The Leading Trainer in French Flight Schools
To many observers, the Sky Ranger looks like a RANS Coyote. Based on general appearances, it appears the French light plane borrowed heavily from the popular model sold by the Kansas light plane kit leader. But, Sky Ranger importer Richard Helm bristles a bit when he hears that statement and retorts, “People compare the Sky Ranger to the RANS Coyote. They say it’s a knockoff, but the French designer didn’t take anything from the Coyote. It’s built completely different,” although he admits, “It does look a lot like the Coyote.”
Give a Yankee welcome to the Sky
Ranger. The French-designed
ultralight is typical of a trend I
think we’ll be seeing with increasing
frequency—imported light planes from
Europe. Sky Ranger is built in the
Ukraine by Aeros, Ltd. I visited this
factory with Phil Lockwood of
Lockwood Aviation in the spring of
2001. Once built by Synairgy in France,
Sky Ranger production moved to this
former eastern-block country in 1997.
Aeros has found a ready market in the
United States and around the world for
its attractively priced and good-flying
hang gliders. The company also makes
trike wings for Sabre and many other
trike manufacturers, so its entry into
fixed-wing ultralights using the
construction methods of hang gliders
was a logical development.
Because the Sky Ranger was first
introduced to the French market, it has
become one of the most popular club
planes in its native country, widely
used by instructors to train new pilots.
In France, as in most of Europe,
ultralights are commonly owned by
aero clubs that manage recreational
airfields. These aero clubs provide an
easy, low-cost way for average pilots to
fly and for newcomers to be introduced
to flying. Many aero clubs provide
instruction, and the clubs own and
maintain the aircraft. The aero club
concept has worked especially well with
sailplanes; Europe has more than twice
as many sailplanes as the United States
and several times the sailplane pilot
population. In fact, the aero club
concept is an idea that U.S. enthusiasts
may want to consider when the new
sport pilot/light-sport aircraft rules are
Creator Phillippe Prevot had
ambitious design goals for the Sky
Ranger: He sought to “develop an
airplane…with good performance but
with the possibility of being built by two
persons in a week and that could be
inspected and maintained by a person
without special or technical knowledge.”
Build it in a week! And maintain it
yourself? With ease? Sounds like hype,
but according to Rich and east coast
representative, Kevin Green, Sky Ranger
does go together fast and simply. Rich
states, “It’s the most popular ultralight in France, especially in the flight schools.”
In just over half a decade, the company
claims deliveries of 500 Sky Rangers.
Because the Sky Ranger is
appropriate for newer pilots,
its landing gear may
occasionally suffer hard
landings, but its easy repairability is a
benefit for recreational pilots who prefer
flying to handling wrenches. Owners
can reasonably handle more of their
own repair work, say Rich and Kevin.
Phillippe worked hard to keep the
design as simple as possible. The Sky
Ranger requires no welding, uses only
straight main airframe members, and
does not use composite materials for
structural components. “The Sky Ranger
is of typical ultralight construction with
tubes bolted together,” clarifies Rich.
Overall, Sky Ranger is based on
triangulation from the centerline of the
fuselage. According to Rich, the design
has earned a French patent for the
tubing airframe structure and its lack of
complex, formed members.
Besides the simple design concept,
the Sky Ranger has no obstructing
aircraft components to make your entry
harder. You need not slide behind,
around, or step over any tubes to enter
the Sky Ranger. This is rare among light
aircraft designs, especially those using
aluminum tubing for the main structure.
Rich says two people can fold the
wings in 20 minutes; however, I never
witnessed the effort. Folding wings have
become a marketing plus for many
designs, and Sky Ranger has also found
this to be true.
I found the Sky Ranger I flew to be a
well-equipped ultralight, especially at a
fairly modest price ($12,500 without
engine). My evaluation aircraft had
hydraulic brakes, flaps, in-flight trim,
remote primer, electric start, and an
electric Ivo prop joined to a Rotax 503.
Sky Ranger’s standard equipment flap
lever is tucked almost out of sight
between the seats and has a squeeze
handle to allow movement between
three positions of flaps plus a neutral
position. The in-flight trim is located at
the back of the seat frames between
pilots. A small lever adjusts tension on
the elevator linkage in a manner
common to ultralights.
