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

SkyCraft Completes Flight Testing of Minisport LSA
By Dan Johnson, May 31, 2014

"After a long winter and spring dodging the Utah weather," SkyCraft Airplanes announced that their SD-1 Minisport, "has completed flight testing successfully, meeting all the performance requirements needed for SLSA Certification." The Orem, Utah company reported, "The plane was found to have good longitudinal and latitudinal stability and exhibited no issues with flutter, vibrations, or dangerous stall/spin tendencies." SkyCraft representatives said they were able to verify the performance specifications for the SD-1 achieved by its Czech designers (see video below for a performance hint using a European aircraft). SkyCraft said that following the flight test regimen, they posted updated specifications on the Minisport page.

Shown in flight is the SD-1 Minisport. While the U.S. team works through the ASTM standards compliance process we present this photo of the Czech manufacturer's version. SD-1 Minisport was created by designer Igor Spacek.
Minisport has been flying in Europe since 2007 when the airplane and company were created by designer Igor Spacek. The U.S. team first contemplated a kit aircraft — SD-1 Minisport is constructed significantly of wood making it a great project for some craftsmen — but later elected to go the fully-built Special LSA route. One part of meeting ASTM's comprehensive standards set is flight testing. "In addition to ensuring the aircraft's compliance with ASTM standards," said SkyCraft's Director of Marketing Paul Glavin, "the flight test program focused on the pilot experience of flying the SD-1 Minisport." After completing the series, he added, "Based on flight testing reports, SkyCraft will be updating the interior layout of the aircraft prior to delivery to customers." The U.S. team preparing Minisport uses the same engine as the Czech group. SD-1 is powered by Hirth's F-23 engine that produces 50 horsepower and boasts dual ignition, fuel injection, and a 1,000 hour time between overhaul. (Watch our video review of Hirth's engine line.) SD-1 Minisport is available in either tailwheel or tricycle gear configurations.

We've followed SkyCraft's Minisport in earlier articles and will keep our eye on this handsome, affordable single seat SLSA candidate. It is available in either tricycle gear or taildragger configuration.
"The most significant change will be the elimination of the MGL gauges for a more fully integrated Dynon setup," observed SkyCraft. "This cleaner instrument panel will make the SD-1 more user-friendly and will also allow the aircraft to take advantage of more of the Dynon glass cockpit capabilities." Reps noted that they believe this change makes the airplane safer since the Dynon SkyView is backed up with a two-hour emergency power supply. "SkyCraft is committed to delivering a safe, comfortable, and fun flying experience, and we are now fully confident that the SD-1 Minisport provides exactly this," added Glavin. "Completion of flight testing is a significant achievement in SkyCraft's ultimate goal of certifying the SD-1 Minisport as a SLSA aircraft. With the performance, design, and production of the SD-1 all ASTM-compliant, SkyCraft is very close to achieving its goal." We plan to follow SkyCraft closely, partly due to the airplane's very affordable price at less than $60,000 and because it is a rare single seat entry.

Keeping in mind that what you will be watching is the European version rather than the SkyCraft U.S. version, the following video gives you some idea how well the SD-1 Minisport performs on its 50 horsepower Hirth engine.

25 Years of the Rotax 912; Celebration in Austria
By Dan Johnson, May 30, 2014

Twenty five years ago the world celebrated a major event in human history: the tearing down of the hated Berlin wall. That was 1989 and the same year brought forth another great occurrence in human freedom (for a completely different reason). That year, Rotax Aircraft Engines introduced their then-brand-new Rotax 912 ... or 9-series as some call it. While the Berlin wall allowed Germans to cross a line forbidden for many years, the 912 powerplant gave pilots the freedom to fly with greater confidence. In evidence, several around-the-world flights have been achieved with this popular engine. Today, Rotax's 9-series engines propel an estimated 80% of the Light-Sport, light kit, and ultralight airplanes flying. The release of the 912 was a big deal — perhaps not as momentous as the fall of the Berlin wall — but to we pilots, that engine represents a key element in the growth of light plane flying in dozens of countries.

To properly celebrate the 25th anniversary of the 9-series and production of 50,000 912 & 914 engines, Rotax BRP will host a Fly-in on June 5 to 7, 2014 at the Weisse Moewe airfield in Wels, Austria (northeast of Salzburg and west of Munich, Germany). Those attending this second company fly-in have a chance to fly amid the scenic surrounding of upper Austria plus have a chance to test ride a Rotax Can-Am Spyder Roadster (a three-wheeled motorcycle). More than 100 Rotax 912 iS-powered aircraft are expected from all over Europe. Tours will also be offered for Rotax's large factory in nearby Gunskirchen (photo above) and various events are planned to include sessions of engine tips and tricks from Rotax factory experts and engineers.

At Aero 2014, Rotax won another award for the development of their latest engine. Europe's major aviation magazine, Aerokurier, presented an Innovation Award to Rotax BRP. Shown accepting is Thomas Uhr, vice president of BRP's manufacturing facility.
Weisse Moewe airfield, home of the local aero club, is where Rotax engineers and test pilots regularly put their engines through real-life tests. Rotax's 912 is a significant departure from earlier aircraft engines. It is physically smaller, uses liquid cooling, an electronic control unit, and a gearbox to change engine revolutions from 5,000 rpm to slower speeds that work for props. The 912 enjoys a much better power-to-weight ratio than old stand-bys like the Lycoming O-233. That veteran engine produces 100 horsepower (at 2300 rpm; higher power is available at increased revolutions) using 233 cubic inches of cylinder displacement. In a sharp comparison Rotax's 912 ULS makes the same horsepower using only one-third the displacement, 83 cubic inches. Announced earlier in 2014, the 912 iS Sport takes the 9-series engines to its highest operating and performing plateau. This innovative powerplant is why Rotax won an award from EAA last year and from Aerokurier magazine this year (photo).

Read my earlier article about Rotax's 912 iS introduction.
Since 1973 Rotax has delivered more than seven million engines to a wide range of vehicles. In the aviation sphere, Rotax is celebrating delivery of the 50,000th powerplant in the 9-series. Counting all engines ever produced for aircraft, Rotax has delivered more than 170,000 units. Complementing the Rotax Aircraft Engine line, BRP Powertrain also supplies such well known brands as Ski-Doo and Lynx snowmobiles, Sea-Doo watercraft, Evinrude and Johnson outboard engines, plus Can-Am off-road vehicles and on-road motorcycles.

Learn more about the Rotax 912 iS engine in the following video including several animated sequences showing details of the new powerplant.

2013 Light-Sport Market Share Report & Analysis
By Dan Johnson, May 21, 2014

UPDATE: May 27, 2014 — "A vigorous debate ensued ..." might be one way to refer to a four-way discussion from around the globe. Over the last few days, LSA industry folks in distant lands worked on market share details. Michael Coates is the Australian-based U.S. distributor for Pipistrel, an aircraft fabricated in Slovenia and assembled as a LSA in nearby Italy for shipment to the USA. My Czech-based associate, Jan Fridrich, was in China again because his country works with that nation as they build a personal aviation sector virtually from scratch. From our corners of the world we tried to resolve a problem that regularly occurs in our study of the FAA registration database. Pipistrel maintained their SLSA airplane numbers were stronger. Jan and I communicated and finally agreed that we were underreporting their numbers. The chart below has been modified to reflect a truer situation, sharply moving Pipistrel upward from 20th to 14th rank. Essentially, the problem stems from some Pipistrel aircraft being registered as "gliders," which is one of those categories Jan and I do not feel we can consistently count with accuracy. After Jan studied the database we chose to update the chart with the understanding that our next reporting may see another minor adjustment. As with many statistical evaluations, these reviews often get better as the survey gets larger over a longer period of time. Meanwhile, congratulations to Pipistel for improving their standing ... and for informing us. If other sellers believe their registrations are reported in error, we'd like to hear about it so we can do our best to deliver quality, accurate information. —DJ

As always, we remind you that all numbers here are derived from FAA's N-number registration database and are subject to data entry errors. Figures presented are not identical to sales recorded by the companies though over time the numbers draw closer.
We are past due for a market share update and several of you have written to ask. As most readers know, I create my report from information assembled by my LAMA associate and friend Jan Fridrich who puts hours into the tedious duty of sifting through FAA's database. It isn't only time consuming, exacting work. He must also make many determinations as FAA's database is not always clear as to model types or other descriptions. As many of you are aware, we do not report weight shift, powered parachutes, gyros, or motorgliders as those are aircraft types we cannot accurately count. I wish we could report those "alternative aircraft" — doing so would make the totals more reflective of the true LSA market — but we cannot. Jan has also been unusually busy going to many meetings ... the kind you would not care to attend: long, dry meetings in various countries where regulators and industry leaders go over rules in excruciating detail. Someone has to do it and I'm thankful for people like Jan who endure these sessions. For this reason, I was unwilling to push harder for his study of the database. However, he has done it again so a hearty THANK YOU, JAN FRIDRICH for your dedication to this industry.

As I've written and as many are aware 2013 was not a strong year for SLSA registrations. It was an improved year for sales but after so many down-economy years manufacturers had reduced their manufacturing capacity — achieved by releasing employees, employing less manufacturing floor space, maintaining smaller raw material inventories, keeping fewer engines on hand and so forth. So, when sales mounted a comeback in 2013, builders were unable to keep up. Backlogs stretch out to a year for some companies. That may improve in 2014 as they cautiously increase their rates of production but meanwhile several companies tell customers it can be several to many months before a new order will be available to them. So far first quarter numbers for 2014 continue to reflect these delays but I have received several comments that new LSA are beginning to arrive more regularly.

Cessna, as one notable example, slipped from second to third and will continue moving lower now that they halted production. Their exit alone caused a drop in the totals. Yet others, like Icon Aircraft, will eventually hit the chart and move up as they begin to deliver from their list of 1,000+ customers holding order positions. One industry expert told me, "My input [is] that 2013 will be the bottom of the LSA market, which means there is nowhere to go but up. If you counted all ELSA 2013 was really pretty decent, with RV-12 leading the pack. CubCrafters' order book is very healthy, too." To that I add the following thought ...

This chart, created by Jan Fridrich for a presentation at Aero in Germany, shows trend lines for several categories. While LSA continue to slump, some see this as the "bottom" and reported order taking over the last 18 months supports future improvement. Of interest is the brown line for German and Czech ultralights or microlights (similar though slightly lighter than U.S. LSA). Note its volume similarity to LSA and the steadiness of the line throughout the economic downturn from 2008 to 2012. Germany and the Czech Republic are two of the most active countries in Europe.
Entire LSA Market — I want to refer you to a different market report I issued earlier and note that besides weight shift, powered parachutes, gyros, or motorgliders, we also do not report ELSA (kit LSA). Again, the data entry process is difficult for FAA clerks because so many makes and models are present to confuse those less involved with the sector. Experimental Amateur Built aircraft can be flown by Sport Pilots and are sometimes incorrectly called Light-Sport. ELSA may receive their airworthiness certificate only if they are identical to the SLSA version accepted by FAA, however, afterward they can change. With 136 SLSA models, it doesn't surprise me that errors creep into the database but for our charts to make sense year-over-year, we report only the most identifiable group: Special LSA airplanes. Yet this means that to know the whole market size you must add a substantial, growing percentage (as much as 50% more) to include those other aircraft.

