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...a web log of developments in Sport Pilot/Light-Sport Aircraft
Preparing to Test Fly Icon's A5 ... at Last!
By Dan Johnson, July 2, 2015

The big dogs have been fed. It will soon be time for we smaller critters to get our chance. Icon Aircraft reported that in late June, they hosted reporters from Flying Magazine, Plane & Pilot, AOPA Pilot, EAA Sport Aviation, and the Seaplane Pilots Association's Water Flying magazine. Those writers got pretty excited by their long-awaited experience in the A5 and I must admit, it has psyched me up as well. Over many years in this trade, I've had the pleasure to fly nearly 400 different aircraft, virtually all of them in the same space occupied by A5 yet, even with all that, I'm very much looking forward to my own A5 flight experience coming up just before AirVenture Oshkosh 2015.

image courtesy of Icon Aircraft

You can read about my flight experience on this website and you can presently find plenty of content (articles and video) about A5. No waiting required! The photo above shows three A5s in the air, an image I've never seen before. Is it real or is it Photoshop? I dunno. Icon has some real talent working for them, so maybe it's a Hollywood fiction. Yet based on the appearance of the six occupants or the sun's slightly different glint on the three spinning props, it looks real. Of course, so did the giant round boulder chasing Indiana Jones. So, tune in only a couple weeks from now and see how I real I think A5 truly is.

Riding the Wave ... Vickers' Wave, That Is
By Dan Johnson, June 28, 2015

As I've written a few times, I see a dichotomy in LSA designs. Landplanes appear to have entered a "mature" phase, where changes are incremental, evolutionary rather than revolutionary, if you will. I see nothing wrong with that. To the contrary, it speaks to an industry that knows where it is going and how to achieve design goals. Electric propulsion is still stirring things considerably (witness several recent articles here and elsewhere) but electric motors can work on landplanes or seaplanes.

To my view, it appears the lead in the most innovative design is being done in LSA seaplanes. Perhaps this was triggered by Icon and their A5. The California entry is handsome and well enough marketed to collect many orders. While finally coming to market A5 has been a decade in preparation. This left the door open for more highly innovative entries

Meanwhile existing designs such as Searey and Super Petrel have been much refined and have demonstrated meeting ASTM standards with Searey also achieving Chinese Type Design Approval. Another innovative design, called MVP, looks mighty intriguing but is still some years away from reaching the market.

CNC Billet Machined Ribs fitted to main Alloy spar prior final assembly. all images provided by Vickers Aircraft
However, rather quietly and thousands of miles away from California, Vickers Aircraft has been steadily working on their Wave. "Earlier this year we secured substantial investment," reported boss Paul Vickers. "We worked hard over the prior twelve months to seek suitable investors from the USA and we found what we needed." I can imagine that the rather dramatic and fresh design of Wave helped inspire investors to open the checkbook.

Thanks to a major injection of capital the pace has quickened as you can see in the development photos accompanying this article. "We are building a 'conforming prototype' that is production ready, meaning that no redesign work or retooling is required to enter production, said Paul. "Once we have completed the current build we will begin working on the first customer delivery, components and parts for which have already been made. The first customer delivery is scheduled for mid-2016."

"We are manufacturing all components, both alloy and carbon fiber in house," Paul noted. "This ensures complete accuracy both dimensionally and with regards to weight. We are very pleased that our design weights match actual part weights. We have opted to use prepreg carbon fiber as is generally used on supercars and Formula One race cars so that we can assure the desired repeatability during production." Many steps have been taken during the design process with an eye to serial production.

Windscreen template being test fitted, prior to trimming the first screens.
Vickers reports completing sufficient work at this point to see their fit to the marketplace. "We expect our price will be competitive due largely to keeping the unique part count to around 400, considerably less than that mentioned by other aircraft companies," Paul explained. "This coupled with a realistic investment in Vickers to-date appealed to our new American investors as it offers a stable and sustainable platform moving forward."