Americans Will Fit Well
“Two large pilots should fit well in
the Sky Ranger,” says Rich. “Another
200-pounder and I fit comfortably, and
the Rotax 503 performed very well,” he
explained while also endorsing the
lower cost engine. In my flying, I also
found the popular two-stroke to be
Even for big folks, entry into the Sky
Ranger is not hampered, thanks to a
lone side structural member. Positioned
at your hips, this single tube on a 45-
degree angle is padded and mostly out
of the way.
In fact, you may come to
like it just as sports car buffs prefer their
auto seats with side bolsters to securely
hold you in place. Especially with the
doors off, pilots accustomed to some
side structure may like the tube’s
In fact, I found it comforting. I have
lots of experience with even-more-open
ultralights, and I usually enjoy the
sensation. However, in the Sky Ranger
with no doors installed and almost no
side structure, I got a weird feeling that I
could fall out. This sensation
heightened when I deliberately made
uncoordinated turns or maneuvers to
test the ultralight’s control responses.
Though I rarely get this feeling and
can’t explain it in Sky Ranger, at least
the machine’s very sturdy seat belt
system and that short, padded tube at
my outside hip offered me a little
security. Doors are available for the truly
I found the access to the primary
controls such as the joystick, flap lever,
and trim lever to be good, but I really
didn’t care for the throttle in the Sky
Ranger. For me, it was too much of a
reach and offered no place to rest my
hand. If you keep your hand on the
throttle constantly, as I often do, the
location caused fatigue. Rich says you
can set up the throttle as a push-pull
knob, like a Cessna, but that wouldn’t
help much over the lever arrangement.
You’d still have the reach and no
Because the Sky Ranger’s seats are
only adjustable during construction, I
couldn’t move the seat up closer to
reduce my reach to the throttle. My
reach to other switches and knobs was
fine, so moving the seat forward
wouldn’t ease the long reach to the
The Sky Ranger’s cockpit arrangement
felt somewhat like the older Kolb
Mark III as your legs and feet had to
angle toward the center of the fuselage
(New Kolb’s Mark III Extra fixes this
shortcoming). The angle was less
pronounced than in the Kolb, which
has a pointier nose, but I found it less
than optimal in comfort.
I also noticed heat being directed
onto my left, outside leg and generally
into the foot area of the cockpit. While I
would love this during a Minnesota
winter, my foot broiled in Florida’s
Locating the brake on the forward
side of the joystick was as useful and
effective as any other designs that
employ this mount, and the Sky
Ranger’s hydraulic brakes worked with
Prevot’s skylight design—basically
encompassing the entire fuselage over
the cabin—allows you to look out the
skylight in turns opposite your seating
side. But, because you sit high relative to
the wing, turns had to be rather steeply
banked to see laterally. In the Sky
Ranger it seemed to me that you’re best
off using lateral vision before the turn.
With the doors off and its large skylight,
including two windows in the fabric
above the fuel tank area, the Sky Ranger
offers broad visibility.
For this flight evaluation, I used an
aircraft donated by owner Tony Berman.
Tony and Phillippe built this Sky Ranger;
talk about your factory service! The two
assembled the plane in three, 16-hour days
(or 48 hours’ construction time) and flew it.
Granted, the clear coating, instrument
fitting, and attachment of the cowl came
later but in only three long days, my test
Sky Ranger went from crate to flight.
Despite the factory attention to
building, this test bird had a mild right turn
in it that caused me to use left rudder
nearly all the time. Combined with the
angled reach, I kept having to reposition
my feet on the pedals to get a better
purchase on them.
Rich says that by adjusting the bungee
cord attached well aft of the pilot in the
tailcone, you could fix some turn tendency
by sliding the bungee to the appropriate
side. This has limits, of course, but for small
adjustments, it may prove sufficient. By
creating a small opening in the skin on the
underside, you can reach up and
manipulate the bungee, which is attached
to a mid-cone cross member. Using such an
access point, you could occasionally make
adjustments. Making this access point is
easier than it sounds because the aircraft’s
covering envelope, which slips on the
fuselage, has reinforced seams joined by
cord lashing or Velcro closures. Ultimately,
you’d want to correct the turn by aileron
rigging when time permits, but a quick
adjustment as just described would help
while en route to a destination.
