hp Jabiru), I was able to record climb rates of 700 fpm for the first 500 feet or so of climb. As altitude rose, that figure backed off to about 600 fpm, still better than the Continental-powered T-211 model I’d first flown.
Though I know the theory, I admit to being rather amazed at the results of removing about 150 pounds by switching from the Continental to the smaller 80-hp Jabiru 2200. In addition to performance, useful load shoots up to a whopping 645 pounds. This is sufficient to carry full fuel (21 gallons), two 200-pound occupants with all allowed 80 pounds of luggage, and still leave the little plane 39 pounds under gross.
The little Jabiru engine ran beautifully, a credit to IndUS Aviation’s mechanics as they installed this engine. But it also speaks to the design of the Australian-built engine. In my experience, the Jabiru 2200 seemed to run best at around 2,700 rpm. Maximum continuous power has recently been raised to 2,850 rpm where cruise maxes out at 115 mph, IndUS says.
Jabiru USA representatives say the Australian engine prefers to run 2,700 rpm or higher. The new maximum continuous power setting is 2,850 rpm. Yet based on noise and vibration I tended to set power lower, typically 2,600 rpm. IndUS Aviation says that setting offers a very economical flying speed, burning less than 5 gallons an hour.
Given 21-gallon fuel tanks – the same as a Cessna 150 – the Sky Skooter can run better than 4 hours, a good duration that flight school operators and recreational pilots can both appreciate.
The Sky Skooter isn’t meant to be the fast light sport aircraft in the fleet. At full power in level flight, the 85-hp model can hit 115 mph, though a more normal cruise speed is able to settle right at the century mark. Greater speed can be coaxed from the design for recreational pilots interested in faster cross-country flying. One obvious way to achieve this is to add wheel pants. IndUS Aviation plans a more subtle solution like adding a small fairing at the trailing end of the canopy where an inch gap generates a bit of drag. But in truth, the Sky Skooter isn’t about maximizing speed. In a training environment 100 mph is plenty and for many fun flyers, that $100 hamburger tastes just as good – maybe even better – if it takes a few extra minutes to arrive at your destination.
ePod Information Center
Apple Computer is making millions with their iPod, so why shouldn’t aviation have an Engine Performance Observation Deck (ePod)? With this modern device IndUS Aviation introduced an interesting new information system to light sport aviation.
Other companies offer electronic engine monitoring systems. Some have bright, colorful graphics, larger screens and more compact panel mounts. Yet IndUS Aviation’s ePod has several features no other engine monitoring system has. I asked IndUS Aviation Marketing Director Scott Severen to highlight the top qualities of ePod.
He says ePod basically does three things for you. First, it gives you real-time information on your engine. Second, it provides a record of engine parameters that may be useful for mechanical diagnostics useful to routine maintenance and problem solving. Third, it is a form of logbook, carefully chronicling each flight in a meticulous way that is hard to match with hand-written entries in a logbook.
“Our ePod is a data recorder,” Severen elaborates while emphasizing that it is a “plug and play” unit that requires no programming. He refers partly to the ePod’s preloaded data to serve 100 different engine models. Some other brands may accomplish some of these same results but require a laborious and iterative data entry and adjustment process. But Severen reflects on the simplicity built into their capable instrument.
“We’re aware that too many VCRs around the country continuously blink ’12:00′ because most folks feel daunted by programming a video recorder,” Severen says. He wanted the ePod to be much easier to use so they preprogrammed the ePod with more than you’ll ever need. If they somehow missed something, the ePod can easily take on new information that IndUS Aviation can send you via e-mail.
“We offer updates and diagnostics sent electronically to owners and we can add features by this same means,” says Severen. The ePod comes with PodStick, a Memorex USB thumb drive that you use to transfer information from your computer to your ePod. It works both ways, of course, allowing a mechanic to download the engine’s history for analysis on his computer.
Using the ePod is also simple, thanks to clearly labeled and lit buttons that quickly take you to the information you seek. Those buttons are widely spaced, allowing use in turbulence or while wearing gloves.
“The ePod screen rotates every 3 seconds, effectively doing your scan for you,” Severen continues. He notes that the center of the screen is where this occurs with both sides constantly showing you some basic facts: time, engine power setting and percentage, fuel on board and fuel usage. At any time, you can hit a button and immediately see a certain piece of information. After a few seconds the ePod will resume its regular scan of engine performance.
Acting intelligently the ePod offers alerts like some other devices, but it doesn’t merely blink at you. The particular button reflecting the area of concern blinks, and the screen changes to that function, asking you to check the parameter and an audio alarm also sounds, though the latter can be turned off. “Our ePod is simple up front,” Severen explains, “though what’s happening behind the screen display is quite sophisticated.” He adds that while the ePod records data, it also considers what’s happening, analyzing information as well as capturing it. For example if fuel flows and fuel volumes don’t match up, it might help you discover that you have a fuel leak. Imagine how reassuring that might be while flying cross-country at night.