"We are very excited to bring this aircraft to market and we are getting closer to that reality every day," said Paul. "We are looking forward to unveiling some truly exciting innovations that will make the Wave stand alone."

One major difference in Wave from all the others is the planned use of a 180 horsepower engine that he calculates will produce a 120-knot cruise. At such speeds, Wave would be the fastest of the breed.

Pry as I might, Paul would not divulge all his secrets. Yet he did agree to share some very interesting design features if I agreed not to write about them yet, and in so saying, he further piqued my interest. This is one reason why I see LSA seaplanes as the point of the spear, design-wise.

CNC machined rear empennage and vertical tail plug taken prior to mold being produced and first article.
Vickers has lined up a number of what they call "strategic partners." For example, emergency airframe maker BRS has entered into a new developmental partnership with Vickers Aircraft.

"The truly innovative and well thought out design of the amphibious Wave aircraft, when coupled with BRS' long standing leadership role in aircraft recovery parachutes, creates an aircraft that may well set a new standard in performance, fun, and of course, safety," stated Boris Popov (video), founder and senior vice president of sales at BRS Aerospace. "BRS is honored to have been selected by Vickers for integration into this new aircraft design."

"Stand alone styling that is both smooth and strong, incredible innovations, intuitive systems wrapped in functionality for a price that will stun..." expressed Vickers CEO Paul Vickers. "That is the Wave."

I look forward to inform you further as more details and images leak out of Vickers Aircraft.

Super Duper Legend Cub with 180 Horses!
By Dan Johnson, June 26, 2015

Whoa, big boy! When you have huge power available, you need to ... well, go have fun! I've covered the Super Legend before (article & video), which had the multi-fuel, electronic ignition 115-horsepower Lycoming O-235 installed. Certainly that was and remains a solid powerplant but now the company has added a Titan engine that pulls like a team of stallions. Call it the Super Duper Legend Cub.

As sales of Legend Cubs and similar aircraft have shown, pilot interest in Cubalikes is strong. American Legend recently logged their 10th anniversary; they've been around since the LSA sector first arrived on the scene. However, they haven't simply made the same old airplane in the same old way. Now welcome Super Legend HP.

Before Sun 'n Fun 2015, the Sulphur Springs, Texas company announced they had added, "a host of new features for our Super Legend, adding functionality, comfort and safety to the lineage of Legend Cub aircraft. Standard and optionally available, these features range from advanced carbon fiber components, including the company's new carbon fiber amphibious floats, to the latest in NextGen and touchscreen electronic flight displays."

Get all the details at the company's website page for Super Legend HP.
Super Legend HP, the new top-of-the-line model for American Legend's stable of Cub aircraft, was introduced at the Lakeland, Florida event featuring a 180-horsepower Titan O-340 engine. Get this: Super Legend HP can leave the ground in a mere 35 feet and climb at 2,000 feet per minute, according to American Legend. The HP model can clear a 50-foot obstacle in 200 feet, said the company adding, "The Titan O-340 offers fast cruise speeds of up to 104 mph TAS at 2150 rpm."

"The four-cylinder, 340-cc Titan engine is a stroked derivative of the Lycoming O-320. It weighs 245 pounds, which is 20 pounds less than the similar O-360," reported American Legend. The HP derivation is an upgrade of the Super Legend that was introduced in 2011 (when the video above was shot). With more carbon-fiber components and expanded avionics options Super Legend HP is available as an LSA, with certain restrictions to comply with the rules, or as an experimental kit airplane.

To qualify as a Special LSA, Super Legend HP has a maximum takeoff power limitation of five minutes with continuous cruise operations limited to 80 horsepower. This procedure is used by other LSA that employ high-powered engines. For the SLSA model, American Legend uses a special lightweight custom paint and avionics packages to assure Super Legend HP weight stays under SLSA certification rules of 904 pounds. However, the company noted, "Super Legend's strength-tested airframe, up to 1,750 pounds." When sold as an Experimental, the same airframe may use the higher gross weight." To benefit from a higher useful load that comes with the increased gross weight, buyers will need a Medical and will build their own airplane.

