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...a web log of developments in Sport Pilot/Light-Sport Aircraft
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.


“Two Engine” SkyRunner Wins Special LSA Status
By Roy Beisswenger, June 10, 2016

Please again welcome Powered Sport Flying publisher, Roy Beisswenger, who sent the following story on the exciting new powered parachute from SkyRunner. —DJ

SkyRunner has evolved significantly. The current version is on the left; the original prototype is on the right. Size, seating, power plants, instrumentation, wing, chassis... nothing is the same.
I have been actively following SkyRunner for more than a year. The U.S. start-up company is rare in the Light-Sport world. The company's MK 3.2 entry is the first American two-seat powered parachute manufacturer to launch since the LSA regulation was issued.

Sadly, the SP/LSA rules actually ran most of the powered parachute manufacturers, dealers, instructors, and even pilots from the early 2000s out of the business and sport. It is refreshing to watch a company buck that trend!

Creating a powered parachute from the ground up is a challenge, and to build one that doubles as mighty gnarly all-terrain vehicle is even more of a challenge. SkyRunner's team did it more than once. They began their effort with a single-place model (photo) that owner and developer Stewart Hamel initially funded. The single-place edition was designed and prototyped in the United Kingdom and was to be sold here in the USA.

Hamel quickly found that the market was less interested in that aircraft and more interested in a two-place version of the powered parachute. For that and other business reasons, he brought the design work from the UK to his home town of Shreveport, Louisiana and took a more hands-on approach to development.

Features for the powered parachute were essentially "crowdsourced" with SkyRunner listening closely to what potential customers wanted. Then the military got wind of it because of its potential as a special operations platform. However, the list of features that the military was interested in was more than the typical civilian's "roll out, warm up, take off, and fly" mission profile.

What special forces operators really wanted was an aircraft that can fly, but also act as a ground tactical vehicle. They also wanted it to be multi-terrain. They wanted more payload. Since the goal was to take the aircraft into battle (or even deep behind the battle), they wanted reliability. SkyRunner MK 3.2 delivers!

Satisfying the military and first-responder wish lists makes the SkyRunner an aircraft that appeals to adventurous civilians, too. So instead of turning his focus to a "government only" design, Hamel worked from the outset to make a product that also conforms to the FAA's SLSA standards. SLSA regs — and a weight exemption similar to ones issued for the Terrafugia and Maverick flying cars — make it possible to offer the SkyRunner to the public.

While new to manufacturing, and certainly to aircraft manufacturing, Stewart is not new to business or parachutes.

He was involved in successful startup companies in the past such as ReachLocal (once a $800 million company), he understood business fundamentals well. When I visited his facility early in 2015, I was very impressed. The factory he was in was absolutely huge, being an old AT&T pay phone factory. Instead of renting the whole space, though, he only leased and fenced off a tiny fraction of the cavernous facility. As production ramps up, SkyRunner won't have to move. Stewart will simply lease more floor space and move the fence.

Getting their pink Special Airworthiness Certificate. Shown are Stewart Hamel, CEO & Founder; Doug Leinberger FAA Air Safety Investigator from the Ft. Worth MIDO; and, Cody Lackey, Director of Production for SkyRunner.
Stewart's experience under canopies came from skydiving. Once an avid jumper, a bad accident and injuries in the sport prompted his doctors to encourage a new hobby. After some looking around, Hamel found powered parachutes and pursued his new sport with a passion.

One of the lessons learned during the development process was what to build in-house and what to outsource. Initially Stewart wanted to outsource all he could and do only final assembly at his facility. During the prototyping and development work, he found that it was easier to control quality and get things done faster if he did more work in-house.

Now with initial development complete, current plans now are back to only to doing the final assembly at their Shreveport facility. "We are having the welded chassis and wiring harnesses outsourced," Hamel said. "For final assembly, a team of four can complete eight to ten SkyRunners per month," he added. "That makes production scalable. As we grow, we can bring in additional teams of four to increase production."