Chart Explanations & Disclaimer — If you compare numbers from one year to the next, you may see changes you cannot explain. For example, a company's numbers can go down if, for example, aircraft are taken out of service due to theft, damage, or sale outside the USA, which means they may be removed from FAA's database. Some companies in the USA also distribute to Canada or Mexico and LSA going to those countries will not be counted in our chart even while they rightly call them a sale.

Comparing "Total" FiguresRob Rollison of Aerotrek, besides doing a steady job of selling his reasonably priced A220s and A240s, often comments that our chart numbers do not perfectly reflect all SLSA that his company has registered. If a LSA is destroyed, by a hangar collapsing on it let's say, that aircraft will eventually come off the FAA database making it appear that it was never sold. Thus, FAA's current registry does not fully state the total registrations that ever occurred. "If Model A Ford cars were in some current U.S. registry, we'd see 50 of these antiques today, not the millions Ford once sold," noted Rob. He is correct; our chart (and FAA's database) does not include every SLSA ever registered. Counting all of them would make the total somewhat larger. However, we stick to our same methods in the interest of keeping our chart consistent through the years even though it undervalues the industry's true sales. As further explanation, you can see the chart shows 76 Aerotreks models in the FAA database. Rob has provided an exact accounting of every U.S. registration he ever made and his figure is at least 83, though he notes four were damaged and some others transitioned to ELSA status, which suggests our reported figures are very close. Until we can collect actual — and honest, valid — sales data from all manufacturers, our chart is the one we present. The market is truly larger than either chart suggests. We appreciate if all readers keep this in mind when studying the LSA Market Share Chart.

Is This the “New GA?” ... LSA Four Seaters
By Dan Johnson, May 18, 2014

The Airplane Factory is flying the Sling 4.
Something of a stealth invasion is beginning. I refer to an emerging flock of four seat Light-Sport Aircraft. Of course, most readers are aware that no such birds exist as LSA (in the FAA's code, anyway). By U.S. regulation Light-Sport are two seat aircraft. Other nations have some different ideas. For now, suffice it to say the "LSA 4s" — as I choose to call them for this article — are on final. In the past I've written about Evektor's Cobra, one of the first in this group, arriving so early that you probably would not call it a "LSA-like" airplane. The southern Czech company enjoyed success with their SportStar and Harmony, smaller siblings to a four seater they flew several years ago. After Evektor (coincidentally also the very first LSA to be approved), we began to hear about Flight Design's C4 modeled on their LSA market-leading CT series. Another was the Tecnam P2010 that looks like their gorgeous P2008 LSA grew up a bit. Tecnam is flying their P2010 and Flight Design expects to fly their C4 before AirVenture 2014. Similarly, Pipistrel is flying their Panthera.

Flight Design will fly its C4 this summer.
Those four well known LSA producers are not alone. Another you know is the Sling LSA, a sharp two seater from South African producer The Airplane Factory. However, this fairly new company (whose principals have a long history under other names) has also flown their four seat Sling 4 not just around the test area but around the entire globe (see video at end). Recently The Airplane Factory USA announced the arrival of the first Sling 4 kits, earning them the cover of Kitplanes magazine. "That's likely not the end of this developing story. Among American builders, one wonders with the success of the RV-12 (hundreds of kits already underway and a growing number of fully-built SLSA versions following), could Van's Aircraft consider making the RV-10 four seater under the new industry consensus method? They certainly could; it seems only a question of will and financing.

Tecnam is progressing fast with the P2010; it has been flying for months.
The emergence of these four seaters may be made enormously more practical by the creation of industry consensus standards for FAA Type Certified airplanes. The effort is aimed at reducing the cost of complying with government certification. This topic is pretty dull reading, I realize, but the pocketbook implications are immense. Do you wonder why the one-time $130,000 Cirrus SR20 four seater now can run well over $800,000 (albeit as a sophisticated, turbocharged five-seater in deluxe form)? To understand, you need look no further than the "$8,000 angle of attack indicator." This poster child instrument was held up by GAMA as the reason Part 23 aircraft development is so ponderous; any change to a Type Certified aircraft means lots of new expense ... so the aircraft improve slower than technology evolves. GAMA's pushing highlighted the problem to FAA and the agency responding by adopting a new mantra: "Twice the safety at half the cost." An AoA cost $8 grand in a GA aircraft while it is only $800 in an Experimental, said GAMA. They may not have known an AoA costs only about $200 in a Light-Sport. New ideas about upgraded instrument panels were part of Flight Design's C4 announcements: they'll use a mix of TSO-approved instruments and non-TSO. This and more is possible under the new ASTM F44 industry consensus standards being prepared. This work is well underway; aircraft could be flying under these new rules in a few years.

Alpi Aviation offered their Century 400 with retractable gear at Aero 2014.
Behind the regulatory or consensus standards curtain more important things are happening. Some of these four seaters will be built in the USA. It's true. The light aviation industry may be "importing" (more accurately, preserving U.S.) jobs in contrast to what the media yelps about all the time ... "We're exporting jobs overseas!" is a common lament of journalists and politicians. So, Tecnam made a splash at Sun 'n Fun 2014 with their announcement of a large new facility at the Sebring, Florida airport. They stated plans to be considering manufacturing at this facility. Flight Design told journalists at press conferences that they plan to assemble and eventually fully build their C4 (and CTLS Light-Sport) in Vermont. Recently I learned that The Airplane Factory is studying possible U.S. production, although at present the Sling 4 is available only as a kit. I am also aware of a couple other LSA designs that have four seat potential as an essential design element. That's nothing new as the Jabiru J230 LSA is essentially a four seat model with the rear seats removed and the Paradise P1 is presently a four seater in Brazil formerly sold in the USA as a roomy two seat LSA. While we wait on the FAA-certifiable four seaters, Europe is already building some 2+2 models with compact rear seats (photos).

Slovenia'sC2P company showed their handsome One Aircraft creation at Aero.
Does this article mean ByDanJohnson.com is going to start covering four seat aircraft? Well, no and yes. No, in the sense that we remain fully focused on Light-Sport, light kits, and ultralights. Yet as these "LSA 4s" begin to hit the market, yes, I fully intend to keep a close eye on them. One good reason is that companies like Evektor, Flight Design, Tecnam, Pipistrel, and The Airplane Factory can become more solid businesses with a full line of aircraft. All have confirmed they plan to continue making LSA but their enterprise will be better able to support LSA buyers if their overall business is on more solid footing. At the ten year anniversary of LSA, with a building wave of some very impressive LSA seaplanes and more land planes, yet while single seat ultralight vehicles are also finding a more secure niche, we have still another front headed our way. We'll work to keep you informed about LSA 4s as they develop.

TAF main man Mike Blythe and his partners are exemplary long distance pilots and entertaining film makers. You may enjoying watching this report on their circumnavigation flight.

Icon Confirms Vacaville, California for Production
By Dan Johnson, May 14, 2014

Icon Aircraft founder and CEO, Kirk Hawkins enjoys an early flight in the company's A5.
I have been following Icon Aircraft closely since I first met top gun Kirk Hawkins on the EAA Sport Pilot Tour back in 2005. Then he was one man with a business card and a dream. In the nine years following, Icon has become, well ... an icon of light aviation. Almost everybody knows this (yes, I'll write it) iconic company and their eye-catching A5 LSA seaplane. The southern California company reports more than 1,000 people have put down deposits. The first in line have been waiting quite some time to hear when their airplane will be built and now the company confirmed what we've reported earlier: they selected Vacaville, California to be their main production location — although component production will occur under the watchful eyes of successful GA builder, Cirrus Design, way up in North Dakota.

An artist's view of the soon-to-be Icon Aircraft factory in Vacaville, California. Read my 2009 view of Icon's concept here
"After several years and an extensive nationwide search, I'm excited to announce that Vacaville and Solano County will be the new home of Icon Aircraft, Inc.," reported CEO Hawkins. He added that the new location is adjacent to the Nut Tree Airport in Vacaville and will serve as combined facilities for aircraft design, manufacturing, sales, flight training, and corporate headquarters. Kirk continued, "Icon chose Vacaville because of the business-friendly local government, accessibility to a talented labor pool, existing facilities adjacent to the airport, and the region's outstanding weather and environment for year 'round flight operations and training. The site also allows easy access to compelling recreation destinations, including the San Francisco Bay Area, Wine Country, and Sacramento for visiting customers as well as employees."

Vacaville is about 50 miles northeast of San Francisco and near Napa's vineyards, the state capitol of Sacramento, and Travis Air Force base.
Usually, when decisions weighed this carefully are announced, parties take care to spell out what this means for the chosen location and Icon has done similarly. "The annual economic impact on Vacaville and Solano County is estimated to exceed $350 million through wages paid, local purchases made by Icon, and increases in employee and visitor spending, as well as sales and property tax revenues to the city and county once the company is at full production rates." The company reported that customers will tour the factory, take delivery of their aircraft, and complete their flight training in Vacaville, approximately fifty miles northeast of San Francisco. Beginning in the first quarter of 2015, the company reported that it will begin operating in a 140,000-square-foot facility. The community is very happy about being chosen. "To say we're pleased with Icon's selection of Vacaville would be an understatement," said Vacaville Mayor Steve Hardy. "This seems like a natural fit to us [and] we look forward to a long, mutually beneficial relationship." Icon plans to manufacture production aircraft at its existing facility in Southern California before transitioning to the facility in Vacaville. The first customer aircraft is scheduled to be completed in early 2015, the company said.

Just on Fire! SuperSTOL Leads to 500th Kit
By Dan Johnson, May 14, 2014

Watch our video of flying in SuperSTOL.
We all have favorites ... foods, websites, movies, and of course, airplanes. I have favorites, too. This doesn't mean my favorites are better than others, nor that anyone else may agree with me. That's OK. Properly caveated, I have to say one of my favorite airplanes is Just Aircraft's SuperSTOL. Flying it at last Sun 'n Fun with head developer Troy Woodland was arguably my most enjoyable flying experience at the show, or for that matter, in recent memory. To state this carefully, airplanes have different capabilities so I don't have an all-around #1 favorite but SuperSTOL is way up high on my list. Evidently, I am not the only one who feels strongly about the smile-factor of flying SuperSTOL. Honestly, what's not to like? The plane flies docilely — even though it looks totally radical — and it doesn't cost an arm and a leg. Plus, the folks behind it are your salt-of-the-Earth, down-home types that you cannot help but like.