Legend customer Jason is seen taking off at Narromine. all images courtesy of American Legend
A very familiar supplier to the LSA community, American Legend is a leader in a crowded Cub market. Over a decade, the Texas outfit has built well-regarded product support for its line of Legend Cub aircraft. Launched as the SP/LSA rule was introduced by FAA, American Legend has firmly established itself as one of the most successful manufacturers in the space. "We have built a reputation among our Legend Cub owners and operators, guest pilots, passengers, and within the industry for designing aircraft that are true to the Cub form yet are modern, competitively priced, and built to last," stated the company.

In addition to being a solid player in the light aircraft industry, American Legend has developed a full line of aircraft and components. Beside the open-cowl original and offering several engine choices, you can buy Legend Cubs in ready-to-fly or kit form plus you can choose AmphibCub. While floats have been available for some time, AmphibCub has recently received the full American Legend treatment and now sports in-house-designed Legend Floats.

American Legend recently completed certification of its own Kevlar and carbon fiber LF1500A amphibious float design. Purpose-built for the Super Legend, the company's amphib floats use a manual gear mechanism that also offer watertight storage compartments. Focused first on strength and performance Super Legend AmphibCub is available with a wish list of features such as the much-revered touch screen Garmin G3X display. These options are available on most Legend Cubs.

Garmin's G3X brings the latest in advanced avionics to Legend Cub aircraft. Available in 7-inch or 10.6-inch displays, G3X has been called "more advanced than modern airliners," reported American Legend. Synthetic vision, a two-axis autopilot, and fuel flow metering are just a few of the features.

Keeping their vintage-appearing aircraft fully up with the times, American Legend recently installed and received approval of an ADS-B system. The company observed, "A far cry from early Cubs that flew without radio and transponder, the installation meets the FAA's 2020 mandatory compliance requirements for NextGen ADS-B equipage. The option includes a FreeFlight Systems Model 1201 WAAS GPS sensor and a Trig Mode S and 1090ES ADS-B Out capable transponder."

Lightplane Electric Power ... Pure or Hybrid?
By Dan Johnson, June 23, 2015

With our friends at the prestigious Flying magazine putting Airbus' E-Fan on their July 2015 cover, flanked by a major story inside, it seems everyone is following electric propulsion ever more closely. We've been doing it for a while as light aircraft are clearly the first place where electric power is best applied. Airbus may be planning an electric airliner but I don't expect to see that anytime soon. Meanwhile the giant builder of airliners is indeed pushing forward with a two-and four-seat E-Fan.

However, I see another use of electric motors that strikes me as very compelling, and in the very near term. I wrote about a Spanish project earlier and here is another.

Many years ago when I was a young flight instructor, I dreamed up an idea called JERA, the Johnson Emergency Rocket Assist, born out of a small rocket engine that some gearheads were applying to go-carts on steriods. My idea was to offer just a few minutes of thrust to allow a troubled airplane to find a safe emergency landing somewhere nearby. Like so many ideas, I never executed so you never heard of it, but the idea of emergency power remains desirable much like emergency airframe parachutes.

Israel's Ashot Ashkelon, Italian hybrid propulsion specialist Efesto joined with Italian light airplane manufacturer CFM Air, to develop a new Hybrid Propulsion System (HPS). According to the development team, "The system was designed for several aviation uses [among them] enabling additional flight time to prepare for an emergency landing."

Reportedly designed as a retrofit kit for the Rotax 9-series engines, HPS incorporates a new gearbox developed by Ashot, a new propeller shaft, a power converter, and controller. Hybrid propulsion elements provided by Efesto also include a high-capacity lithium-polymer battery with power management system for power storage. The whole system adds about 30 kilograms (66 pounds) in net weight, more than an airframe parachute but possibly adding sufficient safety value to justify a reduction in payload.