Even without a wing above, SkyRunner is one gnarly, exciting machine, an ATV on steroids.
Any pilot (or ATV enthusiast) wonders how SkyRunner performs.

This is actually two questions since MK 3.2 is both ground vehicle and aircraft. I only have experience with it on the ground, and I have to say that it is a thrill ride. With its wide wheelbase, light weight, and Polaris motor, SkyRunner will go places and do things that you'd never try with normal ATVs. Yes, you read that right. It has a dedicated Polaris motor for ground operations, making it an off-road bandit.

SkyRunner also has a Rotax 912. As a powered parachute MK 3.2 takes off like any other powered parachute, only easier. Four wheels, that wide wheel base, and a low center of gravity combine to make the SkyRunner almost immune to tipping over.

It also seems that the ground motor could also have a function for takeoff. Kiting (getting the parachute inflated and above the chassis) is one of the most challenging tasks for the new powered parachute pilot. Kiting in light and variable wind is even more of a challenge. If the wing comes up crooked or slides to one side, the parachute lines or risers could get caught in a spinning prop. Let it go too far and you can tip some powered parachute carriages.

With a separate ground engine, a pilot wouldn't have to turn a prop to roll forward enough to kite the parachute. As the wing rises, the four-wheeled cart can handle most any odd kiting weirdness, and when you are happy that the wing is where it belongs, you can start the prop engine for actual take-off and climb. This isn't the official text book takeoff procedure, but it appears to hold promise.

The cockpit of SkyRunner MK 3.2 has both a ground operation and an airborne set of controls.

Now with the their newly awarded SLSA airworthiness certificate, SkyRunner is kicking things into high gear. While it hasn't been a secret that they exist, they haven't aggressively promoted their product to the aviation community... yet. Nonetheless, they have delivered a couple aircraft overseas to impatient customers while working through FAA paperwork.

With the design settled and the production facility in place, deliveries are going to start taking place in the U.S. The approved design is now something that the military and other agencies can test and see if it suits their purposes. Expect to see a lot more out of this company this summer and in the future. Congratulations to Stewart Hamel and his entire crew!


Greg Koontz’s Crazy Flying Act in Titan Legend
By Dan Johnson, June 7, 2016

No, he's not going to fly into the hangar... you hope, but Greg Koontz's airshow act keeps you wondering.
Probably you've seen an act like this before. A crazy-acting farmer or a supposed drunk hops into a Piper Cub or similar aircraft after the regular pilot leaves it unattended for a few minutes. The crazy guy has no flying experience but somehow proceeds to start up the airplane and to take off in the most out-of-control manner imaginable. As he erratically careens around the sky, handling the aircraft wickedly out of control, he nearly impacts the ground over and over. The entire act takes place within a couple hundred feet of a hard-as-concrete surface.

Even though it's only an act and even if the pilot is actually a gifted aviator, it's easy to get caught up in the moment and fear that nutjob is going to whack the airplane into the ground right in front of the airshow crowd watching in fascination.

So, you may look at the act Greg Koontz performs and you might undervalue the skill involved. Yet, Don Wade worked with Greg to develop this project and reported, "Greg is one the most precise airshow pilots in world. You have no idea how difficult landing on the truck is. You have just six inches either side of the wheels!"

Most of us are pleased to make a "squeaker" landing where the landing gear kisses the tarmac oh-so gently. We beam with pride should someone witness our skill. We're pleased to do a precision landing that gets within a couple hundred feet of a preplanned target. Our flight instructor might nod approvingly. Even experienced pilots competing on spot landing contests are pleased to landing within a ten or twenty feet of their target... and their runway isn't moving! An error tolerance of six inches on a surface that is itself moving, well now... that is really something.

