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...a web log of developments in Sport Pilot/Light-Sport Aircraft
Flying America’s First Homegrown Modern Gyroplane
By Dan Johnson, July 22, 2016

Taxiing out for takeoff with instructor Greg Spicola at the Zephyr Hills, Florida airport. photo by Amy Saunders of Evolution Trikes
Once upon a time... gyrocopters were an American invention. Igor Benson was such an important pioneer that many fixed wing pilots refer to all such flying machines as "Bensen gyros." Starting in the 1950s, he hit on a good combination of ideas that made the new sector flourish... for a time.

Gyros are small rotary winged aircraft that resemble helicopters in some ways — all have a spinning wing above the occupants. However, gyros work by the air moving across the blades of the rotor disk; their rotors are not powered. Most readers likely don't need a technical discussion. Suffice it to say gyros and helos are far from the same animal no matter how much they might look like one another.

Yet in the last couple decades things began to change, dramatically. Perhaps to accentuate their differences, modern producers prefer "gyroplanes" while the older Bensen types are often referred to as "gyrocopters." The old and new are different in important ways.

What's not to enjoy? The view from a gyroplane like AR1 is enormous. photo by Amy Saunders of Evolution Trikes
Europeans began to modernize older gyrocopter designs. They added solidly mounted tailplanes with greater volume, which greatly stabilized these machines. Igor Bensen's early gyros had components in the right proportion and the weight in right enough places to make his aircraft work. However, later developers made changes that lacked adequate safety enhancements and the accident rate soared. This fact alone is why many, including some in FAA, think all gyros may be unsafe; that is simply not accurate.

The Euro-style gyroplanes employ tails with larger vertical and horizontal surface area firmly attached to the rest of the carriage. Other factors are also important but the tailplane alone is a major part of why these machines are much more predictable to fly.

The Europeans also continued the development far past adding some stabilizing features. Companies across the Atlantic first partially enclosed the cockpit with half fuselages. They added better seating, instrumentation, controls, and generally improved fit-and-finish. More recently, designers have made fully enclosed models with increasing sophistication in both tandem and side-by-side seating. These improvements uncovered a ripe market.

Rotax Aircraft Engines said that in recent years, they have sold more 912 and 914 engines to the gyroplane sector than any other sector, by far. Germany's AuroGyro alone has sold more than 2,000 aircraft. Italy's Magni adds another 900 units while Spain's ELA has sold 700 units. Other producers account for another 500 making more than 4,000 sales in roughly the same time Americans have bought 3,000 SLSA of all brands.

photo by Amy Saunders of Evolution Trikes
So what is like to fly a gyro? The simplest comment is that with only a couple exceptions, you fly a gyroplane like a fixed wing. You use the stick and rudders similarly (though not identically). In my third outing — first in a Magni gyro, then an AutoGyro, and now the AR1 — I came away thinking two things. First, my fixed wing skills are highly transferrable to gyroplanes, even better than in a weight shift trike (which I also enjoy). In pursuing a full gyroplane checkout, I would not have to learn many new tricks. Secondly, gyroplanes have some clear advantages.

Something almost everyone notices at airshows is that gyroplanes can fly in winds not advised for many other aircraft. The reason, according to Greg Spicola, my instructor, is that the blades are spinning through the air at something like 400 mph. Therefore, a 25-mph crosswind is relatively insignificant. Combined with a higher wing loading, these aircraft are simply not as vulnerable to winds as most fixed wing aircraft.

Abid Farooqui's SilverLight Aviation focuses these good qualities with its American Ranger 1 by using an expanded, more effective tail arranged closer to the center of gravity thrust line. Abid explained this provides flight dynamics that reduces coupling between power and yaw and power and pitching. These changes along with a "high inertia rotor system" and a faired fuselage allow AR1 to boast a better glide ratio and energy retention, making landings easier and forgiving even for beginner pilots.

The main cautions I've heard for gyroplanes is not jamming the stick full forward (this is ill advised in a fixed wing aircraft, too). Another concern is forgetting that even after you land rather slowly, the rotor may still have quite a bit of spin remaining. If so, it is still making lift and failing to consider that could cause an upset. Likewise, a taildragger landed in a stiff crosswind also demands you handle the controls correctly. Fortunately, control actions that work in an airplane will also work for the gyro. Once the rotor is well spun down, this problem disappears.

I like gyroplane flying and I find plenty of good things to say about them. However, one of the strongest arguments involves price. SilverLight's AR1 costs only $65,000 with the 100-horsepower Rotax 912 engine. This is a kit, yes, but the build effort is modest and for a modern, comfortable, well-flying aircraft, the price is within reach of most budgets.

Since FAA has never chosen to allow Special (fully built) LSA gyroplanes, kit building is your only option. Unlike several other countries, gyroplanes like AR1 can only be sold in America as an Experimental Amateur Built kit. SilverLight said, "We have decided to offer AR1 as a package where builder assistance is offered to include airworthiness inspection fees plus the first two to three hours of test flight and tuning." An AR1 buyer travels to Zephyr Hills airport (not far from Tampa, Florida) to SilverLight's builder assist center for a nominal amount of time. The company added, "Our kit is easy and fast to put together, generally only taking two weeks to be ready for ground testing." While you put bolt A in hole B, your family can take advantage of Florida's numerous tourist attractions; it's not a bad trade and the Z-Hills airport is a fascinating place with all manner of aircraft and a very active skydiving center. C'mon down to Florida and check out the AR1 gyroplane. The view is superlative!

