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Flying America’s First Homegrown Modern Gyroplane
By Dan Johnson, July 22, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's the valuable message:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Invasion of the Titan; More LSA Go Big Power
By Dan Johnson, May 18, 2016

Kitfox Aircraft has installed the Titan X-340 and is currently testing the engine.
In my many years in aviation, I've learned this about light aviation pilots: If 80-horsepower is good, then 100-horsepower is better, and even more is best of all. It explains why interest was so high when Rotax announced their new 915iS that will provide 135 horsepower. It also illustrates why the 180 horses of the Titan X-340 is succeeding in the Light-Sport Industry.

Interest from LSA producers started with CubCrafters adopting the engine several years ago. When that company's boss, Jim Richmond, held a press conference at Sun 'n Fun, the reception was somewhat cool. Of ten persons in the audience, only four of us were journalists. The other six (yes, 6!) people were from FAA. No wonder, perhaps, as ASTM standards at the time brought questions to mind regarding the use of such a powerful engine. Those standards have since been modified somewhat.

Indeed, the western producer instructed users that the engine could only be used at full power for takeoff or climbing, but otherwise had to be set to lower power. Of course, you would not run many engines at full power for all phases of flight but my guess is many users put the noise lever where they wish and don't worry too much about what standards or regulations state.

Flash forward to 2016 and interest in the Titan engine is clearly revved up all the way. Let's see... this list may not be complete as new brands seem to be regularly considering bolting on the powerhouse engine -- CubCrafters Carbon Cub, American Legend Super Legend, Zlin Outback (Shock Cub in Europe), Just Aircraft SuperSTOL, Kitfox STi, Rans Raven, Vickers Wave LSA seaplane.

Why do these leading companies use a more costly engine? What pilots doesn't love plenty of power for performance, climbing strongly without straining the engine. With an excess of power, pilots can thrill to short takeoff rolls, exhilarating climbs north of 2,000 fpm on some models, and somewhat higher cruise speeds, though the latter depends much more on airframe and wing shape than horsepower. It may also provide a safety factor in some situations.

Continental Motors said, "The Titan 340 is unlike any other engine we offer. This little stroked 320 can put out over 180 horsepower and is 20 pounds less than a stock 360. ASTM certification has proven this engine to be reliable and a great performer." Titan Engines remains based where ECi was founded in San Antonio, Texas.

Zlin's Shock Cub uses the Titan. Attendees can examine the model at AirVetnrue Oshkosh 2016 under the Outback name at SportairUSA's booth.
The company reported, "Titan's 340CC engine has been tested and is manufactured in accordance with ASTM F2339-06." This is the standard for the design and manufacture of reciprocating spark ignition engines for LSA. The 340CC engine is a four cylinder, direct-drive, horizontally-opposed, and air-cooled engine, differentiating it significantly from the gear-box-equipped, liquid-cooled Rotax 9-series. To help reduce weight, heads are made of aluminum alloy castings. "The cylinder barrels are made of thru-hardened steel that have a Nickel+Carbide coating for additional corrosion and wear prevention." Pistons are machined from aluminum alloy. The engine is "designed to be cooled via air pressure forced from the top of the engine to the bottom of the engine during flight. Air is directed over the cylinder heads via baffles." Titan's carburetor is a single barrel float-type equipped with a mixture control and an idle cut-off.

Operationally, Titan is somewhat different from the ubiquitous Rotax that asks pilots to assure a certain temperature before takeoff. Continental said, "The engine should be warm enough for taxi as soon as it takes throttle with no hesitation." Pre-takeoff runup is similar to most American made engines where you spin the engine to 1,700 rpm and check left and right mags plus exercise the carburetor heat control. Although you can use the full 2,700 rpm for launch, Titan advises reducing engine revs to 2,500 when an acceptable climb is established. LSA manufacturers may add further instructions.