SuperSTOL (above) is amazing, but you can read my 2006 pilot report on Highlander here.
Just Aircraft, based in the "out back" of South Carolina, in Walhalla, announced they shipped their 500th kit aircraft. James Coonan of Ransom, Illinois didn't have to pay a king's ransom for his new SuperSTOL (photo) and I'll bet he's got one of those large SuperSTOL smiles. Just Aircraft reported that kits have been delivered to all 50 U.S. states and to 20 countries. They added, "Though [we are] still shipping out kits for the Highlander, the majority of sales in the past year have been SuperSTOLs." Highlander is essentially the same airplane with a good history but without the long main gear legs or leading edge slats although Just does offer some retrofit capability. Over the years Highlander has developed a loyal following. However, since the SuperSTOL with its attention-grabbing performance was first shown to visitors of AirVenture 2012 and offered for sale last year Just said kit sales more than doubled. The company has added a second shift to keep up with demand. That's a great problem to face.

SuperSTOL can cruise close to 100 mph yet stalls almost absurdly slow. SuperSTOL's features slats that when combined with large Fowler flaps allow very slow flight and landings at 32 mph. Yet those hard working wings still fold, a feature Just models have long boasted. Rugged landing gear with long-stroke air shocks is designed to allow the aircraft to be plopped on the ground at very steep angles of attack. In my several landing with Troy, I estimated ground rollouts less than 100 feet after every touchdown. "Actual runways are optional with the SuperSTOL," say company reps with a smile. The high wing, two-seat, fabric covered aircraft can be fitted with massive 29-inch tundra tires that need little more than a level or inclined clearing in the back country for take offs or landings. Builders can opt for either taildragger or tricycle gear aircraft, though I cannot personally imagine anyone ever choosing tricycle gear. SuperSTOL can be fitted with regular or tundra tires, floats or skis. The airplane is Experimental Amateur-Built only at this time; the high demand suggests it isn't presently necessary to go through the ASTM process for this model though the company achieved SLSA status with the Highlander. Builders can choose Rotax or Jabiru powerplants. At its empty weight of 720 pounds, SuperSTOL has a useful load capability of 600 pounds.

Aero 2014 Review ... Starting to Think AirVenture
By Dan Johnson, May 12, 2014

AutoGyro has become so successful that their only Aero display was with the electric innovators. Indeed, this is an electric motor-powered gyro.
Life has settled down a little after the rush that began at the end of March. Five weeks back, Sun 'n Fun was approaching to kick off the season of recreational flying ... Aero in Germany followed with only a one day break before boarding the airliner to Europe ... followed by plenty of follow-up and contemplating the hot and fast action. With a couple weeks of perspective and to answer a common question — How does the industry look in Europe? — I have some final observations. I found five areas to consider and list them below. Among all the many wonderful aircraft I saw, two particular subgroups stood out for me personally, one for its sheer success and the other for its subtle return to a higher interest plateau. I refer first to gyroplanes and secondly to, well ... what to call them? How about simply "ultralights?" Even that word isn't right because Ultralight in Europe means something quite different from ultralight (vehicle) in the USA. Following are topic areas I'll delve into more deeply in the balance of May:

  • Gyroplanes are the biggest buyers of Rotax 912s and show sleek designs
  • Fixed wing Special LSA are looking sophisticated ... and mature, as designs settle into more controlled evolution
  • Four seat LSA, 'er ... LSA-like four seaters are proliferating; do they represent the "new GA?"
  • Electric aircraft continue to be a Euro focus and are joined by "multicopters"
  • True ultralights ... déjà vu all over again — better than ever but still with good prices

One gyro that really caught my attention was this new-generation model from Spain ELA Aviacion. This is 10-Eclipse.
Gyros, gyroplanes, gyrocopters. As with ultralight, one word does not command everyone's description. Regardless of what you call them a visitor to Aero could hardly avoid spinny-winged aircraft. Gyros (the term I'll use in this article) were in several of Aero's big halls. They represent a wide range of interesting models and some have become so sophisticated that an American who knows gyros by the pioneering brand name Bensen would hardly recognize them. Regretfully for most Americans, gyros remain the bastard child of the LSA sector. They were never allowed to be SLSA (or ELSA therefore) and so must come into the country as a 51% kit. Magni Gyro importer Greg Gremminger has fought the good fight as best he can, taking the leadership of an ASTM task group that fully completed a standard for gyros only to have it stall for years. If FAA won't allow fully-built gyros ("Why?" is an excellent question that remains unanswered), then the industry standard cannot be used. What a shame as we see a stunning development in Europe.

More and more smooth and highly engineered gyroplanes, most of which are not yet offered in the USA.
In the USA, you can buy the Magni Gyro line. Industry leader — coincidentally also the #1 largest buyer of Rotax 912 engines in the world, all aircraft types included — AutoGyro is well represented in the USA. And Spain's ELA Aviacion is expected to acquire a representative in 2014 (which I'll announced as soon as the deal is confirmed). As you can see in the nearby photos, however, other brands are also available and this is not a complete survey of the gyroplane field. LAMA and its new advocacy partner USUA are hopeful to strengthen the voice of Mr. Gremminger in appealing to the agency to get the SLSA issue straightened out and let these aircraft come in as ready-to-fly aircraft. If you are like me, you may have shied away from gyros thinking they fly like helicopters. While they obviously share some traits, I've found that gyros basically fly more like fixed wing airplanes than helicopters (Watch our video pilot report). Especially as some models are quite reasonably priced, I can envision much improved sales if SLSA gyros could be offered to American pilots. A second USUA/LAMA Safety and Industry Conference is planned near the time of AirVenture and perhaps we can report possibilities after that summer event.

The lightest (single place) aircraft appear to be making something of a comeback. The simple trike at lower right is an aircraft-in-a-bag.
One of my personal delights is the lightest aircraft flown solo. I find an essential magic to flight when the aircraft is particularly lightweight. We never lost "Ultralight Vehicles" in the U.S. — matter of fact, F.A.R. Part 103 has now been in place for 32 years! U.S.-style ultralights now have counterparts in Europe. The British use the term "SSDR" (for Single Seat De Regulated) while the Germans permitted a "120-Class" for aircraft that weigh only 120 kilograms, or 264 pounds. All three regulatory schemes envision essentially the same flying machines, though with the usual international diversity. I already reported on the Aerolite 120 — sold in the USA by U-Fly-It as the Aerolite 103 — as a genuine attention getter thanks to its charm, appealing equipment list and highly-affordable price. Yet Europeans embrace other themes, too.

From Bulgaria (roughly between Greece and Turkey) comes this super-simple DAR-Solo.
I referred earlier to the Sirocco NG (for "Next generation"). Its name is appropriate at this is a proven aircraft for more than 20 years. However, it employs new materials such as carbon fiber that were not in common use in those days and new ownership in combination with the regulatory relaxation has given Sirocco new appeal. Supplied out of the Netherlands, Sirocco is available as a kit for €14,500 (about $20,000) or ready to fly for €22,800 (somewhat more than $30,000). That even includes power from a 33 horsepower 627 cc V2 four stroke engine. ••• From Bulgarian producer Aeroplanes DAR comes the DAR-Solo, which some find elegant in its simple, even spartan finish. DAR-Solo's empty weight is listed as 130 kilograms (286 pounds) and it doesn't appear it has very much structure from which to slim down to the 120-Class weight. Yet in other ways, such as its 62-mph cruise speed, DAR-Solo appears it could fit the German or U.S. form of ultralight. Power is from the Hirth F33 that is a common engine choice for many of the lightest aircraft.

I plan to report more fully on the five listed items above, but this wrap-up survey shows some of the many choices pilots can enjoy. These delicious differences are a main reason why I've become an Aero faithful. You might also enjoy Europe's top non-commercial airshow. Next years dates are April 15-18 followed quickly by Sun 'n Fun on April 21-26, 2015.

Zenith’s CH 750 Is a Success In China
By Dan Johnson, May 6, 2014

China, China, China ... Americans hear a lot about this fast growing country although financial news outlets say growth is slowing as its economy matures. American pilots have been hearing plenty, too. Sometimes it seems like an unending list of companies (Cirrus Design, Continental Motors, Mooney Aircraft, several LSA seaplane manufacturers and various other enterprises) that report gaining Chinese investment. We have several times written about western light aircraft builders gaining approval to sell in China after meeting requirements from the country's aviation authorities. We have even seen a number of Chinese-designed light aircraft some of which are exploring new new ideas. European and other aircraft are offered for sale at shows though deliveries remain modest. Behind all this bustle of activity Zenith Aircraft has been quietly collecting orders and making shipments. Indeed, they released fresh news about their success in China.

Zenith announced that the Mexico, Missouri kit builder recently shipped their 45th kit for a STOL CH 750 to China. Now we're talking although one industry expert commented, "What are they doing with all those aircraft; the opportunity to fly them is so limited." Another industry leader who has traveled several times to the country is amazed anyone can fly VFR as the skies over big cities are so hazy with pollution that you can hardly see the sun. Zenith said, "Once [the 750 kits] arrive in China, AGRHA Corporation, which operates kit assembly facilities in Nantong, Jiuangsu, Chongqing, Mianyang, Sichuan; Shenyang, Liaoning and Beijing, assembles the Zenith kits on a production line, fully assembling the aircraft to factory specifications that include the Rotax 912 ULS engine and Dynon SkyView avionics." Photos accompanying this article show one such facility and Zenith indicates AGRHA has eight locations. "They are then test flown ... before delivery," added Zenith. [AGRHA] plans to send them to flight schools around the country. They are very popular with student pilots."

Zenith reported that Chinese customers are "enamored with the STOL CH 750 for its flight characteristics, for its tricycle gear, and the fact that it can be landed in an open field or on a dirt road." Given numerous reports that airfields allowing private flying are still rare, flight training operations are taking place in areas where there are no airports, said Zenith. "Occasionally, a bulldozer is used to clear a strip that is uneven and left covered with rocks or dirt. What might prove damaging to certificated aircraft is not an issue for a Zenith, which is designed for utility applications and is well-suited for 'off airport' operations," the company reported.

"They haven't yet produced a lot of Part 23 Aircraft in China, but they have responded very quickly to working with complete kits," said Zenith Aircraft President Sebastien Heintz. He believes that tricycle gear on an aircraft that is rugged and reliable is essential in such a developing situation. Sebastien also feels CH 750's slow landing speeds and wide visibility make the their bubble-door side-by-side two seater an ideal machine for flight training. "We're quite pleased to be doing our part for the balance of trade," finish Sebastien. All components are American sourced and exported to the far eastern nation.

The following short video shows test flying of the CH 750 in China as well as some assembly building interior views.

