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Aeroprakt Aircraft

By Dan Johnson, Kitplanes Magazine, October, 2001

An American in Ukraine: We develop a taste for the local sport airplane product.

Kiev is famous for its church spires and its trees.

The September 2000 KITPLANES® cover featured Howard Levy’s report on Aeroprakt airplane kits about to be imported into the U.S. Recently, I visited the factory and flew the airplanes. Here’s what I found.

We’re Not in Kansas

In a land far away, people with a strange language are doing something good for pilots in America. They’re building some fine aircraft and coincidentally helping Yankees discover their distant land. The country is Ukraine, the city is Kiev, and the company is Aeroprakt.

In the Kiev, Ukraine, factory, an A-20 fuselage takes shape in a fixture.

Don’t feel bad if remnants of the old Iron Curtain blocked your view. I had the same impression until I traveled to the ancient country for a look. Before we get to the airplanes, though, let me give you a brief tour of the country, the city and the company. Then you’ll get my impression of the aircraft.

Former Soviets

Don’t call them Russians; they’re Ukrainians. The confusion among westerners stems from long isolation for a part of the world sometimes referred to as Eastern Europe. Soviet dominance for 70 years nearly smothered the Ukrainians. The Communist system created many woes such as endless rows of poorly maintained, dreary apartment buildings and dull, drab industrial areas. Even now, the economy has years to go before it becomes truly market based. Old people can barely survive on tiny government pensions. Some people work for companies that haven’t paid them for two years.

Yet even a non-paying job gives a sense of being connected to the future. These are people who want to lift themselves up now that they’re freed from Communism. Many Ukrainians, especially middle-age and older people who grew up working in a state-run economy, won’t make the transition to a market-based system. It will take a generation or more before younger people with new ideas rise to positions of power in Ukraine.

But already, some have figured it out amazingly well. Welcome to light aviation in Ukraine.

Ambitious Aeroprakt

Using a model, Aeroprakt chief engineer Yuri Yakovlev reveals the company's new four-seat twin.

Run by two Ukrainians—Yuri Yakovlev, the design engineer, and Oleg Litovchenko, the business manager—Aeroprakt has come into its own recently. Employing 40 people, the young enterprise bought and is remodeling an industrial building and will soon have a factory envied by many American aviation entrepreneurs.

It wasn’t always so.

My travel companion, Phil Lockwood of Lockwood Aviation Supply, and I heard quite a tale from Yakovlev and Litovchenko. The early years of Aeroprakt were tough. They worked hard in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds: no cash, crude facilities, a lack of tools and computers, no CNC machines, no contact with western markets where most aircraft are sold, a language barrier, and a national currency not accepted outside Ukraine. Despite these barriers, they soldiered on, designing one aircraft after another.

Then came a welcome sale in the United Arab Emirates. Unfortunately, the deal went badly and the budding capitalists found themselves sinking again. But their work had not gone unnoticed.

Arab Sheik Hussein has a keen interest in aviation, and he has owned many types of aircraft. He flew the Aeroprakt in his country and became interested enough to commission a special ultralight from the company’s bright, hungry engineers.

He had seen what they could do with earlier aircraft like the A-20 Vista Cruiser and A-22 Talon. Believing in the talent and drive of Yakovlev and his engineering team, he commissioned a twin-engine ultralight. Yakovlev modified the A-20 airframe, slung two Rotax 503 engines under the wings, and the A-26 was born.

The story continued for 2 hours and ended with the sheik becoming an investor in Aeroprakt.

Like many others in Ukraine light aviation, Yakovlev was trained and employed by the Antonov Design Bureau. With an army of engineers, Antonov designed many of the Soviet’s most famous aircraft and built the first flying articles of them. Since production was then given to another state organization, Antonov was in a constant state of development.

Young engineers at Antonov became experienced in conventional aviation design, and this solid background has been put to good use in the designs of Aeroprakt.

Vista Cruiser

Each April at the Sun ’n Fun airshow, I fly 15-20 new light aircraft accumulating photos and information about flight characteristics. Most years, I am able to select one aircraft that was my pick of the week. For 2001, my choice was the Aeroprakt A-20 Vista Cruiser.

Fitted with a 100-hp Rotax 912S and flown solo, the A-20 is nothing short of spectacular. It demonstrated sustained climbs of 1700 fpm, and I made one takeoff with only 3910 rpm showing on the digital EIS instrument.

Able to slow to the mid-30s with full flaps for some fun flying just above open fields, the Vista Cruiser can accelerate to a 115-mph cruise. Sink rates with the engine idling are about 400 fpm, a lower-than-average figure even for the lighter ultralights.

I was able to sustain altitude with only 3800 engine rpm, cruising gently at 60 mph. At this setting, the Vista Cruiser can stay aloft a long time, and it is exceptionally quiet.

Takeoffs were quick and exhilarating, and all my landings were smooth. My only problem involved the effort to get the A-20 down after exercising my preference for high approaches. This is a good problem.

The front seat reminds me of a sailplane. The pilot sits well out in front of the wing, and visibility is enormous. I also tried the back seat on a flight in Ukraine, and—while somewhat more cramped—it offered good visibility and a full set of controls.

Prices and options are varied and plentiful. Spectrum Aircraft, the U.S. importer, has the details.

Celebrate Freedom

As this issue arrives in your mailbox, Ukrainians have just celebrated their anniversary as a free nation once again. August 2001 commemorated a decade of freedom for the Ukrainian people.

Small companies like Aeroprakt are part of the country’s emergence into the global society. Given the company’s progress, I predict that we’ll see lots of these airplanes. They’re worth a close look.   KP

FOR MORE INFORMATION, contact the U.S. distributor, Spectrum Aircraft, 13 Crosley Lane, Suite 5 Sebring, FL 33870; call 863/655-9299; fax 863/655-9578; e-mail jhunter@strato.net.

 



 

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