SPLOG
 

...a web log of developments in Sport Pilot/Light-Sport Aircraft
Most recent 20 postings.


Preparing to Test Fly Icon's A5 ... at Last!
By Dan Johnson, July 2, 2015

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

image courtesy of Icon Aircraft

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Add-On Electric Motor Emergency & Boost Power
By Dan Johnson, June 9, 2015

A few years back at Aero 2009, Flight Design and Rotax teamed up on a very interesting project. Based on the R-912 engine they added an optional electric motor that could provide additional torque (a characteristic electric motors have in abundance) for takeoff and climb or for emergency power in the event of a failure. The idea more than intrigued me and many others but it quietly disappeared.

Recently a Spanish university announced it had taken this concept to the next step. The team investigating this seemed focused on the emergency factor but opened the door to combined used of electric motor and gasoline engine. In case of a conventional engine failure, while very unlikely, an electric motor can, they said, deliver another 20 kilometers or 12.5 miles of range. That would be a literally saving grace to the pilot and occupants of a troubled aircraft.

Andrés Barrado, head of the UC3M Electric Power Systems group. images taken from UC3M video.
Researchers at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) and the Axter Aerospace firm developed an electric propulsion system to install in light aircraft to deliver extra power and range in emergency situations. The group believe their new hybrid system could prevent 600 accidents a year after studying aviation accidents on two continents.

The team was lead by Andrés Barrade assisted by Miguel Ángel Suárez and Daniel Cristobal. They started with a Tecnam P92 and while the changes appear modest, you can discern the results (top photo, circle).

Barrade said, "The basic goal of this project is to improve the safety of light and light-sport aircraft, that is, two- and four-passenger planes weighing a maximum of 750 kilograms" (1,650 pounds, a value that covers all LSA and up to a Cessna 150). "We are trying to saves lives and prevent accidents related to loss of power during flight, when the engine fails or the fuel runs out," clarified Suárez. He works with Axter Aerospace, the company which collaborated with UC3M to develop this new system.

The idea is to equip the plane with an electric engine mounted aft of the propeller but outside the engine compartment (at least in the test article). Such an installation suggests this could be an add-on to existing aircraft once the company decides to commercialize their work.

"If there is a problem with the main engine, this electric engine will start to function, which will provide an additional range of about 20 kilometers, enough for the pilot to land safely," said Barrado, head of the UC3M Electric Power Systems group and one of the other promoters of this invention.

The system features an electric engine that is connected to the conventional engine, a high-efficiency lithium battery, and an electronic system that draws energy from the battery and adapts it to the needs of the plane. It also has a battery charger which operates during the flight.

The cockpit controller appears very simple with a small information screen.
"We maximize the capacity of the battery in generating movement with the electric engine, and we have found that we can also use the system as a hybrid for light aircraft; the pilot can activate it when she wants, adding up to 40 horsepower for takeoff or whatever is needed," said Daniel Cristobal, now also with Axter Aerospace and an alumnus of the UC3M. "This way, it could be used as if it were an electric turbo to increase the power of the aircraft in certain maneuvers."

So, while the UC3M/Axter team see safety as the main point, they are pursuing this idea in the same general directions as Flight Design and Rotax did six years back. Note that the Tecnam P92 has a Rotax 912 for its main powerplant.

This system, which is being marketed and patented internationally, can be installed in light aircraft, new or already operating, they said. It might also eventually be applied to other types of aircraft, such as gyroplanes, gliders, drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles. Besides saving lives and reducing financial losses resulting from accidents, the UC3M group said its architecture reduces the airplane's operating and maintenance costs, lowers fuel consumption and reduces the emission of greenhouse gases and noise pollution.

I wish to give credit to Product Design & Development website, part of Advantage Business Media where I first discovered the work of the UC3M/Axter group.


BushCat Available Several Ways, All Affordable
By Dan Johnson, June 7, 2015

Let's move right to an important point. BushCat is most interesting aircraft with unique features of interest to many and you are much more likely to afford the South African airplane with its 2015 U.S. price of $65,000. That figure covers the Rotax 100-horsepower 912 engine; you can pay somewhat less with the 80-horsepower that is more than enough engine to give this light aircraft plenty of performance. You could also save more by assembling a kit version of this Special LSA.

However, now BushCat has another feather in its cap, so to say.

SkyReach engineers were able to raise weight from 1,245 to 1,320 pounds by strengthening components like wing strut brackets, then followed by an intense program of flight testing to include an entire regimen of spin testing (the latter representing much more work than many pilots may think). What does this do for BushCat beside bringing its numbers up to the max allowed in the LSA category?

Quite significantly, BushCat's useful load now elevates to 617 pounds with 25 gallons of fuel. That means payload with full fuel is 465 pounds, which allows two 200-hundred pound occupants plus 65 pounds of cargo or other airborne gear. So, a very modest price — about what many expected eleven years ago when the SP/LSA rule was announced, all the more impressive as the time value of money has changed considerable in that period — and you get more utility for the dollars you spend. I'd call that win-win.

I find, as do many others I've asked, that BushCat is a handsome, rather gutsy looking light aircraft. Originally known by the name Cheetah, it has a distinctive cowling for a sharp look and is light and durable — empty weight is barely over 700 pounds — that helps assure robust performance. BushCat is flown with a control stick mounted between both occupants, forward of the central arm rest. As SkyReach notes, "This configuration allows the pilot to keep his or her hand on the stick at all times, freeing the other hand for the throttle and panel mounted instruments." Using a single joystick keeps control system complexity to a minimum and allows easier cockpit entry and exit.

A couple years ago, one of the bigger changes SkyReach engineers made to BushCat was a move from a more complicated braced undercarriage to a sprung undercarriage. The new design uses a slab-style aluminum spring gear that SkyReach says provides a more accommodating load dampening resulting in softer off-airport landings. This airplane does duty in South Africa fighting animal poaching and can handle rough-field operation. It also features removable doors, which may work well for the anti-poaching task but also appeals to those of use that like open cockpit on warm summer days.

BushCat uses 1400 Clamar amphibious floats.
BushCat is a sturdy airplane boasting a +6, –4 G rating. It's construction looks simple with a tube-and-gusset arrangement but such designs have proven themselves over literally decades of safe operation. Wing and fuselage use a trilaminate composite fabric covering that requires no paint, saving both effort and weight. Trilam is commonly used in the sailing industry for yacht sails and by hang glider producers. It is an incredibly strong material and has proved itself against the elements; sailboats spend a lot of time exposed to sun and salt water, both tough environmental taskmasters.

Represented in the USA by AeroSport LLC, the Wisconsin outfit has an enlarged base of operations based at the Galt, Illinois airport (identifier 10C) where the Knolls operate a flight school, maintenance shop, and a build center in addition to their SLSA showroom. BushCat is available in tri-gear, taildragger and an amphibious model can handle the allowed gross weight of 1,430 pounds. No straight floats are offered but most pilots prefer amphibious. Kits are also available both as Experimental Amateur Built or as faster-to-fly ELSA. SkyReach director Michael Gill reported at Sun 'n Fun 2015 that 160 aircraft are flying worldwide, 18 of which are in the U.S. with several kits underway.