  • SILVERLIGHT AVIATION AMERICAN RANGER 1 (AR1)
    • Aircraft Configuration — Pusher engine, tricycle gear, tandem seating
    • Empty Weight — 628 pounds (912ULS), 650 pounds (914UL)
    • Gross Weight — 1,232 pounds
    • Minimum Speed (Vmin) — 20 mph
    • Maximum Cruise Speed — 105 mph
    • Maximum Straight & Level Speed (Vh) — with 914UL: 120 mph
    • General Cruise Speed — 55 to 100 mph
    • Never Exceed Speed (Vne) — 120 mph
    • Takeoff Roll (calm air, turf, pre-rotate to 250 RRPM) — 350 feet
    • Landing Roll — 0 to 30 feet with proper technique
    • Rate of Climb; sea level, standard conditions — 725 feet/min (912ULS)/850 feet/min (914UL)
    • Fuel Capacity — 17 U.S. gallons; welded aluminum
    • Rotor — Averso Stella, 27 feet 10 inches (larger rotor system available for high altitude flyers)


Pilots and Manufacturers... Help Rescuers Help You
By Dan Johnson, July 16, 2016

HYPOTHETICAL SCENARIO — You crash landed your airplane at an airport. You are unconscious inside. Emergency crews race to assist but they are worried about your airplane having a powerful rocket motor that might injure them as they try to extricate you. What do you do? More advisably, what should you have already done?

Plenty of smart aviators and nearly every salesperson will tell you safety doesn't sell. Pilots buy performance, range, sleek lines, comfort, and the latest instrumentation. Most take for granted that the aircraft is well-built and designed with stable characteristics and reliable systems. No matter their ultimate value, safety systems simply aren't sexy.

Tell that to Cirrus Design, the Minnesota startup (back in the late '90s) that did a terrific job of selling "that airplane with the parachute." Of course, their SR20 and SR22 also steadily acquired all the dazzling features they could incorporate but any Cirrus rep' is likely to agree the whole airframe parachute system, now called CAPS, was a leading reason why they did so well. The parachute set the SR20 apart from all other competitors as the new millennia began.

Truth in blogging notice: I was deeply involved with BRS parachutes when Alan and Dale Klapmeier's company had only 18 employees. Because Alan had survived a midair collision the brothers were adamant about their new baby airplane having a ballistic parachute. This history gives me a particular bias but the sales success of Cirrus is plain for anyone to see. Many thousands are flying and nearly every airport has one or many based on the field.

Recently a longtime friend and aviation business associate, Tom Peghiny alerted me to a request from Keith Leonhardt, the manager of operations and maintenance at Massachusetts' Hanscom Field airport. He wrote, "As an airport operator, we often provide our ARFF (Aircraft Rescue & Fire Fighting) crews with 'crash crew' charts for the type aircraft that are based at our airport." He asked Tom, the North American importer of CTs, "Would you happen to have any documentation that shows fuel capacity, battery location and BRS location for your fleet, particularly the CTLSi? We would like to use those documents to train on the Flight Design aircraft based at our airport." Keith was asking about documents like those accompanying this article.

You see, Flight Design wisely took a lesson from the success of Cirrus and at the insistence of Peghiny and Flight Design USA, the German manufacturer made airframe parachutes standard equipment on Light-Sport Aircraft delivered in the USA and Germany. It may be related, as it was for Cirrus, to the fact that Flight Design has sold more LSA than any other brand in America.

To show what he was seeking Keith sent Tom crash crew charts for two companies as examples. One was the set you see nearby for the now-defunct but still flying Cessna Skycatcher. The other was for Cirrus, whose models now appear on airfields all around the world.

Look. Here's why this otherwise rather mundane topic might be vitally important. A few years ago, I was one of the people described at the top of this article except the scenario was not hypothetical. See these two reports if interested: my accident and some reasons. BTW, that happened about 10 years ago. I'm doing fine and flying as often as possible. Kudos to the doctors and others in the health care industry.

I don't bring up this personal story for any reason except than to say, "IT CAN HAPPEN TO YOU." You may not think it will ever happen to you, and, believe me!, I certainly hope it does not. However, why jeopardize your chances of rescue? Ideally, emergency workers who may have to help you will have such aircraft-specific information.

Here's the valuable message:

MANUFACTURERS — These days nearly all producers use CAD software in their design. Making crash crew charts are thereby not a major burden. If you upload these charts to your company website, you can make airport managers aware of where to find them. Fellows like Keith Leonhardt may seek such material. Others will not be so vigilant but at least you'll have them available if a first responder organization contacts your company. The Imperative — Not only are you potentially helping a customer get rescued with greater success but you will have one more line of defense if a lawsuit occurs. I hope neither happens, but if you sell enough airplanes, it becomes increasingly likely.