Approaching for landing on the "world's shortest runway."
Koontz has his American Legend, awesomely powered by the 180-horsepower Titan, painted up to say "Bob's Discount Flight School." Hmmm, is that like a discount doctor? The Dodge pickup truck on which he lands is lettered with messages to resemble a plumber's work vehicle complete with a big rack on top. We're supposed to believe this might be used for hauling pipe and it merely happens that some crazy pilot might try to land a plane on top. In truth, as our video shows, the rack is quite carefully built to allow Greg to artfully land while in motion. After he touches down he tweaks the throttle to move the main gear into curved wells sized to the Legend Cub's wheel stance.

He makes it look easy enough but you can bet this is something you should not try at home without lots of experience. Yet the result is great fun.

After Greg touches down with the mains and cautiously rolls them forward into the wheel wells, he holds the tailwheel up as the truck driver slowly decelerates, allowing the tailwheel to settle where planned. Then, as the announcer goes on with the story, the truck driver again accelerates smoothly and Greg is able to lift off and continue flying. It looks so deceptively easy but it surely is pure deception. As I watched the video footage we captured, I knew I'd never try anything so crazy.

The crowd eats it up. Even jaded airshow pilots who have seen it all have to admire the skill Greg applies (along with his capable truck driver) in making the entire act work. The 2016 version of the act — the "smallest airport" — will include 16 venues that started with Sun 'n Fun 2016 and includes that summer celebration of flight known as Oshkosh. For the show schedule and additional details visit Greg's GK Airshows website.

Landing the Titan-powered Legend Super Cub... as viewed from the truck.
American Legend entered the SLSA space early; they were the 10th LSA to achieve their special airworthiness out of a list now 140 strong. They first used the 100-horsepower Continental O-200, later mounting the 115-horse Lycoming O-233, the 120-horse Jabiru 3300 six cylinder, and later still, the still-to-come Superior diesel engine entry. However, from the view of Greg Koontz and many other pilots, the big Titan does a terrific job and, following Continental Motors' acquisition of ECi in 2015, it might be said that American Legend returned to their roots.

Titan's X-340 engine, now offered by Continental Motors, is a four cylinder, 340 cubic inch displacement engine that produces 180 horsepower. Sulphur Springs, Texas-based American Legend said their Super Legend HP with the Titan X-340, offers "fast cruise speeds and the best ever takeoff and climb performance in a Light-Sport Cub." Company boss Darin Hart explained that to qualify as Light-Sport Aircraft, maximum takeoff power must be limited to five minutes with continuous output limited to 80 horsepower.

Others have used this engine and fought mightily to keep the weight within LSA's challenging standard of 1,320 pounds. Darin explained, "Special lightweight custom paint and carefully selected panel equipment are helpful to maintain Super Legend HP empty weight at less than 904 pounds," as required by FAA to qualify as a Special LSA.

Good job, American Legend. Great act, Greg Koontz. Pilots, while you might not want to follow Greg's aerial antics, I'll be you enjoy the big Titan power that makes the act that much more entertaining.

Catch the whole act and hear from Greg in this video...


Jabiru 170D Returns, Offering Excellent Value
By Dan Johnson, June 1, 2016

Given that the Sport Pilot / Light-Sport Aircraft sector is only a dozen years old (announced July 2004 with the first Special LSA approval in April 2005), Jabiru North America seems almost an old timer with 17 years of business in their corporate logbook. During those years, the onetime Wisconsin company relocated to Shelbyville, Tennessee.

At Sun 'n Fun 2016, Jabiru North America announced their new J-170D model.

Australia's most popular LSA trainer has been noticeably improved and updated. Among other improvements, the down-under engineers redesigned the vertical stabilizer, giving it a more swept stance and a wider airfoil shape, which makes the aircraft more stable and require less rudder input than before, according to Jabiru. They believe this enhanced two seater will make an even better flight instruction airplane.

"The [previous] J170-SP has been a great trainer here in the USA, with its stout landing gear, stable handling, and fuel economy of less than 4 gallons per hour in daily use," said Pete Krotje, President of Jabiru North America. J-170D does even better.