New SLSA (#135) is Quicksilver’s Sport S2SE
By Dan Johnson, May 3, 2014

Meet one of the lowest cost Special LSA: Sport S2SE
Once upon a time, a couple years before the SP/LSA was announced at AirVenture 2004, I thought the odds were high that Quicksilver would be the very first Special LSA to hit the market. Several other industry veterans agreed. Their GT500 was the very first to earn FAA's Primary Category approval, back in 1993. This was a costlier effort than achieving ASTM compliance and so it seemed a done deal that Quicksilver would gain quick approval. I was wrong. Indeed, I was wrong by a dozen years. However, that's over now as the Temecula, California company earned FAA acceptance for their Sport 2S side-by-side open-cockpit aircraft. In mid-April, FAA sent a letter saying all was well and the company can go forward with manufacturing. With their approval earned, Quicksilver's S2SE is number 135 on our list of SLSA.

Quicksilver's Sport S2SE outfitted for flight testing under the ASTM standards.
Will Escutia, president of Quicksilver Aeronautics, explained that the California company used "L-S2S" (the Light-Sport version of their strutted 2S) as the model name during the certification process. "We selected this name relatively early in the process in the understanding that we could market it with any other name we selected later." (Airworthiness certificates will likely show L-S2S.) For retail buyers and company dealers, the Sport 2S model now approved to be fully manufactured will be called S2SE to conform to the company's "Fly-and-Enjoy" concept for ready-to-fly aircraft and to differentiate it from the experimental kits the company will continue to manufacture and market. Quicksilver also continues to work on the GT 500 as an SLSA model but mentioned no expected completion date. About the audit FAA performed on Quicksilver, Aviation Safety Inspector Bob Franklin of the agency's Washington DC office wrote in an email, "The FAA accepts your corrective actions to the ... [audit] findings and now considers the audit closed. Quicksilver may now make application for Special Airworthiness in the Light-Sport category for the L-S2S." All is "GO!" for the SLSA version of the 2S.

Straining, but holding, under a heavy load, Sport S2SE withstands ASTM ground testing.
"Furthermore, we plan to start offering ELSA kits in the $33-34,000 range," added Escutia. Therefore a customer who wants a Sport 2S but does not want to build it has a less expensive alternative and the ELSA version is more attractive to Quicksilver dealers as they can legally charge for assembling them. Escutia indicated that the S2SE Special LSA will be offered with wing coverings in exclusive color patterns that will not be available for kit-built airplanes. "The ELSA kits will be offered with a different design from the SLSA and the EAB kits as well, so people can identify readily if an airplane is an SLSA, an ELSA or a 51% kit (although I understand that later the customer may want to change sail sets)," added Escutia. Quicksilver's new S2SE is supplied with the 65 horsepower Rotax 582 engine propelling a three-blade 72-inch composite prop. Besides strut braced wings (other models use wire bracing), Sport 2S in SLSA form has beefy landing gear, hydraulic brakes, and full suite of engine and flight instruments. Retail rice is $39,999, an introductory offer good to July 4th, 2014.

Sport 2S derives from a line that has sold 15,000 aircraft. photo by James Lawrence
So, I'm pleased that Quicksilver's new owners took the time — and spent the money — to achieve SLSA status for their iconic Sport 2S model. Yet what I consider equally important is the manufacturing system, specifically the remote locations to that purpose. The LSA industry has a few companies that offer the full range of 51% kits, ELSA kits and SLSA ready-to-fly aircraft. One noteworthy company uses a remote manufacturing location. This is Van's Aircraft whose RV-12 is assembled by Synergy Air. Noteworthy that Van's arrangement is, it stops short of the full potential for Light-Sport Aircraft. Quicksilver is taking steps to go bigger. The factory in Temecula, California will produce for the western U.S. states. The southern sector in the eastern two-thirds of the country will be served by Air-Tech, Inc., operated by the company's longest serving and largest dealer, Gene "Bever" Borne. The northern sector will be served by Todd Ellefson, who for the last 14 years has been the company's primary sales manager.

Everyman's airplane, Sport S2SE sells for less than $40,000. photo by James Lawrence
"Almost every kid has dreamed of flying. Practical considerations — prices, regulations, safety, etc. — crush this dream for most," observed Escutia. "Therefore our mission is to become the bridge that allows the aviation enthusiast to fulfill the dream of flying his or her own airplane." At less than $40,000 for a ready-to-fly version of a highly-proven aircraft, he has a point. Kits can reduce this further. With the remote manufacturing locations, shipping charges will be less so, overall, costs are being significantly restrained. We don't see enough of that in aviation and I say, "Good for you, Quicksilver!" I wish them luck and urge those readers with no familiarity with the company's aircraft to give one a flight. They are certain smile-makers.

Summer Is Here; Flying the Edra Super Petrel LS
By Dan Johnson, May 1, 2014

Super Petrel LS descending for a runway landing. photo by Kevin Porter, courtesy of Edra Aeronautica
Winter has finally released its icy grip on the northern states that were so punished over the past few months. Here in the "Sunshine State" of Florida, it feels like summer. So what do pilots do in the summertime, in Florida? Go fly seaplanes, of course? What else? Indeed, quite a flock of seaplanes and floatplanes converged on the central Florida city of Tavares, about 45 minutes driving time northwest of Orlando. Appropriately, the area is known as "lakes district" for all the bodies of water. City leaders portray the Tavares as "America's Seaplane City" and to reinforce that, they have developed their lakefront to include a very welcoming seaplane base with bigger plans underway. On Saturday, April 26th more than 40 seaplanes flew in for the event. One of those was Edra Aeronautica's Super Petrel LS, one of the newest Special LSA in the fleet. My friend and Spruce Creek Fly-in neighbor, Brian Boucher, is the North American representative for this interesting seaplane and I finally got my first flight in it.

Brian Boucher's first Super Petrel LS in the USA is licensed Experimental but has since been accepted by FAA as a Special LSA.
Super Petrel LS is a design said to be in its fifth generation. Indeed, I know of the model for more than 20 years. When I first discovered the seaplane, it was represented by a Canadian outfit. However, in 1997 aeronautical engineer and pilot Rodrigo Scoda founded Edra Aeronáutica, the present manufacturer based in Ipeúna, Brazil in the state of São Paulo where the company operates its own airfield (SDED). Super Petrel particularly distinguishes itself by its biplane design. Why use two wings? Seaplanes or floatplanes want to get off the water as quickly as possible. Many years ago a few hours in a Cessna 172 on floats taught me why and explained the steel bracing installed inside the cabin. When a seaplane runs long on water, it takes a pounding in anything but smooth water, which itself causes a "stickiness" or "surface tension." Leaving the surface faster prolongs airframe life and is why many seaplanes boast their short takeoff runs. Long wings can accomplish the same purpose but a long span can be more difficult to maneuver in beaching or docking situations. Two sets of wings generate additional lift yet do so with relatively short span. Another advantage is the sponson on each side can be secured to the wing structure without long support tubes as you see on other seaplanes. A downside is that Super Petrel's lower wing prevents docking. You'll either have to beach the aircraft or use a ramp — easy enough in many situations — or tie it to a water buoy and use a boat or get wet.

Landing gear retracts and doors open widely or can be removed.
Petrel offers a wide cabin like many Light-Sport Aircraft, 45 inches to be specific. Certainly it was roomy for two average-sized fellows like Brian and myself. The seats were exceptionally comfortable, with the seat cushion extending to your knees in a graceful curve that is very supportive. Only the seat back moves, through three positions that you set before entering. Some occupants may need additional cushions for position or comfort and Brian told one fellow he was too tall to fit; the man said he stood 6 foot 6 inches. The doors swing 180 degrees forward (photo) and can be removed for flying off land, which I would absolutely do ... being an old ultralight enthusiast. For choppy water operations, you'll probably want to keep them on as Super Petrel sits low in the water. However, the airplane also has a bilge pump if some water splashes in during takeoff. Indeed, the older version had only a summer windscreen and not a full enclosure. To accommodate moisture, Petrel's floor is hard surface. Brian's present Super Petrel has a mostly analog panel using a removable Garmin Aera for GPS and other digital functions. However, new models coming in will use Dynon's SkyView and can be configured in various ways. Although the model can handle 55 pounds of luggage, space to stow such gear is limited; fortunately, sport seaplanes are rarely used for long cross country flights where you need extra luggage.

Super Petrel LS's interior is roomy (45 inches wide) with comfortable seats. The center lever is the landing gear and Super Petrel has a warning system to prevent mishaps.
Let's cover some basic specifications: Span is just under 29 feet; wing area is 161 square feet; wing loading is 8.2 pounds per square feet; empty weight is 775 pounds, according to the factory, though this depends on what equipment the owner installs; gross weight is not 1,430 pounds as you might expect but 1,320 pounds; useful load is 545 pounds; Fuel capacity is 25 gallons; so, payload with full fuel is 395 pounds; cockpit width is 45 inches; water takeoff run is less than 400 feet, according to published specs; wheel takeoff on hard surface is 260 feet; cruise is about 90 knots; never exceed speed is 114 knots; stall is 35 knots; maximum endurance is five hours.

On the ground, Super Petrel exhibits good manners and one great trick. Thanks to a swiveling nosewheel and differential braking operated by heel pads, Brian showed the airplane can turn around on even a narrow taxiway, turning handily within its own wingspan. The airplane is loaded very lightly on the nosewheel facilitating this, but that means you need to consider loading before flight. With one lightweight occupant, a placard tells you how much water ballast to add in a compartment in the nose. A hatch opens to reveal the nosewheel retract cavity and a water tank for such ballasting. With two normal size persons on board this step is not necessary. On the water, Super Petrel was very comfortable. You can whiz around on step like a speedboat and the low wings dip a sponson in the water to keep you level though flight controls also work well. Super Petrel is simple with no flaps and no water rudder. To maneuver on water a modest prop blast over the tailplane directs you amply well. You can swing the doors forward to allow more airflow though you'll want to keep a hand on them when turning in windier conditions.

North American representative Brian Boucher.
In flight Super Petrel has very cooperative handling with almost no need to use the rudder pedals. I way overused them at first and then realized most of flight controlling is done with the joystick. Stall is very slow and docile, a word that can be fairly used to describe overall handling qualities. Takeoff from land or water involves full power and some back pressure. Landings proved to be easier than expected. Contrary to some seaplanes you flare Super Petrel and meet the water with the nose higher. Porpoising occurs with most seaplanes but Petrel quiets this easily with some back pressure. Done properly, Petrel is easy to land and after only two previous trials my third was smooth. Visibility is very good as you sit forward of the wings and watching for traffic in the air or on the water found no obstructions. Petrel uses the Rotax 912 or 914 but Brian is excited about the potential of the new 912 iS Sport with its higher torque and power output. "That's a great combination for seaplanes," he added. Finally, price: Brian's business, Florida Light Sport Aviation, plans to sell Super Petrels for around $135,000, a figure that is competitive with most land LSA and significantly better priced than most seaplanes or floatplanes. Order time and support from Brazil is reasonable and Brian makes a great connection to Americans and Canadians. I thoroughly enjoyed flying Super Petrel LS and you might, too.