Descent for landing calls for slightly decreasing power and letting the airplane decelerate. "Chopping the power should be avoided unless there is an emergency," said Titan. Abrupt power reduction can cause the cylinder barrel walls to receive cold air cooling while the piston is still hot and this can cause problems. Final engine shut down is done by pulling the mixture control, not be switching off as on a Rotax.

Regarding fuels, Titan advised, "All 340CC engine series are designed to use 100/100LL aviation grade fuel. In the event of an emergency, automotive premium grade fuel may be used." If you operate from airports, 100LL is easily obtained across the U.S. For those preferring auto gas, another engine may be preferable.

An old line in car racing used to go: "Speed costs money. How fast do you want to go?" You can buy a Rotax or a Jabiru for less investment and engines like UL Power or Viking for homebuilders can be even better deals. The potent Titan X-340 is a shade under $26,000 at present. One advantage over most others is that it is Made in the USA and you deal with a U.S.-based company. Power on!

Following are a few specifications for the Titan X-340 powerplant:

  • Maximum Continuous Horsepower — 166 / 180
  • Maximum RPM at Full Power — 2,700
  • Recommended Time Before Overhaul (TBO) in hours — 2000 / 2,400 (ASTM)
  • Number of Cylinders — 4
  • Displacement — 340 cubic inches
  • Compression Ratio — 8.0 / 9.0
  • Fuel Delivery — Carb / injection
  • Fuel Grade, Aviation, Octane (recommended) — 93 / 100 / 100LL
  • Dimensions in inches — 20.63-23 height X 32.27 wide X 29.07 long
  • Estimated Dy Weight — 260 pounds
  • Available with — a wide range of colors


Remos is Back and Scores at Aero 2016
By Dan Johnson, May 11, 2016

Think back far enough in the still-fairly-new LSA sector and you should recall a time when one brand made some major impact on all of personal aviation. The company was Remos and their U.S. team amped up promotional activity to the level of full page ads in most of the biggest aviation magazines in aviation. By my casual estimate, Remos was spending north of $35,000 per month on splashy advertisements.

Remos also did an airplane giveaway with AOPA; the company was a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut. Prudent or not, you had to admire that the company pulled out the stops in an effort to become the main LSA brand. Such a no-holds-barred approach has worked for products in other industries. However...

Then the door of opportunity slammed shut. It was not that the advertising didn't work. Certainly it did make the brand well recognized. However, by 2009 the global economy was in a tailspin. When the initial pent-up demand for LSA was significantly satisfied sales began to contract, a victim of these two influences. Remos' aggressive marketing push began to look risky.

Indeed, within months, the German company got in too deep. Bleeding red ink, Remos was forced by German laws to enter a condition that might called bankruptcy in the USA. Yet as Americans know very well, companies can and do emerge from bankruptcy. By working hard to correct earlier mistakes and by finding fresh investment, these enterprises can be stronger and better after such an ordeal.

That seems to be the case with Remos. They recovered from their brush with disaster and have been clawing their way back up the LSA ladder. At Aero 2016, the company's display — while modest compared with their elaborate (and costly) exhibit from years back — looked proper and professional.

Team members held a press conference and announced their new GXiS model that is powered by Rotax's fuel injected 912 iS model. As it has for years the airplane looked good inside and out. Plus Team Remos did their work to install the 912 iS in a customer-pleasing manner.

Remos reported on their GXiS implementation, "It's the first Remos aircraft powered the Rotax 912 iS Sport with electronic fuel injection. Among other things the prototype shown in Friedrichshafen had a state-of-the-art avionics suite, a redesigned cowling and a new system called Remos SMARTStart. "Starting-up the engine has never been so easy," said Remos. After logging more than 150 hours in two LSA using the 912 iS, I can say that the Remos method of controlling this engine looked excellent.

"With this new version, [we are aiming at] the European LSA market with EASA certification." While similar to achieving FAA acceptance of a Special LSA, gaining a Restricted Type Certificate in Europe involves a few more steps and it would signify a worthwhile achievement.