The screen is “transflective,” meaning that it actually improves in sunlight when some instruments become unreadable. When the light dies, the ePod is automatically backlit.
In this description of the ePod, I’ve only scratched the surface of this interesting and impressive instrument. I recommend you go to IndUS Aviation’s completely redesigned Website and check out the large amount of information available. The technically inclined among you will find much to study.
After hearing all of Severen’s descriptions of the ePod, I felt the device seemed to be the aviation equivalent of the medical smart card, those credit card-like tools that can hold all your essential information to assure health workers have your critical information. For an aircraft, the ePod’s amazing ability to know the engine’s history – it can hold 5,000 hours of information, enough for more than two overhauls, says Severen – will permit a trained mechanic to very accurately analyze what has happened to your engine since the day it first started.
Putting It Together
Familiar joins brand-new when the Sky Skooter and ePod get together. The pair will cost a shade over $80,000, which in the light sport aviation world of 2006 represents a pretty good bargain.
The Sky Skooter lists for $79,995 and comes with a long list of standard items. You get a scattering of engine instruments (fuel, tachometer, hour meter, oil temp and pressure, CHT, and ammeter) plus basic flight instruments (ASI, altimeter, compass, slip-skid) and a good load of communications gear (760 transceiver radio, intercom, encoding transponder, and ELT). If you order the Dynon EFIS, it replaces the flight instruments but it has even more functions in a compact face. Call the factory for the latest pricing and how you might wish to outfit your own Sky Skooter.
IndUS Aviation’s ePod runs just under $2,000 with all sensors and all features. This is an impressive instrument that serves more purpose than in-flight information.
The Sky Skooter is a genuine Made-in-the-USA airplane with qualities to satisfy discriminating buyers. Catch a flight when you can and see if skooting around the sky is your thing.
1See “Pilot Report – Thorp T-211 Sport E,” Ultralight Flying! magazine, August ’04.
|Empty weight||625 pounds|
|Gross weight||1,270 pounds|
|Wing area||115 square feet|
|Wing loading||11.1 pounds per square foot|
|Length||19 feet, 3 inches|
|Height||6 feet 4 inches|
|Fuel Capacity||21 gallons|
|Kit type||Fully assembled 1|
|Notes:||1 Fully assembled as a Special Light-Sport Aircraft; kit program may be available|
|Standard engine||Jabiru 2200|
|Power||85 hp at 2,850 rpm|
|Power loading||14.9 pounds/hp|
|Max Speed||115 mph 1|
|Cruise speed||98 mph|
|Never exceed speed||156 mph 1|
|Rate of climb at gross||690 fpm|
|Takeoff distance at gross||350 feet|
|Landing distance at gross||400 feet|
|Notes:||1 Performance figures at 1,150 pounds|
|Standard Features||Jabiru 2200 4-cylinder engine producing 85 hp accessible by top cowling “hood,” electric starter, 760 transceiver, intercom, encoding transponder, ELT, 2-blade Sensenich wood propeller, basic flight and engine instrumentation, fully enclosed cabin with canopy that can be opened in flight, dual joysticks and rudder pedals, 2-position flaps, in-flight trim, panel-mounted choke, convenient fuel shutoff, oleo-strut gear, steerable and suspended nosewheel, single-lever mechanical brakes, ball-bearing control linkages, all-metal wings and tail, shoulder belt pilot restraints, large storage area, map pockets.|
|Options||120-hp Jabiru 3300 engine (on Thorpedo model), IndUS-designed ePod electronic engine measurements instrument (see detail in article), Dynon digital flight instrument, additional flight and navigation instruments and radios, ballistic parachute.|
|Construction||All-metal aluminum airframe, special ribbed aluminum wing skins and horizontal tail with limited composite components. Made in the USA by American-owned company (see article for additional detail); distributed by U.S.-owned company.|
Cosmetic appearance, structural integrity, achievement of design goals, effectiveness of aerodynamics, ergonomics.
Pros – The Sky Skooter and its increasingly well-accepted Jabiru engine will work for flight schools and sport pilots. The T-211 is a proven design from a respected designer, John Thorp, whose work lead to the Piper Cherokee. Unique ribbed wing was designed for ease of assembly and improved aerodydnamics.
Cons – Modest performance and smaller cabin may limit interest from some buyers (though payload is good). With 85-hp engine, the Sky Skooter is a basic performer. Some potential buyers will view this as an older design despite its modernized electronic instrument panel.
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 – The Sky Skooter appears to be a simple plane (and it is) but still has flaps, trim, and electric starting. Flap lever position gives good leverage for ease of operation. The Sky Skooter is well appointed and most buyers will need few options. The ePod is an easy-to-use electronic instrument with excellent features.