Rich explained that Phillippe always
tightens up the return bungees on the
rudder pedals quite firmly as he believes
this configuration is better for students, as
Rich accounted for some rudder stiffness I
noted. By making the pedals resist
movement, a student must work a little
harder to fly the plane, but Phillippe feels
they’ll get necessary feedback while their
tactile sense of control movement
The dissimilarity of efforts—smooth,
fairly light stick versus stiffer rudder
pedals—made the harmony between stick
and rudder less than perfect. My Dutch roll
coordination exercises in the Sky Ranger were done with much less bank angle than in the Sky Raider II I’d flown earlier in the day. I made good quality but shallower Dutch rolls, which says a lot about overall control lightness, response, and harmony. As I tried to do them as steeply as I’d just done the Sky Raider II, I wallowed around the sky. Of course, my lack of experience in the model also contributes to control sloppiness.
Get Up and Go on the Cheap
Sky Ranger has sprightly if not inspiring performance. I loved that this airplane had a Rotax 503 engine, though Rich admits that he sees the logic for the 912-engine installation. Naturally, 80 hp versus 48 hp would give shorter take off rolls and stronger climbs, but it’d also cost $8,500 more and raise the weight by 70 pounds.
My experience suggests that the agreeably priced Rotax 503 could perform well in a flight school environment. Everybody loves the 503, and you save a lot of upfront cash, though one argument in favor of the 912 is that total overhaul expenses will be lower in the long run.
Climb in the Sky Ranger with the 503 engine is only about 500 fpm, I’d estimate. Tony had not installed an altimeter, so I couldn’t be certain. Conversely, Rich and his 200-pound friend found the Sky Ranger climbed well even in Rich’s hot home state of Arizona with its higher density altitude.
Individual performance categories are important, but Sky Ranger’s overall package is a good one. Sky Ranger has won World Championship status two times since 1996. In the first two contests since the model arrived on the market— not counting one in 2001—Phillippe Zen, then a dealer for the Sky Ranger in France, won in his competition class.
Rich summarizes this achievement simply. “If it wins, it must be a pretty good performing ultralight.” Wellrounded qualities and good piloting technique combined to help Zen and his Sky Ranger to log the dual victories.
The Sky Ranger’s cruise was fairly speedy, thanks to an electrically adjusted prop. I recorded a high of 88 mph during some runs, while Phillippe reports that a 80-hp 912 will only go about 93 mph. Keep in mind that installed instrument error is always a factor in my reporting.
Stalls occurred at low speeds, in the high 30s, again dependent on instrument accuracy. But intuitively I felt I could sense the lighter weight of the smaller engine and lighter airframe. All stalls—power on, power off, and accelerated—resisted any tendency to fall on a wing, and the nose break was mild or nonexistent. Indeed, these characteristics are good for students and for the rest of us.
I did no spins or other unusual attitude maneuvers because the aircraft didn’t have a parachute. Sabre Aircraft, Rich’s company, works closely with BRS and a system installation for the Sky Ranger is expected, but none was installed on this test ultralight. However, chutes have been fitted on the design, as Rich referenced a deployment in South Africa in the last couple years. Unfortunately, information was sparse as to why the need arose or how the emergency system performed.
I’d Advise a Close Look
If you have an interest in this airplane, you have several sources to see it. At the time of its introduction, Sky Ranger was already represented in three distinct locales of the United States and in Canada.
Sabre Aircraft, located in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area, has the U.S. and Mexican distribution rights; Speedwing has Canada. Acting as dealers through Sabre Aircraft, Florida-based Arnet-Pereyra, manufacturers of the Aventura and several other aircraft, and Kevin Green of West Virginia-based Green Landings, distribute the aircraft. Kevin is enthusiastic about the Sky Ranger and has consummated numerous sales. He also represents Flightstar Sportplanes.
The Sky Ranger is billed as an “ultra-fast build kit” with the flaps, ailerons, tailplane, vertical stabilizer, rudders, and elevator coming pre-built and covered. The rest of the airframe is referred to as “a number of subassemblies.” In addition, the factory says that, “All joints come with the bolts already in position and attachment brackets already in their places.”
Tony Berman says that covering the Sky Ranger was one of the easier jobs, as those surfaces merely slip on and tie up.
This is a big difference over conventional
dope-and-fabric covering, which then
requires heat-stretching, priming, and
painting. You save both time and money
with the Dacron envelope solution.