CFM Air develops and manufactures light planes such as the Dardo seen in the nearby photos. The company's chief test pilot is astronaut Maurizio Cheli, who trained together with the late Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon and is also a fighter pilot in the Italian Air Force.

Dardo took its first flight less than one year ago on July 16, 2014.
Some of the main benefits of the Hybrid Propulsion System are a significant additional power for launch and climb rate enhancement. Operating both engine and motor simultaneously increases the power available, shortening takeoff run and safely clearing obstacles at the airport.

However, developers seem primarily focused on emergency use of HPS saying it adds, "a significant safety element in case of [primary engine] failure by providing extra flight time using the electric motor, also as a replacement for the Safety Parachute." Based on many years working with BRS Parachutes, I am certain HPS will not always "replace" the airframe parachute, for example, mid-air collision. Nonetheless, using HPS to solve engine failure or fuel starvation would be much less exciting than firing a ballistic parachute.

Safety is good, of course, but other uses can come with electric. For example, the Israeli/Italian team observed, "In addition, there is the thrust reversal mode for propellers using the electric motor, which makes it possible to stop quickly to shorten landing roll and extend the lifespan of the brakes, and the ability to charge the batteries and save energy."

Dardo on display at the recent Paris Air Show. images from CFM Air
On landing, they say the electric motor can be operated in counter-rotation mode, providing thrust reversal for shorter landing runs. The electric engine can also be used as an alternator for battery charging and as a starter for the main engine. Electric propulsion can also be used in the air, providing active vibration damping for smoother, low-level flight.

Developers said HPS provides the pilot with six minutes of critical flight time after engine failure, which they believe should be sufficient in which to find an emergency landing site and set down safely operating on electrical power only. HPS is currently offered for the Rotax aircraft engines used by some 200 light aircraft types worldwide.

My JERA might have been lots lighter (if a tad more dangerous with rocket fuel). Yet it never made it to market while the Hybrid Propulsion System is something you can actually consider.

Sling News & Video Maker Paul Hamilton
By Dan Johnson, June 19, 2015

When you deliver an airplane to an accomplished video producer you are bound to get some great photos out of the deal. The images with this article show video impresario (and my longtime friend), Paul Hamilton, flying new Sling N288SL around beautiful Lake Tahoe not far from his home base in Nevada. Paul has been around light aviation for more years that he may be willing to admit. He has long promoted weight shift aircraft and was influential in developing early LSA training documents and videos in addition to making several video productions that were enjoyable to watch.

The Airplane Factory USA boss Matt Liknaitzky wrote, "It was another great showing for the Sling at Sun 'n Fun 2015 and our team has been busy ever since." Regarding the new delivery, he added, "In some recent exciting news, another Sling has stretched its wings! N288SL, a brand new Sling [powered by the fuel injected Rotax] 912iS, made the journey to its new home at Paul Hamilton's Sport Aviation Center at the Carson City Airport (KCXP). Paul, an industry leader and renowned Sport Pilot Examiner and Instructor, offers primary flight training for both Sport and Private Pilot Certification."

Sling owner Patrick Huang (L) poses with Matt Litnaitzky and Paul Hamilton (R) and TAF USA members Jean and Jordan.
Paul confirmed the delivery to owner Patrick Huang of Top View Aviation, writing, "Sling has the best handling characteristics, modern glass panels, and convertible top to make this the best LSA airplane in its class. This is our primary airplane for Sport and Private training and FAA certification."

New Sling owner Patrick is also involved in establishing TAF Asia. Based in Taiwan, his operation in that part of the world recently took delivery of three aircraft with plans to assemble the Sling for the Asian market.

Paul runs a full-service operation with five full-time instructors in a location featuring excellent flying weather year 'round. He also has FAA Designated Pilot Examiners to make it easy for students or transitioning pilots to earn a Sport Pilot or Private Pilot license in airplanes or weight shift trikes. Those interested can also go on to become a Sport Pilot Certified Flight Instructor (CFIS) for either airplanes or trikes.