PILOTS / OWNERS — Encourage your manufacturer to make such crash crew charts available. It could be very important to your life. Well informed first responders can do their job faster and more effectively... and that could be the difference between life and not. The Imperative — If you find yourself in a situation as I once did, you may be very grateful that rescuers have the guidance they need to extricate you swiftly. Consider this as insurance (that is not very costly). You hope you never need it but may be so glad you arranged it ahead of time if the need arises.


Mainstream Media Awakens to Flying Cars
By Dan Johnson, July 11, 2016
Appearing in the Wall Street Journal's "Journal Report" section on July 11, 2016 is the Terrafugia TF-X. Find out more about this futuristic design at the company website.
Perhaps like many of you, I read the newspaper most mornings. Today I was reading the Wall Street Journal. In one of their special sections was an article about flying cars. As regular readers know, I try to keep up with this niche within our niche of aviation.

Major publication reporters are finally catching up with what we have been observing for several years. People talk about the "mainstream media" disdainfully for a reason. Even though they provide the "news," their realization of all things new is not necessarily that timely. So much is happening in so many fields that mainstream media reporters cannot be expected to keep up with all developments. A website like this one is laser-focused on Light-Sport Aircraft, light kit aircraft, and ultralights. Even a billion-dollar news organization can't stay up on the latest like we can.

In fact, today's "Journal Report" — a subsection of the daily newspaper — was all about aviation. The newspaper presented stories about flying cars, autonomous aircraft (that is, flown without human input), drones, and safety efforts by FAA. This was fun for an aviation nut like me; I am not accustomed to seeing aviation stories in a daily newspaper (well, unless an aircraft crashes... they're always all over that, of course).

When non-aviation writers write about aviation, I can easily see their errors, omissions, or plain old misunderstanding. They are writing about my area of expertise while for them it is one story in a day and they can only report what they've been told. Most have little or no direct knowledge.

One part of the flying cars story mentioned Google founder Larry Page's $100 million investment in Zee.aero, the very secretive company working on what I've speculated is an electric airtaxi.

Can you imagine how far $100 mill would go in the LSA, light kit, and ultralight industry? With a few exceptions (Icon comes to mind), that amount of dough is a substantial portion of — if not more than — what has been invested into the entire industry! Paige has also investing in another company called Kitty Hawk, reported WSJ writer Robert Wall.

Related Articles: Multiple Flying Cars; Maverick; Terrafugia; AeroMobile


Toyota May Be Thinking Differently about Aerocars
By Dan Johnson, July 5, 2016

Maybe you haven't heard enough about electric-powered aircraft, flying cars, and automobiles on autopilot (presuming you're aware of Tesla's fatal accident in May). How about a shape-shifting aerocar? Huh?! I know it sounds rather crazy but Toyota, being the world's largest car manufacturer, is not a name to be dismissed when they may choose to delve into the flying car business... twice, in a few months!

Nope, I'm not kidding. The Japanese car company was awarded a patent for a "Shape Morphing Fuselage for an Aerocar." The illustrations — typical patent artwork — might fool you. This is not some 1930s silliness. The U.S. Patent office published this very recently, on June 23rd, 2016.

Perhaps it's no more than a publicity generator, much like Amazon's drone delivery aircraft — about which, by the way, Amazon claims to be sincere. Or, maybe Toyota is afraid Terrafugia might beat them to an interesting market, something like Tesla did to the big boys of auto manufacturing. Maybe they're just trying to lock up some intellectual property. I wouldn't know the answer to those questions. I simply found a shape-shifting flying car to be intriguing.

Toyota's concept allows the wings to be stored within the interior while the car is on land unlike Terrafugia's Transition.
It is probable Toyota Aerocar inventors and Michigan residents, Umesh Gandhi and Taewoo Nam, know all about Terrafugia and their work on Transition. Toyota could not be seriously worried about a small start up when the multinational company has billions to spend. Nonetheless, they appear to be taking this well beyond Terrafugia's wing-folding Transition (though not beyond Terrafugia's much different approach with their Osprey-like, electric-powered TF-X).

Here's the general description appearing on their patent: "A shape morphing fuselage and method of transitioning an aerocar from a land mode to a flight mode. The fuselage includes... flexible frame member and tensile skin... as well as an actuation system configured to bend the frame members between a contracted configuration associated with flight mode and an expanded configuration association with land mode." All this is to allow collapsing the folding wings inside the vehicle for road travel. That makes sense but the Aerocar has to store this in space that cannot otherwise be used, rather like a hardtop convertible.

Terrafugia has demonstrated — and publicly flown, at Oshkosh and other locations — their Transition that folds its wings alongside the car body. This method can leave the wings exposed to road rash. Their TF-X design goes far beyond this and does not leave major flight components exposed but that's another story.

Another online outlet, England's Daily Mail, wrote, "Toyota believes flying has always been a dream central to the history of humanity and the car manufacturer may be getting closer to making it a reality." From my read of the patent, I cannot imagine this is particularly serious, but it might be a way to claim patent exclusivity on changeable car body shapes. For an outfit used to making millions of automobiles through several brands, an Aerocar could hardly seem particularly profitable.

When the operator is ready to fly, the wings can be extended generally from the sides of the shape morphing fuselage through a hatch.
Toyota's "tensile skin" could be constructed with an elastic or stretchy membrane material, like silicone, or a shape-memory material capable of expanding and contracting to smoothly wrap around the car's frame, according to language contained in the patent application.