In closing this piece, I want to pay tribute to two light aviation kit builders. In the USA, the loss of Jeremy Monnett stunned many as he and assembly mechanic Mike Clark were killed June 2nd in an aircraft accident near the company's headquarters in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Jeremy successfully lead the Sonex company in recent years and used a degree in mechanical engineering to create a design of his own, the single-seat, folding-wing Onex ("One-Ex") introduced in 2011. BushCat importer Daniela Knoll also reported some sad news from the SkyReach factory in South Africa. "Walter de Lange, General Manager of SkyReach, died last week in a weight-shift trike accident. We are all shocked by the news since Walter was a very experienced trike pilot and airfield safety officer," wrote Daniela. "A great man will indeed be missed."

I offer my sincerest condolences to the families of each man and thank both for their significant contributions to light aviation. I thought very highly of Jeremy and will miss his broad, warm smile. I did not know Walter well, but did interview him at Oshkosh in 2013.


Is FAA Falling Behind Other National CAAs?
By Dan Johnson, June 2, 2015

Tecnam's Snap will not qualify for the new British SSDR but it shows interest in single seat aircraft, in this case for aerobatic flying.
Let's set the way-back machine to two dates and examine the actions of our good friends at FAA. One date was September 1982. Another date was September 2004.

Date #1 was the time when FAA announced Mike Sacrey and team's remarkable Part 103. This rule has lasted for 33 years and continues to hold interest (see earlier article on the subject). Date #2 was when FAA announced the SP/LSA rule engineered by Sue Gardner and her team. I continue to applaud their initiative for both simplified rules where they stepped far back and let the market do its magic. Both have increased the freedom of pilots to fly what and how they prefer. Kudos, FAAers!

Part 103 is strictly single seat since the two-seat "103 trainers" were forced into ELSA status. Does a market exist for one-place aircraft? I always cite this survey result from AOPA. After many years of asking, the big member group determined the average occupancy of a GA aircraft was 1.6 persons. Since most of these were four seat airplanes, if the average was only 1.6 they must have been flown solo frequently. I will soon post a guest editorial on the subject of single place flying.

A few years ago, Skyleader showed this Skyleader 100 single place version of their line, perhaps to test interest in one-place aircraft.
FAA recently came out with Part 107 for drones about which major drone industry businessman Cliff Whitney said, "I was shocked yet extremely pleased about the proposed rule ... FAA used common sense." So the government folks still show creativity. However, the Mike Sacreys and the Sue Gardners of FAA are either gone or working in other areas. Too many I've met appear focused on more regulation, more rules, more stuff pilots should put on their aircraft, or generally doing things that impose higher costs on aviation — for very elusive advances in safety. All this seems more likely to shrink aviation than grow it.

So, what's up with Britain's CAA and their expansion of SSDR? For those that may not know — after all, why should you track what another country's government agency is doing? — the UK's Civil Aviation Authority has been among the very tightest of regulators. Years ago I looked in detail at their ruleset for weight shift trikes, and oh, my goodness, this was a thick book those manufacturers had to meet. It was so daunting that it may have been the beginning of the end for the once-vibrant trike building industry in merry old England.

E-Go is planned for electric flight but seems ready made for the new UK rule. It may not (yet) meet all SSDR parameters but is a single seater.
Aircraft developer Graham Smith wrote, "[Our] CAA announced this initiative by way of a consultation. Nobody knows why they suddenly decided to go down this road. They have the reputation of being the most conservative regulator in the world."

"I was personally astounded. The consultation was very interesting. The LAA who had supported the old 115 kilogram rule (253 pounds, so almost identical to the U.S. Part 103 weight) suddenly came out against the rule asking for a wing loading restriction to be added. I guess they realized that it was a big threat to their monopoly. Even at the consultation stage &mdash after the proposals had been published &mdash the consensus was that eventually the wing loading restriction would be added. The CAA stood firm and the rule was passed without modification. It required an Act of Parliament to become law but eventually it was done."

"The main reason the CAA gave for changing the rules was to stimulate innovation and by picking a unique design code it would avoid sucking in a load of imports and motivate the local manufacturers. The question now was how can we best take advantage of the new freedom?" (I will have more on Graham's answer to this in a later article.)

So, what does the CAA SSDR 300 look like?

One that can surely qualify is the very light Merlin from the Czech Republic. This aircraft will be offered in America by Aeromarine LSA; watch for more soon.
The "Dereg" category, to use Graham's shorthand, is very simple. CAA said, "Any microlight aeroplane [can qualify] that (A) is designed to carry one person; (B) has a maximum take-off mass of no more than 300 kilograms (660 pounds) ..." — CAA allows 315 kilograms (693 pounds) when equipped with a mounted airframe parachute or 330 kilograms (726 pounds) for a single seat amphibian or floatplane. The last element is, "(C) ... a stall speed or minimum steady flight speed in the landing configuration not exceeding 35 knots (40 mph) calibrated airspeed." However, CAA cautioned, "... many aircraft with indicated stall speeds below 35 knots have calibrated stall speeds well above that figure."

How does England's CAA administrate this SSDR 300? They use a declarative system much like FAA originally specified with the LSA category. CAA stated, "The aircraft owner makes the declaration that their aircraft meets the requirements, i.e., ... falls with the maximum take-off mass and maximum stall speed."

CAA also noted that an existing two seaters can be made into a single seater to qualify so long as it meets the criteria referenced above. No annual inspection is required. Self launching motorgliders are also included but CAA drew the line at rotorcraft, allowing only fixed-wing aircraft, flex-wing (trikes), and powered parachutes. Neither is commercial use allowed.

In my opinion, this is an innovation-inspiring new rule and I commend CAA for talking this bold step. So, FAA ... ?


REVISED: World Aviation Statistics with New Data
By Dan Johnson, June 1, 2015

Revised Article UPDATED: 6/5/15 — At best statistics can be fluid and hard to state precisely. In response to my request for any Australian input below, Neil Jansen responded, "I found some data sourced from the authority that manages such aircraft categories in Australia (Recreational Aviation Australia)." He attached a PDF article. After my review of this document, I can say that I was not grossly off in my guesstimate of 2,000 LSA-type aircraft. I attempted to be conservative and evidently I was. From a review of the charts and article, I would now increase my Australia figures from 2,000 to perhaps 2,700 so the final calculus of around 50,000 worldwide aircraft looks even more solid. That said, my European counterpart, Jan Fridrich, and I since had a conversation that suggests even 50,000 may not fully cover it. However, better to be conservative on such estimates, I believe. —DJ

Tecnam's latest is their beautiful Astore. photo by Philip Whiteman
One of my favorite tales was taken from an old Delta Air Lines house magazine, the sort sent to employees of the company before email invaded our lives. Airlines have their own meteorology departments and the Delta guys once wrote, "Every time you forecast the weather, you know you're wrong; you just don't know by how much or when. If you are ever right, never let 'em forget it." Ah, yes, remember when we correctly forecast that big storm, back in 1967? I got a lot of chuckles from telling that story.