His Hamilton Pilot Training System is a very complete package with all you need to study for the certificates when not flying one of the Sport Aviation Center aircraft.

The Airplane Factory USA is based in southern California at the famous Torrence Airport (not far south of the main Los Angeles airport). A related enterprise offers the also South African line of MGL Avionics that you see in Slings, of course, but also in many other aircraft around the USA and the world.

TAF-USA has new and used Slings available for immediate delivery. For those contemplating a purchase but who don't want to wait months for delivery, this can be most welcome news. TAF said, "N232SL is a brand new Sling LSA, fitted with the 912iS fuel injected engine, autopilot and dual MGL iEFIS touchscreens. Parachute installation is optionally available as parachute cables are already in place." The LSA has the same color scheme and panel as the aircraft shown in photos accompanying this article. "The plane is fully registered and has its airworthiness certificate," said Matt, "She is ready for immediate delivery." If interested, send them an email.

The California importer also has a very well equipped Sling with 700 hours logged that probably won't last long. In addition to other desirable gear, this one is already fitted with an airframe parachute system.

The Airplane Factory is an ambitious lot. Not only do they offer the Special LSA Sling model, they can also deliver FAA-approved kit versions and those can include the company's four seat Sling 4 as well. As we are currently planning, I'll go up with Matt at AirVenture 2015 to see how their four seater flies.

TAF is the company whose founder, Mike Blyth, has flown around the world in both his Sling 2 and Sling 4 models, each of which globe-girdling expeditions followed some very long flights in weight shift aircraft. Beside being a successful airplane developer and manufacturer, Mike has shown great ability in producing videos of these adventures, my favorite of which is his South-to-South adventure of flying 27,000 miles from the Antarctic side of South America, up through North America, across the Atlantic and all the way back down through Europe and Africa to South Africa ... the entire way unsupported by ground crew.

In my mind that shows not only great confidence in your aircraft and your capabilities but also a spirit of exploration few of us will ever duplicate. I won't be trying to emulate Mike but I enjoy following his flying feats.

Icon Successfully Completed FAA Audit
By Dan Johnson, June 17, 2015

Let the production begin! This, um ... iconic company in the LSA space has been brewing for a long time, long enough that some aviators have been grumbling, wondering if Icon is "for real." Today, the company announced that a week ago on June 11th, they successfully completed their FAA audit. That opens the door to serial production of a reported 1,250 orders as announced earlier this year.

In addition, some media persons including yours truly, will get to fly the machine during Oshosh in just a few weeks. I'm excited to see how this well-promoted, long-in-development aircraft flies.

"The successful completion of the FAA's audit of the A5 is one of the most critical milestones in our company's history," said Icon Aircraft CEO and Founder Kirk Hawkins. "This means that after years of intense development by the Icon team, our customers and the media will finally get a chance to experience the A5 firsthand and form their own opinion. We believe we created one of the safest, easiest to fly, most fun, and coolest light aircraft on the planet, and this is just the beginning for us. Icon's mission is to help reinvent flying by making it more accessible to all those who dream of it. It's a very personal, heartfelt mission for our team, so this is another proud moment along that journey."

The California company flew the first customer aircraft for the first time on April 24th this year.

"Given the years of work to get here, it's awesome to finally see production-ready, conforming A5 aircraft in serial production," said Chief Technical Officer Matthew Gionta. "For me and much of the team, the A5 was the most challenging aircraft program we ever worked on. It's hard to fully appreciate the massive amount of intelligence and hard work that has gone into this little consumer aircraft; it's a truly amazing airplane. I'm looking forward to our customers flying it and appreciating that effort firsthand."

When FAA audits they review production plans and tooling, quality processes and manuals, plans for continued operational safety, and ASTM compliance procedures and manuals. Participants on the June audit included Aviation Safety Inspectors from the Washington, D.C., Oklahoma City, and Los Angeles offices.

