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...a web log of developments in Sport Pilot/Light-Sport Aircraft
It's Winter, So Seaplanes Are Flying ... Uh, What?
By Dan Johnson, December 24, 2014

On this website, we zoom around the world following Light-Sport Aircraft, from near the Arctic Circle — you know, where Santa and the wee elves are pulling some heavy overtime about now — to the warm balminess of Southern California. I know of what I write, having once lived in the snow belt and now hanging with the family in Palm Springs, California for Christmas. It seems everywhere I look I see LSA seaplanes in sea trials and this is happening in the dead of winter.

Why be surprised? Perhaps you've noticed boat shows happen in the winter months. When living in Minnesota, I was always amazed that boat shows were held in January and February, a time of year when it would be months before the ice melted from the state's 10,000 lakes to allow use of those boats. Yet this is when people were shopping, I suppose anticipating an upcoming season of boating fun. So, why not seaplanes in winter?

all photos courtesy Icon Aircraft
As I recently wrote about the Atol Avion undergoing first water trials in the freezing cold waters of Finland, it seemed appropriate to update readers on continued development for one of the most watched Light-Sport Aircraft ever, Icon's A5. The company's extensive use of social marketing has netted them a million Facebook likes and they've logged a reported 1,200 orders. Just before Christmas they issued a report which I'll summarize here.

Since its completion, engineering A5 serial number one (ESN-1) has been undergoing extensive flight testing and systems performance verification, the company said. "The objective of this process is to confirm that the production version of the A5 meets or exceeds the performance of the proof of concept (PoC) aircraft, which underwent more than 700 test flights for aerodynamic, hydrodynamic, and systems development." Icon added, "The ultimate goal is to prepare the production A5 for ASTM compliance and delivery to the first customer next spring [2015]."

This full-aft-stick water landing was performed intentionally to test the A5's performance and confirm that the aircraft does not porpoise in this situation.
In these preproduction preparations, Icon's team performed several days of water testing on Lake Isabella, California. "Icon Aircraft's engineering team pushed ESN-1's design to further improve water-handling characteristics." They report that the new hull design's performance exceeds the POC's in several ways: The preproduction prototype "can land easily at a range of airspeeds and deck angles (attitude) without porpoising (a pitch oscillation exhibited by most seaplanes);" aggressive step-turns on the water can be accomplished, similar to the performance of personal watercraft; the newest A5 demonstrated that static and dynamic lateral-stability requirements have been met throughout the design envelope in a range of water conditions, gross weights, and center-of-gravity (CG) locations; water handling has been verified in rougher water and larger waves; and, "ESN-1 can cope with high-wind situations, especially maintaining water-rudder effectiveness when turning to downwind."

ESN-1 was subjected to the full range of weight loadings and CG positions including performing a full-aft-stick water landing at minimum speed. "The purpose of this exercise is to intentionally land the aircraft tail-first to determine if it will porpoise, a task that involves a highly unusual landing attitude that appears visually unsettling," observed Icon.

While testing A5, a Grumman HU-16B Albatross, dropped in for some practice landings. Albatross was produced from 1949 to 1961 and saw service in a number of military and Coast Guard roles.
The fuselage of engineering serial number two (ESN-2) has been fully instrumented with strain gauges and will undergo testing to ensure it complies with ASTM strength requirements. Icon engineers and technicians are simultaneously assembling the third production A5, called aircraft serial number one. "ASN-1 is the final aircraft which will undergo FAA inspection to ensure the A5 complies with ASTM standards." Icon's manufacturing facility, documentation, and quality systems will also be reviewed before serial production begins.

ASN-1 also marks a significant milestone as it is the first aircraft that will be delivered to a customer next spring, culminating nearly a decade of research and development leading to serial production, the company concluded in its winter 2014 report. As we admire the thoroughness Icon is demonstrating, we wish them the best in getting A5 into production.

As they gear up for production next year, Icon said it is hiring. "We are looking for talented individuals to fill key roles in Design, Engineering, Finance, Operations, and Production," said the company. Interested persons can see their Careers page on their website.

MERRY CHRISTMAS, everybody!


Fun, Powerful, Gnarly ... thatís AirCam
By Dan Johnson, December 20, 2014

This attention-getting "dragon" Air Cam is not Ron Owens' but it might qualify as "gnarly." As the next photo shows, this was a total treatment.
What would you like for a Christmas present, perhaps if you won big in a lottery? Well, you're a pilot so I might guess that some airplane has caught your fancy. Me, too. Like most pilots a number of desirable airplanes catch my eye but also like most pilots, I cannot afford to have one of each that appeals to me. High on my list of wished-for airplanes is Lockwood Aircraft's Air Cam. I have quite a few hours flying one example or another. I even earned my multiengine rating in one, as part of an article I wrote years ago.

As part of the required hours of training to take the flight check — no written test is involved for a multiengine rating — I engaged an old friend and multiengine instructor, Richard Johnson. An Air Cam owner, Sebring dentist Ron Owen, graciously supplied his Air Cam. Richard and I flew all over central Florida in Ron's plane as I accumulated hours and experience.