Weather forecasting is much better today, but statistics can often be wrong despite best efforts. Along this line, I heard from a reader, an engineer in Italy, "In your article 'Analyzing Statistics on Worldwide Aviation,' you did not mention my country."

In this update article, I wish to correct that shortcoming and add a couple more pieces of information. The result of my deeper examination pushes sport and recreational aircraft closer to 50,000 worldwide.

One of the world's most successful light aircraft is Tecnam's P92, in production more than 25 years.
My Italian reader, who preferred I did not use his name, wrote, "Apart from being the country from where several LSA aircraft arrive — he mentions Tecnam, which may be the largest LSA and light aircraft producer on the planet — we have over 13,000 registered "ultralight" aircraft with the Aeroclub of Italy (a national institution managing registrations of ultralight aircraft, including gyrocopters and helicopters)." I add that Germany does something similar with its DAeC and DULV, which might account for GAMA having zero information about microlights in Germany, a nation I know to have a significant number of such aircraft.

The Italian engineer continued with his amplification, "Although the number (13,000) includes 'ancient' aircraft from the '80s that might be out of commission now, I can confirm that well over 6,000 aircraft are flying from hundreds of grass strips and aerodromes across the country." As such, this places Italy — correctly so, based on corroborating information — in the top tier of countries with a large base of light and sport aircraft.

"The reason why [the aircraft count] is not so obvious," he further clarified, "is that the certification of pilots and aircraft is done outside of ENAC (Italian equivalent of FAA) and therefore does not get reported in the usual channels where numbers of registered aircraft are accounted."

Jabiru is probably Australia's best known aircraft producer, also a maker of their own line of engines.
"Ultralight (generally meaning the European name for light two seaters, not the U.S. superlight single seaters) registrations for Italy follow the [aircraft registration] format I-1234, or I-A123 now that we passed 10,000 registrations. I have seen I-C1xx (can't remember the exact number, but it means that we passed 13,000 registrations already)." He added, "I think we had over 2,000 in the last five years or so."

Looking at the pilot side of the equation, he noted, "On a forum I read the impressive number of 17,500 active ultralight pilots."

"So, despite the obvious intention of keeping a low profile to make sure that the Revenue Service does not develop some new creative tax to hit a vulnerable sector, it looks like there are plenty of pilots and planes filling our skies," the Italian writer concluded. He then invited, "Come visit and we'll be happy to show you around." That's an offer I'd like to take when I also wish to visit the large Tecnam facility in Italy.

My source finished his message saying, "I fly a older Aeronca with American N-numbers using an FAA Private certificate and therefore I don't even show up in that list."

New Zealand is making waves, literally so in the case of the Vickers Wave (about which we will have an update before long).
I also managed to overlook two other countries of note. My apology and the only excuse I can offer is that GAMA assembled a great deal of info and I simply did not absorb it all. However, the news is good for the light aircraft sector as the numbers rose considerably from my first estimate of about 40,000 light and/or sport aircraft in the world.

I still don't know exactly how to evaluate Australia's numbers — as they did not break out the LSA-type group in any identifiable way — but I would conservatively guess their microlight/LSA/VLA sector could have around 2,000 light or sport aircraft. If someone in that country knows better, please do educate me. I'd like for these reviews to be as accurate as possible.

However, neighboring New Zealand offered more data. Their listing through me off as they switched methods after 2005 and again after 2010. Yet based on further study, I can see they show 1,059 "microlights" and they once showed a high, in 2009 of 1,853 "Sport" aircraft. From this I might guess they have around 2,000 of what might be called LSA-types.

So, with good Italy info and more from down under, I feel reasonably confident reporting that pilots around the globe fly somewhere around 50,000 light, sport, recreational aircraft.

The update of substantial information about Italy and my further pondering of the many pages in GAMA's detailed report suggest two things to me. First, statistics are devilishly hard to obtain and are subject to all sorts of inconsistencies, many of human origin. Secondly, no matter how you cut it, light and sport aircraft are a very substantial sector of the worldwide family of aircraft.


Considering the Emerging Aviation Market in China
By Dan Johnson, May 28, 2015

To say anticipation is high regarding the development of a China general aviation market might be the understatement of the century. Having earlier observed the auto market grow exponentially — Mercedes reportedly sells more of their luxury cars in China than America — pioneering aviation marketers are brimming with anticipation. Most readers are well aware of the investments made by wealthy Chinese in American aircraft companies.

The country has been on a three-decade-long infrastructure-building binge to exceed any such development in human history and at the Anyang GA Expo (my shortened name for it), we heard highly-placed government officials make speeches about new airport-building plans.

Like many aviators initially contemplating this country — I just completed my first visit — I can sense the boundless enthusiasm. A middle class that might afford light aircraft is said to be larger than the entire U.S. population. Securing even a small sliver of such an untapped potential could foster an entire industry.

That's the dream. What's the reality?

Sunward Aviation in China makes this handsome low wing called SA60L.
I was a guest of the city as part of a delegation assembled by the Aero Sports Association. Anyang is roughly 500 kilometers (about 300 miles) south of Beijing. The city is ancient with 3,300 years of history but a few years ago declared itself the "Airsports Capital," a good omen for the beginning of building a market for recreational aviation.

Director Qin Jianhua explained — reinforced by Mayor Ding Wei and Vice Mayor Zwang Manru along with other officials — that the city government was granted from the military a 4,420 square kilometer chunk of airspace up to 3,000 meters (about 10,000 feet) to use for flight training and recreational aviation ... the largest such in the country. That much area can allow an outbound cross country flight of perhaps 60 miles, although all landings must return to the city airport as no other airstrips yet exist in the airspace. While true cross country flights around China may still be years in the future, Anyang's volume is a good start to stimulate recreational flying.

Business travel to another city in a general aviation airplane is still very restricted but several Chinese enthusiasts to whom I spoke report being able to fly sport aircraft with greater freedom because their actions are consistent with the national government's gradual opening of airspace. In another example, we traveled an hour west of Anyang to a beautiful mountainous region where a paragliding championship was held. Communist Party member Zwang lead opening ceremonies, giving the event and activity official sanction.

Crowds were thick at the exhibits of the American delegation, featuring MVP.aero, M-Squared, Aeromarine LSA, Blackhawk Paramotor, and Lancair.
These observations lead me to speculate that it is sport aviation that may benefit first from national government approval. This is an exciting enticement for producers of Part 103 aircraft and LSA manufacturers to explore the opportunities.

That's what my new friend Shu Dong Li sees for his Aero Sports Association. Shu Dong is working to connect American aircraft manufacturers with Anyang to allow sales and use of their aircraft in the China city's large piece of airspace. Shu Dong is based in the San Francisco area and has deep connections with Anyang government leaders so he is providing a bridge for U.S. builders that otherwise would face a big struggle to penetrate the China market. He expects that once his business model shows success in Anyang, he can replicate this in other cities. To that end we met with government leaders from Wuhan, China who also spoke of ambitious plans to embrace aviation.

Although only a tiny aviation market presently operates, government goals may be highly stimulative. An earlier gold rush brought in hundreds of foreign aircraft companies, many of whom collapsed for various reasons, one of which was the government's halting pace in opening the airspace for non-airline, non-military use. The Chinese Air Force has been slow to give up their lock on the airspace but based on the official speeches, that appears to be changing.

American delegation leader and Aero Sports Association founder, Shu Dong Li (left) poses with the Anyang flight school director. ASFC is Air Sports Federation of China. The Caravan is used for sky diving.
Why should American manufacturers care about what is happening in the China aviation market? If you are a producer, I should think it is obvious: more customers, eventually anyway. Why should individual pilots and aviation consumers see this as valuable?

It may not seem relevant to U.S. aviation enthusiasts but I think you should care that the maker of your favorite airplane can find more customers to help them prosper. Success allows them to provide you with better service and allows development of new airplanes or to upgrade existing designs.

Taking a broader view, trading with neighbors around the world can reduce potential conflicts. I learned a lot about China that I didn't know and it will transform me. I will never look at newspaper articles about China the same way now that I have basic level of understanding.

I also clearly saw the interest from ordinary Chinese people about learning to fly and that interest charges me while also reminding me just how good I have it as an American. I can choose to take my airplane and fly thousands of miles without special permission. I imagine Chinese dreaming of such a thing, too, even if most flying is done closer to the home field. Aero Sports Association is working to make our world a little smaller and that seems a worthy goal to me.


Analyzing Statistics on Worldwide Aviation
By Dan Johnson, May 23, 2015

Update Notice — The following article has been updated to reflect additional information. Please read at this link.

Thanks to a solid effort by GAMA, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, I have data that can be used to assess the numbers of recreational aircraft around the world. That organization is significantly focused on business aircraft but did include all levels of aircraft in their country-by-country review. Whatever the actual level of accuracy — GAMA is wholly dependent on the data the organization received from various CAAs in each country — GAMA's data is some very useful info and I am in their debt for the information discussed in this review.

In addition to GAMA having to use whatever each country reported, the methods of reporting were not consistent. For one noteworthy example, several countries listed as their smallest aircraft those weighing 5,700 kilograms (12,540 pounds), which represents far larger aircraft than your typical four-seat GA aircraft and certainly any recreational aircraft. Many European countries listed "microlights" or "ultralights," two common descriptions for aircraft that commonly look like Light-Sport Aircraft do in America. However, Germany, home to many microlights or ultralights, oddly did not report this category. The Czech Republic, home to many LSA producers, was also not reported. Therefore, it's probably wise to consider my following analysis with a degree of caution.

Regardless of its reliability, this is the best compendium I've seen so thanks again to our friends at GAMA.

To provide some perspective, let's look at certified GA aircraft first. From its peak in 1978, U.S.-manufactured GA deliveries have fallen dramatically, by 93% from 14,398 single engine piston aircraft in 1978 to 986 in 2014. Fortunately, since 2000 the continuing drop is less severe, for example in 2006, worldwide GAMA members reported delivering a new millennia peak of 2,513 aircraft; the decline to 986 is a drop of 61%. The '60s and '70s were clearly the "golden era" for GA piston airplane production. Accounting for this drop, beside pilot population decreases (see below) and airplanes lasting so long — the average age of four seater is 38.2 years old — most competition likely came from non-flying activities. Among aircraft choices, Experimentals in the last two decades have grown 143% to nearly 25,000 aircraft. LSA in fully built or kit form add to GA's competition although much less so partly as Experimentals have been around much longer.

Overall, the overall GA fleet has held reasonably steady despite the references above, declining from a peak of piston airplanes in FAA's registry of 197,442 in 1984 to 137,655 in 2013, a drop of about 30%. When you add kit-built aircraft and LSA, the total fleet numbers look relatively stable.

In geographic location of that U.S. aircraft fleet the conventional knowledge about the biggest three states still holds, with California having 26,141 aircraft registered, followed by Texas at 22,851, trailed by Florida at 18,162. The next closest state (Washington) has barely half the Florida count ... but see below for where pilots live.

Image of students in pilot training at Parkland College in Champaign, Illinois.
The number of airmen — pilots with certificates — explains some of the aircraft delivery decreases. From a peak in GAMA's numbers of 827,071 licensed pilots in 1980 to the current number of 593,499, I calculate a drop of 28% over 34 years. Keep in mind that nearly 47,000 of those airmen are not Americans but foreign nationals holding a U.S. certificate. Private Pilots have dropped by 51%, but many of those probably went on to higher ratings as ATPs grew by 120% in the same period to account for 26% of all certificate holders. No doubt related to that, CFIs grew by 67% to become 17% of all certificate holders and pilots with Instrument ratings also increased by 18%. Those holding a Spot Pilot certificate now totals 5,157, reported GAMA, while Recreational Pilot peaked at 343 in 1999 and has since shrunk to only 220 certificates. Neither of the last two amount to even 1% of all license holders though the other certificate categories have several decades of history the newer ones lack.

You might lament the Sport Pilot certificate numbers. Certainly, many in the GA world thought Sport Pilot was single-handedly going to grow the pilot population a lot more. While I do not believe that was ever a realistic expectation, here's some good news.

Most pilots I know think the pilot population is graying quickly and that we may be in danger of running out of pilots. GAMA's stats say otherwise. The biggest single category may be what you expect with those aged 50-64 counting 179,277 pilots but the surprising second largest segment is close behind. Those aged a young 20-35 years old number 173,396 pilots. The 35-50 cohort is much smaller, perhaps as they are busy raising families and paying for mortgages and college eductions for their kids.

In the top ten states for pilot populations, California still leads with 59,213 but Florida has climbed into the number #2 slot at 52,976 — and the state is number one in flight instructors with 9,592 — followed by Texas with 49,614 total pilots, Washington state (18,665), Georgia (18,131), Arizona (18,029), Illinois (16,307), New York (15,949), Pennsylvania (15,187), and Ohio (15,137).

Van's Aircraft RV-series (a RV-12 SLSA shown here) does well in both kit-built and Light-Sport categories.
Now let's look at LSA-type aircraft elsewhere in the world. I have reported that the rest of world accounts for large numbers of "sport" or "light" airplanes, much more than the USA. This is definitely not the case in the certified GA aircraft world where America dominates. As mentioned above, the method of counting is all over the place — and in saying that I mean no disrespect to GAMA's Herculean effort nor the stats provided by reporting national CAAs. Nonetheless the variable reporting methods makes it difficult to come up with exact numbers. I plodded through chart after chart and here's my analysis.