Green Landings advertises good prices
on all models of Sky Rangers, and they
have clear pricing about the cost to build
it for you. Even if the task is supposedly
quick and simple, it still takes 100 hours
or more, making the Green Landings’
offer of interest to many time-starved
pilots. And, if built as a Part 103
ultralight, building the aircraft for you is
The basic Sky Ranger kit, without
engine, runs a shade over $12,000. Add
the Rotax 503 plus mounts, exhaust,
(non-electric) prop, and your choice of
colors, the price tag hits $15,500. If you
must have the 80-hp 912 Rotax plus its
electric starter, you’ll spend almost
$24,000. Those interested in four-stroke
advantages might also choose the HKS
700-E engine, which would offer more
than adequate power at lower cost. But
those aircraft will definitely not meet the
weight limitations of FAR Part 103, so
builders would need to register those
aircraft in the experimental amateurbuilt
Despite the higher price of the 912
model, Rich says, “I’ve looked at it all
and I’m convinced the 912 is the way to
go.” He calculated purchase price,
overhaul and maintenance, and fuel
consumption and believes the fourstroke
engine is worth the considerable
extra cost. Rich also agreed that the HKS
700E would make a good powerplant for
the same reasons.
To compare, the Rotax 503 adds
about $3,500 to the airframe price, not
including the effort of installation. Have
Sabre install a Rotax 912 and the
comparable value is around $11,000
(though they do the work of installation
for this price). Have Sabre fit an HKS and
the add-on to the airframe will be under
$9,000 thanks to new, lower prices from
the Japanese engine distributed by
Big engine or little, four stroke or two,
Sky Ranger makes an interesting new
choice for private owners and flight
schools. Either way, you might feel at
home in the Sky Ranger.
|Empty weight||405 pounds|
|Gross weight||992 pounds|
|Wing area||152 square feet|
|Wing loading||6.2 pounds/square foot|
|Kit type||Fast-Build kit|
|Build time||100 hours1|
|Notes:||1See distributor and article for further details about the build effort.|
|Standard engine||Rotax 503|
|Power||50 hp at 6,500 rpm|
|Power loading||19.1 pounds per hp|
|Cruise speed||70-85 mph2|
|Never exceed speed||103 mph|
|Rate of climb at gross||600 fpm|
|Takeoff distance at gross||650 feet|
|Landing distance at gross||800 feet|
|Notes:||2Test Sky Ranger was equipped with an in-flight adjustable prop (see story).|
|Standard Features||Rotax 503, ASI, tach, hydraulic brakes, 3-position flaps, cabin with removable doors, remote choke, shock-absorbing gear, steerable nosewheel, choice of colors for slip-on Dacron covers with lash-up tightening (no painting required).|
|Options||Engines up to 100-hp Rotax 912S including Rotax 582, 618, and regular 912, also 60-hp HKS 700E, electric starter, 4-blade prop, additional instruments, assembly option, doors, and ballistic parachute.|
|Construction||Aluminum airframe, fiberglass fairing, presewn Dacron wing, fuselage, and tail coverings. Designed in France. Made in the Ukraine (by Aeros); distributed by U.S.-owned company (Sabre Aircraft).|
Cosmetic appearance, structural integrity, achievement of design goals, effectiveness of aerodynamics, ergonomics.
Pros – The Sky Ranger had specific design goals at outset: well-rounded performance, quick build, easy repair. Goals were reached. Very simple “ultralight like” construction: no welding, only straight main tubes, sewn Dacron covering. Aircraft well proven through years of use. More than 500 built.
Cons – Critics says it’s just a RANS S-6 Coyote II knockoff (though it is really quite different). New brand not yet established in America despite a strong following in France. Simple design has a boxy appearance from some angles. Only modest performance and handling (though it’s aimed at beginners).
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 – Test Sky Ranger was well-equipped, with flaps, in-flight trim, hydraulic brakes, electric starting, and in-flight adjustable prop. Easy access to fuel tanks behind tilt-forward seats. Convenient primer on instrument panel. Plenty of room for extra instrumentation, GPS units, or radios.
Cons – Flaps, trim, and brakes are standard; other items on test plane were optional at additional expense. Fueling without removing tanks risks smelly spills inside cockpit; no exterior refueling point. Pull starting in this cockpit may prove difficult. No indicator for in-flight adjustable prop and no limiters installed to help prevent incorrect operation.
Instrumentation; Ergonomics of controls; Creature comforts; (items covered may be optional).
Pros – Instructor and student share a joystick but have dual pedals and a throttle for each seat. Flaps and trim between seats also very accessible. Seats tilt forward to allow access to the twin fuel tanks. Removable doors. Four-point seat belts provided as standard. Optional cargo bag aft of seat is fairly roomy.
Cons – I didn’t like the reach to the throttle and it has no hand rest to steady your movements (a Cessna-style push throttle is available). Support structure passing through panel disturbs visibility somewhat. No doors were available to examine for latch security and operation. Your legs must angle toward the pedals in a somewhat uncomfortable way.
Taxi visibility; Steering; Turn radius; Shock absorption; Stance/Stability; Braking.
Pros – Standard hydraulic brakes worked better than expected; fairly powerful slowing. Mounted on joystick, either seat has brake access. Entry is very good; no tubes block your movement in or out. Seats tilt forward to allow fuel tank and cargo bag access. Not windy to fly with door removed. Panel readability and distance are good.
Cons – Simple seats may not prove comfortable on long flights (my 1-hour flight showed no discomfort, however). Gear absorption limited to flex in large gear leg slab and air in the tires. No differential brakes to aid maneuvering. Taxi turn radius was not tight.
Qualities; Efficiency; Ease; Comparative values.
Pros – Tough main landing gear proved itself during an out-landing in a bumpy field (see story). Very good clearance assures rough-field landings won’t affect main airframe members. Good forward and lateral visibility. Modest speeds for takeoff and approach to landing permit speeds slow enough that I hardly used the flaps.
Cons – Overhead skylight was less useful in turns as you sit well below it; must be highly banked for usefulness (though still good for overhead traffic). Factory ground roll distances listed in specifications seem much longer than my experience. Designer recommends limiting crosswind operations to 17 mph.
Quality and quantity for: Coordination; Authority; Pressures; Response; and Coupling.
Pros – Center joystick is convenient to use from left seat. Plenty of movement range inside cabin due to placement. Coordination exercises went well to shallow angles (where most students fly). Adverse yaw was average among ultralights. Precision turns to headings went very well; I see no problem in crosswind operations. Controls light enough that I rarely used trim (flying solo).
Cons – Rudders were a little stiff, making harmony less than optimal. Dutch rolls couldn’t be done to steep angles successfully on first trials. No arm rest for stick or throttle; both could use one in my opinion. Test Sky Ranger had a little right turn that took constant correction (though I’m told the adjustment is an easy one).
Climb; Glide; Sink; Cruise/stall/max speeds; Endurance; Range; Maneuverability.
Pros – Light weight (especially 50-hp Rotax 503 model) helps overall performance. Three-blade prop (with four as an option) makes for smoother engine operation. Sky Ranger did very well on the 503, especially considering some have fit the 100-hp Rotax 912S. In-flight adjustable prop extended the range of operation.
Cons – Climb is somewhat uninspiring with the 503; unable to measure without an altimeter but designer lists 200 fpm (I found it much stronger even with 503 power though perhaps in-flight adjustable prop helped). Flies at ultralight trainer speeds; I liked it, but some will want more speed capability. Fuel use with 503 is reportedly higher than 912.
Stall recovery and characteristics; Dampening; Spiral stability; Adverse yaw qualities.
Pros – Very modest stall results; no breaking over and no drop on a wing. Work underway for parachute installation. Longitudinal stability appeared to be good, returning to level slowly but positively. Four-point seat belts add security. Stalls recovered quickly and without wing drop.
Cons – No doors and no side airframe members may give some concern. Steady right-hand turn made some stability observations difficult (though an adjustment sounds reasonably easy through opening in underside fabric, then sliding restraining bungee to appropriate side).
Addresses the questions: “Will a buyer get what he/she expects to buy, and did the designer/builder achieve the chosen goal?”
Pros – Very fast-build kit with substantial work done for you (flaps, ailerons, tail plane, rudder, elevators all built and covered; many bolts already in position). Representation by Sabre Aircraft is a plus; the trike-maker has been a success for many years. Modest overall prices (under $16,000 with Rotax 503).
Cons – Design has no track record or history in America and success in France is not known to American pilots. Uncertain resale values at this stage. Marketing information (option prices, more explanatory literature) still being created. Simplistic ultralight that may not appeal to sophisticated buyers.