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Europe Embraces Light-Sport Aircraft

By Dan Johnson, Experimenter Magazine, January, 2003

Many excellent aircraft may be headed our way

Slovenia's sleek and impressive, though oddly named, Sinus motorglider makes a landing at Blois. The motorglider is the current world champion for the 2001/2002 period in ultralight class AL2. Here you see it flown by champion pilot, Philippe Zen.

Parlez-vous Française? Sprechen Sie Deutsche? Parlate Italiano? Fortunately, to understand European recreational aircraft you don’t need to speak French, German, or Italian. Yet the light-sport aircraft (LSA) that may interest you could come from countries where the mother tongue isn’t English.

Welcome to the globalized world of light-sport aircraft where the workers who built your plane may speak Polish, Russian, Hungarian, or Latvian in addition to French, German, or Italian.

Though many intriguing ultralights come from Europe and Americans have seen a few of these, many are a complete surprise to Yankee pilots. That will change.

Last year after EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2002 ended, I traveled to Blois (pronounced Blwah), France, a town about 200 kilometers south of Paris. There I attended the 22nd salon (or air show) that organizers present at this location each year in late summer. Let’s take a walk around the salon at Blois.

What Aircraft Look Interesting?

Fantasy Air Allegro SW-From the Czech Republic comes this artistically painted Allegro SW, a sideby- side two seater built of a composite fuselage and aluminum wings set atop a new, one-piece main gear with suspended nosewheel. It somewhat resembles the Flight Designs CT being imported by Flightstar, Inc. The Allegro is perfectly suited to the proposed light-sport aircraft rule with a 131 mph speed behind the Rotax 912 engine; no modification should be required. Its empty weight is 576 pounds, and it stalls at 39 mph. Fantasy Air Ltd. Czech Republic, 011-42-2-602-293-309,

People arriving at air shows or those at home who can’t go often ask the question, “What’s new at the show?” Usually those of us in the media have some idea about the new flying machines, as it is our job to find them and tell readers about them in articles like this one.

At AirVenture, Sun ’n Fun, the Northwest Regional EAA Fly-In, or any of the other fine shows around the country, that job can be demanding. The challenge is to find the few genuinely new or outstanding aircraft from the hundreds or thousands in attendance. At Blois, the job was easy. Almost every aircraft seemed new, and many were uncommonly shapely and beautiful. The diversity was marvelous.

“White, composite, and from overseas” remains a lingering theme this year. In Europe, white-andcomposite seems to rule, yet they don’t own the market. I saw several new trikes, including the Pegasus Quik, indicating that trikes are still popular as well.

Chapelet Metallerie-Four features distinguish the Chapelet trike from others at Blois: 1) The Avant 15 wing has spoilerons to accent the weight shift control (you can also choose the Air Creation XP 15 wing); 2) Chapelet is the French representative for the BMW 1100 GS engine, and they've created their own reduction drive for the powerplant; 3) the body fairing is particularly smooth and swept in appearance; and 4) the chassis airframe is made of stainless steel. Chapelet Metallerie, France, 011-33-2-40-57-94-10,

A French company is offering a super-basic “103” aircraft even though our simplest U.S. rule doesn’t apply in Europe. A Slovenian company showed one of the most beautiful and practical motorgliders to emerge from the category. Do you know where Slovenia is? (Hint: It’s a picturesque country east of Italy near that country’s northern border.)

Even with those lightplanes made of more conventional shapes, the diversity continues with all-metal planes, all-fiberglass planes, allcarbon fiber planes, ones with mixed steel and fiberglass, aluminum and steel. Two of these aircraft featured retractable gear.

About the only thing Blois didn’t offer was floatplanes. A few floats for trikes were displayed, but their impact on visitors was modest. Why, I wondered? Later I was told France only has two lakes in the entire country that permit floatplane landings. No wonder floats aren’t popular in France. My home state of Minnesota has over 15,000 lakes, and you can land on just about all of them. Quite a difference.