You might need to get in line for one of these well-valued airplanes.

Jabiru North America reported, "We will be allotted one J170-D per month starting in late July 2016." That July aircraft is already sold and will be used for flight training. My guess is the Tennessee company will find more orders as they did at Sun 'n Fun 2016. They are quoting an introductory price of $99,900, which impressively includes a Garmin G3X touch-screen EFIS system; Garmin remote comm radio and Mode S transponder; 2020 compliant ADS-B in & out; and night lighting package. Optional instrumentation is available to allow instrument training.

While I know people often say SLSA seem more costly that promoted at first, Jabiru's new 170D offer a solid value, in fact being the equivalent of $78,950 in 2004 dollars. Back then we didn't even think about ADS-B and the G3X wasn't even a gleam in Garmin's eyes.

"For an aircraft that is tough enough for day after day flight training and will cruise over 100 knots (115 mph) for weekend excursions, the J170-D is a terrific bargain," said Pete. "Other LSA suitable for training [can be] double the price, and spare parts can be difficult to obtain. In contrast, all parts for the J170-D engine and airframe are readily available from Jabiru North America," he added. "The long-term relationship we've built with Jabiru allows us to offer outstanding support to our LSA owners in cases where parts, repairs or alterations are necessary."

So, what do active flight schools think of the modestly-price 170D? Chris Cooper, chief flight instructor of Hummingbird Aviation, a full-service flight school outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota, was quoted by Jabiru North America, "We are very, very happy with the J170 as a trainer and are looking into adding a third aircraft the future." Jabiru reported that Hummingbird has operated a J170-SP for several years, accumulating over 2,000 hours on its first aircraft, and recently acquired a second J170-SP to expand the business.

One imagines they'll be even happier with a J-170D offers several enhancements to the J170-SP originally offered in the USA, including a longer fuselage for more stability, the airfoil-shaped vertical stabilizer for improved turn coordination, and the latest version of the Jabiru 2200 engine with all the newest enhancements.

The list goes on... J170-D is equipped with the most advanced avionics offered for light-sport aircraft. Garmin's G3X touch-screen flight display has intuitive controls and features synthetic vision 3D terrain, GPS moving map with the capability to display geo-referenced charts, AOPA airport directory, and a 2020-compliant ADS-B package with weather and traffic display. Full electronic engine monitoring, including four-cylinder CHT, EGT, and fuel flow, is also standard.

According to Jabiru North America, the standard engine, Jabiru's 85-horsepower, direct-drive, 4-cylinder 2200 model, "offers simpler and smoother operation than the competition and features the latest Jabiru safety enhancements, including roller-bearing cam and lifters, valve-relief pocketed pistons, enlarged through-bolts, and reinforced flywheel attachment.

Flight schools and private owners alike often focus on cabin comfort and again, J-170D does well. It may look diminutive from the outside but its 45-inch-wide cabin offer six inches more width than a Cessna 172. Placing the control stick in the center console makes for easier entry and exit and I've always like the armrest to steady your control movements and reduce fatigue on longer flights. Though J-170D does not have the J-230's enormous aft cabin — a result of the larger Jabiru model being designed as a four seater in its home country — 170D offers a carpeted area behind the seats. Especially if you don't fill the large 35 gallon fuel tanks, you can carry luggage for two. Optional adjustable rudder pedals accommodate taller pilots.

While I understand $100,000 is a lot for some budgets, you have to put this in perspective to realize Jabiru is offering quite a bit of airplane for the money. If it's still too rich for your taste, you have many other new choices and a growing fleet of used airplanes. Nonetheless J-170D offers an excellent value in a proven, well equipped airplane that should work for most pilots.