Where I could identify microlights, ultralights, or LSA types, I calculated 19,613 aircraft in what might be called "greater Europe" (mostly EU countries). Making an informed guess of at least 4,000 "microlight/ultralight" for Germany — which country, as noted above, did not supply a detailed value for this category — and adding non-European countries such as South Africa (6,072 including "Sport, Recreational, and Experimental"), Canada (7,125 "ultralights"), and Brazil plus Asian countries (small counts for several nations), I make a best estimate of about 40,000 LSA-type aircraft outside the USA. This figure includes estimates for Sweden and Switzerland that did not break out their reporting. Also included in the 40,000 count is England with strong numbers of 4,029 "microlights" and 3,269 "Fixed Wing Aeroplanes of less than 750 kilograms" (1,650 pounds). See updated figures in this newer article.

SPECIAL NOTES: France is singular reporting 8,476 "ultralights" (counted in the 19,613 number), the most of any country, while Germany deserves separate mention for having 7,657 sailplanes plus 3,357 motorgliders — more than any other country in the world by far — though they are not LSA types.

In summation, my earlier reporting suggests that while certified aircraft and the pilot population are in a long-term decline (a fairly well-known assessment), sport and recreational aircraft, including kit-built, continue to expand. Given entry by emerging aviation countries like China and India with their immense populations, the expected increase of the light, sport segment looks to remain aviation's growth sector. Then, we have the developing LSA 4.0 group, but that's another story ...


MVP.aero’s "Omniplane" Tour
By Dan Johnson, May 20, 2015

You have to love the English language (or maybe hate it for the same reason): New words keep arriving in conversations. Team MVP used the term "triphibian" to mean a Light-Sport Aircraft seaplane entry that could land on runways, waterways, or snow. Of course, many amphibious seaplanes could make a similar claim so perhaps it took something even better. Enter "Omniplane." Is this the plane that can do it all?

In May of 2015, MVP.aero went on tour, hitting the west coast area known as Silicon Valley, then traveling over 2,000 miles to Daytona Beach, Florida ... as luck would have it, right to my home airport of Spruce Creek (technically in Port Orange, Florida). The airplane was trucked across the country as today it is only a well-traveled mockup while the company raises funds to complete engineering and enter production.

Silicon Valley and Spruce Creek are excellent places to seek investors that understand the magic.

MVP drew pilots and potential investors at the Palo Alto Airport in Silicon Valley.

On May 1st and 2nd, at Palo Alto Airport, an organization called Aero Sports Association organized and held a well-attended event to raise funds in the worldwide center of technology, Silicon Valley, California. Between aviation enthusiasts and potential investors, nearly 200 people brought a wide range of backgrounds and interests to participate in an event organized by ASA president, ShuDong Li who said, "ASA is focused on building a platform to promote and develop China and US aviation and business exchange."

Darrell Lynds, president of MVP, shared his excitement, "This event far exceeded our expectations. We met not only aviation investors and aviation industry leaders, but we were also pleased to see pilots and aviation fans from reputable companies such as Google, Facebook, and Apple. We had a good turn out and it was evident that a lot of people were interested in our MVP aircraft. We really appreciate ASA giving us this great opportunity to promote our aircraft in the Silicon Valley. We will also join the ASA team by participating in the 2015 China's Anyang Airshow, which will be coming up on May 25th."

MVP made a big slash (figuratively, not yet literally) at AirVenture 2014 when the Minnesota company give a major press conference and debuted their new amphibious LSA in a special celebration display mounted by EAA on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Sport Pilot / Light-Sport Aircraft rule being announced.

The company has already raised a substantial amount of money that has taken the design from concept to mockup into significant engineering and marketing efforts. Funds are now being raised in a very innovative method to carry the versatile design through FAA acceptance and manufacturing.

At Spruce Creek in Florida, Darrell Lynds addressed one of several groups of prospective investors.
In Florida, MVP was hosted by one of their two fabrication partners. In the western U.S., MVP will work with Glasair Aviation, maker of the Glastar and new LSA entry, Merlin (video). In the east, the Minnesota outfit will work with Fibercraft, based at the Spruce Creek airport.

Mike Lynds reported, "We found strong support for the MVP  in both California and Florida." (You can see more about the aircraft and its features in this video.

Following on many other projects that overpromised and underdelivered, MVP is being very careful how they proceed. They refer to projected milestone dates that strike listeners as realistic.

I recall all the excitement generated about Very Light Jets and Eclipse. While that company did hang on to produce actual flying machines, the development raised huge amounts of capital (north of $1 billion, according to reports) but was challenged to move smoothly from investment marketing to manufacturing. MVP.aero is keenly aware of this and other failed projects, which is surely guiding their cautious approach.

Caution or not, MVP (for Most Versatile Plane) generates remarkable enthusiasm from those who study it.


Chinese Pilot Seeks to Fly for Fun
By Dan Johnson, May 16, 2015

WEEKEND UPDATE — Next week I leave for my first visit to China, specifically to Anyang City, by train a couple hours south of Beijing where the seventh running of an annual airshow is planned. I have only a sketchy idea what to expect even though Shu Dong Li of the Aero Sport Association has briefed me as has my European counterpart (in our work for LAMA), Jan Fridrich. In the last year alone, Jan has made nine trips to China as the Czech government is assisting Chinese authorities in work to build personal aviation in that country.

At the invitation of Shu Dong and Anyang City officials I was asked to speak at the event and I will join several other Americans all invited for the occasion. I expect this will prove interesting. While no one expect China to suddenly explode with light aviation activity, various groups are vigorously pursuing the future of recreational flying and this country has accomplished a great deal in a short time. Nonetheless, today, others report that the large country has only 329 airports and just 1,320 GA aircraft.

In an interesting coincidence, I discovered a story about a Chinese fellow who built his own ultralight from available materials and took to the air in it. He's not alone in this, of course, but I found his work an intriguing example of ordinary Chinese citizens showing an interest in flying for fun.

An article in the Daily Mail amplified a story on ChinaNews.com about Mr. Shijun Yang, a 45-year-old China national. The article was accompanied with some decent photos, which I use here while giving full credit to the news organizations.

According to the article Yang spent about $16,000 and more than a year building the plane, from plans he may have obtained off the Internet (photo). An executive at a building company, Yang has crafted the aircraft in honor of his deceased father, who worked as a pilot for 29 years. He named the plane "Jinhai" in memory of his father.

The two news organizations reported that on a recent Sunday Yang successfully took off and landed 10 times in Jilin province, located in northeast China. According to writer Emily Chan he took the airplane up to 650 feet and has since logged 2.5 hours of flying time.

Builder and pilot Yang said that his aircraft, allegedly "made from scrap metal," can reach a top speed of 120 kilometers per hour (75 mph) and has a cruising speed of 80 km/hr or 50 mph. Yang's ultralight-like airplane has a wingspan of about 30 feet and weighs 242 pounds. Journalist Chan reported that he has test flown his creation on two other occasions, including a 54-minute flight on his late father's birthday last September.

As I looked at the photos for this airplane I knew it looked familiar, in particular a Flightstar, an ultralight in which I logged many hours in the mid-1980s.

all photos from Daily Mail and ChinaNews.com
As chance would have it, about the time I stumbled across this story, I was enjoying a visit from an old friend and fellow LSA businessman, Tom Peghiny, known widely as the president of Flight Design USA. In fact, Tom is celebrated in the June 2015 issue of Plane & Pilot magazine, where his leadership in the Light-Sport community is chronicled.