"There were no major issues during the FAA inspections," said Icon VP of Engineering Bill James. The company said that it will deliver its first customer aircraft on July 20th, 2015 at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in Wisconsin. Although the FAA audit was conducted at their development facility in Tehachapi, California, Icon will transition serial production to its new 140,000-square-foot facility in Vacaville, California, in September.

Innovative Hybrid: Jet Power with Electric Motor
By Dave Unwin, June 16, 2015

Some people, myself included, love soaring flight. As the following article from Dave Unwin explains, to use his words, "Soaring flight exercises a fascination that is both difficult to explain and hard to resist, sometimes called 'three-dimensional sailing.' Flying a heavier-than-air machine for several hours and hundreds of miles by using the atmosphere as the fuel possesses an undeniable attraction." As he further explained in a longer article, the downside is getting airborne for soaring flight. Various alternatives have been explored. Some were reasonable; others were too marginal to be enjoyed. In the following piece Dave tells about a new aircraft that might solve this problem, one that can fit England's innovative SSDR 300 (kilogram) category. —DJ

Article UPDATE 6/17/15 — ProAirsport announced, "We have now released a priority price of 39,950 British pounds (about $63,000). More details can be found on our website." This is an excellent value for a motorglider. The company forecast their first delivery in February 2016.

When I heard that ProAirsport was proposing a new type of self-launching SSDR sailplane, powered by a lightweight turbojet my initial reaction was one of skepticism. Having taken a cursory glance at the specifications and weights, I doubted that this thing would have enough thrust to even taxi to the far hedge, let alone fly over it!

Then ProAirsport CEO Roger Hurley revealed that "project GloW" sitting in his computer was a hybrid, and that the wheels would be driven by a powerful electric motor. My skepticism turned to enthusiasm and I made an appointment to meet Roger at his shop. I inspected the fuselage plug and marveled at the small size of the jet engine.

Created to meet the requirements of the new UK Single Seat Deregulated (SSDR) class and the U.S. Light-Sport category GloW has a max takeoff weight of 300 kilograms (660 pounds), empty weight of about 180 kilograms (396 pounds), and can achieve a full fuel payload of 205 pounds.

GloW's fiberglass and carbon fiber fuselage carries the wing, engine, fuel tank, batteries, and the clever powered undercarriage. The shoulder-mounted wing gently sweeps at the tips with only a small amount of dihedral. Large airbrakes are fitted to the top surface of the wing.

The Titan jet engine is fixed internally behind the cockpit and features an automatic open/close intake scoop. This very neat little turbojet is less 40 centimeters (16 inches) long and weighs an astonishing 3.7 kilograms (8 pounds), yet produces a creditable 88 pounds of thrust. This should be enough to produce reasonable climb rates at around 50 knots, while the 9-gallon fuel tank should last for several further climbs.

As the Titan engine can burn a variety of fuels, from Jet A-1 and JP-4 to diesel, kerosene, and domestic fuel oil, it cannot only be readily refuelled from a variety of sources but is incredibly cheap!

As it is expected that a take-off and climb to 3,000 feet will burn a bit more than two gallons of fuel, the cost of a relatively high go-where-you-want launch will still be less than the average winch launch and much less than an aerotow! In cruise, fuel flow is predicted to be much lower.

The Titan is a standard commercial item which is used successfully in large R/C models and drones. Compared to a piston engine, turbines offer several advantages.

They are light, compact and have only a few moving parts. Vibration levels are low, and they are very reliable. Starting the jet is very simple; select start, the airscoop opens, and it starts. Shutting it down is equally simple. However, while very small jets have been used on self-sustainers for some years, they simply don't have anywhere near the static thrust required to take off in a reasonable distance.

Read ProAirsport's GloW logic for self-launch compared to towing or gasoline engine assists.
This brings us to GloW's most unconventional aspect, the undercarriage, which consists of four wheels of three different sizes mounted along the fuselage centerline: a small steerable pneumatic nosewheel, a tiny solid urethane tailwheel, and dual retractable mainwheels. GloW sits upright with wings level. This is where GloW gets really interesting, as these wheels are driven by a powerful electric motor.