  • SPECIFICATIONS FOR JABIRU J-170D
  • Wingspan — 31.7 feet
  • Cabin Width (at elbow) — 44.9 inches
  • Aircraft Empty Weight (typical) — 748 pounds
  • Maximum Gross Weight — 1,320 pounds
  • Load Factors — +4.0/-2.0 G (+7.0/ -3.5 G tested)
  • Horsepower — 85 @ 3300 rpm
  • Climb Rate at Gross Weight (average) — 500 fpm
  • Cruise Speed (75% power) — 100 knots True (115 mph)
  • Never exceed Speed — 140 knots True (161 mph)
  • Stall Speed, Full Flaps — 40 knots True (46 mph)
  • Stall Speed, No Flaps — 45 knots True (52 mph)
  • Fuel Capacity/Type — 35 gallons (100LL)


Icon Downshifts, Softens Tough-Love Contract
By Dan Johnson, May 25, 2016

On a conference call with aviation media, Icon Aircraft sought to mitigate blowback from the 40-page contract announced just before Sun 'n Fun 2016. Plenty of people took them to task and several position holders reported dissatisfaction with some of the more burdensome aspects of the lengthy legal document.

"We [messed] that up," CEO Kirk Hawkins told me at Aero 2016, adding that they would take action on it quickly. Since his comment in late April, the purchase agreement, meant to protect the company's brand, intellectual property, and legal liability, was heavily revised. Cut from 40 to 11 pages, the new agreement removes a 30-year life limit on the airframe. Neither will Icon install cockpit audio and video recorders. Numerous other changes should encourage position holders to sign the dotted line.

Several aviation news outlets have faulted the company for continuing to take orders while production appeared stalled, for issuing a contract no one could love except lawyers, and for tightly controlling the journalist flight experience. For the record, I was one of those. However, other than insisting on supplying all photos to me and limiting my flight time to 30 minutes, I was allowed to fly the airplane as I wished. Afterward, Hawkins and chief pilot Jon Karkow also solicited my opinion on changes I'd prefer.

Icon also sharply rolled back their production forecast. At Sun 'n Fun representatives were saying 175 aircraft would be produced in 2016. Today that number was dropped to 20 A5 LSA seaplanes. The news release indicated that seven have been built (photo) with eleven more currently in production. Our review of the FAA database showed a total of four as of the beginning of April.

In the conference call and in a press release, Icon also said, "These changes are part of a strategy to improve the A5 production processes and manufacturing supply chain while simultaneously supporting flight training for Icon customers." Icon reported that they have received a total of "30 composite aircraft sets." They added, "We've learned that our production process and parts of our supply chain are not yet ready for high-rate production."

Because of these major changes for the 10-year-old company, they will make "temporary workforce reductions primarily of the aircraft assembly team." In the meantime, Icon said that their investors are sticking with them and will commit to a "substantial infusion of new capital."

"Most customers can expect a delay of approximately one year from their previous estimated delivery dates." One can almost hear a collective groan from more than 1,000 customers who have already been waiting, in some cases for several years.

"I realize this news will be as big a disappointment for many of our customers as it is for us," Hawkins was quoted as saying. "I wish there were a better answer."

While the company works to make ready a more substantial production effort, they will focus on Icon Flight Centers, with locations in Texas and Florida to add to the home base one in Northern California. Several of the first 20 airplanes will be allocated to the California training facility.


Sun Catches Lightning — Sun Flyer Rollout
By Dan Johnson, May 23, 2016

Recently, aviation titles chronicled the rollout of Sun Flyer's prototype electric powered airplane. To careful observers, the aircraft might appear somewhat familiar. Good eyes, folks. The prototype was built for Aero Electric Aircraft Corporation by Arion Aircraft. The beautiful sweeping lines of the Sun Flyer are nearly identical to the Lightning LS-1.

The one notable difference — and in fact this is the whole story — is the electric motor up front allowing Sun Flyer to look even a bit more streamlined than the dashing outline of Lightning. This is a first article aircraft as photos don't yet show any solar cells on the wings, as promised by Aero Electric.