I showed the photos to Tom and with his intimate knowledge of Flightstar — after building nearly 1,000 of them before he become immersed with the Flight Design CT series of LSA — he swiftly confirmed my guess that this was indeed a Flightstar. Yang has modified the design in minor ways, for example, the forward support tube (aft and below the engine) is not exact to the U.S. version of Flightstar.

OK, so Yang built a Flightstar apparently from some detailed plans. It may not be ground-breaking design work, but I still have to admire anyone who will tackle such a project in a country where aviation — at least at the ultralight level of aircraft — is virtually unknown. I look forward to my upcoming visit where I can learn more about this country's push to join the world in enjoyment of recreational aircraft.


Wings from the North Lift Many Trikes
By Dan Johnson, May 14, 2015

Here's North Wing's Maverick 2 Legend with full fairings and folding main gear (see photo below). This can be a Part 103 trike and sells for $17,990.
I've been writing about very affordable aircraft, specifically about Part 103 ultralight vehicles. I know some readers prefer speedier or fully enclosed aircraft. Those people are fortunate as many choices are available and, of course, I will continue writing about them frequently. However, many pilots in the USA and around the world do not have a budget for a magnificent carbon fiber personal aircraft that costs $150,000. Even among those who can afford such aircraft, I'm amazed at the renewed interest in these simplest of aircraft.

In addition, aircraft as shown in the nearby photos have seen considerable development since the early days of weight shift trikes. In my view, America invented these aircraft back in the late 1970s but as three axis ultralights developed, interest from American pilots drew away from weight shift and the best new ideas seemed to come from Europe, Australia or other countries. However, I now see the freshest developments coming from U.S. producers such as North Wing, Evolution, or FlyHard.

In this article, we will look at products from North Wing, based in Chelan, Washington. Fortunately, despite a very long journey from the opposite corner of this big country, North Wing again brought their products to Sun 'n Fun for all to examine. Here's a link to all North Wing trikes and wings

Maverick now folds its main gear for a narrower stance to allow trailer transport or space-efficient hangar storage.
North Wing is what might be called a full-line trike maker. The company offers a SLSA version called Scout in two models, Apache and Navajo, powered by either the Rotax 582 or 912. The most deluxe of these is the Scout XC Apache 912 (video) and while it is nicely finished with most desirable features, Scout sells for a fairly modest $52,000. For those wishing to spend less, other models run as little as $36,500 and even kit versions are available.

In the range of ultralight trikes, North Wing offers three models: Maverick, Solairus, and ATF. The latter is essentially a powered hang glider with landing carriage and the lightest engine available (photo). Solairus is similar but features a sleek composite carriage in lieu of simpler tube-and-gusset construction. For more on Solairus, check out our configuration video or our mini pilot report video.

If you are soaring enthusiast like me, super lightweight trikes like ATF and Solairus may be of great interest. To many others, though, a more substantial rig is desired. That might suggest the two seat and powerful Scout series but North Wing has another in-between model called Maverick.

Maverick is also Part 103 eligible, though like all such aircraft it is possible to push them out of Part 103 by adding too many options. Fortunately, unlike fixed wing Part 103 vehicles, trikes have greater weight allowances available so a Part 103 trike can still be fairly deluxe. Maverick is such an example.

Somewhat like the Evolution Rev I recently wrote about, Maverick drew my attention when I approached it as it appeared, well, different. That's because North Wings' new Maverick had its main gear folded up into what might be called trailer transport mode. The main gear legs on Maverick swivel upward by removing one bolt on each side which exposes two small wheels that I hardly noticed. In such configuration, Maverick can still be pushed around in a hangar or into a trailer; folding the mains considerably narrows the gear stance so it can fit in more confined spaces. North Wing also had a form of two wheel truck (photo) that could be used to make the maneuvering easier.

Maverick 2 also has some other new qualities such a zippered storage area aft of its single seat and a nicely fabricated fairing with a well-designed parachute cover. Parachutes have a close relationship with Part 103 aircraft as they are the only FAA-acknowledged flying machines that give a weight credit for using the safety equipment. Adding a canister parachute like Maverick had installed adds about 18 pounds of weight but then qualifies for a 24-pound weight allowance so that the operator can be said to gain six pounds for other purposes without exceeding part 103's maximum empty weight (278 pounds with parachute versus 254 without).

Using engines commonly mounted on back-pack powered paragliders helps ATF stay super lightweight for soaring flight.
Maverick is base priced with the weight saving yet powerful Kawasaki 440 40-horsepower, two-stroke engine and in its simplest configuration sells ready to fly for only $17,900. Even with the 35-horsepower Verner JCV-360 four-stroke engine, Maverick is just a hair over $23,000. Get more Maverick info in this video.

At the very least costly end of North Wing's broad-shouldered line is the ATF mentioned above. About this diminutive rig, North Wing said it, "adds power to your hang glider so you can climb to the thermals and power-off for lightweight trike soaring!" This is music to the ears for some of us.

ATF is available with no less than four engine choices: Simonini Mini2; MZ 34; Vittorazi 185; or the four-stroke Bailey V5E engine. All are used by producers of powered paragliders and for the same reason: they are extremely lightweight. North Wing makes sure ATF has lots of choices and possibilities. Explore these at this link Here's the best news for those on a budget for aircraft: You can purchase an ATF with Simonini 26-horsepower engine and a new Solairus 17-meter wing for just $13,990. Fantastic!

A reminder to readers that at some time in the future, ByDanJohnson.com will start a transition to a new domain name: AffordableAviation.com because ... whatever the selling price of aircraft we cover, our focus remains on the affordable end of aviation.


Quicksilver’s 103 Sprint Offers Potent Powerplant
By Dan Johnson, May 9, 2015

You could say 15,000 aircraft buyers can't be wrong and you'd be right. Quicksilver, in several various corporate iterations, has indeed sold 15,000 aircraft kits for its whole line including what they call the MX series and the GT series. Going back to the early 1980s — or even earlier when the company was a hang glider producer under the namer Eipper Formance — the company has made so many models I could nearly fill a post with the names, so I won't try to list them all. Suffice it to say this is one of the most prolific airplane companies since the Wright brothers first flew.

Today, the line up includes the aircraft in the nearby photos called Sprint. It's a single seater, now positioned as the MX-103. As the company notes on their slickly upgraded website, "[We are] launching the MX 103 a legal ultralight with 50 horsepower engine for $18,900 fully assembled." They note that MX 103 is based on the MX Sprint that has a long track record of safety and ruggedness in an open air flying machine.

Cockpits don't get much simpler than this, but do you really need more to have fun aloft?
So, here's another Part 103 ultralight we saw at Sun 'n Fun 2015 that sells for less than $20,000. Maybe even the naysayers (those that claim aircraft can't really legally meet Part 103) will grudgingly admit you might make a proper weight shift trike or powered parachute that can stay in the parameters but, "You can't do it with a three-axis airplane or if you can it will have such a weak engine a buyer will want more power and that will push it out of Part 103 weight."