Modern electric motors put out a lot of torque and this can produce incredible rates of acceleration (think: Tesla automobiles). A high-tech motor, controller. and LiFePO4 battery pack, and charging system coordinate to accelerate GloW up to take off speed. Here is the design's "secret sauce."

For take-off, GloW can be wings-level taxied, even reversed into position before starting the jet and setting full power. Clever gearing of the wheels easily and quickly accelerates the aircraft to the safe speed above which it will fly and a smooth rotation eases the motorglider into the air so it can climb using the thrust of the jet. As the electric energy required for take-off is tapped only for a few seconds, the acceleration should be outstanding.

The design certainly looked extremely professional. Roger has assembled an impressive team of pilots and engineers. Although the SSDR class is not regulated or subject to mandatory airworthiness approval, ProAirsport decided to follow ASTM standards.

Prices have yet to be announced, but its clear from the design choices made and the manufacturing methods adopted that ProAirsport's objective could place it at the low end of the self-launch market.

all images provided by Dave Unwin
I came away from my visit to ProAirsport completely converted to the idea. Imagine owning a self-launching microlight sailplane, free from regulatory hassle and able to take off from any reasonable field or strip? It could open soaring flight for many pilots.

Trade-offs exist, of course. By definition GloW is very light so although the projected best L/D is expected to be mid-30s, this will be achieved at relatively low speed. However, the same is true for the minimum sink, so GloW should climb very well indeed.

A reliable engine and easy starting means I could use it to explore gentle wave systems, sea breeze fronts and shearlines, and also to investigate hills and ridges that simply aren't accessible by pure gliders.

PSA: An Affordable Aircraft?
By Dan Johnson, June 13, 2015

The following article is a guest editorial by Chip Erwin, a name many rightfully associate with the highly successful SportCruiser LSA. A restless entrepreneur, Chip has been working behind the curtain for several years. He emerged with the Zigolo and is now proposing a fresh name for a segment that seems to have energy behind it. I have reported on England's new SSDR 300 category and I have observed the rejuvenation of Part 103 vehicles. So, on our recent travels to China, I encouraged Chip to express what he has in mind.

Article Update 6/15/15 — At the end of this article see our video shot at Sun 'n Fun 2015 regarding Chip's electric motor and plans.

The original TechPro Merlin soon to emerge with a new purpose ... as a Personal Sport Aircraft.
Is "affordable aircraft" an oxymoron? For most people, probably yes. One answer could be a class of aircraft I like to refer to as a PSA, or Personal Sport Aircraft.

Personal Sport Aircraft can describe a renewed interest in single place aircraft. These are priced far less than LSA but are not confined by the limitations of Part 103 ultralights. So what describes a PSA? Following are some worthy attributes:

  • Price target between $32,000 and $45,000 *
  • Powered by a 4-stroke aircraft engine or by electric propulsion
  • Can be flown with Sport Pilot license without a medical
  • Fully enclosed and conventional aircraft style and construction
  • Good performance and handling: cruise about 100 mph; slow stall
  • Responsive handling and intended for day VFR operation
  • Appealing appearance

  • * not much more than a Harley-Davidson or Honda Goldwing motorcycle; affordable for many

I should point out that a PSA by my definition and by cost constraints is necessarily a single-seat aircraft. Two-seat aircraft would put us right back into LSA where the engine alone costs $20,000 contributing to higher finished aircraft cost.

If someone did a study I think they would find out that the vast majority of recreational flights last around 45 minutes and are commonly flown solo so maybe having only one seat is not a bad trade-off to save six figures.

Also, honestly, if another study was done, many "significant others" would be silently relieved that they would not be able to go flying with their spouses' new toy.