So when the operator is ready to fly, the wings can be unfolded and extended — this part is much like Terrafugia's Transition — from the sides of the fuselage (Mssrs. Gandhi and Nam regularly referred to the Aerocar body as a "fuselage"). However, I see one big difference.

Transition's wings remain alongside the car where road debris could strike the wings. That always looked vulnerable to many observers. Toyota's shape-shifting Aerocar brings the wings inside. They can fit because the car body or fuselage can change shapes using actuators inside to twist and tug a tensile, or stretchy, skin. On the road with wings hidden, Aerocar looks something like a minivan. Aloft it becomes more streamlined.

The vehicle "would be driven using a power system that includes a battery pack, internal combustion engine, turbine, fuel cell, or other energy conversion device" driving a propeller or ducted fan. Motive power does not seem to be Toyota's main concern, partly as illustrated by the kludgy prop at the rear that would also have to be pulled inside... and the patent has no language about that.

The fuselage could employ a tensile body that stretches between flexible frame members that optimizes shape for flight versus ground operation.
Toyota engineers Gandhi and Nam dryly note that a vehicle designed with this futuristic morphing technology "can require physical trade-offs in design in order to facilitate operations in both the land mode and the flight mode," according to the patent published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Aerocar isn't designed with the passenger's comfort in mind, but is shaped to optimize aerodynamic lift, limit drag, and support flight stability.

So, is Toyota likely to enter the flying car business? Do they have a couple (or more) engineers working on things like Google's "Moonshot" group does, where the pay-off, if any, is years in the future? Maybe they are merely exploring ideas and filing patents as a way to show they're actually working on stuff and not wasting their days updating their Facebook pages. Again, I don't know. Yet when a multinational company with billions of dollars at their ready disposal cracks open the checkbook, it could lead to something interesting.

Toyota's shape-shifting design isn't the company's first flying car proposal. In September 2015, Toyota was awarded another patent for a vehicle that placed the wings under a compartment in the roof that would deploy at the touch of a button.

Maybe this is just an ongoing fascination with a George Jetson flying car that has tantalized humans for years. Then, again, who knows? Could a shape shifting Aerocar be in your future?

Related Articles: Multiple Flying Cars; Itec's Maverick; China's CarCopter; Terrafugia's Weight Increase; AeroMobile 3.0; and, ScaleWings SW91 Aeros


Jabiru Gets an “OK” from Australian CASA
By Dan Johnson, June 30, 2016

It doesn't often happen this way. When media reporters get hold of a story that casts a company or person in a bad light, this generates headlines. The results can be disastrous for that company or person. However, if the initial article turns out to be overstated, a followup report does not always earn publication. News organizations don't gain subscribers or advertisers by saying, "All is OK now."

Perhaps this was the situation with Jabiru... the engine side of the house, not the airframe side. As you can read in our earlier report, Jabiru was taken to task for some problems down under. You should judge for yourself.

"I hope people who read [CASA's] report get the main message that well-maintained Jabiru engines were not a problem but sloppy maintenance did them in," wrote Jabiru North America boss, Pete Krotje. "CASA does not mention the group of eight flight schools where most of the problems arose and that the same maintenance company did their maintenance." He ventured further saying, "I can't imagine that the FAA would take steps similar to CASA's limitations without knowing the source of the problem."

Pete wrote, "Limitations have been lifted on engines that have been maintained according to the Jabiru manual and have complied to the 'significant' Jabiru service bulletins & service letters." He expressed that, "It is a real round about way of saying that poor maintenance practices are the real cause of Jabiru engine malfunctions." Like it or not, aircraft — like houses, autos, RVs, boats, well... pretty much everything — require regular and proper maintenance. Fail in this mission and you invite problems.

Especially Pete liked this CASA statement: "The failures experienced can generally be attributed to the maintenance practices, not necessarily poor quality of maintenance but as discussed [in the report], any deviation from the current Jabiru recommendations does appear to introduce conditions that can rapidly deteriorate the engine health to the point of failure."

Jabiru Australia, the designer and manufacturer of their line of engines, wrote to owners of their equipment saying, "We have been notified that CASA will be replacing the [document] that expires on the 30th of June with a [document] that places no limitations on Jabiru powered aircraft compliant with maintenance procedures." They added, "It is heartening to see recognition by CASA of the issues faced which are beyond our control and the steps taken by Jabiru to deal with the issues within our control."

Jabiru in Australia was also pleased to see "the dramatic increase" in compliance to Service Bulletins, Service Letters, and maintenance procedures — which likely represents the good that came from CASA's investigation. Combined with their Jabiru engine training workshops, following these procedures has resulted in fewer incidents. Jabiru then insisted, "This puts us well ahead of Rotax for reliability, the standard by which CASA based their aggressive initial actions." Around the world, Rotax sets a high bar for reliability, and the Austrian company helps achieve this by rigorously encouraging mechanics to get initial and recurrent training.

All is not perfect, however. Jabiru Australia wrote, "It is disappointing, however, that CASA still retained an Acceptance of Risk Statement within the limitations for non-compliant aircraft as the signing of this provides no enhancement to the reliability of these engines and is still damaging to our business." The negative effect of a damning report can linger on long after the problem may have been solved.