I flew with Brian to the City of Tavares, Florida Seaplane Fly-In. More than 40 aircraft splashed in for the event and good crowds enjoyed aerial contests to include grapefruit bomb drops and spot landings, all done close to the shore. A number of seaplanes and one helicopter participated with an immaculate Beaver on floats winning at both tasks. A very short video below paints a picture of the seaplane base.

Icon Demonstrates Progress to Production Goal
By Dan Johnson, April 23, 2014

One of the most celebrated of the Light-Sport Aircraft fleet is Icon Aircraft's A5 seaplane. The Southern California company has passed the benchmark set by Cessna after they first announced their Skycatcher to great fanfare back in 2007. Since Icon first emerged in 2005, the company has gone from one man with an idea to one of the largest players in the LSA space ... yet they have yet to produce their first airplane. Some aviators have voiced concerns the company is a marketing juggernaut that raises money but builds nothing. To confront this perception and in preparation for their usual announcements at AirVenture — the only show where Icon chooses to present itself for the time being — Icon released photos and some details of their work to make production a reality. One of their earlier announcements related to engaging SR20 and SR22 manufacturer Cirrus Design to do component assembly. The move seemed smart as Cirrus is closing on production of 5,000 airplanes made in ways similar to what is needed by Icon.

Icon said the molds for all composite airframe components have been completed, some of which are shown at Cirrus Aircraft's Grand Forks, North Dakota, facility. The dark molds are made of carbon fiber; the light ones are machined from solid billets of aluminum and steel. Look under the skin with an X-ray view of components of the A5.
At AirVenture 2013, Icon was able to announce obtaining a weight exemption after a protracted wait from FAA. This was reputedly a key ingredient to allow manufacturing of the aircraft customers were expecting. Somewhat earlier the company indicated it had all the funding it needed so some Icon watchers expected to see more about manufacturing. Now Icon has said, "As [our] A5 moves closer to FAA approval and serial production, the Icon team continues to progress with assembly of the first A5 production prototype. Engineering Serial Number 1 (ESN1) — currently being built at ICON's facility in Tehachapi, California — is the first of several planes that will support the FAA compliance audit for LSA airworthiness. Before a new company can enter into serial production, their design and manufacturing systems must undergo a very thorough audit of those processes if the FAA chooses. After proving themselves, to include test flying a conforming example, and following FAA review, manufacturing can commence. In the past the process from FAA's first visit to production beginning can run three or more months (more time if many "findings" were discovered that need "corrections"). Given their preparation, Icon can be expected to move relatively swiftly through approval.

Icon technicians prepare parts for bonding and assembly by trimming excess material and drilling the holes required for installation of aircraft systems. A technician uses green lines for reference as he trims the center wing skin. Another tech in the background drills holes in the center wing spar.
ESN1 will be the first aircraft from Icon to be built using production tooling. The company said, "[ESN1] is on target for completion later this year." In the third quarter of 2013, company vendors began manufacturing aluminum, steel, and carbon fiber molds Cirrus Aircraft will use to build the composite airframe components for production A5s. Additional suppliers began construction of the assembly fixtures or tooling Icon will use to manufacture completed aircraft. "To date, all airframe components and assembly fixtures have been received at [our] facility," Icon reported. The company observed that an A5 LSA seaplane consists of more than 2,000 parts and they have created a dedicated inventory storage hangar, barcode tracking system, and an inspection station for all these component parts. Such a system is part of what FAA will review during their design and facility audit.

Steel assembly fixtures for the center wing are ready to receive wing skins. Parts are held in place during assembly by suction from a central compressor and vacuum lines.
Icon's team is currently focused on ESN1's structural composites, and workers have begun bonding all major components of the airframe, including tail, fuselage, wings, control surfaces, and canopy. As the structure of ESN1 comes together, the team will transition its focus to systems integration, meaning installation of the engine and prop plus electrical systems, landing gear, interior, and parachute systems. "Years of design and preparation have gone into creating the A5," said Icon, "and [our] team is thrilled to see the first production aircraft coming together in physical form." Photos with this article provide a look at the progress Icon's engineering team has achieved as the company approaches an important production milestone.

In the video below, Kirk Hawkins and Steen Strand promote California's Stanford Graduate School of Business where the two Icon founders met. Enjoy some great flying scenes while hearing how their collaboration started.

Sun-Delivered Electric Power on Sunseeker Duo
By Dan Johnson, April 22, 2014

The developer refers to this long sleek flying maching as, "the first solar powered airplane with a passenger seat." After his many years of development — longer than other projects that have captured more media attention — Eric Raymond's Sunseeker Duo may be the most advanced solar powered airplane in the world and ... he adds, "the first that might be suited to production." True, with its 71.5-foot span, this may not be your ideal cross country machine for a family of four. However, soaring enthusiasts should note the resemblance to the top-of-the-line Stemme S10 motorglider. Indeed Sunseeker can soar with the best of them. Electric powered aircraft fans may also want to look closer. For that I direct you to the developer's website. One more group might also be interested: green tech companies or component suppliers that would like to assist further development while getting themselves some fine publicity.

Read my earlier article on Sunseeker.
The project is run by husband and wife Eric and Irena Raymond. I've known Eric for decades as a champion hang glider pilot and more. After flying in contests when we were youthful, Eric turned his keen powers of concentration on more efficient, more sustainable flying. Today, he announced that his company, Solar Flight, has been extensively test flying their new solar powered Sunseeker Duo. A first flight, in Voghera, Italy, happened on December 17th last year, on the same day the Wright's took to the air 110 years earlier in a unimaginably less efficient Wright Flyer. You can readily see how smooth the fuselage is and observe it's long slender wings covered from tip to tip in solar cells. What you may not know is how challenging it is to make a solar-powered aircraft. Eric said, "The structure must be incredibly light and aerodynamically efficient to perform well with only the power from integrated solar arrays." He added that because of the difficulty, solar powered airplanes have primarily been built as engineering programs that seek to break records or win prizes. Eric's mission is to make a high performance, practical sport plane.

Solar Flight testing the main gear retract mechanism. See video below for the full sequence.
Eric explained the history of his family of Sunseeker airplanes, "Sunseeker I first flew in 1989 and during the summer of 1990 it became the first solar powered airplane to cross the United States. A long series of modifications resulted in a new airplane, Sunseeker II, which was completed in 2006. In 2009, Sunseeker II made a tour of the European continent that included the first solar powered crossing of the Alps. Eric said the original airplane has logged more time than the combination of all other solar powered airplanes. Sunseeker Duo is the most advanced airplane to date. It uses all of the lessons learned during 25 years with the original Sunseeker and implements new materials and new technologies." Modern lithium batteries have seven times the capacity of the nickel cadmium batteries Raymond used in Sunseeker I. Eric reported that back then he couldn't imagine solar cells with the efficiency of contemporary panels. In 1989, 5% efficiency was considered good for thin film technologies needed for application to airplane surfaces.

Watch our video on Sunseeker Duo from Aero 2013.
Sunseeker Duo has a wingspan of 22 meters (71.5 feet); an empty weight of 280 kilograms (616 pounds) and uses 1,510 solar cells that offer an impressive 23% efficiency. The motor has a maximum output of 25 kilowatts (33 horsepower). The airplane is able to cruise directly on solar power with two people on board and is capable of durations longer than 12 hours. Sunseeker Duo uses a battery pack located in the fuselage to store energy harvested from the solar cells which line its wings and tail surfaces. "Flying a solar powered airplane really can't be compared to anything else; it's totally unique. In sailplanes you are usually stuck under the clouds and in conventional airplanes you have terribly noisy cockpits. In both you have a sense of urgency about energy that detracts from the experience. In a solar powered airplane, you fly on top of the clouds. The horizon looks a little different when you're flying with an unlimited supply of free energy." stated Eric Lentz-Gauthier, one of the pilots of the original Sunseeker.

If interested to help Solar Flight bring their product to market, contact Eric Raymond. Meanwhile, enjoy this video of the Sunseeker Duo in flight.

Flying through the Great Halls of Aero 2014
By Dan Johnson, April 16, 2014

Aero 2014 is history now but sorting through all the discoveries and reviewing hundreds of photos I shot will consume more time. Just to give a flavor of the diversity in the halls, I present some images below with photo captions. As time allows I will provide several articles about aircraft and concepts contained in the great halls of Aero. One topic I will not cover is the large number of radio control or other model airplanes I saw. In some years, such can take an entire gymnasium-sized hall by themselves ... fascinating! Yet the image you see nearby is a shot taken by a small quad copter (photo inset) with its wide angle lens. Such tiny flying machines are surely part of our future and seeing things below is part of their mission (for better or worse). My LAMA Europe associate and friend, Jan Fridrich, asked a vendor to shoot the image you see, which would not have been possible by any means other than a hydraulic lift. Instead, this took a few seconds and cost virtually nothing, which tells you all you care to know about the coming age of aerial surveillance.

Flags of many nations fly over Comco's exhibit, representing the dozens of countries sending visitors to Aero 2014.
In the images below, I offer you a further glimpse to accompany my first impressions piece and a couple articles presented since. Following these I expect to prepare articles on a variety of engines I saw at Aero plus a wider review of the many handsome gyroplanes one found in exhibit after exhibit. I took a look at several four seaters other than those I've already written about from leading LSA vendors (watch out Cessna, Piper, Cirrus, & Diamond!). I'll write more about the wave of small, highly affordable aircraft being developed in response to lightened regulations ... yes, rule writers actually loosen their grip on occasion, and when they do, innovation can blossom. I will also touch on aircraft from countries you hardly know exist, yet companies and their engineers in those nations have created some eye-catching aircraft. The world of aviation is rich at Aero. In their wrap-up news release, show organizers made these statements: "In global aviation, Aero has a strong standing; pilots and aircraft experts from around the world come to Lake Constance [in the very south of Germany]." At the end of the event facility CEO Klaus Wellmann and Aero project manager Roland Bosch gave a positive assessment of how the exhibition went for all participants, "With 606 exhibitors from 35 countries ... a highly professional and international range of general aviation was present in Friedrichshafen [and an] audience from around the globe had the industry conference on its flight plan: 33,400 visitors came" representing a modest growth from last year.