Consider Mooney's Mite — The Mite was designed by Al Mooney and was intended as a personal airplane marketed to fighter pilots returning from World War II. However, it was priced 20% higher than most of the two-seat competitors at the time. Had it been priced significantly lower than the two seaters it may have been a greater success. Nonetheless, Mite enjoyed a production run of 283 units, very respectable in today's market.

A few aircraft might presently fit this new PSA class but they fail in some criteria. Many use two-stroke engines, are dated designs or construction, are unattractive to many pilots, or are too expensive.

Chip observes that for a variety of reasons modern LSA, while impressive small aircraft, have become too expensive for many limiting their appeal. —DJ

Truly affordable aircraft can be found in Part 103 ultralights but fine as some of these are, their appeal is also limited, for example, most are open cockpit designs. A void in the availability of a dependable 40-60 horsepower four-stroke aircraft engine may be one reason we see few PSA. Some development of new four-stroke engines is occurring but the ones I've examined are heavier and provide less power than popular two-stroke engines.

Guest editorial author Chip Erwin displays his new electric motor and distinctive prop. Note the unorthodox blade position.
How about electric power? — What works with electric propulsion today are low drag, lightweight aircraft that do not require much power to fly. A PSA is nearly perfect in definition. Heavier two-seat aircraft cannot offer the endurance, instilling "range anxiety," and are still too expensive. Until battery energy capacity increases significantly electric power may be limited to PSA.

My personal experience with electric power shows it can be ideal if:

  • the aircraft can carry enough battery to fly for an hour (hard to do while meeting Part 103)
  • the motor can provide enough power at low RPM (to reduce prop noise closer to electric motor noise)
  • The entire system can be designed and integrated for safe operation

I have been researching electric power, a technology with huge potential, and I believe a PSA is the perfect place to start. A new electric motor I am developing is designed specifically for aircraft use meaning it has high torque, low RPM, light weight and high reliability.

Concurrently a new battery system I am creating has one of the highest Lithium Polymer (LiPo) power densities commercially available and is integrated with the motor, controller, and battery management system to provide safe, reliable operation.

Electric power can work well using a PSA with today's technology. If properly designed, it should provide an endurance of more than one hour. Those who want to fly farther and faster could couple the electric motor with a small four-stroke aircraft engine for a viable hybrid.

FAA is pondering a regulatory approach to electric propulsion but Experimental Amateur Built rules allow customers to build whatever they want. With a simple design and modern construction methods of matched-hole and jig-less assembly build time can be measured in weeks not years.

Britain's CAA published a revised SSDR (Single-Seat Deregulated) rule that allows the sale of a finished single seat aircraft up to 315 kilograms (693 pounds) gross weight when equipped with an airframe parachute and a reasonable maximum stall speed of 35 knots (40 mph). This is a perfect PSA rule which I hope will spread to other countries.

The future may reward development of viable electric and four-stroke power systems and single seat airframes with modern construction and ramp appeal. Let's call them Personal Sport Aircraft.

Contact Chip about his new aircraft through his business, Aeromarine LSA.

Added 6/15/15: See our new video about Chip's electric motor, its innovative battery arrangement, pricing, and plans to finish the development.

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




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 their new P2010 four seater, Tecnam offers these LSA: P-92 Eaglet, Astore, and P2008.
Many Light-Sport Aircraft & General Aviation models

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!

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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 Lycoming’s IO-233 engine.

Aero Adventure offers what is likely the lowest cost boat-hull seaplane in the light aircraft space with a kit that, complete with engine, sells for less than $50,000. Add a long history to its credit and Aventura is a seaplane worthy of a close look.

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!

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.

American Legend has been in the LSA space since the beginning, offering their iconic yellow taildragger. The Texas company offers a full line of LSA and kit-built aircraft including the 180-horsepower Super Legend HP.

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.

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.

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. turned many heads when introducing its one-of-a-kind entry to Light-Sport Aircraft seaplanes. MVP, for Most Versatile Plane, justifies that phrase by doing more than flying off water. Here’s one to examine much more closely!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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Updated: July 3, 2015

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