Nonetheless, Jabiru Australia remained upbeat, concluding, "We will continue to work for and with our owners and operators to strengthen and grow the Jabiru Fleet.  We have weathered the storm; it is now onwards and upwards.

CASA produced an 11-page report on their conclusions which can be obtained by asking Jabiru North America.

In the report, CASA stated, "The Jabiru engine has been designed to be lightweight for Light-Sport applications and also to be easy and efficient to maintain. From the data provided, however, it appears that the engine is very reliant on a fastidious maintenance regime and is intolerant of variation to the schedule provided by the manufacturer." In other words, mechanics must follow the instructions of Jabiru.

CASA is aware that engines may not remain in the configuration as originally manufactured. Their report said, "It is understood that 'aftermarket' parts are available for experimental aircraft, and certain Jabiru engines may have been modified in ways that involve the installation of non-Jabiru manufactured parts. All of these modifications have the potential to contribute to the reliability of the engine, in a both a positive and negative manner." They concluded, "[We] recognize that a true and complete picture of reliability can only be achieved on the basis of a consider of known configurations."

The governmental agency finished with a series of specific recommendation that interested persons and Jabiru owners can find in the report, called "Jabiru Engine Reliability Analysis."


Summertime Float Flying; Now You Can Afford It
By Dan Johnson, June 28, 2016

Merlin PSA recently took its first flight on Aeromarine 800 amphibious floats. all photos courtesy Aeromarine LSA
It's summer. It's hot. The water beckons. Yet, you're a pilot. How do you enjoy both? Get a seaplane, preferably a Light-Sport or light kit seaplane. You have several choices. The trouble is that any seaplane is priced well above landplanes of similar configuration. Some LSA seaplanes smash through the $200,000 barrier. That may represent a fair value for what you get but it exceeds the budget of many recreational pilots. How about $55,000 to $65,000? That sounds better, doesn't it?

Runway testing and cross country trials of the float-equipped Merlin PSA is complete. Aeromarine LSA owner Chip Erwin reports performing stalls, turns, climb, and cruise tests, each of which passed his criteria, although he continues in trials. The floatplane Merlin has not yet entered the water but that will happen in days after Chip finishes his initial wringing out of the float version. These floats are amphibious so land trials made sense at first.

Chip reports, "I have been using the 1730 millimeter (68 inch) DUC Hélices Flash prop because theoretically it is better for acceleration and climb which is nice to have on a seaplane." He reported good results with about a 900 foot per minute climb rate and cruise at 85-92 mph.

Yet cruise was definably better with the smaller (1660 mm / 65 inch) prop so Chip noted, "From a business perspective I really only need to offer that prop." He added that it works fine on floats or wheels and that makes inventory stocking easier. "Using the 1660 mm prop set for cruise pitch I saw 100 mph TAS at only 2,000 feet, with floats!" Given Merlin PSA's roomy solo cockpit that includes baggage space, hitting 100 mph on floats qualifies as good performance. Even backed off to 5500 rpm for better economy, speed was 96 mph TAS and 91 mph indicated, Chip reported. That's a fair pace given he plans to fly from central Florida to Oshkosh for AirVenture 2016.

Longtime light aviation entrepreneur, Chip Erwin (the original developer of the popular SportCruiser) knows a thing or two about floats. Besides developing several airplanes — one of which was a pioneering LSA seaplane called Mermaid — his then-Czech-based company also developed aluminum floats.

Chip identifies three ingredients that make for a good floatplane: (1) plenty of wing area, perhaps explaining why the Brazilian Super Petrel flies well as a biplane seaplane; (2) plenty of horsepower, clarifying why many LSA seaplane designers flocked to Rotax's new 915 that will provide 135 horsepower when ready; and, (3) big floats, which might explain why a set of Aerocet floats for a CubCrafters cost more than $50,000... only for the floats and related gear.

Merlin PSA on floats is a single seater. I'll come back to that but it makes clear why Merlin's wings qualify as big. You might not think a 65-horsepower Rotax 582 represents a lot of power but for a light single seater, it most certainly is. The wheeled version is a very lively performer. Finally, Merlin's floats support 800 pounds, each!, illustrating why a pair of them sit so high in the water. Get all Merlin specs.

What may be more surprising is that the choice of a single seater makes Merlin hit all Chip's points: its wing is large; power is high for its weight; and the floats have minimum draft... all of which make this new light kit a solid performer.

Nonetheless, I can hear your lament, "But it's only a single seater." Let me observe two things: First, most airplanes with two or even four seats are most commonly flown solo. Years of surveying told AOPA that the average occupancy of a typical (four seat) GA plane was 1.6, suggesting that overwhelmingly these aircraft are flown with only the pilot on board. Secondly, most seaplanes are flown solo. Chip likes to joke," You can spend $100,000 more than Merlin but that's a lot of money for your cellphone holder... the empty seat next to you. Seriously, think about it. How many times do you truthfully fill both or all your seats?

If you have to take someone or the whole family aloft, go rent a Cessna 172 somewhere. They are common and if you have a medical, problem solved. For all the times when you fly solo, Merlin will offer a dashing example, and one that saves you a bundle. Sold in kit form, you can start with a wheeled Merlin and basic equipment, getting aloft for $28,000 powered by the Rotax 582.