"GXiS will also be available as an ultralight aircraft by the end of the year," stated the Pasewalk, Germany company. At Aero, they showcased their GXNXTClub model. "The avionics suite contains the new Dynon SkyView SE with 7-inch-screen, radio, and transponder. Customers who place an order before the end of June, will get their ultralight GXNXTClub starting at only 83.990 Euro plus tax. At present exchange rates that translates to a reasonable price tag of just over $95,000 (this "Club" aircraft is aimed at Europe; U.S. sales of this lower-priced model were not discussed).

Christian Majunke, Remos head of design (L) poses with new public relations & marketing man (previously a journalist for Aerokurier magazine), Patrick Holland-Moritz.
When Remos appeared to fold under the effects of overly ambitious marketing and a slumping world economy, I feared we might have seen the last of this brand.

My worry was exaggerated and I'm pleased to see the aircraft recover and return to the market. Presently, it appears this German producer is significantly concentrating on European sales and that started well at Aero 2016. On the strength of their showing the new GXiS, the company reported, "Six aircraft were sold [in] four days [of Aero]. Further contracts were prepared during the show." They explained that one customer is a flight school based in Bavaria in the south of Germany. "This school has been using Remos aircraft for training for a long time — now the fleet will be expanded by two new aircraft."

Fortunately for U.S.-based LSA enthusiasts, we reported earlier about their Missouri importer that has a ready supply of parts to serve the American fleet comprised of 118 Remos models (see 2015 market report).


Parachute Collides with Cessna Close to Ground
By Dan Johnson, May 7, 2016

Here's a fitting story for the weekend. I have more airplane news for next week, but this... well... what a time to be standing somewhere with your camera at the ready.

The story isn't new. The article with accompanying video was posted March 8, 2014, but the photos only recently came to my attention thanks to a family member who knows how I follow aviation and knows of my background at BRS parachutes. (Thanks, Earl!)

The story was broken by Fox 13 TV in Tampa Bay, Florida. The "witness" referred to in the Fox 13 video story was Tim Telford who captured the shots that I assembled into a short movie below. I certainly marveled at the images he captured. These 18 images represent only a brief moment in time.

The rest of the story that follows comes from the Fox 13 reporter, Aaron Mesmer. You can read it all and see their video here.

Mesmer reported, "Two men were hurt Saturday morning when a plane collided with the parachute of a skydiver in Mulberry."

The airport where the collision occurred is the South Lakeland airport situated very close to Sun 'n Fun. Many of us have flown from the old Circle X field for years. It is both an active airport and a base where sky diving is pursued, which may explain the potential for conflict, though I am not aware of any other incidents.

Mesmer continued, "The Polk County Sheriff's Office says the pilot, 87-year-old Sharon Trembley, a World War II veteran, was doing touch-and-goes in his private Cessna at the South Lakeland Airport."

"I have never seen anything like this and this is the last thing I thought I'd see today," said Tim Telford, who took pictures of the midair collision as it happened."

Mesmer continued, "The skydiver, 49-year-old John Frost of Gainesville, Florida was flung to the earth. The plane nose-dived into the ground.

"I thought they were both seriously hurt. We rushed over there," said Paul Fuller, one of Trembly's friends who was also watching from the ground. "He's a pretty good pilot. He's been flying all of his life, probably 60 some-odd years."

Mesmer reported that both men were taken to the hospital, however, neither was seriously injured. Frost was treated and released. Trembley was held for observation. He suffered some cuts and bruises but after landing directly nose first on the ground and being an elderly man, it is quite remarkable he was not more critically injured.

"Both these guys walked away [relatively] unscathed," Telford, the photographer said. "A scratch here, a bruise there and I think both are just happy to be here today."

In the Fox 13 video both men said they took some action to avoid more serious injury. Cessna pilot Trembley reported pulling up so as not to collide directly with the sky diver. Frost said he took evasive action, too.