Rotax BRP received the German aviation magazine Aerokurier's innovation award in the category "Powertrain of the Future" for the Rotax 912 iS aircraft engine. Pictured are Thomas Uhr, vice-president of BRP's Austrian manufacturing facility and Rotax engine sales manager Christian Mundigler (R). The company's newly introduced 912 iS Sport is getting positive reviews. For more info: Rotax Aircraft Engines and Rotax BRP
Diesel engines power most long-haul trucks, millions of automobiles in Europe and ... very few airplanes. Yet they are surely coming as they can burn fuel available in many countries. The four cylinder DieselJet engine from Italy produces 115 horsepower (85 kW) and weighs 187 pounds (85 kg) dry. For more info: DieselJet
Tecnam produces not only the largest line of aircraft in the LSA space but reports building more than one every working day, a most impressive pace. To assist pilots requiring hand controls, they showed this Sierra fitted for use by disabled pilots in the UK. The British group receiving the Sierra is pictured with their Aerobility airplane. For more info: Tecnam Costruzioni Aeronautiche
At Aero I have seen many very clever ideas for wing shape and air control over the wing. As elegant as any is the internally slotted wing seen here (pay particular note to the inset photo). However, the Ellipse Spirit wing shape is also beautiful with its gently curved leading and trailing edges, a technique also used on the horizontal tail (not seen). For more info: Ellipse Spirit
We've seen the Skyleader 600 at recent airshows in the USA. It's a handsome all-metal low wing airplane with a backward hinging canopy. Jacksonville, Florida-based importer, Randell Dutton, indicated he will next bring in this GP One, which offers lower cost and is aimed at flight school use. It uses a different construction technique than other Skyleaders models. For more info: Skyleader GP One and Skyleader USA.
A few Samba LSA came into the USA although the current importer for Distar CZ only appears to promote the company's Lambada motorglider. This airplane's jaunty winglet and compound leading edge caught my eye but I was even more impressed with the creative graphic treatment that runs nose to tail. Europeans show a flare for presentation we don't often see in the USA. For more info: Aeronautical & Industrial Resources USA
Spain is not a country from which Americans see many light aircraft but that could be changing as one importer I spoke to at Sun 'n Fun may import a gyro from ELA Aviacion. The company has several models but this 10-Eclipse, debuted at Aero 2014, drew my attention more than any other. Inside and out, this is clearly an advanced state of the gyro artform. For more info: ELA 10-Eclipse
On a few occasions, I have written about Atol Avion's Amphibian (earlier article). In their newest model shown nearly ready at Aero, I find a rare mostly-wood structure LSA candidate. Finland, way up near the article circle, is blessed with lots of high quality wood and lots of water. The airplane shows many clever design aspects, for example, staggered seating that explains two-position center control "yokes." I'll have more on it later. For more info, read: Atol's blog

Jeppesen’s VFR App Is Developing Rapidly
By Dan Johnson, April 13, 2014

For most of the years I have been flying, we (in the USA) had NOAA aviation charts and Jeppesen Sanderson charts. Other companies supplied maps and charts as well, but NOAA and Jepp dominated. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration aeronautical charts were published by NOAA's National Ocean Service until publication was taken over by FAA in October 2000, coincidentally the same year Jeppesen was acquired by Boeing. NOAA charts were cheaper but a large measure of pilots felt Jepp charts were superior. For many years Jeppesen has served four market segments: airlines, business aviation, general aviation, and the military. The Colorado-based enterprise is celebrating its 80th anniversary since Varney Airlines pilot Elrey Jeppesen made the first aeronautical charts to navigate in flight in 1934. For more on the company's long history, see Wikipedia's entry.

Jepp charts were king for decades until the digital revolution disrupted many things in life ... from cameras and taking photos to electronic communications to widespread GPS use to HD television, and much more. Among those disruptions was Jeppesen's paper chart business. At Aero 2014 I heard a flight instructor chastising Jepp staffers about the company's discontinuation of paper charts — he worries over instruments or devices going dark and the pilot having no backup (though I'll wager he no longer depends on candles). The truth is Jeppesen's chart business went into decline with the introduction of the iPad four years ago. It isn't coming back despite what the aforementioned flight instructor prefers. Jeppesen realized they needed to adapt and they did so with products for airline pilots and more under the heading of EFB, or electronic flight bags. All fine and good but the users of Jepp maps for VFR flying felt left behind. In 2013 that changed with the debut of Jeppesen's Mobile FliteDeck VFR, an app aimed squarely at the pilots who constitute the largest segment. Jeppesen was late to this party and numerous other products swept in to grab market share. Now the big company is back and their product is evolving rapidly as I heard at their press conference at Aero 2014, thanks to German Jeppesen rep' Tobias Baesch.

Weather depiction on Jeppesen's Mobile FliteDeck VFR app for iPad.
At Aero Tobias detailed version 1.4 improvements to FliteDeck VFR including expanded VFR enroute data for European countries (his focus is all non-Americas territory), graphical NOTAMs, and TFR updates. Jeppesen has been in Europe since 1957 but now the VFR app is rapidly adding countries. The entire U.S. is already covered. Mobile FliteDeck VFR data includes topographical information, terrain, obstacles, airspace, NAVAIDs, VFR waypoints, and primary airport data, including elevation, runway length, and frequencies. Weather info such as METARs, TAFs and NOTAMs are also included. To better manage the wealth of data available for download, pilots can choose to target only VFR coverage and topographical data that they want. Versons 2.0 and 3.0 are coming in spring and summer as the company adds features. Jeppesen Mobile FliteDeck VFR is available for a free download and trial phase through the App Store on iPad or on iTunes (Android tablets are not supported). A yearly subscription is modestly priced at $49. Jeppesen figures that if you fly only VFR you don't need to pay for IFR charts and approach plates.

Jeppesen supplied navigation data to many top instrument makers including leading suppliers to the LSA and light kit industry (arrows).
Simply making a paper chart digital ignores what more detailed data manipulation can do and Jeppesen exploits its long history in FliteDeck VFR's methods. Users can also easily access planned, actual, and past flights. I found it especially interesting to note a sign in their Aero display showing all the top instrument makers that depend on Jeppesen navigation data (photo). Jeppesen may be late to the iPad method of planning and guiding a flight but they're coming on strong. While noting Jeppesen is a company of 3,300 employees, Tobias Baesch said the VFR app development emerged from a "garage operation" (think Apple or Google to put this in context). The product is developing rapidly and Jeppesen will need to keep the gas pedal depressed as several other app makers will continue their fast-paced development, making this a great time for pilots to get involved with these great software developments.

Surprise Star of the Show at Aero?
By Dan Johnson, April 12, 2014

Crowds surrounded Aerolite 120 at Aero 2014. See our video on the Aerolite 103. A more recent update filmed at Sun 'n Fun 2014 will follow soon.
It depended on whom you asked. As in the United States some were skeptical at Aero. "Oh, this will go nowhere." "No one is interested" "We tried this and it didn't work." Maybe these naysayers are right, but the activity at one booth (or "stand" as they prefer in Europe) seemed to powerfully counteract that doubt. The stand was the Hirth exhibit which featured a variety of aircraft using the German powerplant. The one and only American aircraft example in the Hirth exhibit — indeed, perhaps the only light aircraft at Aero that was Made in the USA — was the Aerolite 103, or as it has been renamed here, Aerolite 120. Why the different name and why the strong interest? To clarify, by strong I mean an airplane sometimes so surrounded by attendees that you could not even get close. As further proof, Aerolite 120 was written up by several publications during the four days of Aero and also garnered television coverage. It took until the last day to photograph Aerolite 120 when I could see the airplane and not simply the backsides of those thronged around the light aircraft.

Younger pilots can actually think about owning an aircraft when it is priced as agreeably as Aerolite 103 or 120.
American know the Aerolite 103 for many years. As we found in a Sun 'n Fun 2014 video to be posted when editing is completed, somewhere around 400 Aerolite 103s have been sold. During periods of time after designer Terry Raber created this simple yet complete machine, the company was operated by persons other than Terry and record keeping was not the focus. Documented sales are around 200 but easily twice that many were delivered to customers, nearly every one of them fully built as such is allowed under U.S. FAR Part 103 rules — the entire language of which can be printed on the front and back of a single page of office paper ... itself a remarkable fact in a world of heavy regulation. Manufactured today by U-Fly-It based in Deland, Florida, proprietor Dennis Carley is fairly new as owner. He bought the company from Raber in late 2012 and brought all the inventory and tooling to Florida in January 2013. In that first year he reported 20 sales ... not a bad achievement for a re-startup. At Sun 'n Fun 2014 he said he already had eight sales in 2014 and he thought big things might be ahead as he had recently engaged a dealer in Europe. That was the Vierwerk company, the subject of this update.

You can read my pilot report on Aerolite 103. While written in 1997, most information remains valid though improvements have been made.
Vierwerk is a family affair, run by Wolfgang Labudde and wife Thilda along with their son and daughter (photo). Wolfgang put in four years with Remos back when and therefore comes to the table with experience and his eyes wide open. The aircraft will sell for around 25,000 euros (somewhat more than $30,000; more on that below). It is less costly in the USA but in Germany, the Labuddes have to spend considerable funds to gain approval. A new 120 (kilogram) Class was proposed by the German government more than a year ago and Wolfgang and team must make a few engineered changes and then seek approval, a process handled in the country by organizations DULV and DAEC, private aeroclub operations sanctioned by the authorities to regulate light aircaft. This arrangement benefits companies and their customers by greatly reducing the regulatory burden but you still have to prove the machine quite thoroughly. Already Wolfgang and his group have improved in the instrument panel (photo) and installed German Winter instruments. He also upgraded the fuel lines and improved electrics with more robust connections and switches located in places where they will not interfere with normal operations. Officials also require rudder limit stops that are not present on U.S. models. All these and more changes followed by testing — to include calculated wing loads and physical testing — explain the higher price in Europe. Let me repeat: €25,000 is the retail fly-away price including VAT (value added tax) that is much higher than U.S. sales tax. This very affordable cost — and the charm of this simple yet well equipped aircraft — explain the strong interest the Labudde family saw at Aero 2014.

The Lubudde family posed in front of the Aerolite 120, complete with color coordinated airshow garb ... even their shoes match the plane's brilliant color.
Team Aerolite 120 stated, "For the first time the Aerolite 120 is available to the European market as a deregulated Microlight Aircraft in the 120 kg category." The new category and its potential is what produced the comments at the start of this article. Yet it also represents real promise. If aviation is serious about engaging new pilots, aircraft that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars or euros is not how it will likely happen. In the USA, we have Part 103 since 1982, and that program has never been overloaded with additional regulation, partly as it has proven adequate. Safety of such light aircraft is good even though some will say that's because not many are flying. Perhaps, but they do exist and I point to the success of Aerolite 103 in the U.S. as evidence that this is not an invisible segment. So Europe is embracing their 120 Class (264 pounds empty) and England has its SSDR classification, with the letters standing for Single Seat De Regulated. I love the Aerolite 103. I've flown it on several occasions and find it a delightful flying machine that has no evil qualities and largely flies exactly as you'd expect. I wish Dennis Carley and the Labudde family great success but I think I'm late saying so. It appears success has already found them and that puts a smile on my face and those who contemplate finally being able to afford an aircraft to call their own.