Man, if I had a dollar for every time I heard that ... I could probably buy an MX 103.

Sprint has long been able to meet the confining weight limit of Part 103 — 254 pounds empty or 278 pounds with a parachute plus another 50 pounds allowed for floats. This presumes the buyer didn't load the aircraft with options. Admittedly some of those Part 103-eligible vehicles did indeed have a less powerful engine and the doubters might be right that you'd want something that could give a more robust climb rate.

With the Hirth F23 powering the MX 103, I say that problem is solved, and how!

Hirth has long offered a line of engines that Part 103 producers have used. One of the most popular is the F33, a single cylinder engine that can be supplied with electric starting. It is so light, a Part 103 aircraft can still accommodate the battery and wiring to allow push-button starting. However, it only offers 28 horsepower and while that works, it isn't particularly energetic.

Hirth's 71-pound F23 delivers 50 horsepower making Sprint, or Max 103, a strong performer.
With Hirth's F23, all that changes. This twin cylinder two-stroke engine offers a far beefier 50 horsepower and on a lightweight single seater like Sprint, that yields literally awesome performance. Two cylinders also ensures greater smoothness, even though Hirth engines have a reputation for smooth operation. Especially on the lightest aircraft, lower vibration is exceedingly welcome.

Quicksilver Aeronautics the factory based in Temecula, California, worked with the F23 but couldn't get it where they wanted it. So, Heavenbound Aviation's Andy Humphrey jumped in and, working with longtime Hirth U.S. representative Matt Dandar, managed to solve the installation problems. What visitors to Sun 'n Fun saw at Air-Tech Inc., display was the aircraft in the photos that I'm told is working beautifully. Congratulations to Andy and Matt! I'll bet Quicksilver is thrilled.

Although Matt had worked with Quicksilver for some months, the challenges remained and new Quicksilver dealer Andy arranged to have the aircraft brought to his location in Ohio, conveniently closer to Matt's shop, and the two of them wrenched on the issues.

The Hirth F23 only weighs 71 pounds (77 pounds with electric starting), said Matt, helping to keep Sprint within parameters even without an emergency parachute. Using a 'chute should allow electric starting as the parachute systems generally weigh a few pounds less than the weight FAA calculates for it.

The installation was problematical as F23 has opposed cylinders and dual exhausts. On our new video, Matt explains gives more detail but basically they solved the problem by inverting the cylinders putting the carbs on top and exhausts on the bottom.

Andy was the brains behind the motor mount parts that allowed the engine to be mounted underneath the wing — making upper wing surface airflow that much cleaner. We saw this configuration last year but the engine was on top and that simply wasn't the best. Now it's working great, Andy and Matt agreed. How great?

I wondered how a lightweight Part 103 airplane performs with 50 horsepower? When I asked, Andy smiled broadly and said ground roll is 25-35 feet. Whoa! Talk about your short field take off airplane; only a helicopter can beat that. Andy added that stalls come at only 16 mph (a mere 14 knots). Given Quicksilver's long reputation for this model and its wonderful safety record, here's an airplane almost anyone can afford and everyone can enjoy.

Heavenbound will build Max 103 for you and Andy said you can buy an RTF machine for less than $20 Grand!

Andy reported that one pilot with experience in Quicksilver who flew this Max 103 was hesitant to even use full power. That's a major difference from most Part 103 three axis airplanes and this adds a reason why the 103 sector appears to be reenergized. Thanks to Andy and Matt for sleuthing the problems and making for a wonderful new Part 103 entry.


Is Rev for You? ...for Less Than $18,000?
By Dan Johnson, May 6, 2015

UPDATE 5/10/15 – Rev Videos — Shortly after the following article was written, we posted two videos about Evolution's new Rev. Part 1 shows you how fast the setup from trailer to flight goes and Part 2 gives more information, both featuring primary developer Larry Mednick. Enjoy! –DJ

Did this trike just crash and turn into a puzzle of tubes? NO! This is the ground maneuvering system, the start of details we'll review on this clever Part 103 trike. (See next photo, too.)
Earlier I've written that the Part 103 ultralight sector seemed more vibrant than ever at this year's Sun 'n Fun. I admit a bias. I love Part 103 ... the aircraft, the concept, I like flying single seat aircraft, and, hugely, I love that Part 103 deftly avoids most of the interference from government officials that tends to dominate so much of aviation worldwide. While certified aircraft have hundreds or thousands of pages of regulations they must follow, Part 103's entire ruleset can be printed on the front and back of a single piece of paper. That's fantastic!

Earlier a few folks reading my enthusiasm about Sun 'n Fun 2015 exhibits of Part 103 machines voiced doubt that these machines can actually qualify — meeting the challenging empty weight of 254 pounds (278 if a parachute is mounted; more if floats are added); the max speed of 55 knots or 63 mph; the stall of 24 knots or 28 mph; the five gallons of fuel, and, well ... that's nearly it.

Of course I couldn't weigh each machine out in the fields of Sun 'n Fun's Paradise City, but I did probe with each vendor interviewed, "Are you certain this meets Part 103's parameters faithfully?" Each answered, "Yes!" although they also noted that customers sometimes like to add options that can push the vehicle out of 103.

Engine choices are standard 40-hp Kawasaki 440 or 45-hp MZ-201.
One of the most fun was Evolution Trikes brand-new Rev, which is perhaps shortened from Revo, their super-deluxe two seat trike featuring every bell and whistle known to trike developers. However, although Rev is highly simplified compared to Revo, it has everything I'd want on a trike and has a very special arrangement to help you maneuver the machine when its is folded for transport or storage.

As you look at the lead photo, you have to wonder if this thing just crashed and jumbled its tubing into a mess. You can be excused for wondering. However, what you see above is Rev in compact — and wheeled — form so it can be moved around easily inside a hangar or onto a trailer. Because Part 103 trikes are limited to 60 mph, owners may trailer their rig; also, an enclosed trailer can make an inexpensive hangar.

Rev cleverly folds from its collapsed configuration to flight or the reverse in a mere six minutes and even those minutes won't strain your back, thanks to the ingenious thinking of lead developer Larry Mednick. He's proved his design prowess with the marvelous Revo and he's done it again with the far simpler Rev.

Note the lack of a forward support tube, common on nearly all trikes. This eases entry significantly and opens up visibility more than you might think. Rev uses a mostly single surface with with clever rib fittings to make for fast assembly.
Rev's wing is intended to stay attached, folding into flight position while mounted to the trike carriage. Then the carriage itself folds to allow movement on the ground with a second carriage (see second and fourth photos). Yet, as the late-night TV advertorials boast, "That's not all!"

Once the wings — of this simpler, single surface design with nifty wing ribs that insert easier than ever — are unfolded, the ground-movement carriage is detached, and the nosewheel assembly plugged in, the wing lifts quite easily into flying condition. Even the "haul-back" is easier (haul-back is an action to fully deploy and tension the wings to flying condition; it can be difficult on some large, tight wings).