Richard and I crisscrossed the state at about 50 feet above ground level, often even lower. We flew over long stretches of orange groves barely 10 feet above the tree tops. Being a safety conscious pilot I cannot imagine doing that in, well ... any other airplane I've flown, Light-Sport, ultralight, or general aviation. When Richard and I approached an airport to do some multiengine preparation — to simulate an engine out on takeoff, for example — we had to climb. Yes, climb! After flying around at 50 feet AGL or less, you have to climb to enter the traffic pattern so you can land. Richard joked that we had to ascend to "nose bleed altitude."

The online Urban Dictionary offers these synonyms for gnarly: awesome, cool, sweet, rad' (among others). I think these words express my sentiment. Oh, sure, Air Cam is no LSA (too many engines). It's no ultralight (too many seats, too heavy). It's not certified, being a 700 to 1,500-hour kit-built aircraft. Most who look lovingly at Air Cam see it as somewhat costly (though even with two expensive engines it's priced less than many high-end LSA). Regardless, I love Air Cam as one of the most thrilling airplanes I've ever flown. If you haven't sampled it, you have a great experience ahead of you.

Of course, you should never do reckless or unsafe operations in any airplane but Air Cam behaves differently than nearly any other aircraft. I have executed a single engine take-off in the machine, just to prove it could be done. I was careful to have plenty of runway and no traffic but most twin aircraft wouldn't — indeed, cannot — even attempt such a feat. When losing an engine in Air Cam, the event is almost hard to notice ... unbelievable, perhaps, but factual. Air Cam can climb 300 feet per minute on one engine. These capabilities make flying low over orange groves an acceptable flight.

This Air Cam may have demanding duties in remote areas, but that doesn't mean the paint job has to be dull.
People who own an Air Cam are as diverse as folks who buy any other airplane. However, I've never talked to a single one who didn't report having "fun," even those who use one for some serious purpose such as aerial photography. Air Cam opens the door to flying you might never try in another aircraft and with foresightful planning, good maintenance, and accommodating weather, you can enjoy an Air Cam in ways that are simply unrivaled.

After the National Geographic Society commissioned designer Phil Lockwood in 1994 to create an aircraft to allow photographer Nick Nichols to fly over the Ndoki rain forest in Namibia, Africa, the design has been widely marketed. Nearly 200 are flying around the USA and other countries. Selling points besides twin-engine safety are its slow stall (39 mph), low fuel burn (3.5 gph at 50 mph ... for both engines), and cruise from 50-100 mph. A kit with two Rotax 912 ULS engines will set you back over $100,000 but the smile it can create is nearly priceless. Two hundred horsepower produces stunning flight qualities even those 180-hp Cubalikes can't match.

I took a wonderful trip to the Florida Keys in an experience documented in this article. We flew a single engine LSA and it was great fun but we couldn't enjoy the island chain the way you can in an Air Cam, especially one on floats (photo). Recently the company, which often hosts fly-outs for its owners, visited Marathon Key not far from Key West. With those twin engines, and even better with floats, I'm guessing those pilots and passengers saw the islands in ways nearly no one else on the planet has ever experienced. That would make a wonderful Christmas present.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS to you and your family!


Finlandís Atol Amphib Begins Water Tests
By Dan Johnson, December 15, 2014

Ah, the Christmas season is soon upon us (or already is judging by familiar music playing on every speaker you hear). It sounds like a great time to go put your new seaplane in the water ... especially if you live up by the Santa Claus toy workshop. Wait a minute! Can that be right? Yup! Atol Avion Ltd., recently notified us, "We have finally performed first water taxi tests of our production prototype on December 14th, 2014 at Rovaniemi, Finland. After thorough systems tests, water taxi tests were performed on Kemijoki River near the Arctic Circle ... just a few miles from Santa's home. Our plane worked as planned and proved to be even better than expected."

As a Florida resident, I have plenty of local acquaintances that think such an exercise sounds crazy, to be out water testing an amphibious airplane in winter. They mean here in Florida where it's on the cool side ... you know, 50s and 60s. Yet look at the photos and realize we are not showing several images that reveal the Atol airplane with ice droplets formed over its tailplane parts from cruising around in water cold enough to have mini icebergs floating.

I ran into the Atol Avion crew at last year's Aero Friedrichshafen event (another is coming over April 15-18, 2015). The group at the show was composed of a number of airline pilots and among them Anssi Rekula, whom I first met at AirVenture Oshkosh a few years ago. Anssi is a cofounder of Atol Avion. He worked as a licensed maintenance and flight engineer at the Finnish Coast Guard keeping Search-and-Rescue helicopters flying before starting a career flying airliners for Finnair.

Fresh as the photos look, the Atol airplane has been around since 1984, albeit looking quite different from the example in the nearby photos. In an age where we have amazingly sophisticated designs made of modern materials — think Icon's A5 and MVP.aero's namesake MVP as but two gleaming examples — Atol has a core made from wood. Why would they stick with such an "outdated" material?