"Alright," you say, "but what if I just don't like two stroke engines?" Even if you don't accept that Rotax has sold tens of thousands of these engines that have been proven reliable in millions of hours of flying, Aeromarine LSA has a four stroke Merlin in late stages of development. By fall 2016, you should also be able to choose the HKS for about $3,000 additional. It may offer slightly less climb than the Rotax 582, but it should cruise at a similar speed and will burn half the fuel. In reality, though, many readers of this website know the Rotax 582 is as bulletproof as a two stroke gets, and the price is right. So is the nationwide, indeed worldwide, support.

As he knows floats and fitting them to various airplanes better than many aviation business owners, I asked for more float tips. Chip identified three guidelines.

The first was the pattern of a more wing area, plenty of power, and large enough floats. The second point is that floats tend to cost about 20% of climb and cruise performance and, of course, this factors in to how long it runs on water before launching; less time is always better because floatplanes can take a pounding on some water surfaces. That's why you always hear seaplane people discussing the number of seconds before they leave the surface. The third point is that, in general, you don't lose payload by adding floats. That sounds counterintuitive given the weight of floats and amphib gear, but Chip maintains that, "The floats lift themselves, using shape and angle of attack." Because seaplanes fly a bit slower, they can also tolerate turbulence reasonably well.

You can catch the video below to see — via text lines added in editing — facts about how long Merlin remains on the ground, on hard surface or turf, plus other parameters.

However, I come back to that old saw about what is the essential ingredient to make flight possible: money! Merlin PSA on floats — even equipped with BRS parachute, TruTrak ECO autopilot, ADS-B out transponder, amphibious gear, and all the features you'd expect on most recreational aircraft — will list at just $65,000. Given that is less than we expected a dozen years ago for most Light-Sport Aircraft, on wheels!, that is a definite bargain. Yes, you have to build it; it's a kit. However, the $65K price tag is for the quick-build model including builder assistance in central Florida (not far from Disney so the family can amuse themselves while you pull rivets). In a couple, three weeks you'll be close to done and that isn't bad for an airplane bound to put a smile on your face.


* Another modestly priced seaplane kit, the Aventura series, is available from Aero Adventure.


Flying Car Racing Event & Terrafugia New Weight
By Dan Johnson, June 23, 2016

If my title confuses you, regrets. The two are related in my mind but not in present-day fact. Nonetheless, I found both interesting and hope you do, too.

First, the fact. Terrafugia, of current Transition Roadable Airplane or flying car fame, won a weight exemption up to 1,800 pounds. This blows past the 1,680 pound exemption won by Icon Aircraft for their A5 LSA seaplane (only 1,510 pounds of which they chose to use). Earlier Terrafugia was granted an exemption to the seaplane LSA weight of 1,430 pounds but that didn't prove to be enough.

A problem, perhaps the major problem, for Terrafugia is contained in the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (and let's be just as government as we can be to go with the inescapable abbreviation of FMVSS). You cannot take to the air with any airplane heavier than an ultralight vehicle (254 pounds empty plus certain exceptions) without satisfying lengthy FAA regulations and you cannot put a non-kit car on the road without meeting the considerable requirements of FMVSS. OK, in truth you can't go in the air with an aircraft weighing more than a few pounds, provided that aircraft is a drone, but that's a whole other story of growing federal regulatory intrigue.

After reviewing nearly 300 comments, most of which were supportive, FAA granted Terrafugia a gross weight increase to 1,800 pounds (819 kg) and a stall speed increase to 54 knots (...because Terrafugia argued that increasing the wing size to stay at the LSA standard 45 knots was not feasible for a conforming roadworthy vehicle). So, good for Terrafugia. They can now continue developing Transition, even while pondering their dreamier TFX, that is electric powered, semi-autonomous, and VTOL.

Bert Rutan's Bipod could be an entry (though not confirmed) in the Flying Car Racing event.
Terrafugia was not, however, aware of an event to which the organizer claims to have invited them. Transition design team leader Carl Dietrich wrote, "I don't recall hearing of a "Flying Car Racing" event, but if we were invited, we would almost certainly decline — as much fun as it may be — because our focus needs to be on other things plus Transition isn't designed for racing. I would design a very different vehicle for racing if there was a customer for it.

You can go to the Flying Car Racing website and draw your own conclusions but I must admit this is mildly interesting to me. As I replied to Carl, "I don't see it so much actual racing as capabilities demonstration. Who knows? It may never happen. They're talking about an event in 2017 though I'll give them points for at least planning well ahead. On the other hand, it could generate considerable media interest, I suppose."

Most of what the organizers show is a gathering of anything and everything that might remotely be considered a "flying car." They get more points for finding quite a few candidates but miss some obvious ones, for example, the recently Special LSA approved SkyRunner (video) though that is more off-road than roadable, but who wants to split hairs?

Have I wandered out of the solar system in exploring this topic? Maybe, but it has to do with the types of aircraft normally covered on this website and it could be a media generator (already has been to some extent) so I thought I'd look into it. If it continues to be something, I'll follow up. If it fizzles, well, hopefully you enjoyed looking at it with me.

Flying Car Racing is developed in — where else? — Los Angeles, California. The first invitational is planned for 2017, they stated.