Busé Air 150 GT-If you ever wanted a composite Cessna 150, this French ultralight might fit the bill, but in a roomy and luxurious manner that 150s have never provided. Like many Euro LSAs, the 150 GT is powered by the Rotax 912, but the company has also tried the Subaru engine. With its cruise at about 120 mph, the 150 GT isn't maxing out the LSA limits, so its low 37 mph stall speed shouldn't surprise anyone. Busé Air, France, 011-33-3-86-35-32-26,

Aerocar developer Molt Taylor is quoted as saying that “An airplane will get you from one place you don’t want to be to another place you don’t want to be…the airport.” While devised as an argument for his airplane-to-car convertible, it is nonetheless true that airports in the United States aren’t often a place you and your family might want to spend the day. Yet at airfields across Europe, a restaurant is often part of the facilities. And I don’t mean some vending machine station; I mean a restaurant that the locals like to frequent for excellent food and drink. When the planes were tied down at the end of the day in Blois, many of us headed over to the restaurant for a chilled beverage, served to us in a pleasant outdoor seating area.

A Confluence of Events

Why have American and European light aircraft undergone such different development phases? The simple answer is “because they had to,” but a more accurate reply is that three primary events drove the change.

I have followed European aviation for many years. In the early days of ultralight aviation, Euro designers pumped out numerous versions of trikes, each with increasing sophistication. In those days, American companies supplied most of the fixed-wing designs that European pilots flew.

That began to change in the mid- 1980s when European authorities started to impose noise regulations. Yankee designers didn’t pursue this change vigorously and, as a result, more European-created fixed-wing ultralights began to show up at their airfields. The first ones looked like American designs but with more attention to noise reduction. These designs succeeded nicely; European aircraft are much quieter than U.S. models. Of course, you pay for this hardware in higher prices and higher empty weights. Eventually those Euro ultralights began their own evolution to light planes.

Busé Air 150 GT-If you ever wanted a composite Cessna 150, this French ultralight might fit the bill, but in a roomy and luxurious manner that 150s have never provided. Like many Euro LSAs, the 150 GT is powered by the Rotax 912, but the company has also tried the Subaru engine. With its cruise at about 120 mph, the 150 GT isn't maxing out the LSA limits, so its low 37 mph stall speed shouldn't surprise anyone. Busé Air, France, 011-33-3-86-35-32-26,

The second event involved fuel prices that began to rise all over the European continent. Today, Euro aviators pay $8-10 per gallon of aviation fuel. Those who can use auto fuel are luckier, but they still have to pay $4-6 a gallon. The wholesale price of fuel is essentially the same all over the world; the difference is in taxes. With these high prices (or taxes), fuel efficiency became ever-more important to Europeans. Again, Yankee designers who see auto gas prices of $1.50 a gallon at home weren’t motivated to put extraordinary efforts into reducing fuel consumption.

Third, the low impact of general aviation in Europe must be considered. To buy and operate a Cessna 172 would be prohibitive for all but the most affluent European aviators, much like buying and flying a new Bonanza is out of reach for most American pilots. A Cessna 172 typically rents for $150 an hour and burns 8-10 gallons. New European “ultralights” (they’re definition of an ultralight more closely matches our proposed lightsport aircraft category) fly as fast on half the fuel or less. That’s a big savings, and you can afford the aircraft purchase price.

Louit Cougar-The large French company called Louit builds boats and aircraft. Initially aimed at military use in tough conditions, the Cougar makes a durable purchase. Built entirely of metal and powered by the ubiquitous Rotax 912, the Cougar can endure for seven hours on its 25-gallon fuel tank with economical cruising at 3.2 gph. It cruises at 125 mph and stalls as low as 38 mph, according to the factory. Note the interesting aft fuselage shape. Louit, France, 011-33-5-62-69-72-19, Fax: 011-33-5-62-69-90-92.

So Europe went from building just trikes to building trikes plus quiet three-axis aircraft that evolved into their “ultralights” of today, which we perceive as illustrating that “white, composite, and from overseas” theme. These aircraft came about partly to address the lack of used Cessna 172s and to cope with the high cost of fuel for a population that wants to use these light aircraft to tour around Europe.

A fourth factor is a sleeper. After the Soviet Union fell a dozen years ago, the marketplace was suddenly flooded with talented engineers and workers displaced from their state aviation industry jobs. They work for a fraction of western wages and yet bring many skills to the job. Combine this hunger for work with the West’s interest in developing efficient touring aircraft, and you have a formula for the development of more exotic light aircraft than are found elsewhere in the world.

Vol Mediteranni Esqual-Under a passing squall yet sitting in bright sunlight is this lovely Esqual from Spain. With side-byside seating, the Esqual is light at 506 pounds. But that's still heavy for this company, which is working on an all-carbon fiber aircraft that could weigh a mere 440 pounds complete with engine. Max speed is a little high, but the smaller 80-hp Rotax 912 and the right prop might help Esqual fit LSA rules. Vol Mediteranni, Spain, 011- 34-93-830-1252,

That brings us to the European Union (EU) of today. It has the aircraft and systems to produce them. Most have been through some level of certification and are manufactured by people who understand certified aircraft production. Add to that experience the coming light-sport aircraft rule, and you have identified why the path from Europe to America is becoming well worn.

The Light-Sport Aircraft Appeal

Europeans want a piece of the U.S. action. For one, the United States is far and away the world’s largest aviation market in all categories. The EU countries altogether boast slightly more population than the USA, and the number of sport aircraft flying in all EU countries is roughly the same as the USA. But America overwhelmingly dominates in the general aviation segment with about 70 percent of the world’s fleet. But with sport aircraft, the EU is a close competitor. In essence, then, the USA represents a potential doubling of the market for European-designed aircraft.

One way to review what Europe has to offer is to join me in a photo tour of the offerings shown at Blois. I’ve selected 19 of the most interesting aircraft I saw at the 2002 show. The range is considerable, but my focus was on new aircraft I hadn’t often or ever seen.

A few of the popular European aircraft were not included as Americans already know them. With each photo, I’ll present a few brief comments and a way to get more information. I have not assembled the aircraft into any particular order. You’ll know what you like when you see it.

It will almost be like going to France!