First Impressions at the 2014 Aero Friedrichshafen
By Dan Johnson, April 10, 2014

From the outdoor event at Sun 'n Fun we jetted across the Atlantic to go indoors for Europe's amazing air "fair" (as they prefer in Europe versus "airshow"). Aero always manages to please and this year was no exception. My only objection was the very tight timing with Sun 'n Fun, which left us packing up furiously on Sunday, gathering new clothes on Monday, and racing to the airport for a flight to Munich, Germany followed by some hours of driving after a night with no sleep. My wife Randee and I arrived at Aero 2014 by noon on opening day. Whew!

Both shows are must-go events in my coverage of Light-Sport, light kits, and ultralights. Next year will be even harder with Aero immediately preceding Sun 'n Fun. Still, that's a year away and I am pleased to be in Friedrichshafen, Germany for this excellent event. I will have more detail on some specific aircraft later but shortly upon arriving at Aero attended a few press conferences. Today — after a decent night's sleep corrected the jet lag — we raced around the gymnasium-sized halls of Aero (11 of them! ... see at lower left of nearby photo) to see what caught our eye. In this effort I must give some credit to fellow journalist Dave Unwin who always seems to adroitly find the newest and coolest aircraft developments. Following we take an initial photo tour. Watch for more in the next couple days. Please remember that aircraft seen at Aero may not be available in the U.S.

Bristell's NG5 TDO taildragger is a follow-on design to the company's well received tricycle gear airplane seen at Sebring and other locations (see our video from Aero 2013). It looks like the SportCruiser and that's no surprise as it comes from designer Milan Bristela who was a key player in the creation of the airplane Piper once sold. However, numerous changes were incorporated in this essentially fifth generation design. He has also created a retractable model. While the company was unfortunately not represented at Sun 'n Fun, Milan said his Czech-based operation is busy. ••• For more info: Bristell NG5 TDO

We captured this attractive seaplane in a photo last year at Aero alongside its much larger six place GA seaplane sibling. This year the company, Avana Industries of Hungary, showed a nicely finished version of the Odonata designed by Zoltán Varga. Readers may find it hard to believe that one more LSA-type seaplane can find a share of this exploding market but this example certainly caught the eye. The company's web address as printed on their brochure failed to load but we'll trek back to their space to see if we can obtain better information. The handsome side-by-side pusher engine flying boat deserves a further look, especially given how full this sub-sector is looking. This appears to be strictly a European project at this time.

I mentioned Dave Unwin above and this most unusual airplane is the first one he mentioned. The airplane is in full-size concept stage at present and incorporates joined-wing technology and twin ducted fan propellers. Dave spoke to the creators and they said they ran out of time to get the ducting installed around the props. A single engine apparently drives the twin props that, without their ductwork, look impossibly small to provide enough push. Ducting can significantly enhance prop thrust but Dave and I both wondered if the concept aircraft was airworthy in its present configuration. Aero Friedrichshafen often has displays of aircraft that never reach the market and this may be another (or not) but novel ideas can sometimes find their way into other machines that do go live. We'll keep an eye for this one next year.

Wolfsburg Aircraft offered this Sparrow ML, a tandem aircraft said to fit Europe's 450 kilogram (990 pound) class though the cockpit seemed particularly spacious to truly fit in that limited weight, more than 300 pounds under Light-Sport Aircraft. With twin vertical tails something like America's Sadler Vampire, we can hope it survives better than the Yankee version that eventually faded away. The Czech company uses the much lighter, two stroke Rotax 582 that may be part of constraining its weight, listed at 595 to 622 pounds in two versions. They report obtaining a Czech LAA Type Certificate (not the same as an FAA TC) so I asked my friend Jan Fridrich his opinion of this machine and he confirmed it is approved. He added that authorities do not worry over gross weight but examine primarily empty weight. I loved the large door opening and lower deck that appeared to give easy access to either seat. ••• For more info: Wolfsberg Sparrow ML

This Sirocco caught my eye but also took me back in time to a much earlier Sirocco, that one from France. Originally produced by French builders, this orignal design reportedly traveled to Belgium and is today the Sirocco design is owned by Aero Consult Light Aircraft or ACLA in the Netherlands. ACLA relaunched the design as the Sirocco NG. ACLA said it bought the tooling from a Belgium company called Aeriane. A genuine ultralight aircraft that makes use of carbon fiber composite structures for its cockpit and tail boom, this creation has long had appeal for light aircraft enthusiasts. Sirocco can reportedly fit the European 120 kg (264 pound) class that is very similar to FAA's Part 103. Prices are very low, modestly over $30,000 for a ready-to-fly airplane; a kit is also available for under $20,000. ••• For more info: AC Light Aircraft Sirocco

I close today's glance at some visually appealing aircraft with this Niki Rotor Aviation gyro. Lightning has huge visibility with a sweeping forward canopy and large clear doors. The Bulgarian company uses a rotor blade from Sport Copter in the USA and the Belgium D-Motor. Another very distinguishing feature is the in-line prop. An earlier model called Kallithea has a more conventional tailplane arrangement and an Apis model offers side-by-side seating. However, Lightning appears to strike out on a new path and turned the heads of many Aero visitors. Even their brochure is unique, die cut to form a circle (like a spinning rotor blade, I imagine) which is then folded in half. I couldn't get their website to load, but have a look at their Facebook page. ••• For more info: Niki Rotor Aviation Lightning

Good Weather Smiles on Sun ‘n Fun ... Sales Logged
By Dan Johnson, April 8, 2014

Zenith Aircraft will power its EAA One Week Wonder project with a 912 iS supplied by Rotax; several other other companies also donated products.
The weather, big crowds, safe flying and airshow speed, action, and thunder combined to make Sun 'n Fun 2014 one to remember. As reported in AVweb, top man John "Lites" Leenhouts was quoted, "We're up 20 percent overall, as of Saturday night, over our average for the last 12 years." As proof of crowds that seemed to grow to a crescendo, multiple long lines of people buying entry passes on Saturday caused ticket sellers to run completely out of Saturday one-day arm bands. They had to start using Friday arm bands to get everyone in who wanted to enter. Acts like the Blue Angels, "Fat Albert" — the Blue Angels C-130 Hercules support aircraft that did its own high-banking act — and a F-22 Raptor captured attention. When we drove off the grounds Sunday evening as airshows are normally winding down, we witnessed literally hundreds of people clustered outside the gates to watch the airshow. Crowds inside were dense but even the gatekeepers can't account for total interest. The outside group were not simply drawn to the roar of jets; these folks planned their outing and came with chairs, coolers, and even tents. Honestly, I can't recall seeing so much interest at any airshow especially on the last day.

LAMA's LSA Mall was a busy place all week and steadily served customers seeking airplanes. photo by Randee Laskewitz
The best news for those of us who follow the Light-Sport and light kit aircraft market was a substantial amount of sales activity. While vendors can be expected to be happy making sales, the good news for customers is that choices are plentiful and stronger businesses can provide better service and can develop more features and products.* Volunteering to work for LAMA, which operates the LSA Mall and serves the industry, BRS parachute expert Gregg Ellsworth conducted a survey of vendors at the close of Sun 'n Fun 2014. He spoke to 19 manufacturers or importers** who reported solid sales — cash changing hands — with a tally beyond 30 aircraft. An old and fairly conservative rule of thumb has been that for every cash order logged at the show, another one will result in a couple months following. If so, Sun 'n Fun activity may generate 70 sales of LSA or light kits. By any recent measure, that's a great show resulting in many smiling customers. Disclaimer: Estimates are not inclusive of all sellers at the event and while we believe it is a reasonable count, sales don't always materialize and some orders are not fulfilled.

Excitement in the skies and a familiar, friendly feel made Paradise City a popular place. Pictured is Paradise City announcer Mike McClellan; a FAA and industry organization safety conference, and social gatherings that occurred spontaneously. photos by Gregg Ellsworth and Randee Laskewitz
Paradise City was again a major attraction ... a show-within-a-show that increased in area activities along with an increase in exhibiting vendors. LAMA's LSA Mall got off to a slow start in the middle of a tough winter but rallied an impressive line of 13 LSA representing many of the top-selling brands. Companies that lacked enough aircraft to participate this year expressed interest in joining the LSA Mall next year. Demo flying, though interrupted at times by military demonstrations and practice flying, was significant during the event, stimulating more than 500 movements a day. Plenty of pilots got a chance to try aircraft that interested them. More evening social events occurred in Paradise City than in previous years and the mood was upbeat among customers and aircraft and service providers. A Safety Conference co-hosted by the U.S. Ultralight Association (representing pilots) and LAMA (representing aircraft producers) drew a full room to discuss solutions as the sector reaches its tenth anniversary this summer. Having fun with airplanes in sunshine and comfortable temperatures is always good time and Sun 'n Fun 2014 provided plenty of it.

I leave tomorrow morning for Aero Friedrichshafen in the very south of Germany. Watch for more reporting from this always-interesting event.

* As an example, Rotax upped their game with the more powerful 912 iS Sport engine and the company is able to upgrade parts to previous 912 iS customers free of charge. Customers pay for labor but several hundred dollars worth of parts are provided for free thanks to profits that allow absorbing such an expense. Rotax BRP reported a good year and customers benefitted. The company completed its first year as a public firm; it is listed on the Toronto stock exchange (Symbol: DOO.TO — the "DOO" derives from popular products, Ski-Doo or Sea-Doo).
** Vendors surveyed by Gregg Ellsworth included BushCat, Just Aircraft, Quicksilver, Evektor, Flight Design, Tecnam, Revo, AirCam, Rans, Hansen Air, Kolb, Aerotrek, Sport Cruiser, Zenith, CubCrafters, Legend, Searey, Jabiru, and others.

Rotax Announced 912iS Sport & Headquarters Fly-In
By Dan Johnson, April 5, 2014

At Sun 'n Fun 2014, Rotax Aircraft Engine manager Christian Mundigler noted the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the four cylinder 9-series engine family including 80-horsepower 912 UL, 100-horsepower 912 ULS, 115-horsepower turbocharged 914, and fuel injected 912 iS. In further celebration he also announced the worldwide introduction of the new 912 iS Sport. "The new model delivers an improved takeoff performance that results in a better climb rate and shorter takeoff run even if the aircraft is equipped with a fixed pitch propeller," said Christian. He proudly stated the marketing line: "Stronger. Faster. Higher." Using a redesigned aluminum airbox atop the 912 iS unveiled two years ago, air intake is improved to boost engine torque. Visible differences are slight compared to last year's 912 iS but the new airbox stands 27 millimeters (1.06 inch) compared to the lower profile plastic airbox manufactured over the last two years. A larger airbox allows more air to mix with fuel delivering more torque. New software further supports the upgraded engine with longer engine intake runners and slightly repositioned ignition coils. The company has worked closely — and secretly — with major manufacturers to assure the slightly higher airbox will still fit within already-designed engine cowls.