Scarab Aviation Evolution
Here are the teams they invited. Some of these entries intend to be "flying cars." Others are simply vehicles you could drive around on the ground (sort of) with wings atop their carriages.

Three categories have been established: Radio-controlled, Electric, and Unlimited. Organizers note, "Entrants must be able to operate their flying cars legally on the ground and in the air between El Mirage Dry Lake, California and Boulder City, Nevada, USA." They add, "Vehicles that are not street legal may race in restricted trials on and above El Mirage Dry Lake, California. Radio-controlled flying cars will be raced within visual range of a control area on land and in the air." The latter seems in keeping with FAA current insistence on line-of-sight control of airborne drones. No word if FMVSS has an opinion, but they may weigh in later.

The RC group is defined as "Unmanned and human-guided in real-time," while the Electric category is "Manned with electric drive." Unlimited or "manned" types include I-Tec's Maverick (video), Terrafugia's Transition (video), AeroMobile 3.0, the old Molt Taylor Aerocar, Caravellair, PAL-V, the greatly modified Sportsman PlaneDriven PD-1; Scarab Aviation's Evolution, the telescoping wing Sampson, and Zee Aero's flying taxi (or whatever it is; they're being very quiet).

Shown: artwork for Zee Aero's project about which the company is saying almost nothing beyond Google leader Larry Page's involvement. This image was modified from patent application drawings.
Of course, the whole thing could lose energy as did the once-heralded Rocket Racing League. No teams I contacted had committed to attending. In fact, they didn't even know about it so this could be no more than an overhyped dream. Yet, the concept is rather cool, I think, and it would indeed begin to separate the men from the boys by asking all competitors to travel 219 miles. That's hardly an insurmountable distance for any credible entry but reliability could be a challenge for the less developed projects.

Groups like Terrafugia, I-Tec, and Aeromobile have flown their machines and driven them on roads. Heck, a Maverick traveled by road all the way from Florida to Oshkosh one year. So a 219 trip would be child's play for some but the more questionable entries might not go the distance. I should think a 219-mile trip by radio-controlled model would be rather tiresome.

Then again, anything's possible and this just might make the mainstream media sit up and pay attention. MSM reporters seem to love driverless cars, so who knows? I say, anything that paints aviation and flying in a good light is probably worthwhile. So... gentlemen, start your engines and spin your props. Boogity, boogity, boogity! Let's go racing!


LSA “Market Failing” Statement and My Response
By Dan Johnson, June 18, 2016

This month, I had an email exchange with a leader in aviation. I debated if I should reply. For a time, I did not but I felt compelled given the person's stature. I was driven to attempt informing those this individual might influence. I further pondered if I should write an article about it, but I feel one must confront potential errors if for no other reason than to promote healthy dialogue.

Cessna Skycatcher sold briskly for a time but was withdrawn from the market after more than 270 were delivered. Is that a failure?
I am not to going reveal with whom I had this exchange. Personality isn't important to the discussion but this person expressed what I suspect represents the opinion of a fair share of general aviation pilots, at least those who have not fully explored recreational aircraft such as LSA, or light kits, or ultralights.

The following comes from our second round of email. In the first, the writer referred to LSA "market failings" and I asked what was meant. The person wrote, "As for the 'LSA market's failings,' I'll point to a few: Cessna Skycatcher dead and gone, Piper and Cirrus both abandoned the market after fitful starts."

My reply: I would not in any way call those market failings. I would call them the market functioning quite perfectly. Cessna Skycatcher was not the product the market wanted; even their own dealers or flight schools generally didn't embrace it. As they worked on the design, people told them they made poor choices (engine, vertical tail volume, more) but Cessna felt they had to do it their way. I write this a big fan of Cessna; I did much of my early flying in Cessnas, have flown them many hundreds of hours, and I've owned three.

Rather than develop their own model, Piper chose... to contract with Czech Sport Aircraft to rebadge their existing SportCruiser LSA as the PiperSport. They sold more than 70 in one year. I'm not sure that qualifies as a market failing.

Cirrus planned to represent the company-named SRS. This model flew for years before in Europe and still does as the Fk14 Polaris. It may return to the USA under the European name and will be represented by Hansen Air Group.
Cirrus also selected an existing model. However, they insisted on "Cirrus-izing" their SRS model and got so deeply into it that they never made it to market. That model, known as the FK Lightplanes FK14 Polaris is quite successful in Europe. It comes from a manufacturer still producing, one that has been in business quite profitably for nearly 30 years. Therefore, I'd hardly call that a market failing either.

I implored of this other aviation leader... "Market failing" is such a negative term, especially when it may be incorrect. I hope you will consider not repeating it. Let's keep it positive.

I could not rest with the preceding. The naysayer's general viewpoint appears to represent what I'd call a common myopia among American pilots who fail to consider the rest of the world. Here is a link to an article recently published by General Aviation News that gives more detail.

Summary factoid:  In 2014, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) reported deliveries of 969 single engine piston certified aircraft worldwide. For comparison, LSA-like aircraft sold around the world in that year exceeded 3,000 units.

The negativity continued with the other writer stating, "Several of the LSAs that remain on the market have poor flying qualities... and prices for LSAs are higher than what was anticipated at the start."