Inset shows the wheel fairing that will come on a completed aircraft.
According to Atol Avion, "Development of wooden aircraft structures was discontinued when reinforced plastic aircraft became more popular in the 1970s." They note, however, that empty weights of gliders and motor gliders increased by 20 to 30% when they began making extensive use of the slippery new exterior finish. "When the development of Atol was started 30 years ago," the company continued, "wooden structure was selected for this very reason. Reinforced plastic displaced the wooden structure for manufacturing reasons, and its increasing popularity stopped the development of the wooden structure. We chose to continue development of wooden structure manufacturing methods and, as a result of this work, we prefer to talk of a wood composite structure."

Wood composite structure is one of Atol's strengths, Anssi told me. "The strength-to-weight ratio of wood is superior to the majority of building materials. Only plastic structures reinforced with carbon and aramid fiber exceed the qualities of wood, but at a much higher price." Also, carbon fiber structure is so strong, Atol expressed, that structures need to be over-dimensioned in lighter aircraft in order to attach them to the other structure. As a result, competitors' aircraft built of carbon fiber are much heavier than Atol. As an example, partly due to building materials and partly to offer features they believe customers want, Icon had to go obtain a weight exemption from FAA.

Speaking with authority up in the Arctic Circle, Atol stated, "Contrary to what some believe, the wooden structure posses excellent weather resistance. If the structure has been designed and built correctly, and it is stored and maintained properly, it can be used for decades." In our climate-obsessed world, a strong feature of wood structure is a smaller carbon footprint compared to other material. Also, Atol notes, "Wood binds carbon, whereas the manufacture of aluminum and reinforced plastic materials release it."

Click this link to get a good overall look at the airplane, which you can spin around with your mouse or pointing device.
Anssi was very proud of the recent water taxi testing in the icy waters of northern Finalnd. "We have been waiting for this day for a long time and surely our clients will appreciate the product they'll get." The company already has orders on the books but now offers two remaining slots for customers in the 2015 production schedule before the price of the basic plane will be raised from €125,000 (about $155,000 at today's exchange rate) to €139,000 ($172,000) for orders received after May 1st, 2015. My close examination of Atol at Aero last year revealed many clever engineering qualities. Combined with a well-established airplane that has good flight qualities, Atol deserves consideration.


BRM Aeroís Bristell Gains New U.S. Distributor
By Dan Johnson, December 10, 2014

BRM Aero's Bristell got off to a good start in the USA two years ago. Unfortunately, after an initial burst of positive reviews and good response from pilots, the distributor at the time stumbled. A failed association with the now-defunct Aviation Access Project undermined the efforts but that association had nothing to do with the Czech aircraft producer. So, after a year or so of discussions and evaluation, BRM Aero found a new, high-quality representative.

In early December 2014, Bristell Aircraft, a New York corporation, officially accepted the appointment to represent the aircraft of BRM Aero. "Bristell Aircraft is an American company whose roots go deep into the highly-structured world of FAA-certified aircraft," said Lou Mancuso, director of Bristell Aircraft. Over the last year, Lou has worked directly with BRM Aero "to develop, customize, and standardize aircraft specifically for the North American market." Lou and his team bring 68 years of aviation sales, service and training success and appear well suited to the endeavor.

"We are excited to introduce American aviators to this exceptional aircraft," said Lou. "In our flight schools we have owned and operated several brands of LSA. Without doubt the Bristell is the very best." Milan Bristela, the aircraft's designer said, "We are delighted to have the breadth of expertise and depth of resources that Lou's team brings to Bristell and North America." See this video interview with Milan shot at Aero 2013.

Conceived from the ground up for American customers, designer Milan Bristela's creation has the widest cockpit available in the fleet of more than 130 Light-Sport Aircraft. At slightly more than 51 inches wide the cabin is broader than a Cirrus SR22 that sells for more than five times as much. "Milan focused on making the aircraft extremely comfortable, easy to fly and with enviable performance and stability," noted Mancuso. With a substantial 600-pound useful load, two people can easily take off with full fuel and still have room for luggage, the importer said. Equipped with a fuel-sipping Rotax 912iS, the Bristell easily covers 600 nautical miles between fuel stops.

"This aircraft is the culmination of Bristela's decades of aircraft design experience," added Mancuso. "It's sleek lines and superb fit and finish are an outward manifestation of the thought and care that have gone into its creation. In Bristela's words, this aircraft is what his heart created. Hence his company slogan, 'Wings with heart'."

BRM Aero's TDO (Taildragger Option) is flying in Europe.
"American aviators demand a high level of quality, reliability, and support," expressed Mancuso. "Simply importing and reselling an aircraft was not an option for us." Working with BRM Aero, Bristell Aircraft selected upgraded interiors, equipped models with standardized systems and configurations like toe brakes and have standard tire sizes that are available at most FBOs. Bristell Aircraft said it maintains a comprehensive inventory of aircraft-specific parts at two east cost locations.

"We can ensure that Bristell customers enjoy ease-of-maintenance and maximum long-term serviceability," said Mancuso. The result of the collaboration of the Czech manufacturer and the New York aviation enterprise is "a premier line of Light Sport Aircraft tailored for the American aviator with the highest level of quality, fit and finish available, and backed by the longest warranty in its class," added Mancuso. Bristell offers a two year/400 hour warranty.