One the wing is fully erected over its carriage, you attach the standard forward support strut ... except, nope, you don't! Like very few trikes on the market, Rev is design to support the wing from the rear, making forward visibility the best I've seen in recent memory. This has been done before, but it's rare and the earlier efforts were not this slick. For those nervous about the lack of a forward strut, Rev is designed to accommodate one if you wish (as an option).

[Top left, clockwise] ... Rev instrument panel. Note black part under front edge of seat; this is part of the front suspension Rev's ground maneuvering carriage Parachute (white canister) is nestled in front of engine and, again, note black part that provides main gear leg suspension parachute handle.
Similar to his superb Revo, Larry has left few details needing any further attention. As you look at the detail image collage, you see the whole creation is thoughtfully considered. An instrument panel is nestled behind the beefy front wheel; it can be configured in various ways (though you'll need to restrain your impulses if Rev is to remain in Part 103). It has comfortable foot rests and even the throttle hook up to the right pedal is neatly achieved.

Large main gear tires combine with a robust nosewheel to assure landing on rough fields won't provide a threat and all three wheels use a smart but simple and light form of suspension (see black insert in rear gear leg and under the seat of the front support arms). Even the nosewheel gusset has a fine touch with the product name machined into the plate. A parachute is fitted, allowing empty weight to rise in a way that "buys" a few extra pounds (the parachute weighs slightly less than FAA's AC 103-7 allows).

Of course, some buyers will simply have to add some options and Evolution has several. Adding too much will push Rev into Experimental Amateur Built where a pilot license, medical, and N-number will be needed but Evolution offers various ways to personalize your Rev. Looking like the one in the photos and fully optioned out, Rev will exceed $33,000. However, with its standard Kawasaki 440 (40 hp) engine and still a mighty nice machine, Rev lists for just $17,900. That's terrific. Go, Rev!


Is Diesel Power for LSA Superior? Yes!
By Dan Johnson, May 2, 2015

"So, it looks like Rotax has finally got some worthy competition," was a comment I received as I walked into the Sun 'n Fun press headquarters work room. The observation came from a fellow journalist at one of the big aviation magazines. He is aware Rotax dominates the light aircraft market with an estimated 75-80% of all engine installations, even higher overseas. Who is going to give the big Austrian engine manufacturer some competition?

Superior Air Parts got started back in 1967 making components for certified engines such as Lycoming but long ago branched into their own engine line. Companies like Arion Aircraft is using an Experimental Superior XP powerplant for their new EAB speedster similar to but quite a bit faster than their LS-1 Light-Sport model. Like Arion, many already knew of the gasoline engines from this Texas company, but I knew something was up when I was approached at Sebring about a new project. To hear more, I had to promise secrecy but the veil came off at Sun 'n Fun and that's why the other media fellow made his comment.

Gemini Diesel employs two horizontally-opposed pistons in a single cylinder using outboard crankshafts driving a common center shaft through a system of front-mounted gears. Gemini appears roughly the same size as the Rotax 912 and, according to representatives, weighs about 200 pounds or 10 percent more than the Rotax. It also costs marginally more than a 912ULS at a projected retail price of $25,000.

Superior's Scott Hayes pointing out the intake ports on the Gemini Diesel's cylinder sleeve (exhaust ports are to the left as you view the part between Scott's index and middle fingers).
At Sebring and again at Sun 'n Fun, I spoke with (then interviewed for a video; see below) Scott Hayes, Superior's sales and marketing VP who provided details after the announcement by CEO Tim Archer. "[We] acquired the Gemini Diesel engine and have begun active development of the current engines, as well as planning the introduction of new models," stated Archer.

Archer added, "Because of its unique, Uniflow design featuring two-opposing-pistons-per-cylinder, the Gemini will be smaller than many current gasoline and diesel piston engines, giving it a significant power-to-weight ratio advantage and making it especially attractive to the experimental and LSA markets initially."

In late 2014 Superior acquired all rights to the liquid-cooled, two-stroke diesel design originally developed by Britain's Powerplant Developments. Over the last few months, Superior has been testing prototypes of the Gemini on the bench.

"There are basically two reasons why we chose to offer the Gemini Diesel to the experimental and LSA markets first," said Scott. "Number one was the fact that the 100-horsepower, Gemini 100 is much further along in its development cycle." Then he elaborated, "The second is that over the years many of the manufacturers of these kit and LSA aircraft have become dissatisfied with the current engine options and have asked us about developing a new-generation, alternatively-fueled engine that delivers the same innovation, quality, and value that is found in our experimental XP-Series and FAA-certificated Vantage Engines."

"We have already had preliminary discussions with manufacturers representing a variety of experimental and LSA aircraft," Archer said. "We are very excited to say that the Gemini 100 is currently running in the test cell. The engine is meeting all of our performance goals and right now we anticipate having preproduction engines within 90 days." That translates to about Oshkosh time, so it will be interesting to hear how LSA builders are embracing the idea.

I envision the strongest support may come from overseas suppliers who have active businesses delivering aircraft to countries where avgas is virtually unavailable and where auto gas may be questionable for use in an airplane. In addition many airports around the globe do not allow non-aviation fuels on their property so auto gas is not as widely available as in America.

Of course, the million-dollar question is how Rotax may address this development. The company always holds their new development close to the vest and no one I know will say a single word about what may be coming. Yet the Austrian powerhouse (Toronto stock exchange symbol DOO.TO) is not a giant to be casually poked. It may be very interesting to see what Superior's entry causes in response.

Other players in the LSA ASTM-standards-meeting engine space include Jabiru with 81- and 120-horsepower models and HKS and D-Motor with lower horsepower models. D-motor showed a six-cylinder engine at Aero and Sun 'n Fun and UL Power is reportedly working on meeting ASTM standards. Plus, the new engine from ICP in Italy is reportedly ready to enter production. However, while I have seen some interesting diesel engine prototypes, Superior has clearly jumped in the lead of proposing to have an engine perhaps in serial production and meeting ASTM standards perhaps in 2015.

Airframe developments in variety of configurations -- fixed wing, gyroplane, weight shift, powered parachute, and motorglider -- have proven a fascinating watch since the first one was FAA accepted just over ten years ago. Now the engine space looks to be of equal interest. We will work to keep you informed in the fast-changing sector.

Superior's Bullet Points on the new Gemini Diesel Engine

  • Jet A is a global fuel with better availability, quality, consistency and pricing
  • Operators can fly the same range as a standard engine on less fuel
  • High power-to-weight ratio; provides 100 horsepower
  • Highly efficient, two-stroke power
  • Higher engine torque at lower RPM
  • Projected to have up to 20% lower fuel burn than conventional engines
  • Mechanically simpler design, with fewer moving parts
  • Retrofittable with many current piston engine designs
  • Greener operations with much lower emissions
  • Uniflow design enables easier engine model expansion
  • Higher horsepower engine in planning

See more in our recently shot video interview with Superior's Scott Hayes



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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.

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

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

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

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

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.

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!


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

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

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.


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


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.

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.

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

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.

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.


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

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

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.

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.

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.

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?


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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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