You Wanna Be a Jet Pilot? Check out UL-39
By Dan Johnson, May 5, 2016

When they introduced Light-Sport Aircraft FAA prohibited use of a jet engine. Looking at the photos nearby you can see that this airplane cannot pass must as a LSA. Or, wait! That's no jet. It just pretended to be one at Aero Friedrichshafen 2016.

At my home airport (Spruce Creek Fly-in), I regularly see one or another full-size L-39 in various stages of being prepared for a new American owner. I was told that about 200 of these ex-Czech military jets are operating in the U.S. They are handsome, sleek, and fast-like-a-jet. Contrarily, the UL-39 is not as fast but neither should its cost of upkeep be anything close to a military jet.

We're getting a bit ahead of ourselves. The UL-39 on display was a wonderful proof-of-concept aircraft that managed to engage nearly a generation of students in aeronautical engineering disciplines at the Czech Technical University in Prague. Market plans remain a couple years away, though interest appeared strong for the many who examined it closely at the just-concluded German airshow.

in-flight photos of Albi UL-39 by Jan Fridrich
Albi UL-39 was reportedly 17 years in the making lead by Dr. Robert Theiner, whom I met alongside his creation. He and a team of students over these years created this unusual entry. While closely resembling an L-39, this edition is more affordable (projected around $225,000) — and operable — by recreational pilots when powered with a conventional gasoline reciprocating engine versus a turbine. Such engines alone can cost more than an entire Light-Sport Aircraft.

UL-39 uses a high-revving BMW SR1000RR motorcycle engine producing 193-horsepower to drive a 13-blade impeller nestled in the fuselage aft of the tandem-seated occupants. With Albi's retractable landing gear, the BMW powerplant can push the aircraft to speeds of 124 knots. Stall is a modest 35 knots. Top speed in level flight with maximum continuous power (Vh) is 140 knots. Therefore UL-39 is no slouch but neither is it an military-grade jet.

Thoroughly designed and tested Albi UL-39 could qualify as a Light-Sport Aircraft. Only minor adjustments would be needed. Fixing the gear in the down position — as required in the U.S. — would surely lower the current listed cruise of 124 knots. Weight can actually go up, perhaps allowing a more deluxe interior. Despite its larger look, UL-39 can make European Ultralight weight, said developers, meaning 472.5 kilograms (1,041.6 pound), which figure includes an airframe parachute that is mandatory in Germany). An LSA Albi UL-39 seems easily possible.

Created in a collaborative university setting with various partners involved, the bare fuselage and air inlet qualities of the design were tested in a wind tunnel (photo). As an engineering project, this was undoubtedly a fascinating project for groups of students and their faculty advisers.

The carbon-fiber composite construction was done by LA Composite. Assembly of the pieces was achieved by Skyleader, a producer of Light-Sport Aircraft such as the Skyleader 600 (video) among several other designs. This ambitious LSA company also has an versatile full-motion flight simulator that can be made to function with a wide variety of aircraft designs.

As our photos show, the aircraft has successfully flown in the Czech Republic. No problems were reported though engineers say more work is needed to achieve a finished aircraft. A video playing in the Skyleader space caught your attention partly by the high-pitched whine of its impeller spinning rapidly. It may not sound like a pure jet engine, but neither does it sound like a piston engine driving a conventional prop.

Albi UL-39 weighs only 772 pounds empty, holds 26 gallons of fuel that will give it a range of 300 miles (no doubt much further if they chose the coming Rotax 915). Skyleader, the marketing name for Jihlavan Airplanes, said that during construction, care was taken to assure compliance with CS-VLA, a certification system for Very Light Aircraft in the European Union that is recognized by FAA.

While UL-39 will not ready for market for a couple more years, one day those Walter Mitty jet jockey wannabes enthralled by the slippery lines of Albi. could have one of their own.

Join me at Aero 2016 for a live-during-the-show look at Albi UL-39...


The “Showcase” is On in DeLand this November
By Dan Johnson, April 27, 2016

What's in a name for an airshow? Quick, what's the official name of the big July show north of Chicago? "Oshkosh?" Yes, to most, but the association prefers EAA AirVenture Oshkosh. How about the one in Lakeland, Florida? "Oh, you mean Sun 'n Fun." The full name is Sun 'n Fun International Fly-In and Expo. Have you ever heard anyone say the whole thing? Another mouthful is Sebring U.S. Sport Aviation Expo, but it gets shortened various ways.

At Sun 'n Fun 2016 DeLand airport Manager John Eiff and recently hired Sport Aviation Administrator Jana Filip held a name-that-show contest. More than 30 entries were received. "Some were very clever and witty like DeLand, DePlanes, DeShow," said Jana. In the end, the winning word was "Showcase," offered by veteran Paradise City Commentator, Michael McClellan.

Jana Filip sits in the PIC seat of an AutoGyro gyroplane with Terry Rose. photo by Florida Aviation Network
Why Showcase? "Because that's what the event will be — a showcase for airplanes and aviation stuff," McClellan said. "In my conversations with Jana, it became clear the focus of the event will be to showcase what sport aviation has to offer... and what DeLand's Sport Aviation Village has to offer. So why not just use the word that best describes what they're going to do?" Michael will be DeLand's official commentator.

The first annual DeLand Sport Aviation Showcase will take place on November 3-5, 2016, following National Business Aircraft Association's NBAA 2016. That giant event with more exhibitors than even Oshkosh will take place just 30 miles down the road in Orlando, Florida. Filip said, "We hope that will make it easy for vendors, visitors, and the media to stop by to see what we have to offer in DeLand."

The corporate suits that populate elaborate booths at NBAA might like to have a day of fun in the sun. Or, maybe not; the busy people who can buy multimillion dollar aircraft have to run back to the corner office and review business plans. However, the folks who fly those bizjets, and fix them, and sell them might indeed taking an extra day to enjoy a walk (or demo flight) on the light side.

The big prize from following NBAA would be attracting some of the media throngs that attend the convention center show. That might help put the DeLand on the aviation map.

DeLand Airport seen from the air. Arrows identify (1) locations of U-Fly-It and Aero Adventure; (2) the SkyDive DeLand operation; and (3) the proposed site for the Sport Aviation Village, presently home to Renegade Aircraft.
"With this premier event, we'll be prepared to host 40 indoor and 40 outdoor exhibitors, as we get our infrastructure developed for a larger show in years to come," Jana said. "We're excited to build this show expressly to serve the sport aviation community. We'll make it easy for companies to offer demo rides and for customers to visit with exhibitors."

"People enjoy air shows (with aerobatic or military acts), Jana continued, "but when you're seriously shopping for an airplane, propeller, avionics, or whatever you need for your plane, you want as much face time with the companies as you can get. That's what we'll provide, along with a fun atmosphere for people to enjoy all that sport aviation offers."

Owned and operated by very supportive City of DeLand, DeLand Municipal Airport is open 24 hours a day. One reason the city likes the airport is that it carries its own weight, operating in the black and not consuming taxpayer dollars. It does this partly because some 35 businesses employ over 600 people in the parachute industry. It is also home to at least three airframe builders: U-Fly-It and the Aerolite 103, Aero Adventure, and Renegade Aircraft. It is the proposed home site for SPAR, the Sport Pylon Air Races.

The airport opened in the 1920s with the first asphalt runway built around 1936. The city donated the airport to the Navy in 1941 as part of the war effort. At the end of hostilities, in March of 1946, the Naval Station was returned to the City of DeLand.

The airport, officially named Sydney H. Taylor Field, sits on 1,600 acres in Volusia County, approximately 40 miles north of Orlando and just west of Interstate 4. Daytona Beach and the Atlantic Ocean is 16 miles to the east. Airport data for KDED is available from AirNav.


My 4 Favorite Aircraft Seen at Aero 2016
By Dan Johnson, April 23, 2016

I always love traveling to Aero Friedrichshafen because of the new aircraft I will see. We media types live for the new stuff (because it's what we believe our readers or video watchers want to consume). I made my last dash through the hall on Saturday — Aero ran from April 20-23, 2016 — and I am now in Zurich, Switzerland awaiting my flight back to the USA.

I saw many aircraft worthy of closer examination. I will prepare articles on those and more detail about the ones below, too. Later on, some of my Aero videos will hit YouTube after some editing. While the memories are fresh, though, I want to give an early peek at four aircraft that grabbed my attention ...and that of many others, judging from the challenge to get near them during opening hours. I present these in no particular order.

Zlin Savage Shock — Shock definitely created awe at Aero. On my final visit to their unique space with carpet that looked for all the world like grass (not that astroturf stuff that does a crude imitation), I saw visitors literally crawling under Shock, poring over its exterior details, and getting inside for a simulated experience. If you've seen Savage before — called Outback in America — you'll want to take a much closer look when it appears at Oshkosh this summer. This machine is a piece of work.

Importer Bill Canino of SportairUSA gave me a full tour. Actually, he had to do it twice as I experienced... um, technical difficulties with my new video camera's audio. Here are some highlights.

What's most obvious is the Just Aircraft SuperSTOL-like large shock absorbers and the big balloon tires. Shock also uses three sections of automatically-deploying leading edge slats (to SuperSTOL's two) per side. It has Fowler flaps with an integrated slat and vortex generators neatly tucked between the surfaces. The tail is larger to coordinate with a bigger wing (both deeper and of longer chord) and the tailwheel is, again like SuperSTOL, equipped with a shock absorber.

More changes inside include, most notably, a rearrangement of the welded steel cage to provide much more headroom so that pilots in the outback can comfortably wear a helmet. In all, this is a very thorough and detailed update. Add a 180 horsepower Titan engine and this baby is ready to scream.

UL-39 (at SkyLeader display) — I acted like everyone else when I first saw the UL-39. Although I'd already seen photos of it flying, thanks to my EuroColleague, Jan Fridrich, I still had to marvel. This pointy nosed, fighter-looking aircraft appears in most ways to be jet powered. It closely emulates the popular L-39 Czech military jet (200 of which are reportedly flying in America), so of course, it had to look jet-like.

UL-39 is presently powered by a BMW motorcycle engine driving a type of ducted fan though it uses impellers (13 of them!) with the engine running at a high revolution, more than 10,000 rpm at cruise, I was told. This aircraft uses retractable gear, naturally, as it tries to look like the fighter aircraft.

Yet UL-39 is in some ways more modern and I don't mean it has a glass cockpit. Indeed by the use of all carbon fiber (an L-39 is metal), this dashing aircraft can actually make Europe's ultralight class meaning gross weight is confined to 472.5 kilograms or a bit less than 1,042 pounds. Amazing ...and I clearly was not the only who thought so.

Led by professor Robert Theiner, UL-39 is a university project 17 years in the making. Composite parts were made by one of the partners with assembly of the pieces by LSA manufacturer, SkyLeader.

Bücker & Funk Clubman — He's done it again! A few years ago I got a big smile out of my longtime friend Peter Funk after seeing his latest Aero showplane ...a supersexy version of his FK-14 Polaris with a LeMans look to the cockpit. I called him the Steve Jobs of the light aviation world for his showmanship and superb craftsmanship. He rightfully beamed over the compliment but he comes back nearly every year with something equally attention getting.

This year it was a Clubman complete with a seven-cylinder radial engine that, like the airplane, looks old but is new. "Retro" was how Flight Design director Christian Wenger described it and he only referred to the aircraft. Not to leave it at that, Peter convinced all his exhibit space partners that a dress code was part of the environment he wanted to create. Indeed, the whole team was in dapper period costumes. Peter shared his space with BRS Parachute rep for Europe, Frank Miklis; he and daughter Stephie got into the game, too. The space had a vintage motorcycle, an old tabletop radio, and a collection of furniture built new to look old.

However, this was not simply a display. These aircraft Peter creates are built in small batches and sold to customers. Even this idea seems to work. By limiting the number available, they tend to sell out quickly. Marvelous. Well done, Steve ...er' I mean Peter!

JH Aircraft Corsair — Conveying a look something like the UL-39, I almost passed this by before Bill Canino of SportairUSA told me this wonderful creation could qualify as a U.S. Part 103 (or the German 120-kilo Class) aircraft. "You have to be kidding me," I exclaimed to Bill! I was intrigued by its resemblance to the F4U Corsair military fighter with its inverted gull wing design but I thought this was some heavier kit-built airplane. Of course, that would have been interesting, too, but I don't cover the heavy segments of aviation.

Yet Jörg Hollmann's creation is indeed aimed at Germany's 120 Kilogram Class of airplanes that are remarkably close to America's Part 103 category. Part 103 has a maximum empty weigh of 254 pounds — a shade more than 115 kilograms. Alternatively 120 kilograms is 264.5 pounds but we're splitting hairs because Jörg is targeting 110-120 kilograms so he should easily be able to make Part 103.

I was still skeptical as all that large diameter welded steel structure surely weighed too much. Wrong. That isn't steel in the photo; it's all carbon fiber tubes, deftly cut and laminated together. To prove the light weight, Jörg got inside and picked up the whole bare airframe like it was nothing.

Jörg said his superlight Corsair will fly by Aero 2017 and be available for sale by Aero 2018. At a reasonably affordable $60,000, this might be the sexiest Part 103 aircraft ever.

I plan to come back with more on these aircraft and others seen at Aero Friedrichshafen 2016. I hope this appetizer whetted your appetite for more.


SLSA Market Shares Report & Commentary for 2015
By Dan Johnson, April 21, 2016

Updated 4/26/16 - This chart was updated to correct a formula error. The changed line refers to the "All other producers..." figure. It was 429 airplanes and 14.7% and that was incorrect.
My associate in Europe, Jan Fridrich of LAMA Europe, has been the source for a database search for many years as I seek to report market share statistics in the USA. He scours the FAA registration information and laboriously assembles the numbers. As he and I work to produce accurate info, Jan often makes contact with selected companies when questions arise, as they often do. I also reach out to producers in our effort to make the best possible use of the registration data to create our rankings.

Jan has been one of his country's representatives in the Czech Republic's official work with the Chinese to help that nation build its lighter aviation infrastructure. He's made many trips to China in the last two years. Along with frequent travel in his job for the Light Aircraft Association time is short for him to find the hours it takes to review FAA's data. For 2015 data, he completed the effort as I headed to Sun 'n Fun and then to Aero, so... finally, here is our report with hearty thanks to Jan for doing this tedious work.

The summary view is that American LSA registrations have remained very consistent over the last three years (2013, 2014, and 2105). Most industry players believe we should be seeing higher figures but the LSA results closely mirror trends reported by GAMA for type certified aircraft. Likely reasons for lower numbers may include pilots still uncertain what will happen with the medical and a large fleet of still airworthy though increasingly older used aircraft — the average age of which is around 38 years — that are available at lower cost than a new Light-Sport Aircraft. Since I am in Europe as this is written, I can pass along that several Europeans see a similar picture here, albeit without the medical issue.

SportCruiser by Czech Sport Aircraft, sold in the USA by U.S. Sport Aircraft, moved up again with a solid 2015.
As 2016 began, America had just shy of 3,000 LSA airplanes in the registry. As we've said for years, this figure does not include weight shift aircraft, powered parachutes, motorgliders, or gyroplanes, which, if they could be accurately counted, would conservatively add 20%. Also, the figure also does not count many ELSA and should not count Experimental Amateur Built even if those aircraft are nearly identical to Special LSA. See this 2014 article for an effort to give a more accurate total of the LSA, LSA-like aircraft, and Sport Pilot-eligible aircraft operating in the United States.

Our main fleet chart above reflects all SLSA airplanes ever sold in the USA, less any that have been removed from the registry, for example, if sold outside the USA or lost in an accident.

As you can see, CubCrafters continues their climb and is now hovering just below Flight Design. Czech Sport Aircraft, American Legend, and Tecnam continue their growth making up the top five names.

We leave Cessna on the chart for now but most readers know Skycatchers are no long being produced so they will climb no further. However, companies like Icon made their first tiny impact on the list with a single registration in 2015. I visited with Kirk Hawkins at Aero; he invited me to see their production facility in a month or so. When that California airframer begins serial production, their large number of orders should thrust them upward at an increasing pace (troublesome contract problems notwithstanding).

In recent years our main chart also attempts to at least mention ELSA ad EAB where we believe we can rely on the numbers we find.

Our more recent chart of single year performance is lead again by CubCrafters although even their pace slowed for 2015. The Western U.S. producer remains well ahead but others have done credibly well: Czech Sport Aircraft, Pipistrel, Progressive Aerodyne (Searey) and Van's. SportCruiser registrations were up from 2014 as were Pipistrel's while Van's, American Legend, Aerotrek, and Flight Design were down. Tecnam's numbers reflect only registrations of their LSA models but the company reports selling a similar number of type certified aircraft so their total American market presence is greater than our charts reflect.

One you haven't seen at airshows in the last couple years is the Phoenix Air motorglider, an elegant machine but one in too-short supply, said U.S. importer Jim Lee. He has not been attending shows and will drop his advertising as delivery delays have stretched out too far despite interest he has found from American soaring enthusiasts.

While repeating another respectable year of SLSA sales (in addition to their kit sales), Searey may have become the best-selling LSA in China.
As noted, Icon added only one SLSA registration in 2015, Cessna is gone, and Quicksilver experienced their own drop from 2014 as that company reorganized. However, honorable mentions are deserved for Super Petrel (4 added), Sling (3), Brazilian Paradise is returning to the market after an absence (2 in 2015) and Topaz continues to build modestly (2).

Another interesting development just announced includes the return of Zenair and their popular CH-750 STOL aircraft that will again be assembled as a ready-to-fly SLSA by M-Squared Aircraft in Alabama.

Those readers fascinated with these numbers may wish to compare 2014 and 2013 info, so click those links to read those earlier reports.

We dropped Allegro from the top-20 ranking even though their aircraft still has a good count as we've done with a few other brands over the years.

Finally, while our main chart focuses on the top brands, note that the largest single percentage are registrations from "All other producers." So-called boutique brands still have their place in the LSA spectrum.

As always, our disclaimer is that we only count FAA registrations and only those from the USA, which leaves out the rest of the world that accounts for most sales of LSA-type aircraft. Our statistics will not be identical to what companies reports as sales and do not include aircraft retired from service for any reason. Lastly, I repeat we cannot accurately count a share of new aircraft sales that might amount to 20-25% more if the data were reliable. These observations combine to make a more conservative report than may actually be factual but we prefer to err on the side of caution.



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

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.


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

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.

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?

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.

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

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


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.

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

Evektor is Number One and always will be. The Czech company's SportStar was the number one SLSA to win approval but engineers have steadily improved the model far beyond that 2005 version that started the race.

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

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

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

The New J-230D

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.

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.

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.

Lockwood Aircraft is the builder of two of light aviation's best-recognized flying machines: AirCam and the Drifter line. Most sport aviators already know the Lockwood brand, a leader in Rotax maintenance and aircraft services.

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

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.

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!


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.

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.

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

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


North Wing is America's leading manufacturer of weight shift LSA and Part 103 ultralight trikes. The company's wing designs are so good that most other trike manufacturers use them. Aircraft prices are highly affordable by all.

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.


BushCat is the distinctive Light-Sport Aircraft within reach of almost any budget. With a solid heritage BushCat by SkyReach is fun, capable, and available as a kit, fully-built SLSA or ELSA.

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