My reply: Yes, some LSA prices are much higher than we once expected but most of those are all-carbon-fiber, full glass-paneled aircraft with autopilot, ADS-B out, airframe parachutes, leather interiors, and more such deluxe equipment that customers demanded. As we all know, such fancy gear adds considerably to prices even without high certification costs.

For a few months named PiperSport, the more permanently named SporCruiser was previously and is still successfully represented by U.S. Sport Aircraft.
We also have perfectly airworthy (as judged by FAA designees) and fun to fly airplanes available for $50-75,000, which, given inflation, is actually less expensive than we forecast. Those prices are for three axis, fixed wing aircraft but if you will accept a gyroplane (still only a kit LSA, due to FAA's reluctance to fix this), a weight shift aircraft, or a powered parachute, the prices can be much lower. You may not care for those aircraft but many pilots do. They fly like a duck... etc., so any new aircraft that satisfies is a good thing — they keep pilots flying — and their prices can dip below $30,000. In 2004 dollars that's less than half what we once forecast.

Forecasts of market functions — like weather forecasting — are often wrong. In 2003 and 2004, no one, myself included, correctly guessed where the LSA market was headed.

Flying qualities can be very subjective; it depends what you want, are ready for, and what mission you have for the airplane. I've flown some certified airplanes that have less than optimal flying qualities. An H-model Beechcraft Bonanza I loved had a nightmarishly complex fuel system and my insurance check instructor absolutely forbade me from deliberately stalling it.

BushCat (along with a few other brands) is a great example of how LSA prices are actually lower than once expected if compared in constant dollars.

Finally the writer added, "Very few LSA makers are thriving financially, and several are barely hanging on."

My reply: I will not say that is wrong as I have no access to their accounting documents, but companies like Tecnam, Pipistrel, Aeropro, AutoGyro, and several others seem to be doing quite well. Would you expect every single manufacturer to thrive financially? If that is a requirement for market success by your definition, then the GA Type Certified market is not particularly healthy either.

While I would not disagree that some producers are suffering in a lethargic world economy, "hanging on" is still in business. Indeed, only a few of the 90+ manufacturers have departed the LSA market permanently. If I look at general aviation companies like Maule and Eclipse (contemporarily) or Bellanca and Navion (from days gone by), I see TC producers that are not even hanging on anymore, or marginally so.

Again, this is the market working, not failing. This is much like an economic recession being a corrective occurrence as it redirects malinvestments to better purposes.

Our exchange also included talk about FAA Part 23 rewrite project about which this person also has reservations and I responded to those comments as well. However, the above is enough for now and makes my point, I hope.

If you have comments about this article and the opinions of the other writer or my replies to that person, feel free to post them on my Facebook page, where I've posted a brief preview to this article.


Chart Sources: LAMA and LAMA Europe; ByDanJohnson.com Market Share Info; GAMA; Recreation Aviation Australia; and, other individuals that offered input.

Best Effort Statement: While care was taken and broad experience was applied to the counting, considerable interpretation was needed to create this chart. National figures are based on reports from many countries, laboriously assembled by GAMA, a study made significantly more difficult by widely varying reporting systems that define aircraft differently and group them by differing methods. GAMA's numbers were then further interpreted based on expert knowledge.

For Further Comparison: The U.S. type certified single engine piston (SEP) fleet — accounting for an estimated 80% of the global fleet of such aircraft — numbers 137,500 aircraft. Worldwide, the TC SEP fleet may count 165-175,000 aircraft; all other countries have about 20% of the global total. As we can identify about 13,000 LSA-like aircraft in the USA, America represents about 20% of all such recreational aircraft in the world; 80% are operating in other countries.

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

 



 

 
 

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.

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.

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.

Vickers Aircraft has created one of the most distinctive new LSA seaplanes yet to emerge. Powered by the 180-horsepower
Titan IO-340CC by Continental Motors, their Wave model is like no other seaplane ever introduced with multiple features to set it apart from the crowd.
Wave

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.

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

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


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.

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

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.

Evolution Trikes developed and continues to refine their Revo, an absolutely magnificent weight shift control aircraft (or trike). Rev is their new very affordable single place machine.

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.


Jabiru USA assembles the spacious and speedy J-230 with new, more attractive pricing making the model one of the best values in Light-Sport Aircraft.

The Shelbyville, Tennessee company also offers the Jabiru engine line with new 3310 and 2210 models in 2016.

The New J-230D

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.

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.

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.

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.


Super Petrel LS, manufactured by Scoda Aeronautica in Brazil and built by Super Petrel USA, a branch of the Brazilian company in Ormond Beach, Florida, is a unique and highly effective LSA seaplane. This biplane flying boat is well established with more than 20 years of history.


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.

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.

Aerolite 103 is a remarkably well priced (way below $20,000), well-equipped, Part 103 ultralight that flies beautifully. Several hundred are airborne and production has never been more solid. Here is an airplane every pilot can love and afford.

Aeromarine-LSA represents economical aircraft like Merlin PSA, fully enclosed and all-metal for less than $35,000; or Part 103 ultralights like Zigolo, a dual-purpose ultralight and motorglider with prices starting at only $12,000.

MVP.aero 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!


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.

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.

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?

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.

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Updated: July 22, 2016

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