Cons – Though the ePod is a very thorough instrument, like all electronic references you’ll need to read a manual to get the most out of it. Flaps are not particularly effective surfaces. Single hand brake is common to ultralight pilots though general aviation pilots might not care for it. Right-side occupant cannot see trim.
Instrumentation; Ergonomics of controls; Creature comforts; (items covered may be optional).
Pros – Comfortable, leather upholstered seats with fully adjustable shoulder and lap belts in the Sky Skooter along with fully finished interior. Dual joystick controls for each seat within easy reach. Large, easily adjusted trim wheel (left of center console). Fuel tank fills from the outside and no interior fumes detected.
Cons – Entry means stepping up on a wing and then lowering yourself into a small cockpit, a tougher action for some less flexible occupants. Small interior only an inch wider than a Cessna 150. Seats don’t adjust, neither do rudder pedals although thicker or thinner seat cushions take care of this. Large pilots should try it on for size.
Taxi visibility; Steering; Turn radius; Shock absorption; Stance/Stability; Braking.
Pros – Excellent ground maneuverability even without directional braking. Hand brake lever is very accessible for both occupants; lever position affords good grip and pull range. Wide-open visibility for preflight traffic checking. Oleo struts provide suspension for mains and nosewheel.
Cons – Single hand brake offers no differential braking (though ground steering is responsive enough that such braking is not needed). I found brakes were not particularly strong at slowing the Sky Skooter on pavement, a problem common to many aircraft, though IndUS feels this is partly related to tire size as the brake can hold the airplane at full throttle.
Qualities; Efficiency; Ease; Comparative values.
Pros – The Sky Skooter offers simple and straightforward landings. Broad visibility on landing approach and before takeoff. Authoritative controls help on crosswinds operations very straightforward. Slips were reasonably effective. Generous ground clearance.
Cons – Landing approaches at 50+ knots (58+ mph) seem a bit fast from an ultralight pilot’s perspective. Ground roll was longer and climbout was significantly slower than some ultralight pilots are used to experiencing. Flaps don’t help shorten takeoff roll much; I was advised not to bother with them.
Quality and quantity for: Coordination; Authority; Pressures; Response; and Coupling.
Pros – Light touch and well-harmonized controls on the Sky Skooter will be appreciated by flight school students and experienced pilots. Handling is very predictable with precision turns to headings easy to do. Linkages are smooth, supported by ball bearing construction. Slow-speed handling is quite good.
Cons – No one will call the Sky Skooter’s roll rate “brisk” as 45°-to-45° bank alternations were in the 4-second range. Adverse yaw was present; you must make use of the controls to effect a well-coordinated turn (though this is common to many other designs).
Climb; Glide; Sink; Cruise/stall/max speeds; Endurance; Range; Maneuverability.
Pros – The Sky Skooter’s slow-speed flying qualities are quite good (though this won’t amaze many ultralight pilots). Cruise with Jabiru 2200 engine is modest but acceptable at about 100 mph at 75% power. Slow flight qualities were very predictable. Ground roll is shortened by lower weight than on the Continental-powered T-211 model.
Cons – Climb rate is only 690 fpm even with 85 horsepower. Compared to potent 2-stroke engines on many ultralights, the Sky Skooter’s Jabiru won’t inspire many ultralight pilots. Cruise speeds are modest for the price tag (many ultralight-like aircraft can match the Sky Skooter, though the Sky Skooter may last far longer).
Stall recovery and characteristics; Dampening; Spiral stability; Adverse yaw qualities.
Pros – Stalls in all forms were very mild and showed no negative characteristics. Longitudinal stability was what you’d expect for a light sport aircraft built to meet Part 23 certification; disturbing the pitch resulted in level flight again in a short time. Excellent visibility helps overall safety.
Cons – Stall speeds are higher than most ultralights (though the lighter Jabiru version is better than the Continental O-200-powered version). When nosed over aggressively, the Sky Skooter can pick up speed rapidly. Adverse yaw, while not significant, is present.
Addresses the questions: “Will a buyer get what he/she expects to buy, and did the designer/builder achieve the chosen goal?”
Pros – The Sky Skooter may find a ready market in flight school operations. Can be flown with canopy open, a plus for ultralight enthusiasts. Has won Light-Sport Aircraft airworthiness and is on the market as such now. Delightful handling combined with the performance boost from a light Jabiru engine makes for a most enjoyable flying airplane.
Cons – The Sky Skooter may resemble a general aviation airplane too much for ultralight pilots (though this configuration may help resale). Design has been around a long time yet not many are flying in the USA. Dealer network and support are still being developed (though general aviation A&P’s can do most of what you need). Prices, as with most light sport aircraft, are on the high end for ultralight pilots.