FK-Lightplanes FK-9-Formerly B & F Technik, FK Lightplanes is one of Germany's leading and most successful builders with three popular models-the FK-12 Comet folding biplane, the speedy low-wing FK-14 Polaris, and now this smooth yellow FK-9. This high-wing model has won a good European following and can be equipped with the Mercedes Smart engine, which FK Lightplanes developed with the car company. The composite wing can be folded by one person with a unique mechanism installed at the wingtip. FK Lightplanes, Germany, 011-6232-72-076, B&, (English site).
Kappa 77 Kp 2u Sova-An all-metal side-by-side two seater, the KP 2U Sova uses elegant tapered wings with slotted flaps. The Sova features retractable gear for greater speed, but the factory offers a fixed gear version that will work for the light-sport aircraft market. With a reported 30 mph stall speed, this is a hard working wing that can cruise at 125 mph. But the best story is said to be its "remarkable handling qualities." Kappa 77, Czech Republic, 011-420-66-28-122,
Sauper Aviation J 300-After this French company changed hands, the new owners switched to a welded steel fuselage. The wings are composite structure covered with sewn Dacron envelopes (like modern high-performance hang gliders). Said to be one of the easiest-flying taildraggers in the European market, the J 300's large wings (183 square feet) help it to fly slowly without flap complexity. Close to 100 are flying and the company has a new version, the Papango, seen below. Sauper Aviation, France, 011-33-2-54-42-94-88,
Sauper Aviation Papango-Brand new in prototype form, the Papango is the latest from Sauper Aviation. Bearing some resemblance to the older J 300 model, the Papango features a welded steel airframe that allows huge sections of plastic to cover the cockpit area, thus providing immense visibility for its side-by-side occupants. It cruises at 95 mph with a large 172-square-foot wing, yet has a Vne of 145 mph for a large safety margin. Sauper Aviation, France, 011-33-2-54-42-94-88,
Eisa Massai-Here's an unusual entry that arrived late at Blois and seemed to surprise even some of the French media. Its sleek, multi-tapered wing correctly suggests a motorglider that achieves a 200 fpm sink rate at 70 mph. It uses a movable engine cover into which the prop blades retract, similar to the $200,000 Stemme motorglider-but this one should sell for a fraction of the price. With its 53-foot wingspan, glide performance is also strong. Eisa, France, 011-33-11-45-91-92-75,
SG Aviation Rally 105S-One of the most conventional looking, and therefore most appealing to general aviation pilots looking at light-sport aircraft, is this Rally 105S from Italy. The cabin area is especially roomy, yet the aircraft displays the smooth flowing lines allowed by allcomposite material and an Italian sense of design. The Rally cruises at 134 mph, so adjusting to LSA specs will pose no problem. It is reasonably priced as a kit for those who prefer to build. SG Aviation, Italy, 011-39-773-515-216,
Pegasus Aviation Quik-Pegasus, builder of the Quantum series of trikes, introduced their newest model at Blois. The Quik is well named, for it uses 100 hp to push a tiny but stout wing at speeds beyond 100 mph; it's very fast for a trike! Cruise is a "comfortable" 80 mph, yet stall occurs at a rather low 30 mph. If the speed (or cost) is too high for you, Pegasus also sells this model with the 65-hp Rotax 582 engine. Pegasus Aviation, England, 011-44-1672-861-578,
FK-Lightplanes Polaris-Third in the impressive model line of FK Lightplanes is this FK-14 Polaris low-wing cruiser. It's a little fast for the proposed light-sport aircraft category, but with an 80-hp Rotax 912 and the correct prop, Polaris can cruise right at LSA's limit of 132 mph. Polaris is built entirely of composite with a welded steel cage around its spacious cabin. Slotted flaps give it a stall speed of only 40 mph. FK Lightplanes, Germany, 011-6232-72-076 B&, (English site).
Pipistrel Doo Adjouscina Sinus-This beautiful motorglider called the Sinus is built in Slovenia, along with a shorter-span version, named the Virus, intended for cruising. The names-Sinus and Virus-don't exactly endear themselves to Americans, but the aircraft are stunning enough to overcome the name problem. The Sinus is all-fiberglass and carbon fiber, and it can manage a 30-to-1 glide angle. A Rotax 503 is said to be plenty of power. Its wingspan is 48.5 feet, and cruise is about 115 mph under power. Pipistrel Doo Adjouscina, Slovenia, 011-386-53-66-38-73,
PJB AEROCOMPOSITÉ Vega-Vega continues a theme of lovely composite lowwing aircraft, but the design uses a Dacron lower-surface wing covering. PJB Aerocomposité keeps weight and price down by using the Jabiru 2200 four-cylinder, four-stroke engine, though a Rotax 912 will bump speed by 6 mph. Builders say the construction from kit is reasonable and in-flight qualities are good. A complete kit with Jabiru is about $37,000 and ready to fly is about $48,000. PJB Aerocomposité, France, 011-33-3-25-27-57-11, (French only at this time).
ETS Humbert Tetras-After first designing a Breezy-like ultralight, Humbert offers the same wing, but in a handsome conventional enclosure with sideby- side seating. It's popular throughout France; even the French military likes this airplane, which is known for no-nonsense quality construction and performance that matches specifications. It's priced well below $40,000, which isn't bad either. With the 100-hp Rotax 912S engine, it cruises at just over 100 mph. Tetras' wing is made of aluminum sheet supported by foam inserts. ETS Humbert, France, 011-33-3-29-25-05-75,
SPRATT103.COM Scootair- Another aircraft that arrived late and seemed to surprise even the local aviation magazine writers was the Spratt 103 or "Scootair." It claims a 6-hour endurance on just over 6 gallons of fuel, and it sells for a low price in kit form without engine (about $4,500). It's interesting to note a French company using an American ultralight identity in "103," but it appeared a viable aircraft in the genuine ultralight class. Powered aircraft can't get much simpler than this., France, (French only at present).
Fly Synthesis Texan-With a name like Texan, you'd think the Italian company had the American market in mind from the start. Another fine example of Italian design, the Texan has curvaceous lines in a low-wing package. The all-composite aircraft uses a Rotax 912 engine and offers a large cockpit area. But pilots seem to regard its excellent flight handling as much as its appearance. Cruising at 125 mph, Texan is well suited to LSA. Fly Synthesis, Italy, 011-39-432-992-482,
Rand'kar/Rajhamsa Ultralights X-Air Hanuman -Sauper Aviation remade their J 300 into the Papango, and X-Air has also transformed their famous version of the Weedhopper. This Hanuman resembled the X-Air in some parts of the design, but the designer lowered the engine and enclosed it in a conventional nose pod. This changes the appearance dramatically and could increase its appeal to general aviation pilots who are checking out light-sport aircraft. The Hanuman was still in prototype development at Blois. Rand'kar/Rajhamsa Ultralights, France, 011- 33-2-40-64-21-66,



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