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...a web log of developments in Sport Pilot/Light-Sport Aircraft
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American Legend’s Greg Koontz Truck Landing Show
By Dan Johnson, March 2, 2016

In my years as a hang glider pilot — and for many friends who enjoy unpowered paragliders — the idea of what's called a "top landing" is something of the holy grail. Such a feat can now be rather commonly achieved, especially by a slower flying paraglider, but is nonetheless quite thrilling to launch from a mountain and then land back on top of that mountain. This avoids the need to breakdown, drive back up, and set up for another launch but mainly it is just a terribly cool thing to do.

Still, landing a hang glider or paraglider back on top of the mountain is reasonably straightforward compared to landing an airplane atop a moving truck. Sure, you may have seen it done at airshows and perhaps you marveled at the skill involved. Yet I'm guessing that virtually no one reading this article has ever attempted the feat much less done so repeatedly ... and, by the way, at an airshow with lots of people watching and cameras recording everything.

American Legend announced the successful completion and testing of a new Super Legend HP aircraft to be used in Greg Koontz Airshows' World's Smallest Airport flying routine. "Pilot and performer Greg Koontz concluded the tests of the Super Legend by successfully landing the aircraft on top of a moving pickup truck," reported the Sulphur Springs, Texas manufacturer.

Koontz's new Super Legend HP is a stock aircraft that incorporates options specific to his airshow, American Legend said. "These include a Smoking Airplanes 3.5 gallon smoke system; a larger step allows easier access to the cabin ... and a 180 horsepower Titan engine," now marketed by Continental.

Don Wade of C&D Aviation worked with Koontz and American Legend on this project. He summarized Koontz' initial reactions saying, "Greg [said] the airplane flies similar to the original Piper J-3." In his previous version of this act, Koontz used the vintage model Cub. "Greg is one the most precise airshow pilots in world. You have no idea how difficult landing on the truck is. You have just six inches either side of the wheels."

Greg Koontz has been performing in airshows since 1974 when he was a member of Colonel Moser's Flying Circus. Koontz credits having learned his maneuvers from retired Air Force Colonel Ernie Moser, who he said was "the best in the business." To know where he will perform the "smallest airport" bit with his powerful Legend Cub, visit his website for a complete 2016 show schedule that includes 16 stops including Sun 'n Fun and Oshkosh.

Super Legend HP uses the increasingly popular Titan O-340 engine, a stroked derivative of the Lycoming O-320. The powerplant is a four cylinder, 340 cubic inch displacement engine producing 180 horsepower, similar to the larger and heavier O-360. The company said, "Super Legend HP, with the Titan O-340, offers fast cruise speeds and the best ever takeoff and climb performance in a Light-Sport Cub." The company explained that to qualify as Light-Sport Aircraft, maximum takeoff power must be limited to five minutes with continuous power derated to 80 horsepower. "Special lightweight custom paint and avionics packages are available to maintain Super Legend HP empty weight at less than 904 pounds," to gain acceptance by FAA as a fully-built LSA.

Super Legend was first offered with the 115-horsepower Lycoming O-233 so the Titan-powered one perhaps ought to be called Super-Duper Legend. I look forward to see it perform at 2016 airshows.


Remos Roars Back with GXiS; Aero 2016 Debut
By Dan Johnson, February 29, 2016

Article updated March 9, 2016Skybound Aviation in Cape Girardeau, Missouri has been appointed the "exclusive resource" for Remos G3 and GX parts in the USA. The company operated by Glenn "Mac" McCallister and Bev Cleair is open for service 6.5 days a week (not Sunday mornings) and is also a dealer for Remos. Contact them at 573-833-0426 or email Mac.

In our 2014 report, you read that a well-known German supplier of Light-Sport Aircraft, Remos, fell from their high perch. The company became known to nearly all Americans when the U.S. importer, closely allied with the German producer, ran a series of full page ads in the USA's biggest aviation magazines. It brought wide awareness but cost the company dearly. As their timing coincided with the global economic downturn, Remos stumbled badly and was forced to go through reorganization.

As reported, a new investor stepped up during the process and Remos has persevered. Still building airplanes in Pasewalk, Germany, the company has revitalized following their tumble and recently announced a new model that will be debuted at the upcoming Aero 2016 show in the third week of April, a couple weeks after Sun 'n Fun (thankfully for those of us who attend both events).

On February's Leap Day, the European company announced that it, "will present the next generation of its high-wing composite aircraft Remos GX at Aero Friedrichshafen from April 20th to 23rd." They specified, "The redesigned cowling [reveals] what is to be found underneath: a Rotax 912 iS Sport with electronic fuel injection." The new model named Remos GXiS offers avionics by Dynon and Garmin.

Remos GXiS in front of their Pasewalk, Germany facility.
"With this new version, [we are] heading towards the European LSA with EASA certification," added company public relations spokesman, Patrick Holland-Moritz. Until recently when the company moved away, motivating him to seek work closer to home, Patrick was a journalist for Germany's large aviation magazine, Aerokurier where he often reported on the light aircraft sector.

For the last few years, Remos manufactures and assembles in Pasewalk, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Germany. They have long promoted the design as being wholly made in Germany.

Remos engineers and leaders like the newest 9-series Rotax for its electronic fuel injection that is more fuel efficient and makes carburetor icing a thing of the past. They added, "[Pairing the 912iS Sport] with the hydraulically operated constant speed propeller from the German-based manufacturer MT-Propeller, excellent flight performance is guaranteed." Of course, such an in-flight adjustable prop will not be allowed by FAA in America but it can make for higher performance in countries that do permit such equipment. ASTM standards already exist to cover adjustable props.

To implement the updated powerplant, Remos engineers had to make many changes, as did other airframe makers since the Austrian engine maker introduced the the 912iS. "At first glance, one may see the new air intake in the redesigned cowling of the GXiS. This is just one part of the completely optimized cooling system. There are also many invisible modifications on the fuel system and on the electric system on board." They summarized that the entire firewall-forward section of the aircraft was redesigned to accommodate the Rotax.

As those of us who have flown with the iS series know, it presents differences for pilot operation, but in many ways it is easier. Remos engineers said, "The start-up procedure is as easy as it is in your car. Almost all system checks, for which the pilot had to take care before, are done automatically now."

The attractive instrument panel of the GXiS is highly modern. Its avionics suite includes a touch sensitive 10-inch-screen combined EFIS/EMS Dynon SV-D1000T/B. In the center stack we see Garmin's GTN 750, an all-in-one WAAS GPS/NAV/COM navigation system and control panel for radio, audio panel, transponder and autopilot.

Even more intriguing is the inclusion of a collision avoidance system: TRX-1500 by Air Avionics. "It receives ADS-B signals, deals with FLARM and shows the surrounding traffic on the moving map," said Remos. The transponder installed in GXiS sends ADS-B signals. Like many Remos aircraft over the years, GXiS is equipped with an emergency airframe parachute made by U.S. manufacturer, BRS.

For the U.S. market and other countries that allow it, GXiS grosses at 1,320 pounds (600 kg). In Europe, an "ultralight" model must be lighter (472.5 kg) so, "Customers may choose between several more compact avionic options," said Remos. This version will come with the well-proven fixed-pitch three-blade propeller by Neuform instead of the MT adjustable prop and this is likely the choice for American buyers as well.

Remos invites those attending Aero Friedrichshafen 2016 to see the first article GXiS that will be used for EASA flight testing at space 207 in Hall B3. I'll hope to capture a video interview on the new offering.


Rotax Q&A and the Engine Manufacturer Debate
By Dan Johnson, February 24, 2016

It was the ninth annual LAMA Dinner at Sebring 2016. Each year, the organization has tried to do something different and this year broke new ground.

In the past LAMA has brought in speakers such as AOPA then-president Craig Fuller, EAA then-president Rod Hightower, and FAA ex-administrator, Randy Babbitt. Except for the last, they were active in their roles when they spoke but this is evidence of how things change over a fairly short time. However, two things seem not to change.

America (or at least the mainstream media) continues an infatuation with electing a new leader. Every four years — though it seems more often as the election cycles increasingly jam together — the two big political parties trot out their new candidates. The other, more relevant (to readers of this website) unchanging fact is that pilots love to hear about and talk about the engines on their aircraft.

This scene depicts a small portion of the enormous main engine assembly facility at Rotax BRP's plant in Gunskirchen, Austria.
With its beta-test debate at Sebring earning warm reviews, LAMA, supported by its principal airshow sponsor, Aviators Hot Line, is moving forward with a Great Debate series at Sun 'n Fun. As those plans come together, I will report further here. Until then, you can see and hear the Sebring engine debate below.

Meanwhile, back to that fascination with engines ...

One of the regular readers of this website had some questions, the sort that might be answered at the engine debate at Sun 'n Fun. He asked, "Does Rotax have a aviation engine line? Or, are all Rotax engines made the same, be it an aviation engine or a snowmobile or land based engine?" Answer: Rotax has a line and facility dedicated solely to the assembly of aircraft engines.

In 2015 Rotax celebrated forty years of manufacturing aircraft engines.
I've visited the facility and seen the sprawling yet immaculate and highly organized plant where motorcycle and snowmobile engines are built. With robots, computer-controlled tools, and a completely automated inventory system, Rotax BRP is very impressive.

The main plant in Gunskirchen, Austria looks more factory-like while the aircraft engine line seems more of a custom shop moving at a deliberate and measured pace. I understand workers at Rotax BRP are very keen to get into the aircraft engine side, so that team is likely the best of the best building the 9-series engines and more.

My inquirer said, "I know Rotax did away with most of the two stroke line." Comment: Most, but not all. While Rotax BRP no longer builds the 447 or 503 — and long ago did away with the single cylinder 277 — the Rotax 582 continues to be in demand and sells in good volume. "When they did sell [two-stroke engines]," he continued, "did Rotax have a special section for [those] engines that went into an airplane? Answer: They are built in the same aircraft engine facility as the 9-series though on different production runs.

"How many work in this [facility]?" Answer: About 25 technicians assemble aircraft engines and they are supported by engineering, sales, and management personnel. Some components of the aircraft engines come from the big plant, but the assembly is separate.

On the 25th Anniversary of the 9-series engines, Rotax brought out their red-shirted aircraft engine team to take a bow.
"Are Rotax aircraft engines made on an assembly line?" Answer: The Austrian engine manufacturer builds aircraft engines on a primarily hand-assembly line that is less automated than the main motorcycle and other engine production. Total volumes are quite different.

In addition to designing and testing aircraft engines — for example the new 135-horsepower Rotax 915 iS is getting closer to market — the European manufacturer also supports dealers and mechanics with a training facility that I have toured. I've also visited the Continental Motors factory in Mobile, Alabama, and it is also impressive in its size and technical sophistication but Rotax in Austria is a more modern establishment.

The questions above and more will be asked and answered at the Sun 'n Fun Great Debates, held in a new much-larger LAMA tent that will be front and center in Paradise City, the Light Plane area of Sun'n Fun. If you are attending the show, come to Paradise City each day and catch a Great Debate at 1:00 PM. You may get your questions answered, too.

Get an idea how the debates will go by catching this video:


Flight Design USA Forges Ahead with CTLSi
By Dan Johnson, February 19, 2016

Breaking News ... Recently Flight Design in Germany sent a letter to their dealers including this statement, "We have applied for a planned receivership which allows for reorganization of the company." What does this mean?

Since Light-Sport Aircraft burst on the aviation scene in 2004, Flight Design built the largest fleet in the United States. Using internationally-accepted ASTM standards to good advantage, CT series aircraft also sold well in other countries. Flight Design USA president Tom Peghiny was the first ASTM Airplane Subcommittee chair for several years in the mid-2000s while Flight Design Germany's Chief Technical Officer, Oliver Reinhardt served as overall F37 chair until very recently.

Parlaying their prowess in aircraft design, testing, and certification, Flight Design engineered an all-metal version of their carbon fiber CTLS, called MC, plus a four-seat certified aircraft design named C4, among other projects.

That may sound positive, but engineering-intensive projects require costlier talent and can consume boatloads of money. Several projects were started years ago and were underway as the global economy took a sharp turn for the worse in 2009. With funds stretched, serial production of existing products slowed. Something had to give.

Faced with a "liquidity crunch," Flight Design GmbH filed for insolvency on February 11th. A local German court provided Knut Rebholz, an attorney with experience in restructuring, to be interim receiver of the German corporation. After his assessment, court appointee Robholz reported, "The order situation of the company is good and the products have a very good international reputation in the market." He continued, "[The] most urgent task to enable intensive negotiations to fund operations."

Jack Pelton, actor Harrison Ford, and Tom Poberezny prepare for remarks at an NBAA event with the EAA sweepstakes MC as a backdrop.
The problems faced by Flight Design in Germany slowed aircraft deliveries motivating Connecticut-based Flight Design USA to recently announce a new source of supply for their CLTSi models from a properly licensed and very capable builder.

Introducing AeroJones Aviation ...

AeroJones Aviation is headquartered in Taichung, Taiwan, often referred to as the "Silicon Valley" of Taiwan. AeroJones negotiated and signed an exclusive agreement to license Flight Design products. The program to begin production called for the Taiwanese company to assemble new production tooling and equipment including a five-axis CNC machine, water and Laser cutters, TIG welding, composite layup and post-cure ovens, plus a modern paint booth. AeroJones also obtained production worker training, received training to provide quality management, and gradually built up to finished airplanes, which first occurred in 2014. AeroJones' production facility has passed numerous audits including earning a Production Certificate from China's CAAC at the end of 2015.

This is not a new, small start-up company but instead one with impressive credentials. AeroJones' parent company, GSEO (Genius Electro Optical), is a manufacturer and supplier for industrial LED products and laminated lenses for many popular smartphones; it has around 20,000 employees.

AeroJones has been building CTLSi aircraft and shipments to the USA are already scheduled. This will allow Flight Design USA to move forward with its business while the German company works to restructure.

Flight Design's four seat C4 made its first flight in 2015.
Flight Design USA noted, "Roughly 35% of a CTLS presently comes from the USA — wheels, tires, brakes, radios, antennas, GPS, autopilot, EFIS and EMS systems, intercom, Whelen lights, BRS parachute, ELT, headsets, and miscellaneous parts like the gascolator." Tom Peghiny continued, "The Austrian-made Rotax engine, propeller, composite materials, windshield and windows, paint, seats, and numerous other parts come from Europe. The planes made by AeroJones Aviation should correctly be called 'world aircraft' (just like Boeing and Airbus) as only about 25% will be of non-western origin."

All these steps — Flight Design in Germany reorganizing, Flight Design USA arranging a new, second source for completed airframes, solidifying components from all over the globe, and preparing for a refreshed American operation — lead to their newest product announcement: the CTLSi "2020" Edition.

A new season of flying will feature AeroJones-produced CTLSi aircraft with fully compliant ADS-B hardware.
"For 2016 we wanted to do a light upgrade to the avionics on the CTLSi centered around dual Dynon SkyView and the Garmin 796," said Peghiny. "We asked what would we want in addition if we were the customer?"

"Working closely with John Hurst, the technical and sales director of Americana Aviation [a Flight Design USA distributor], we came up with a package we think is very appealing."

"Since 2012, we have been delivering the Dynon SkyView SV-261 Extended Squitter (ES) transponder — which sends additional info for ADS-B out use. In conjunction with the new Dynon SV-2020 GPS source, this provides an FAA Next Gen-compliant ADS-B out solution," added Tom. Many LSA have ADS-B in today but FAA requires the extra "out" data by 2020, which suggested the new CTLSi edition name Flight Design USA chose.

"For ADS-B in we are offering three options," said Tom. "Customers can choose the Dynon SV-470 ADS-B in, which has the NEXRAD weather in the cockpit, UAT traffic displayed on the screens in vertical and horizontal position and TAFs and TFRs. Alternatively, the Garmin GDL-39-3D offers both 978 UAT traffic and 1020 ES traffic, Bluetooth connectivity to other devices, and a backup ADAHRs-like panel displayed on the Garmin 796. The third option is to have a mini iPad in an AirGizmo panel mount with a USB power supply and choose the ADS-B in software such as Garmin Pilot or ForeFlight. The 2020 Edition will come with the Dynon WiFi adapters installed which also allows loading flight plans into the Dynon mapping software."

"All this refers to just the ADS-B," noted Tom. "Of course the CTLSi 2020 also comes with the Rotax 912is fuel injected engine, the Dynon SkyView autopilot, standard airframe parachute, and all the other creature comforts that Flight Design owners have always enjoyed."

While the Germany company moves to restructure, it is good to see the American LSA fleet leader showing refreshed activity and many interested pilots will look forward to examining a new AeroJones-produced CTLSi at summer airshows.

Peghiny added, "The good news is that many existing LSA using appropriate Dynon hardware can meet the ADS-B 2020 requirements quickly and with less expense.


SuperSTOL Gets Superpower with Titan’s 180 Horses
By Dan Johnson, February 15, 2016

Article updated 2/16/16 — In a freshly-edited video (see at end), Just Aircraft key fellows Gary Schmidt and Troy Townsend provide extra comments and we add additional footage of SuperSTOL climbing strongly with the Titan.

Troy Woodland blasts off an airshow strip using the Rotax 912 with 100 horsepower.
Even before Continental Motors took over the former ECi, that company's Titan engine has been turning heads. CubCrafters was first to this party, installing the 180-horsepower engine on their Cubalike LSA, demonstrating very short takeoff rolls before climbing steeply. Since then, quite a few other producers have embraced the potent engine and more are coming. This development is sufficiently interesting that I am at work on an article about three "divisions" of powerplants for LSA, light kits, and ultralights.

However, all other users of the Titan are unlike Just Aircraft's SuperSTOL, which itself has turned many a head at airshow demonstrations. SuperSTOL was able to rivet pilots' attention when it performed with the 100-horsepower Rotax 912, so imagine the neck-snapping twists that will occur when people get a chance to see how this moveable-slats airplane on tall, telescoping gear performs with 180 horses doing the pulling.

The good news is, you don't need to wait. You can get a relatively unique aft-facing, landing gear view of SuperSTOL rocketing off its factory airstrip at the end of this article. I'll bet you enjoy that!

Just Aircraft reported they started flight tests with the Titan OX-340 engine on their stretched SuperSTOL XL. "Due to a redesigned crankshaft, the Titan develops 180 horsepower with elevated torque levels," said James Ball, a principal of Engine Components, International or ECi. "Essentially, the engine started out as a 160 horsepower Lycoming, but ECi reconfigured the engine to have a larger displacement resulting in more power."

In 2015, Continental Motors announced they expanded more deeply into the Experimental and LSA sectors with the purchase of ECi, a San Antonio, Texas-based manufacturer of FAA-approved engine parts. The deal provided Continental with a strong foothold in the light aircraft market with the ECi's Titan line of engines including the X320, X340 and X370 models, all of which are based on Lycoming type designs.

While Continental already enjoyed a solid presence in LSA and light kits with their O-200 line, Titan adds a very powerful engine choice that satiates the desire of pilots for more thrust. It's no small irony that one U.S. icon now offers engines based on another American engine icon, Lycoming. Full disclosure: Continental is owned by China's AVIC.

Under the "hood" of the SuperSTOL XL first seen at Sebring 2016 is the Titan XO-340 with 180 horsepower.
Just Aircraft considers the Titan a good option for the SuperSTOL. "It's premature to discuss performance numbers," said XL designer Troy Woodland (seen in the lead photo doing what he does so well at airshows). However, Troy is quick to add, "But there clearly is an improvement in the takeoff roll and rate of climb. We brought our newest SuperSTOL to Sebring 2016 on a trailer to introduce the Titan and the response was very positive and enthusiastic. Since then, we've started flying it and we're pleased with the results."

As is often the case, Troy is being a bit laid-back and modest, as the video below testifies.

Sold as a complete kit for homebuilders, Just's SuperSTOL XL offers "unparalleled performance in short takeoffs, landings and slow flight. Configured as a high wing, with two [side-by-side] seats and tundra tires, the XL can be set down in virtually any clearing."

SuperSTOL was designed for back country flying and weekend adventures and Titan adds a new dimension to those "adventures."

Want to see how enthusiastically SuperSTOL climbs behind the Titan XO-340? Then, watch this video. To add perspective, the runway at Just Aircraft is one of the most unusual I've ever seen ... a very short, very, very steeply sloped runway, which in this video SuperSTOL barely uses, climbing amazingly fast away from the surface. Whoa!


Merlin PSA Takes “Exhilarating” First U.S. Flight
By Dan Johnson, February 14, 2016

One of the fast paced developments I've observed has been Aeromarine LSA's new Merlin PSA. "PSA" stands for Personal Sport Aircraft and the Florida company may be truly onto something interesting.

While recognizing they are very capable airplanes, many lament the cost of carbon fiber speedsters with glass cockpits and autopilots. Aeromarine LSA perceives an opening.

Introduced at the U.S. Sport Aviation 2016 event in Sebring last month, proprietor Chip Erwin said Merlin PSA drew questions: "It only costs $35,000?" and, "That price really includes the engine?"

A longtime entrepreneur in the light aircraft manufacturing game, Chip sees a way to attract buyers with a very modestly priced aircraft that is fully enclosed, made with all metal construction and with interesting powerplant choices.

The first U.S. Merlin PSA is powered with the 65 horsepower Rotax 582 that provide outstanding performance for such a light aircraft. Alternative powerplants have been part of the plan all along.

Chip Erwin did not design or "invent" the airplane he now calls Merlin PSA but he has considerably advanced the project using his long experience. When I saw this airplane at Aero five years ago, it was underpowered with an unfamiliar engine and it was not assertively marketed. That is changing.

Chip's Merlin PSA is powered by the Rotax 582 that makes it perform most energetically but he has other powerplants in mind. One is a lightweight four stroke that might generate great appeal. For those many who are intrigued with electric propulsion, Chip is well ahead of that game, too, with a motor and system he has been developing for many months (see video). Four stroke and electric are coming, he reported, but if a low-priced, modern-looking airplane with a very well established engine sounds good, you have no need to wait.

"Merlin PSA brings the sport back into sport planes with a power-to-weight ratio about 50% higher than most LSA aircraft." Plus, he added, "It will be perfect on our new amphibious floats!"

Licensed as an Experimental Amateur Built aircraft Merlin PSA easily fits within the LSA parameters of weight and speed. Therefore, it can be flown with a Sport Pilot certificate — or by a higher certificated pilot exercising the privileges of Sport Pilot, meaning no medical is needed.

A complete kit including Aeromarine-LSA's builder's assist program is only $34,900. You need to invest some labor hours but you will be guided and the effort is said to be quite rapid. An all-aluminum design, Merlin PSA is available as a quick-build kit. Because it was created using 3D CAD/CAM equipment, Merlin offers easy-to-build, matched-hole assemblies that require no fixtures. "Build time is measured in days rather than months or years," said Chip. "Builders can enjoy a couple of weeks at our Builders' Center in Florida and fly their new Merlin PSA ... not 'taxi.' Fly." That's some promise.

As debuted at Sebring 2016, Merlin PSA is nicely equipped with a digital EFIS/EMS, GPS, radio transceiver, an ADS-B out-equipped Mode S transponder, BRS parachute system, electric trim, and the new TruTrak ECO autopilot. The price? "Around $50,000," stated Chip. At the show, Chip had not yet flown the eye-catching aircraft. That changed recently.

"The first USA Merlin PSA is flying," Chip exclaimed! "Acceleration and climb rate are exhilarating." His blog reported that he rotated in 3-4 seconds using less than 200 feet of takeoff roll. See more impressions here (video tour of the airplane and in-flight views also available).

"Flight conditions were less than ideal with gusty winds and choppy turbulence but the Merlin handled these conditions perfectly," observed Chip. "The pilot sits right on the longitudinal axis and the wing loading is higher than the average LSA so it is quite comfortable to fly all day long." He reported seeing cruise speeds over 100 mph and climb rates of 1,500 feet per minute.

For those looking for something different, Merlin PSA is flying in Europe in taildragger configuration using tundra tires. "This is an available option," said Chip.

"The next step, after flying off the test program, is to install the amphibious floats," he said. Amphibious floats are finished and the gear is operating perfectly using the remote wireless Bluetooth phone app for actuation. He demonstrated this to visitors at Sebring.


Newest Special LSA Is ... Rans’ S-20 Raven
By Dan Johnson, February 8, 2016

The world of Light-Sport Aircraft has matured in the sense that we no longer have an airplane or two or three every month being added to the SLSA List. That may sound like a "industry slowdown" to some folks but I don't believe that's an accurate assessment.

A more realistic view is that the feverish rush days of 2004-2006 are over. That means not as many new SLSA are being offered though the truth is many of those 137 aircraft never found a substantial market.

Indeed, our market share list of SLSA airplanes shows the top 20 brands represent better than 85% of all sales. Regretfully, our ranking shows only airplanes as we are unable to pull good data from FAA's database for motorgliders, weight shift trikes, powered parachutes, and other "alternative" aircraft.

All that said, I am pleased to announce one of our most solid companies — Rans — continues to introduce new airplanes like their S-20 Raven and to qualify them to be accepted by FAA as a fully-manufactured Special Light-Sport Aircraft.

In general terms, Raven is something of a blend of the company's massively successful S-6 Coyote that comes in several flavors and their tandem seating S-7 Courier. The latter has long been very popular among certain Rans enthusiasts and I joined their ranks a decade ago after flying with designer Randy Schlitter at an AOPA show in Tampa, Florida.

Yet one thing held back the S-7 from even broader acceptance. Although tandems have some advantages — good visibility for both occupants to either side, and a slightly leaner shape, for example — many pilots prefer side-by-side seating. Make it so! From the prolific mind of Mr. Schlitter came S-20 Raven.

As the number implies, this is his 20th design and, to some, it may be his best yet. Rans offers quite a variety from the sleek, all metal S-19 Venterra speedster to the open-air S-18 Stinger (another tandem by the way). Yet to many recreational pilots who just love flying, Raven hits all the high points with several features not found on other Rans models. For flight qualities and more about this newest Rans model, watch our Video Pilot Review.

Interested customers have been able to buy an S-20 Rans kit for several months. Now, with a fresh airworthiness certificate, Rans can begin delivering Ravens in ready-to-fly mode.

The Rans team poses with their new certificate (held by boss Randy Schlitter) after winning FAA acceptance as a Special Light-Sport Aircraft (#137).

all photos courtesy of Rans, Inc.
Let's look at the previously available S-20 Raven kit first. A complete airframe kit with the firewall forward components lists for $27,500. An engine installation kit for the 912ULS (engine not included) is $5,000. A prop (choices available) and mounting hardware will run around $1-2,000. Add the 912 engine, paint, interior, and basic instruments and you reach around $60,000. Assuming you don't put a price tag on your labor that is a quite a good bargain for a great-flying airplane representing a contemporary design.

A Quick-Build Kit will add $9-10,000 or slightly more — depending on how you want pre-built parts painted — but may be well worth for pilots who want to fly sooner and for whom the building project is a chore rather than a pleasure.

If you just can't wait to fly Raven, a beautifully-finished, factory-built edition retails for $119,000 with deluxe analog day VFR instruments, radio with intercom, transponder, and GPS. You can choose a tricycle gear or taildragger configuration for the same price.

For powerplants, if you opt for the fuel-injected Rotax 912iS over the carbureted 912, add $5,000. Or, for Lycoming fans, Rans is now offering the 115 horsepower O-233 engine for an added $7,500 over the standard 100 horsepower 912.

Add a "deluxe digital panel" for $10,000 and a lighting package of nav lights, strobe, instrument, and landing/taxi lights for $2,500. Of course, this well established company offers a number of other options which you can find on their website. Go here to see more.


Learn to Fly and Have Fun. Is that Wrong?
By Dan Johnson, February 5, 2016

Flying is serious. You can ... well, perish, perish the thought. Of course, you are vastly more likely to die in a car or maybe even in your bathtub. We all know that. We also know that aviation has not earned an enviably good safety record by emphasizing pure fun. The "fun" part may be implied but is that a bit too dry if we hope to attract newcomers to aviation?

For many years a long while back I was involved with hang gliding. I ran a dealership and flight school in the mountains around Chattanooga, Tennessee. I want to tell you that folks who jump off mountains in hang gliders know how to have fun. OK, technically, you don't "jump off" mountains — you "launch" — and while those pilots do have fun, they are zealous about safety. In the early days, way back in the '70s, the sport suffered a rash of accidents but today you very rarely hear about a hang glider accident. Fun, however, was most definitely part of the motivation to learn the sport of flying hang gliders.

I believe this shows you can have fun in aviation even while being a stickler for safety. Recently I became more aware of how one Light-Sport company is pushing hard to make themselves look like the FUN guys in Sport Pilot training. To get an idea, check out the video below.

I trust you enjoyed that and got the humor involved in claims like, "We've been to the International Space Station." Look, I completely get what these fellows are trying to accomplish, led by rising YouTube star, Nathan Rausch — repeatedly whipping off his sunglasses in imitation of David Caruso playing Lieutenant Horatio Caine on "CSI Miami." Flying doesn't have to always be so deadly serious and many believe you should have a good time learning to fly.

Catch our own video in this SportCruiser aircraft review, one of around 500 videos we've produced since 2008.
U.S. Sport Aircraft is creating a whole series of videos to showcase their efforts. You can sign up here. People seem to like USSA's videos making comments such as: "I just watched your video last night and was dying laughing..." or "I wish I had watched your flight training series before I started training at my current school."

Team USSA say their goal with their video channel is to highlight various aspect of their company including flight training, aircraft sales, fractional ownership, aircraft maintenance, and SportCruiser flight tours. I recall the former Saturn automobile company focusing on building a community of their owners and USSA aims to do the same, referring to their "country club atmosphere."

In the age of social media, including YouTube, it makes sense to use new methods to attract new student pilots. The old way is, well, old. I want to encourage USSA's fresher approach

Flight school manager Nathan said, "When we started these videos we were aiming to educate people about aviation. Then we started to add comedy and we realized that we hit a nerve that has made us really popular among viewers. People want to be entertained."

Getting a bit dryer about what USSA offers, I want to present some points that help define the company in more concrete details ... and I promise not to metaphorically whip off my sunglasses while doing so.

In the greater Dallas/Fort Worth area, U.S. Sport Aircraft, based at the Addison airport (KADS) is about the only Light-Sport-equipped flight school in the area, Nathan confirmed.

  • USSA reports maintaining 5-10 aircraft in their flight school training fleet
  • They say they have an average of 50-75 full time students in flight training at any given time
  • They say many new SportCruisers are sold every year
  • USSA has 18,000 square feet of maintenance space
  • They offer 18,000 square feet of showroom and flight school with three classroom work areas
  • Students have the option to preflight in-hangar (out of the elements)
  • They offer monthly weekend Sport/Private certificate ground schools
  • USSA's SportCruiser Flying Club hosts 2-3 SportCruiser trips every year; generally overnight adventures to destinations 200-400 miles away drawing 10-15 participants
  • Owners can partake of USSA's SportCruiser Owner Concierge Program including aircraft fueling, washing, and hangarage

Since nearly the beginning of Light-Sport, the SportCruiser has been one of the top-ranked sellers. More than 200 aircraft appear in the FAA N-number registry. With this gang of gung-ho USSA'ers running the show and finding the time to make watchable videos, it would appear they can keep the operation running a full tilt for years to come.


Breezer Gains EASA’s Restricted Type Certificate
By Dan Johnson, February 2, 2016

A well-worn line is often repeated by those trying to gain approval for an aircraft. The line is typically employed referring to FAA Part 23 type certification because that regulation dictates massive documentation of design, testing, production systems, and more. It is often stated humorously but it's quite serious.

"When the paperwork weighs more than the airplane, you're done!" It means an impressive amount of documentation is required to get FAA's blessing for a new Cessna-Cirrus-Diamond-Piper.

In recent news about the approval of a Light-Sport Aircraft by the European Aviation Safety Agency, Breezer lays claim to a fairly rare credential.

Breezer is only the fourth LSA I am aware of to achieve Restricted Type Certificate approval from EASA, the Europe Union equivalent to FAA. The first two were (in order) PS-28 Cruiser from Czech Sport Aircraft followed by the CTLS-ELA from Flight Design. Both were awarded at Aero 2012. These two were followed by Evektor in the number three slot.

On January 22, 2016, "Breezer Aircraft received the EASA Type Certificate for the B600m" reported Wolfgang Nitschmann, head of sales for the German producer. He said that after their first sales in the American LSA category in 2009, Breezer began work on certification for EASA's version of LSA. "It is fairly similar to the ASTM rules," noted Wolfgang. However, beside meeting all ASTM standards, Breezer had to gain Design Organization Approval, which they accomplished in 2012.

"Certification has been an intense verification process of strength assumptions, aerodynamic performance, usability and structured documentation," Wolfgang observed. "At the end, the type certificate [required] 3,000 documents ... roughly 15,000 sheets of paper to achieve final [approval]." He added that 150 flight test hours were performed and it took roughly 1,000 hours to work on the data achieved during flights, incorporating them into strength assumptions and into the pilot's operating manual.

For Breezer Aircraft, the process of certification has been a milestone achievement. "Especially the EASA rules for quality management lead to an increased level of quality awareness." said Wolfgang. Many believe customers benefit from the tighter processes involved to gain the Restricted Type Certificate.

When the first aircraft won their RTC AOPA wrote, "While the new [European] standards for light aircraft certification are less cumbersome and costly [than those required for heavier aircraft], Light-Sport certification in Europe remains similar to Part 23 certification in the United States." No wonder only a few aircraft have gone through this tedious process.

My longtime associate at LAMA Europe, Jan Fridrich noted that EASA still pursues an expensive and complicated process for approval. He wishes it was "one to one," meaning an identical procedure as in the USA. Indeed, the safety record after a dozen years of LSA is, to use FAA's preferred term, "acceptable."

Breezer Aircraft has produced their Rotax-powered all-metal aircraft in northern Germany since 2000. For some years, the model was represented in the USA but at present, Breezer is not sold in America. If interested, you find company contact info here.

Breezer's certificated B600 is available with two levels of equipment. You can have a fully loaded Elegance model with a Dynon glass cockpit and a list price of $134,950 at present euro-dollar exchange rates. For flight schools or those on a slimmer budget, the more basic Attraction model lists for less than $108,000 (98,800 euro). Both models use a 100 horsepower Rotax 912 ULS engine.

Originally aimed squarely at the American Light-Sport Aircraft market, Breezer is a 13-year-old design. Cruise speed reported as 103 to 118 knots, with fuel burn between 3.4 and 5.8 gallon per hour following the old car racing line, "Speed cost money. How fast do you want to go?"

See several videos and articles on Breezer here.


Does Canada Welcome Light-Sport Aircraft?
By Dan Johnson, January 31, 2016

You may not be thinking about it now while the snow swirls and piles up in mountainous white drifts, but in a few months, Canada will again be a very scenic place to fly. May an American LSA owner do so?

While a growing number of countries around the world have been steadily embracing use of ASTM standards — as are used to gain FAA acceptance in the U.S. — Canada has resisted the trend. America's neighbor to the North has another category called Advanced Ultra-Light Aeroplane (AULA) that is very similar to LSA and has worked for Transport Canada for years.

Canadian authorities have subtly changed the game and relaxed the cost of flying your Yankee LSA north of the border. According to writer Patrick Gilligan, "An exemption by Transport Canada (TC) makes it more affordable and less onerous for Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) from the United States to be flown into Canada."

Gilligan continued to explain (original COPA article) saying that American LSA owners simply have to download and complete a Standardized Validation form (available here).

The good news is that a former $100 fee has been eliminated. The bad news is that TC still requires a private pilot certificate with a valid medical.

One of Canada's most famous aircraft producers is Zenair, a sister enterprise to Zenith Aircraft based in the USA.
How about Canadians who want to own and fly a LSA in their home country? TC is still considering industry proposals. However, Gilligan wrote, "While the recommendations work their way through the bureaucracy, there are three existing aircraft categories into which a LSA can be registered in Canada."

Method one is that LSA can be registered in the Advanced Ultra-Light Aeroplane (AULA) category. (A Basic or BULA category allows for simpler, more American-style Ultralight Aircraft.) The manufacturer must make a "Fit for Flight" statement, conform to AULA standard TP10141, appear on TC's eligible list, and meet other conditions which can be found here. The aircraft cannot gross more than 1,232 pounds with no float allowance.

Method two is LSA can be registered in the Amateur-Built category. Aircraft in this category have no weight or seat limitations and "LSA ASTM maximum takeoff weights are 1,320 pounds or 1,430 pounds if the aircraft is operated on floats." An LSA using this category must meet a 51%-owner-built requirement and the aircraft must be on the joint FAA/TC eligibility list or pass a determination. Gilligan added, "The pilot/owner must hold an appropriate license to fly the aircraft in Canada, which is at least a pilot permit-recreational or a private pilot license."

From the 1982 vintage Jesse Anglin's J6 Karatoo comes L'il Buzzard, introduced in 1990. Background: here - Specs or order: here. L'il Huster and L'il Buzzard are kit aircraft with professional builder assist available.
Method three is that LSA can be registered Limited Class, which was developed to allow old out-of production, non-certified aircraft but LSA can be included in this category. Gilligan explained, "This category does not have a weight limitation but LSA ASTM maximum takeoff weights are 1,320 pounds [with a] 1,430 pound allowance on floats." A Special Flight Authority application is required for flight into U.S. airspace. Special approval is needed from Transport Canada.

Most countries, even those that say they fully embrace Light-Sport Aircraft approved to ASTM standards, tend to add some of their own regulation. So Canada can hardly be blamed for sticking to their AULA sector, which has a far longer history than FAA's SP/LSA rules. It appears most government agencies prefer to show their independence and not perfectly imitate FAA.

While LSA are now better accepted in Canada, authorities in that country do not presently welcome flying by those holding a Sport Pilot certificate. So far only the only country outside America that does accept Sport Pilot is the Bahamas. You'll still need a medical and your Private certificate or better but duly licensed Americans can at least fly their LSA over the many lovely parts of Canada.


Weather Threat Derails Sebring for One Day
By Dan Johnson, January 22, 2016

All images with this article were taken from Sebring Expo's Facebook page. They all appear to be the work of photographer extraordinaire, Jim Koepnick. See more of his superb work on his website.
SEBRING EXPO 2016 — Opening day Wednesday started out unseasonably cool ... but true to form — Florida is called the Sunshine State for good reason — the sun warmed the day nicely. Several vendors told me they thought it was the best opening day yet for the Sebring Expo.

Thursday was even more pleasant. A few of us showed sunburned faces by the end of the day, but in all, it was a second good day of the event in its 12th year (not coincidentally the same number of years for which we've had Sport Pilot / Light-Sport Aircraft). Several vendors reported many qualified customers and many attendees to whom I spoke seemed pleased with the depth of exhibitors and products to examine. Shows like Sebring and the Midwest LSA Expo offer more opportunity for demo flights and longer conversations with vendors who are often besieged with dense crowds at AirVenture or Sun 'n Fun.

Friday, however, brought a threat of strong thunderstorms, prompting Sebring airport's executive director to close the show and cease ticket sales. It was also recommended that all the vendors leave the grounds.

Some thought this decision was a bit "drastic," or "hasty," but after tornadoes at Sun 'n Fun in recent years and wild weather at Oshkosh that causes debris to be blown about, sometimes violently, the action to close the event for the day might be described as no more than an excess of caution.

One of our many video interviews was with Rans designer, Randy Schlitter, regarding his low-wing S-19 Venterra shown here doing a demo at Sebring.
I was just informed that the show will continue for its final day Saturday. Weather will be cool again after the front passes, though it is hard to be too critical while the country's East Coast gets hammered with blizzards and very hazardous driving.

Saturday at Sebring is also a free day for students and all visitors will find more exhibitors than last year, although a few may have bailed due to the uncertain weather on Friday. However, for those flying or driving north to their home base when Sebring concludes, most saw no hurry to leave as the further north you go the higher the likelihood of encountering truly difficult weather. Florida is looking mighty good in comparison.

On the first two days and planning to continue on Saturday, