he Xair hardly looks like a Weedhopper anymore. And its French-based producer, Randkar, may no longer care to associate with the pioneering design (though they surely wouldn’t mind selling 4,000 units like the Weedhopper). Indeed, the machine is now so different, the heritage barely reveals itself.
Today, it may take a stretch of imagination to see the Weedhopper under the Xair’s fancy new coverings. To try, let your mind’s eye take away the entire cockpit assembly and the aft fairing. What you’re left with does begin to look like a Weedhopper. The swept wing with its long chord, the simple, angular tail… it’s clearly a derivative of John Chotia’s Weedhopper.*
Created in America, the Weedhopper migrated to Europe (where more than one company picked up on the simple ultralight). One of those companies is France’s Randkar, which produces the Xair. It is built by an Indian company, Raj Hamsa, and returned to American soil by its U.S. distributor, Sky Rider. The globalization of ultralight aviation continues.
In truth, the Xair is much closer to its British cousin, the AX-2000 from Pegasus Aviation – who bought the design rights to theiriteration of the Weedhopper from yet another French company.
Both the AX-2000 and the Xair have made the older Yankee creation into “proper little airplanes” with the right accouterments of “proper” airplanes. Yet both retain some of the nice qualities of the genuinely ultralight Weedhopper. The combination may interest many buyers.
Randkar has prepared the Xair with full dual controls and an amply wide side-by-side cabin that makes it work well in a training environment. The Xair performs well with the 65-hp Rotax 582 that will be preferred for most schools dealing with larger-than-average American students.
For my evaluation, Sky Rider made available two models of the Xair and I jumped at the chance to fly both and compare. For a few separate comments see the sidebar, “The F Model Xair.” Buyers can choose between a “standard” model and an “F” model. The differences are not subtle.
The standard model uses double-surface covering on the outer two-thirds of wing span, but a single surface with an upward curvature on the inner third of the wing at its trailing edge. Sky Rider’s Bill Magrini says this is to provide a flap-like action when at higher angles of attack. Look at the photos to note a downward-sloped area near the cabin. At low angles of attack, presumably this effect would be lessened.
Contrarily, the F model with flaps also has a shorter span wing with full underside surface. The span difference is 32 feet on the standard model versus 30 feet on the F model, logically adding a bit of speed and slightly more responsive aileron action. The shorter span is also a more symmetrical airfoil compared to the standard model’s undercambered lower surface.
The original Weedhopper design always had struts like modern designs but the tubes were all rounded and had bent ends, to keep the cost as low as possible. In keeping with its more deluxe image, both Xair models use faired struts as standard equipment. The same is true for the aft fairing, which the older Weedhopper never used.
Randkar reports, “The base of the fuselage frame is made of welded steel. This includes all the brackets that receive the tubes connected to the main frame.”
The standard model is simpler mainly in that it does not have flaps. The F model, so named for this feature, has a lever situated between the seats mounted off the overhead cabin. In-flight trim is also standard and is a feature found on both models.
Flaps are two positions of deployment plus neutral. The lever consists of a short handle with a spring-loaded finger pull to change detent positions. Flap movement had a light touch for such a short moment arm. However, in the standard model, I did not find the lack of flaps to be little impediment to normal landings.
Entering the Xair reminds me of the Phantom. At least in its basic configuration, you’ll have to do the Phantom (or Hurricane) Twist: stick one leg in and wiggle your body around tubes until you settle into place, drawing in your outside leg during the process. At normal FAA weight and average stature, I didn’t find it too challenging but it’s much harder than a Flightstar or Sky Ranger. Less flexible pilots will probably want to buy the door extension kit that enlarges the opening a few inches and eases the entry/exit effort.
Once seated, you should find the Xair’s standard seats to be quite comfortable with a tall backrest that even includes a small headrest. In an hour’s flying, I noticed no discomfort. The seat covers are nicely upholstered and boast the Xair logo. Both seats also have standard 4-point seat belts.
Behind your head, you have access to an optional sewn aft baggage compartment between the seats. You can put up to 44 pounds of gear in this location and much of it could be reached in flight through a half-moon-shaped zipper.
Toe brakes are fitted only on the pilot’s side, though both sides have rudder pedals. I found the Xair’s differential brakes grabbed pretty well and could definitely help tighten up ramp area maneuvering. Taxiing, the Rotax 582-engined Xair seemed to run its smoothest at 2,800 rpm, so the brakes were useful when operating on a hard surface.
Shock absorbers are fitted to all three wheels and they are a stout coiled spring plus piston component. I made my own test of this suspension on one landing that wasn’t my best. The Xair smoothed out the touchdown so certainly that I knew no damage had occurred (well… it wasn’t that bad of a landing).
The French designer says, “The [ground] roll is very comfortable, due to the soft suspension that takes the bumps out of the roughest terrain and really gives you an ‘air cushion ride’.” The factory also says that nosewheel steering, linked to the rudders, gives a tight turn in a radius they say is about 15 feet.
The Xair’s instrument panel is large enough to accommodate all the switches and gauges or other instruments and radios you may prefer.
Into Thin Air
U.S. distributor Bill Magrini didn’t install the (optional) doors on the Xair, a good thing given Florida’s spring warmth. However, I was happy to have a windscreen and a full nose pod that would keep runway sand and dirt from flying up in my lap.
The Xair leaves the ground in about average distance for an ultralight of this configuration, roughly 250 feet, though I did not try a maximum performance takeoff. Climb seemed a little weak to me yet the designer says, “Fifty hp [is] enough!” Perhaps the prop was not optimized for the engine or the engine wasn’t turning full rpm. However, complicating my effort of assessing climb performance was a day full of convective activity as is so common in central Florida.
Landing approach is recommended at 50 mph like so many other ultralights. Magrini uses the technique of 50 mph on approach assuming an active day, then transitioning to 40 mph over the numbers, and rounding out at about 35 mph. I found this practice easy to replicate but you must manage your energy once you get into ground effect.
Magrini told me the Xair has an 8:1 glide. Some pilots think the steeper glide makes landing the standard model easier as you can rush toward the ground; your round-out results in a long float. In fact, I found it tended to sink out when I got slow over the runway. It was this characteristic that gave me a chance to discover the effectiveness of the spring landing gear.
Subsequently I used 60 mph for initial approach and I found this preserved energy during round-out better, yet without scooting me to the far end of the runway as it would in a longer gliding ultralight.
The French factory says the Xair takes off in a very short distance though I did not find it remarkable compared to some other ultralights. Perhaps they are comparing it to the new proposed breed of fiberglass light-sport aircraft that require more takeoff roll to achieve flying speed.
Since Randkar says indicated airspeed is 35 mph on breaking ground, they are using greater familiarity with the Xair to lift off at lower speeds. After assuring a safe speed after breaking ground, the company advises climbing out at 45 mph, a speed that seemed slow to me.
The company also advises approaching at 50 mph down to a very short final, which isn’t much different than my experience but I find it interesting that they say to climb slower than they approach for landing. Randkar also says, “The flare is a piece of cake, as the ultralight loses speed quickly when leveling off. Coming in too high will rarely be a problem.” Their landing advice continues, “Just push on the stick and if that is not quite enough, slipping in at 55 mph will let you down with no hassle or stress. This ultralight is ideal for training or for pilots who don’t relish cold sweats.” With characteristics like this, who needs flaps?
Inside the Xair’s ample cabin the dual joysticks don’t have to duel for space. The stick on each side has plenty of room for full stick motions in my experience, although a much larger pilot should evaluate this for himself.
Randkar says their measure of the roll rate reveals “a highly maneuverable machine, with 2.2 seconds from 30° left to right and 3.5 seconds for 45°”. I tried the 45° series of roll reversals and agree with their figure. Though this is a respectable roll rate, I’d place it at about the median of all ultralights I’ve flown. Roll pressures are kept low by using a rather narrow chord on the ailerons. The solid linkages yield a smooth feel with a reasonably light touch.
The F model Xair was fitted with the 4-cylinder 80-hp Jabiru 2200 engine. With this 4-stroke engine, the heavier aircraft is 7 to 10 mph faster than the standard model. According to Magrini, prop choices will run from a 72-mph cruise with a climb prop to 77 mph with a cruise prop.
Interestingly, 75 mph is a high-speed cruise with the Rotax 582, according to the French developer. Vne is 95 mph. In my flying I tended to see more in the 60- to 65-mph range. I believe that to see cruises above 70 mph, you’ll have to set power fairly high.
Magrini reports that the Xair will hold altitude at 5,000 rpm with two aboard at about 50 mph. I didn’t find that power setting would work to maintain altitude in my hour aboard the standard Xair but the uneven air may have been a factor.
The engine is not the only difference between the two models I sampled. Area in the standard Xair’s undercambered wing is 171 square feet whereas the F model has much less area at 141 square feet on a shorter span. With another 15 hp and 30 square feet less wing area, you might think the F model would be faster. My time was limited in the F model but I didn’t see much difference. Even the factory says only 8 mph more with the bigger engine but it will get off terra firma in a shorter ground roll.
The standard model with Rotax 582 didn’t climb with the enthusiasm I expected and Magrini was somewhat mystified. He says the factory claims you can climb as low as 45 mph. When I tried this speed, we weren’t climbing though the patch of sky in which we were climbing may have been producing sinking conditions. Randkar has measured climb rate at 820 fpm with the Rotax 582. We were showing a climb rate of about 500 fpm at 6,000 rpm and operating close to gross weight. The day was hot and humid in addition to being moderately convective.
Another reason I believe this engine may not have seen peak revs is that the French builder states, “The ultralight performs well with 50 hp as long as you don’t try to carry two elephants with luggage.” I wouldn’t recommend the popular 50-hp Rotax 503 for use by Americans unless you and your flight companion fit FAA’s 170-pound average or less and you fly at lower elevations.
The standard model I flew used a Rotax 582 with a 2.62:1 drive and a 3-blade prop. Magrini prefers a 3-blade prop for its smoother operation though the customer’s F model I flew had only a 2-blade prop.
Power-off stall indicated barely above 30 mph as Magrini had predicted, though at these numbers instrument error may be present. The center section of the standard model wing – with its single-surface root and significant undercambering – provided adequate roll control at 30 mph.
Magrini reports a solid safety record for the Xair. He offered no specifics but told a story about a pilot who – after rigging controls incorrectly – struck a ground vehicle at near flying speed. Magrini says “a couple thousand dollars worth of parts” had him flying again and that pilot now has 80 hours on the Xair.
Before stall break, the tail revealed a slight shaking in a clear warning. The Xair exhibits a clean break but it didn’t nose over steeply and the altimeter showed about 150 feet of altitude loss. Relaxing backpressure on the joystick helped exit the stall rapidly.
My longitudinal stability checks showed a reasonably quick return to the trim speed after about three oscillations. I found adverse yaw to be modest, perhaps as the designer used a short chord aileron. Randkar also reports, “On the yaw axis the Xair is remarkably consistent and dependable: you can get away with almost anything. With the ball in the left or right, the machine remains docile.”
One reason to consider an Xair purchase is its relatively low assembly time. One has been assembled at an airshow to prove the point (though factory experts did the work). Randkar has done much to ease the assembly process.
Many subassemblies are factory-built for you. And the factory says, “Almost all bolts are in place, ready for tightening.” The cockpit cage also comes with all controls fitted.
Fittings where pop rivets are used do not require user fabrication. For example, the strut assemblies only require the owner to fit a clevis pin and safety; the rest of the strut comes ready for assembly. No part of the Xair bolts one round tube to another the way the old Weedhopper did.
Most tail fabric comes preinstalled including rudder, horizontal, and control surfaces, although not the vertical stabilizer.
Magrini built the Xair used for this evaluation in two weeks adding up to about 60 hours of effort. The factory lists a build time of 40 hours, but this is presumed to be an airframe-only number before finish work. Magrini does not feel he is an experienced builder though he has “done several other aircraft.” He feels the average builder on a first-time effort would probably take about 80 hours.
The Xair with Rotax 582, manual start, B gearbox, radiator, instruments, battery box, and prop is priced at $13,691. With the Jabiru 4-stroke engine including electric start, instruments, mounting kit, and prop, the Xair standard sells for $17,995. Add $1,200 if you want the F model with the double-surface wing and flaps.
In some climates you may want to add the optional doors for $322. Large or less flexible pilots may want the door extension kit for $125 and the larger doors for this option run $405.
U.S. distributor Sky Rider offers a complete in
strument package including: altimeter, ASI, compass, tachometer, hour meter, dual CHT (or water temperature) and dual EGT gauges, slip indicator, voltmeter, and ammeter for $595 extra.
Load it up fully and you could still stay around $15,000 for a capable ultralight. Being able to go 4-stroke for less than $20,000 is possible and may interest some buyers. Sky Rider has also been testing the 60-hp HKS 700E engine, which is offered as another 4-stroke choice for the Xair.
Magrini indicates that he sold Randkar production #757 last spring. Of this impressive worldwide fleet he believes 90% are flying. Somewhere over 20 Xairs are flying in the USA. As of May 2002, Magrini had been dealing with France-based Randkar for two years.
A former general aviation pilot, Magrini got involved with ultralights when he lost his medical. Prior to a bout with cancer and while he still
owned his Bonanza, he experienced a couple of very expensive annual inspections and decided ultralights were a good alternative. The attractively priced Xair was his choice.
Give Sky Rider a call and see if you also want to make the Xair choice.
*John Chotia is deservedly given credit for the Weedhopper’s terrific success at the dawn of ultralight aviation. However, the truth is that he was given considerable assistance in creating the design. His consultant? None other than Klaus Hill of early ultralight design fame. Hill was the man behind the Hummer, SuperFloater ultralight sailplane, and other designs.
|Empty weight||354 pounds 1|
|Gross weight||992 pounds|
|Wingspan||32 feet 2|
|Wing area||164 square feet|
|Wing loading||6.0 pounds per square foot|
|Length||18 feet 8 inches|
|Height||8 feet 4 inches|
|Kit type||Assembly kit|
|Build time||60-80 hours|
|Notes:||1 Basic equipment only.
2 F model has shorter wing and different airfoil (see article).
|Standard engine||Rotax 582 3|
|Power||65 hp at 6,500 rpm|
|Power loading||15.3 pounds per hp|
|Cruise speed||60-75 mph|
|Never exceed speed||95 mph|
|Rate of climb at gross||820 fpm 4|
|Takeoff distance at gross||200 feet|
|Landing distance at gross||270 geet|
|Notes:||3 as tested
4 I witnessed only 500 fpm (see article)
|Standard Features||65-hp Rotax 582 (50-hp 503 available for lower price), in-flight adjustable trim, partial enclosure, dual flight controls and throttles, pilot-side toe brakes, deluxe seating, heavy-duty suspension, mostly enclosed cabin with wide seating area, mechanical brakes, no-paint sewn Dacron coverings.|
|Options||60-hp HKS 700E, or 80-hp Jabiru 2200 engines, electric starter or E-box with electric starting, doors – in two widths to go with a door extension kit to allow easier entry – full instrumentation, baggage locker, wheel pants, landing light, floats, and ballistic parachute system.|
|Construction||Aluminum airframe, steel components, fiberglass nose fairing, Dacron fuselage fairings, sewn Dacron wings. Fabricated in India for French manufacturer.|
Cosmetic appearance, structural integrity, achievement of design goals, effectiveness of aerodynamics, ergonomics.
Pros – Proven design shape (recognize the Weedhopper heritage?), nicely evolved to be a contemporary ultralight. Simple, easier-to-build kit. Significantly enclosed yet open ultralight-like flight qualities. Aft fairing encloses tail structure. F model widens the product line.
Cons – Xair is no longer a “modern” design, appearing dated to some buyers. Does not extend the performance envelope of many other ultralights you can buy. Foreign production may worry some customers, which may affect resale pricing.
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 – Flaps only available on more expensive F model (which flies somewhat differently). Flaps on F work easily with detent release lever. Exterior fuel fill. Simple sight gauge for quantity. In-flight trim. Differential toe brakes (left side only). Panel-mounted choke and kill switch.
Cons – Fuel in the cabin can create spills and smells (but does make it easy to check quantity). Standard model has no flaps ($1,200 option as part of F model). Cockpit pull-starting could be challenging; no locking brakes for exterior start. Fairing conceals bolts you might like to inspect.
Instrumentation; Ergonomics of controls; Creature comforts; (items covered may be optional).
Pros – Large enough panel for many instruments or radios. Dual throttles are a nice touch for comfort (though neither side has a hand rest). Comfortable seats with tall backrests and head rests. Four-point seat belts. Aft (optional) cargo area accessed by zipper.
Cons – Entry – at least without optional door extension – may be difficult for less flexible pilots. No adjustment on seats (though they worked fine at my average height). I couldn’t reach instrument panel with belts tight. Cargo area is for softer items that don’t require securing. Doors not evaluated.
Taxi visibility; Steering; Turn radius; Shock absorption; Stance/Stability; Braking.
Pros – Excellent suspension (pistons and coils), good for student use. Trailing link nosewheel action automatically straightens ground track. Differential gear made for tight turns (company says 15 feet); brake effectiveness better than average. Good ground clearance (best without optional wheel pants).
Cons – Pretakeoff visibility isn’t as good as pusher-engine ultralights. No other negatives.
Qualities; Efficiency; Ease; Comparative values.
Pros – Lack of flaps on standard model hardly missed; low kinetic energy design allows steep flying descents. Excellent visibility on landing approaches; good also to side and partly to rear. Flaps on F model were helpful (though not powerful). Xair slips went well to each direction.
Cons – Round-out can happen rather quickly due to quick fading of airspeed in ground effect. Glide is weaker than many modern designs. Climb was a little soft in test Xair standard. Wheel pants will limit your rough-field landing potential.
Quality and quantity for: Coordination; Authority; Pressures; Response; and Coupling.
Pros – Fairly brisk roll rate (about 3.5 seconds 45°-to-45°). Good execution of precision turns to headings. Relatively low adverse yaw. Pitch well damped; you won’t need to think about it all the time. Well behaved for flight training use. Good crosswind and slipping control authority.
Cons – Rudder seemed stronger than ailerons (though coordinating was easy in 30° Dutch rolls). Steep turns required additional back stick and power to sustain altitude.
Climb; Glide; Sink; Cruise/stall/max speeds; Endurance; Range; Maneuverability.
Pros – Can cruise swiftly compared to many ultralight trainers. Slows well to a 50-mph cruise, a speed many enjoy in ultralights at which vibration and noise were reduced in the Xair. A Vne of 95 gives the design room for higher power like the Jabiru.
Cons – High power setting required to hold a cruise of 75 mph, resulting in higher fuel consumption. Glide was modest at 8:1; factory states sink rate is about 600 fpm, average among ultralights. Climb in the test standard Xair was only about 500 fpm (though this may be due to prop selection or engine limitations).
Stall recovery and characteristics; Dampening; Spiral stability; Adverse yaw qualities.
Pros – Each elevator half has its own link (aft of a Y junction), providing greater redundancy in this important control. Secure seat restraint is standard. Good longitudinal stability profile; recovered in about three oscillations. Stalls tended not to wander left or right after break.
Cons – Stall exhibits a clear break for those who prefer something even milder (though recovery was swift and normal with about 100 feet of altitude lost). Suffers slightly from common problem of high tractor engine installations: tendency to nose over on power increase.
Addresses the questions: “Will a buyer get what he/she expects to buy, and did the designer/builder achieve the chosen goal?”
Pros – Distinctive swept wing and angular tail. Nice cabin environment; roomy for all but the largest. Can qualify as an ultralight vehicle trainer. Works well in a training situation. Docile overall with enjoyable handling. Comfortable and well protected cabin.
Cons – Not everyone wants an imported design as repairs and spare parts could be more challenging to obtain. Resemblance to Weedhopper, however faint, dates the design and may affect resale.