What about those 100 or so 912 iS engines already in the USA before this change? Don't worry owners; Rotax has a solid offer. The Austrian company will make upgrade kits available as a retrofit for 912 iS owners. Rotax expects to achieve ASTM compliance and issue a service bulletin in May this year so it can proceed with the upgrade offer. As a demonstration of their readiness, Rotax arranged for a Kitfox with the new engine to be displayed in front of the Rotax exhibit at Sun 'n Fun. Kitfox Aircraft proprietor John McBean said he was very satisfied with the new powerplant after taking it on a 8-hour "lunch flight" to the Florida Keys following its installation at Lockwood Aircraft in Sebring. Christian said the company will offer the engine for the same price as the previous 912 iS through the end of October; details are available through distributors. For current owners of the 912 iS, Rotax will provide the airbox kit for free until the end of October, so owners need only pay labor costs. The job can be done in one day. After October 2014, the manufacturer suggested retail price for the airbox kit will be about $1,750.

Some engine experts observed that when the 912 iS engine was introduced, they were very happy with its lower fuel consumption and reduced pollution, yet some pilots could sense slightly lower performance compared to carbureted versions. The lower torque of the 912 iS engine — 119 newton meters at 5000 rpm versus 129 for the 912 ULS — affected heavier aircraft, seaplanes, or aircraft operated at higher density altitudes. Kitfox boss McBean, who operates in the higher elevation of Idaho, is pleased for the added torque at common operating revolutions. "We've always liked the 912 iS engine, and this new higher torque iS Sport will give us the extra boost we want," he stated. In addition to a new airbox and new controlling software, changes are made to the reduction drive to allow it to handle the increased output.

To properly celebrate the 25th anniversary of the 9-series engines plus production of 50,000 912/914 engines, Rotax BRP will host a fly-in on June 5 to 7, 2014 at the Weisse Moewe airfield in Wels, Austria (northeast of Salzburg and west of Munich, Germany). I am pleased to be headed to this second company fly-in where the engine manufacturer will offer flights with the latest Rotax aircraft engine models plus a chance to test ride in a Can-Am Spyder Roadster. Expected are more than 100 Rotax pilots enthusiasts from all over Europe and beyond plus dealers of the company's products. Those attending will have a chance to visit the Rotax factory to see where the engines are developed and produced. Several events are planned for attendees The modern factory employs more than 1,100 people.

Tecnam Announces Astore and Ups Its U.S. Game
By Dan Johnson, April 5, 2014

By their reported numbers Tecnam lays claim to be the largest producer of very light aircraft. I use that term versus Light-Sport Aircraft as the Italian manufacturer is not the leading LSA seller yet their sales figures support the company being the world's largest for LSA-type aircraft. For at least the last couple years, Tecnam has reported sales numbers in the 200 per year range. I have no way to independently verify that volume but it's clear they are a success story. Tecnam's website states, "With over 3,500 Tecnam airplanes operating around the world today, Tecnam customers and operators are supported by a global network of over 60 dealers and 100 Tecnam Service Centers." They boast a wide range models, including Eaglet, P2008, the aerobatic Snap, the newly introduced (to Americans) Astore, and their Twin. In addition to the Astore unveiling Tecnam announced a major news development and several noteworthy initiatives for the U.S. market. First, the airplane info ...

Astore was first seen at Germany's Aero show last April although the dramatically unveiled new model was not then flying. By the American debut on opening day Tuesday at Sun 'n Fun 2014, the airplane had taken to the air (in June 2013), production was started, and the first deliveries have begun. All Tecnam models other than Sierra are high wings but Astore updates the earlier Sierra with a sleek low wing design that shows the high state of the art from the Italian manufacturer. Check the company's website for many more details about the new model but Tecnam makes complete use of the Apple iPad Mini that comes as part of its American version. On the popular touchscreen device customers will receive a pre-installed, dedicated app that can compute the actual weight and balance plus provide checklists and includes all sections of the Pilot Operating Handbook. Tecnam plans to offer the also-newly-introduced Garmin G3X Touch.

In addition to revealing their new Astore, Tecnam made a major announcement that should provide their most significant move yet to support American customers. At a press briefing at their exhibit at Sun 'n Fun, they announced the establishment of Tecnam US Inc. with a 21,000 square foot hangar and office location at Sebring Airport, Florida where they will start offering customer service and support, spare parts, plus reassembly of LSA and Part 23 certified aircraft models shipped from Italy. Sebring will also become the base for North American sales and marketing led by Director of Sales, Shannon Yeager. Sebring Airport Director Mike Willingham said, "We are proud to be the home of the annual US Sport Aviation Expo [and are pleased about] Tecnam choosing Sebring as the showcase facility in North America." Tecnam expressed gratitude for the advice and support of Phil Solomon and Tommy Grimes of Heart of Virginia Aviation. As the former distributor, HOVA will continue representing Tecnam along with West Coast Sport Aircraft in California and the Midwest Company located in Minnesota. "All locations will have Tecnam aircraft demonstrators available for flight tests by prospective customers," said company officials. They will initially market three Light-Sport Aircraft: P2008 LSA, Astore LSA and P92 Eaglet LSA plus two Part 23 certified models, P Twenty-Ten and P2006T light twin. Other models such as the P2002 Sierra, P92 Echo Light and P92 Tail Dragger will be available on request.

Not content to rest on a new model and a new U.S. location, Tecnam also announced a new payment program that could alter how LSA are sold in America. "A new payment policy has been introduced that is simple and straightforward," said Tecnam. "A 10% deposit is payable at the time an order is placed, with the remaining 90% payment not due until the aircraft [has received its airworthiness certificate] and is ready to fly from either the Florida or California assembly facility." Potential customers can also experience a demo flight at the new Sebring facility, and Tecnam US Inc. will contribute up to 50% of related travel expenses up to a maximum of $1,000. Upon purchase of an aircraft the remaining 50% will be reimbursed with a provision for additional reimbursement for a spouse or partner. These methods should remove uncertainty from prospective customers who have previously been hesitant to send substantial sums overseas while waiting for delivery. Tecnam CEO Paolo Pascale added, "We are very grateful for the support of [Sebring airport manager] Mike Willingham and all his Sebring team. This first phase of our evolution and expansion within North America will be quite challenging, and is just the start of fulfilling our ambition to set up a dedicated production facility in the USA. We are totally focused on doing all possible to enhance our customer's experience of, and access to, all things Tecnam."

Garmin Goes Touch with New G3X Avionics
By Dan Johnson, March 29, 2014

CubCrafters implemented G3X Touch in their typically stylistic manner.
For a billion-dollar, publicly-listed company Garmin (stock symbol: GRMN) has repeatedly displayed the nimbleness of a start-up enterprise. As if to prove this point Garmin announced several new products for the start of Sun 'n Fun. And for those of us who need some introduction to these new gee-whiz gizmos, the company has a seminar tent just north of Hangar D where you can learn it all from the experts. No wonder Garmin remains one of the most trusted names in aviation. (My trusty auto Garmin will be leading me around the winding roads of Europe as we head over to Aero immediately following Sun 'n Fun.) So ... G3X Touch, now in a giant 10.6 display • GTR 20 remote comm controlled through the touchscreen • Angle of Attack (AoA) info when paired with their GSU 25 ADAHRS and GAP 26 probe • and, you can even watch VIRB (Garmin's HD action camera) video in a PFD inset. "Our dedicated Experimental engineering team, known as 'Team X,' continues to raise the bar with the introduction of G3X Touch. This team of pilots and homebuilders have ... introduced innovative avionics to the sport aircraft market," said Carl Wolf, vice president of aviation sales and marketing.

G3X Touch includes Synthetic Vision, a built-in WAAS receiver, video input, ADAHRS, magnetometer, OAT probe and interactive mapping as standard.
The big deal is G3X Touch and "big" means a touchscreen glass display for experimental amateur-built and light sport aircraft that is larger than the largest iPad of today. Showing their commitment to recreational aviation, Garmin notes these are high-resolution, sunlight-readable non-certified displays with split-screen PFD/MFD functionality. G3X Touch is scalable, easily configured; pilots can install up to three displays in one panel. As I have long enjoyed on their also-excellent 796 removable unit, VFR sectionals and IFR enroute charts are available on G3X Touch. Equally important for those who already have a G3X is a "low-cost and easy path" upgrade to Touch system because the same connectors and sensors are used. For those of who like 796, Garmin said, "G3X Touch interface is similar to existing Garmin touchscreen avionics so information is easy to find." Think of those who use iPhones and iPads interchangeably. G3X Touch is priced at $5,499 including Synthetic Vision Technology, a built-in WAAS receiver, video input, ADAHRS, magnetometer, OAT probe and interactive mapping. G3X Touch with EIS starts at $6,099. Either price is affordable especially compared to just a few years ago and much less than certified systems. Personally, I appreciate Garmin maintaining the strong support for sport aviation. Indeed, five top LSA builders selected G3X Touch as an option: Van's Aircraft; CubCrafters; Flight Design; Tecnam; and, Pipistrel.

All the elements of the G3X Touch "family."
G3X Touch works with XM Weather but for those who prefer the free weather and traffic may choose a new GDL 39R remotely mounted ADS-B receiver that is compatible with Touch. The big company did more than come out with new touchscreen glass. A new GTR 20 remote comm "offers a clean, powerful communication radio and intercom ($995), which can be controlled from the G3X Touch display." Since AoA appears to be all the buzz lately, Touch can display angle of attack information. Another activity with growing popularity is the chance to see video in flight. No, this doesn't mean Netflix for your passenger but flight schools have seen the value of video for review by their students. Using a composite video connection (BNC) that connects to VIRB, Garmin's HD action camera (or other compatible camera), occupants can see video in an inset of their Primary Flight Display or Multi-Function Display.

So, got all that? OK, if you need more detail and if you are present at Sun 'n Fun like so many other aviation enthusiasts, head to Garmin's seminar tent and get expert help. Thanks, Garmin!

Continue reading more SPLOG posts. Click here to see our index, organized by date.




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.

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

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.

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

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 a new four seater, Tecnam offers these LSA: Echo Classic, Eaglet, Bravo, Astore, and P2008.
Many LSA
& GA models

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!

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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?

Pipistrel has designed and manufactures a range of beautiful, sleek aircraft that have found markets around the world. Starting with gliders and motorgliders, Pipistrel now offers a line of powered aircraft using multiple power sources.

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

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.

SkyCraft Airplanes is America’s first Light-Sport Aircraft single seater. SD-1 Minisport is affordably priced, very well equipped, and was designed to exhibit docile handing qualities. It can be flown for less than $12 per hour.

World Aircraft Company is Columbian design expertise joined to Canadian entrepreneurship based in Paris, Tennessee USA. Welcome to World Aircraft and a brand-new short takeoff and landing (STOL) Light-Sport Aircraft, the all-metal Spirit.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Zenith Aircraft is one of America's leading kit suppliers featuring well proven models from legendary designer, Chris Heintz. Centrally based in Mexico, Missouri, Zenith offers kit aircraft for several popular models.

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.

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

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