Regardless of how AEAC develops Sun Flyer down the line, it was wonderful to see them linking up with Arion Aircraft whose LSA and kit models have been admired for their gracefully smooth shape for some years.

Arion Aircraft's Lightning LS-1, available as a Special Light-Sport Aircraft or a kit. The shape works for Aero Electric's Sun Flyer vision.
In its unveiling at AirVenture 2014, Aero Electric showed a single seater. This was actually the Elektra One, designed and created by Calin Gologan, who also predicts an all-electric four-seat GA airplane in the next ten years. That was 2010, so we have time for AEAC to get their two seater ready and move onward. (We'll see how that turns out.)

Paying tribute to Calin, George Bye of Aero Electric said, "[Our] two-seat solar-electric light sport aircraft project was created under license agreement from German technology partner, PC-Aero, which introduced the Elektra One single-seater."

Readers seeking a broader view are invited to read my survey of electric airplanes from a few years ago: electric airplane review. A year earlier, we had this earlier article about Elektra. Now, you have some of the history.

Most of the electric airplane projects currently capturing media attention are pure electric plays, although Aero 2016's e-flight-expo organized by German publisher Willi Tacke showed a hybrid (gas & electric) project. Other than some fascinating one-off projects, pure electric mostly means batteries to supply the current needed to spin the engine and prop.

AEAC's Sun Flyer is the first "commercial" project proposing to incorporate solar cells as a power-gathering apparatus. The company stated, "Solar energy collection from solar cells affixed to the composite wing skin, produces electric power that is combined with Lithium Ion batteries to run the electric propulsion system."

Flying the eSpyder a couple years ago showed it was both easy and different for the pilot. While operation was simple, I had unfamiliar information references I needed to track. They were not intuitive for someone used to fuel flow, magneto operation, tank capacity, and power settings. You can read my flight impressions aloft in eSpyder. Alternatively, watch this video with airframe developer, Tom Peghiny, after eSpyder became the first electric airplane to win German certification.

Speaking to the pilot operation of Sun Flyer, Aero Electric reported, "The electric motor's throttle is very intuitive with one control lever. [The pilot has] no need to adjust mixture richness and monitor cylinder head temperature as in aircraft with internal combustion engines; a throttle computer control unit is responsible for optimum motor operation, battery status and the entire power system."

Beyond its quiet, drip-free operation, "fuel burn" is another saving grace of electric. AEAC said, "Only about $1 of electricity is needed for each flying hour." We've heard this number from other producers and it seems to suggest this could be great for flight schools trying to operate efficiently. Even the fuel miserly Rotax 912 iS burns four gallons an hour and even at today's somewhat lower auto gas prices, that still translates to at least $10 per hour for fuel alone.

Swapping out battery sets (and fast charging) could keep an electric flight school plane flying almost continuously, augmented by Sun Flyer's solar cells, but of course, batteries are some of the most expensive components so to buy at least two sets per airplane on top of the cost of a new airplane may be a deal breaker for smaller flight schools. AEAC has hinted at a price of $180,000, a bit precious for many flight schools. A breakthrough in energy storage (i.e., better batteries) could dramatically alter the landscape but we're still waiting for long-lasting, fast-charging batteries that don't cost a fortune.

This artist's rendition shows Sun Flyer with wings equipped with solar cells to aid battery recharging.
Regardless, the appeal of quiet, trouble-free electric propulsion generates significant interest from many both in the pilot community and from neighbors, community leaders, and various interest groups. The move to electric seems inexorable driven even faster by the arrival of names like Airbus and its Voltair subsidiary (for more, read this and this) or giant Siemens. AEAC and its Sun Flyer may be coming in to view at just the right time. We'll keep watching them.

In this ANN video, company boss George Bye gives his vision for the future of Sun Flyer and electric propulsion.

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

 



 

 
 

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.

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
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

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.

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.

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.

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!


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

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

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.



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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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Updated: June 29, 2016

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