The Czech company offers a kit version as well; U.S. qualification has not yet been determined.
Bristell is available as a Light-Sport in either tricycle gear or taildragger configuration, A retractable model is offered in Europe. The European producer also offers a kit version and Mancuso's Bristell Aircraft may elect to represent this choice as well. Any way it is configured, Bristell is a lovely, efficient, well-flying airplane. You can read my short review in this article or watch this video after that flight.

Bristell is one of what might be called a boutique manufacturer. A small, core group associated with designer Milan Bristela performs the manufacturing of his handsome airplane available in multiple configurations.

Now you order a Bristell model from a reliable and long-established U.S. enterprise. Those who examine the Bristell closely will start to appreciate how interesting a fifth generation LSA design can be.


Fresh American LSA & Ultralight Exports
By Dan Johnson, December 9, 2014

Wait! "...Exports?" I realize that might look like a typo. Did I intend to write LSA imports? Nope, exports is the correct word. Back in the early days of Light-Sport Aircraft, circa 2005-6-7, the source countries manufacturing the LSA people were buying were of a high percentage European with the Czech Republic leading the charge. Their penetration of the market was approximately two-thirds of all LSA. Then came the global economic recession, which happened as the industry began to mature. All were affected: domestic and international companies and pilot consumers. Some handsome imported aircraft never found a market.

In any downturn, some managers adapt quicker to the changing economy. They find a way to offer new aircraft to keep the momentum. Neither were American companies sitting on their thumbs. European builders had a head start because the European-style ultralights they had been manufacturing were close to what FAA allowed as LSA, so many models could be rapidly adapted to meet the Yankee marketplace. American producers, who had previously been relegated to supplying kit airplanes, realized that making fully-built, FAA-accepted models was an entirely different business model. It took time to change gears.

Now, we leap forward a decade to find the landscape has changed significantly.

Abid Farooqui (L), consulted Progress Aerodyne on FAA and CAAC approvals. Kerry Richter is the originator and lead designer of the Searey.
So with pleasure I can now describe two approvals that further alter the landscape. One is an American LSA that has earned Chinese CAAC approval. Another is a U.S. Part 103 ultralight adapted to the German 120-Class that recently won its credential.

SilverLight Aviation, operated by Abid Farooqui (photo) has been consulting to Progressive Aerodyne, developer and manufacturer of the Searey amphibian. Abid aided the Tavares, Florida company in achieving one of the cleanest FAA audits yet of a Light-Sport Aircraft company. High ranked FAA officials publicly called out the Searey audit as a positive example. SilverLight recently said, "Through [our] engineering consulting with Progressive, we helped the Searey LSA get Type Design Approval (TDA) with the Chinese Civil Aviation Council (CAAC)." Abid added, "Searey will be the first U.S. Light-Sport Aircraft company to get this type design approval under [China regulations]." SilverLight led and guided all the technical aspects of design assurance system, aircraft structural engineering, airworthiness management, flight testing and technical documentation including defending their work in front of CAAC certification team.

Progressive Aerodyne, owned by Adam Yang, established an office in China in July of this year. Other companies gaining approval in China include Flight Design and Evektor. My LAMA counterpart in Europe, Jan Fridrich, has provided material for articles on China's emerging market for light aircraft in November last year and another from two years ago that also features several China-made LSA type aircraft.

Abid offered, "Congratulations to Searey to become the first American LSA to get this honor." CAAC's certification team was led by the Deputy Director of agency's Bejing Office."

Ultralights, that is, true American ultralights having only one seat and weighing only 254 pounds empty have not been exports, historically. European ultralights, sometimes called microlights, are usually two seaters weighing somewhat less than American LSA; they are not the same as FAA's preferred designation, "Ultralight Vehicles."

With a simple regulation (written on the front and back of a single sheet of paper!), American ultralights have been permitted since 1982. No pilot license is needed nor is a pilot's medical and no FAA registration or N-numbers are required. A Part 103 ultralight vehicle — so named deliberately to not run afoul of FAA's "airplane" definition that might trigger more rules — can be fully built and sold ready to fly. For 32 years, this rule has stood as a remarkable bit of freedom allowed American aviators.

Vierkwerk Aviation is operated by Wolfgang and Thilda Labudde. They are supplied by Aerolite 103 manufacturer Dennis Carley.
Europe also has a strong contingent of lightweight aircraft enthusiasts. England had its Sub-70 Class (under 70 kilos or 154 pounds) and much of Europe continues to have an interest in weight shift aircraft that tend to be lighter and less costly than most LSA. However, in recent years, UK has offered its SSDR (Single Seat DeRegulated) category and Germany introduced its 120-Class (120 kilos or 164 pounds). Both can work for an American ultralight like the Aerolite 103 built today by Deland Florida's U-Fly-It. Read more about the new classes.

However, just because a government allows light aircraft to suffer less regulatory burden, European nations aren't quite as progressive about letting go of the reins as was FAA back in '82. In Germany the Aerolite dealer, Vierkwerk Aviation, had to go to significant effort and time to gain approval under the 120-Class category. At Aero this year, the company debuted the Aerolite 120 and announced they were pursuing acceptance. Just a few days, ago Vierwerk announced German approval, "Aerolite 120 was certified on November 20, 2014 as the legal European version. It may be flown as a deregulated single seat aircraft at 120 kilograms MTOW."

My congratulations to Progressive Aerodyne, assisted by SilverLight Aviation and to Vierwerk and U-Fly-It for these approvals in China and Germany.


Belgium D-Motor Declares ASTM Compliance
By Dan Johnson, December 3, 2014

In the world of FAA-accepted Light-Sport Aircraft, engines choices have been limited to Rotax, Jabiru, and HKS adding to updated versions from certified engine producers such as Continental and Lycoming plus the big Titan engine from ECi. Now, according to the U.S. importer, that rather exclusive club is joined by Belgium's D-Motor, while earlier reports suggested the UL Power engine is also pursuing ASTM compliance. "We invested 500 hours testing the LF26 D-Motor from summer to fall," said Doc' Bailey of Renegade Light Sport, the importer. ASTM requires 100 hours testing by the airframe manufacturer before the engine can be accepted by FAA for installation on a Special LSA.

Doc' has been in regular contact with the Light-Sport office of FAA. The agency does not audit powerplants the same way as airframe manufacturers, partly as the airframer must add to the engine builder's testing, but it does keep track of which components the airframe maker has tested. Producers of EAB kits do not need to meet this requirement explaining why new engines often build their market in the kit industry.

D-Motor reports four essential qualities that make their engine attractive. Compact — Flathead instead of overhead makes the engine smaller despite big cubic capacity (more than double that of Rotax's 912). Simple — Flathead design is much simpler without rocker complexity. Light — Extra weight of liquid cooling is compensated by the flathead design; liquid cooling reduces thermal shocks or hotspots and improves fuel efficiency while lowering emissions. Strong — Larger cubic volume results in high torque. Direct drive was chosen as D-Motor feels more comfortable with a big engine running lower revs, however, engineers incorporated Nikasil cylinder treatment used on high-revving engines. Safety — "When a valve of an overhead engine does not close the engine stops resulting in expensive repair," according to D-Motor. "When a valve of a side valve engine does not close, you continue flying with less power without expensive repairs."

As I've learned through the evaluation of many airplanes, engine cooling is both a critical engineering challenge that is also something of an art. Certainly it can be of vital importance, both to engine power and longevity. "During testing, cooling of the D-Motor LF26 showed only 10 degrees fluctuation during testing in the hot months of July and August through October," noted Doc'. This result suggests good things for the life of the powerplant. In another demonstrable benefit, torque of the engine appears significant. Doc' indicated that the Belgian factory claims torque at 280 newton meters versus 140 for the Rotax 912. The Rotax BRP website lists torque at 128 newton meters (94 foot pounds). D-Motor's website also shows "91.8 hp (67.5KW) at 3000 RPM" for the 2690 cc four cylinder, four stroke, liquid cooled engine while Rotax states "73.5 kW or 98.5 horsepower."

The company's American website, reports "The D-Motor is [a] four-stroke side valve (flat head) boxer engine using the latest technology, including multipoint fuel injection, electronic ignition and liquid cooling." Price in the USA is $18,500 for the LF26. While this is modestly less than a carburetor 912ULS it is several thousand less than the also-fuel-injected 912 iS.

"The real game changer is the six cylinder LF39 engine that is well along in testing," feels Doc'. The larger engine is expected to offer about 125 horsepower while coming in a forecast several pounds under the four cylinder, 100 horsepower 912.

Comparing engine weight is devilishly difficult as components for different installation can vary. D-Motor in Belgium wrote, "The final dry weight of the four cylinder LF26 engine is 58 kilograms or 128 pounds and the final dry weight weight of the six cylinder LF39 is 78 kilograms or 172 pounds. Wet weight depends on the radiator choice and the length of the hoses but the manufacturer reports, "63 kilograms (139 pounds) for the LF26 and 85 kilograms (187 pounds) for the LF39."

The six cylinder engine is presently under development although with more than 100 hours of testing completed. "Because this engine is very similar to the four cylinder with many common parts that have already proven to be reliable," wrote D-Motor Belgium, they expect to launch this engine in a relatively short time. Both engines are delivered very complete. "This is the equivalent of a firewall forward kit," said Doc'. Delivered components include: integrated alternator, water pump, oil pump, electric starter, rubber mounts, fuel pump, fuel filter, injectors, 2 ignition coils, sparkplugs and ignition leads, ECU and loom, 2 water temperature sensors, oil pressure and oil temperature sensor, oil radiator, filter, and tank, and adaptable exhaust kit. A liquid cooling system (radiator, hoses and expansion tank) are not included as equipment varies for different cooling configurations. "It is too difficult to anticipate a solution for every installation," said D-Motor. They report actual TBO time is 1500 hours.


Working Aircraft ... for the Fun of Flying
By Dan Johnson, December 1, 2014

In two industry meetings held during 2014, Light-Sport Aircraft manufacturers, organization leaders, FAA personnel, and other interested parties reviewed a list of changes that would improve the 10-year-old SP/LSA regulation. Some items represent minor changes the agency could make fairly quickly. Others are more challenging. Number one on the list involves FAA allowing certain commercial LSA operations when flown by qualified pilots. Even if no great resistance exists — and reasons for optimism are present — this could be some time coming as regulation change is complicated in today's federal government. Another area of intense interest is electric power. While unleashing development of LSA using electric propulsion also requires regulation change, an exemption might allow technical progress before rule change could occur. Recently another group with many more years of effort already invested was able to earn such an exemption. Ed Pitman of Pitman Air recently announced Exemption 11104.

The exemption covers new SLSA and ELSA kits plus transitioned ELSA Dragonfly aircraft. The exemption allows Light-Sport compensated towing of hang gliders, light sailplanes, and LSA gliders. This is a big step forward. Dragonfly tugs are operating around the world, but arrived many years ago as "ultralight" aircraft, a term with different meaning in different countries. Today in the USA, an ultralight is a single seater of minimal weight. Dragonfly couldn't fit the definition if it was to do the job properly. Yet modern hang gliders are launched in many parts of the USA and world by a fleet of Dragonfly aircraft. Even though they are often operated in remote areas well away from other air traffic, running an enterprise in a gray area of rules and regulations was not acceptable for the long run. Airparks around the USA tow hang gliders aloft and have almost no accidents so they were able to remain off the radar for years. FAA knew what was going on, but as these operations didn't interfere with the airspace system and being almost incident-free — and considering FAA's docket full of high-pressure matters like drone operations — hang glider towing was allowed to proceed.

Read the earlier story about gaining approval for Dragonfly.
A valuable aspect of Pitman's fresh exemption is allowing "transitioned" ELSA to tow. Those are aircraft formerly known as two-seat ultralights that FAA wanted to call Light-Sport Aircraft. Transitioned aircraft had not met ASTM standards but, for a limited time, were allowed to become a kind of special ELSA, grandfathered in as part of the move to Sport Pilot and Light-Sport Aircraft. With the "E" in front, no commercial operation was possible. However, airparks that already owned many of these "ultralight" Dragonflys have to provide launch and landing zones, various kinds of support equipment, qualified pilots, plus fuel. They need to at least recover their expenses. This exemption provides a solution.

Ed wrote, "During the transition period [from ultralight to ELSA], many FAA Designated Airworthiness Representatives issued ELSA airworthiness certificates that varied greatly in the language of the Operating Limitations. If the Op Limits do not contain the proper language for Aero Towing, [operators of pre-LSA Dragonflys were] out of luck." The old operating limits could not be changed after January 31, 2008 when the transition period closed. This is why the addition of transitioned Dragonflys is such a prize.

Dragonfly can accommodate two seats when training or checking tow pilots.
FAA's guidance material now contains: (Limitation 13) "No person may operate this aircraft for compensation or hire, except this aircraft may be used for compensation or hire to conduct towing of a light-sport glider or an unpowered ultralight vehicle in accordance with 14 CFR § 91.309" (emphasis mine). An "unpowered ultralight vehicle" is a hang glider or paraglider. Ed added, "Limitation (13) applies to towing and has no expiration date." Another limitation (23) states: "No person may operate this aircraft to tow a Light-Sport glider or unpowered ultralight vehicle for compensation or hire or conduct flight training for compensation or hire in this aircraft unless within the preceding 100 hours of time in service the aircraft has been inspected by a person acceptable to the FAA" (which includes a certificated light-sport repairman with a maintenance rating or LSR-M, among others such as an A&P).

I logged thousands of hours flying hang gliders, first from mountain launches and later via tow behind Dragonfly tugs. The aircraft was purpose-designed for this duty and does the job incredibly well. One operator, Wallaby Ranch in central Florida, can document tens of thousands of successful launches of hang gliders by Dragonfly with an impeccable safety record. Many other airparks also provide valuable launch services. For the modern hang gliding industry, granting of this exemption can be viewed with immense relief.

A long line of Dragonflys are prepared to launch hang gliders in competition in Australia.
If knowing the exact wording and detail is important to you, or if you need to present the official exemption to an FAA representative, download here the entire signed exemption 11104. (This link was updated 12/8/14.) The exemption was issued on November 18th, 2014,. Hearty congratulations to Ed for navigating the federal bureaucracy and kudos to FAA personnel for agreeing to the logic of this request.

Moves by FAA to grant exemption relief as shown in this case offer a glimpse at the possibility for commercial operations by other LSA and possibly for electric power. Earlier this year, at the request of one FAA group, LAMA polled companies around the globe to find many other countries allow commercial operations by aircraft very similar to LSA. Operations such as pipeline patrol, crop spraying, aerial surveying, fire spotting, livestock monitoring and many other activities are permitted in at least 15 countries referenced in the survey. No one expects commercial operation of LSA soon but the possibility has entered the conversation and that could be as good for the LSA industry as Pitman's exemption is for the hang gliding community.


Ride-On Zlin; New Variation on Theme
By Dan Johnson, November 26, 2014

Thanks to powerful Cubalike airplanes — those vintage yellow taildraggers types with huge engines up front to make them perform more energetically — 2014 saw increased attention to the Savage Cub S. The Czech company offered their 180-horsepower version of the Cubalike phenomenon albeit at a more affordable price. The leading brand of Cub-like airplanes has pushed prices beyond $200,000, which strikes plenty of people as paying a premium, though most agree the design is handsomely achieved. They continue to sell well so vintage style appears to hold appeal.

Meanwhile, Zlin engineers aren't sitting still. This company has quite a flock of intriguing models, including Savage Classic, Savage Cruiser, Savage Cub (marketed as iCub in the U.S.), Savage Cub S, and Bobber. All these are now represented in America by SportairUSA, which also imports the TL Ultralight Sting and Sirius as well as selling Searey amphibious kits among a variety of other products of services they've assembled. Last year, I focused on the Bobber model variation and since then, engineers saw a way to take the lean concept even further.

It's so new that we don't know much about Agilis, so let's look at somewhat similar model, Bobber. At Aero Friedrichshafen 2013 we spoke with SportairUSA boss, Bill Canino and produced this video on Bobber, a form of customized Zlin Cub that deliberately lacks an exterior covering but offers many other special finishing touches. It can be customized in some 60 different ways, including fancy paint finishes, thick leather carry bags, chrome component parts ... much like a "Bobber" motorcycle, thereby explaining the choice of names. U.S. importer Bill Canino helps us understand the thinking. As with most of the Zlin line, Bobber is fairly modestly priced, in the $90,000 range before you start adding your choices of personalized equipment. Click this link to see the many ways you can make a Bobber totally your own ... to "bobberize" it, using the motorcycle enthusiast's term. Owing to Zlin director Pasquale Russo's interest in radio control model airplanes, the company even offers a Bobber R/C. Bill said that Pasquale looked at the R/C and thought it could be made even simpler. Presto! Agilis was born. Indeed, Canino said, "Agilis is the Bobber's baby."

Team's Airbike was introduced in 1994. photo by Scott Wilcox
Agilis (which Bill pronounced "Ah-JILL-iss") may look vaguely familiar to you. The nearby photo of a Team Airbike is surely the reason why. Agilis, like Airbike, is an airplane you "ride" more than "enter." The Team example introduced 20 years ago, has a very narrow fuselage on which you literally sit astride. Both your legs remain outside the aircraft. Coming from the often-open-cockpit ultralight industry this didn't seem unusual and having flown it, I can attest that on a warm summer day, Airbike was a superb experience. Check my mini-pilot report on Airbike from 1995. When you compare the two airplanes, you quickly see the similarity. What you may not sense is how much fun it can be to "wear" an airplane more than being contained within it. Think of riding a motorcycle. Some of this appeal may stem from Zlin owner Russo's driving interest. Bill Canino said Russo is an accomplished driver who owns a BMW M-series high performance automobile.

The Team Airbike is no longer in production and was powered by a two-stroke engine that may be less popular today. Agilis uses the ubiquitous Rotax 912. "As light as the Agilis airframe is and with 100 horsepower," Canino observed, "it should have outstanding performance."

Speaking of outstanding performance ... the attraction of the 180-horsepower Cubalikes has been a compelling reason for many buyers to select one of those potent (if rather costly) models. Zlin joined the ranks with its own 180-horsepower Savage Cub S (see our video). Since it sold for a $130,000 base price, people included the model in their search. Even well equipped the powerful airplane retails for about $160,000, offering a large difference from the leading brand.

However, while Zlin can call their airplane a "Cub" outside the United States, SportairUSA was notified that CubCrafters had bought the name Cub from Piper and that SportairUSA had to cease using the name. To make lemonade out of that lemon, the Arkansas company decided to offer a "Rename the Cub S" contest and offered an iPad prize to the person submitting the chosen name. The contest has been a hit. "We receive 10 suggestions a day," said Bill. "We have received more than 800 names offered." He admits some are silly or repetitive but they will definitely pick one — and a winner — when the contest ends in mid-December. If you'd like a free iPad for Christmas, you better act soon (here). Come to Sebring 2015 and see the airplane formally known as Cub S that will be emblazoned with a new name.

Be one of the first to view Zlin's new Agilis that even American importer SportairUSA has yet to see:

To read SPLOG postings going back to 2005 -- all organized in chronological order -- click SPLOG.

 



 

 
 

Vickers Aircraft has created one of the most distinctive new LSA seaplanes yet to emerge.Powered by the 180-horsepower
Lycoming O-360, their Wave model is like no other seaplane ever introduced with multiple features to set it apart from the crowd.
Wave

U.S. Sport Aircraft Importing represents the popular SportCruiser, one of the best selling Special Light-Sport Aircraft among 130 models on the market. The Texas-headquartered importer has long represented this familiar model.

Arion Aircraft has designed and built one of the most beautiful low wing entries in the Special LSA and kit-built aircraft sector. The all-American designed and built aircraft is priced fairly and flies wonderfully ... need you search for more?

SportairUSA imports the dashing and superbly-equipped StingSport S4 that has won a loyal following from American pilots. More recently, they introduced their TL-3000 high-wing LSA. SportairUSA is a full-line operation with maintenance and training, too.

Tecnam is the world's leading manufacturer of Light-Sport aircraft offering more models and variations than any other producer.
Besides the world's fastest-selling light twin and a new four seater, Tecnam offers these LSA: Echo Classic, Eaglet, Bravo, Astore, and P2008.
Many LSA
& GA models

Super Petrel LS, manufactured by Edra Aeronautica in Brazil and represented by Florida Light Sport Aviation, is a unique and highly effective LSA seaplane. A biplane design, this is well established flying boat with more than 20 years of history.

SkyCraft Airplanes is Americaís first Light-Sport Aircraft single seater. SD-1 Minisport is affordably priced, very well equipped, and was designed to exhibit docile handing qualities. It can be flown for less than $12 per hour.

BushCat is the distinctive Light-Sport Aircraft within reach of almost any budget. With a solid heritage BushCat by SkyReach is fun, capable, and available as a kit, fully-built SLSA or ELSA.

Evektor is Number One and always will be. The Czech company's SportStar was the number one SLSA to win approval but engineers have steadily improved the model far beyond that 2005 version that started the race.

North Wing is America's leading manufacturer of weight shift LSA and Part 103 ultralight trikes. The company's wing designs are so good that most other trike manufacturers use them. Aircraft prices are highly affordable by all.

Hansen Air Group represents recognized brands in the LSA
space: FK Lightplanes and their distinctive biplane Comet, FK9, and FK51 plus the great-flying Magnaghi Sky Arrow. Based in Atlanta, Georgia Hansen Air Group is an experienced player in the LSA space.
Multiple LSA


Pipistrel has designed and manufactures a range of beautiful, sleek aircraft that have found markets around the world. Starting with gliders and motorgliders, Pipistrel now offers a line of powered aircraft using multiple power sources.

BRM Aero manufacturers the handsome Bristell all-metal SLSA. This highly evolved, next-generation Light-Sport was carefully engineered for luxury, comfort, excellent stability, and safety while being fun, fast, and easy to fly.

X-Air brings a return to reasonably priced Light-Sport Aircraft, with a ready-to-fly flying machine you can purchase for a genuinely low price. No new arrival, X-Air has a rich history in light aviation.


Flight Design USA imports CT, the top selling Light-Sport Aircraft. CT is a 98% carbon fiber design
with superb performance, roomy cockpit, great useful load, and a parachute as standard equipment ... the market leader for 10 years!
CTLSi

Corbi Air represents the Made-for-Americans Direct Fly Alto 100. Created in the Czech Republic, Alto 100 was upgraded for USA sales and the result is a comfortable, handsome low wing, all-metal LSA with features you want.

Jabiru USA builds the spacious and speedy J-250 and more recently J-230 plus the training-optimized J-170, each certified as Special LSA. The Tennessee-based company also imports and services the popular Jabiru engine line.

Kitfox is one of the world's best selling light aircraft kits with more than 5,000 delivered. With unrivaled name recognition, Kitfox is admired for crisp handling, excellent performance, easily folded wings, and more. The design is flown around the world.

Renegade Light Sport produces the sexy low wing, all composite Falcon in America. The Florida company has also established itself as the premiere installer of Lycomingís IO-233 engine.


Progressive Aerodyne designed and supplies the SeaRey series, arguably the most celebrated of all light seaplanes in America. A close community of hundreds of owners offers camaraderie few other brands can match.

The Airplane Factory (TAF) produces the Sling series of world-circling aircraft (literally) and now this fine-flying, all-metal beauty is available in the United States as a Special Light-Sport Aircraft. Here is an LSA to follow.

World Aircraft Company is Columbian design expertise joined to Canadian entrepreneurship based in Paris, Tennessee USA. Welcome to World Aircraft and a brand-new short takeoff and landing (STOL) Light-Sport Aircraft, the all-metal Spirit.

Just Aircraft has delivered more than 300 kit aircraft since 2002, but in 2012 they electrified pilots with the awesome performance of their all-new SuperSTOL. It may look extreme and performs extremely well, but it is truly docile and forgiving to fly.

Aeromarine-LSA represents an economical Part 103 ultralight that is within reach of almost any budget. For local fun flying, or for those who enjoy soaring flight Zigolo is light enough to be lifted by even the most gentle thermals.

Quicksilver Aeronautics is the world's largest producer of ultralight aircraft, selling some 15,000 aircraft. The company's designs are thoroughly tested, superbly supported, and have an excellent safety record.

Phoenix Air USA imports the beautiful Phoenix Special Light-Sport Aircraft, a performance motorglider that can cruise swiftly and serve both functions with excellent creature comfort. Given its clever wing extension design, you get two aircraft in one!

Aerotrek Aircraft imports the A240 and A220 tricycle gear or taildragger Special Light-Sport Aircraft. A finely finished aircraft at an excellent price, Aerotrek has wide, affordable appeal.

Lockwood Aircraft is the builder of two of light aviation's best-recognized flying machines: AirCam and the Drifter line. Most sport aviators already know the Lockwood brand, a leader in Rotax maintenance and aircraft services.

Zenith Aircraft is one of America's leading kit suppliers featuring well proven models from legendary designer, Chris Heintz. Centrally based in Mexico, Missouri, Zenith offers kit aircraft for several popular models.

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Updated: December 24, 2014

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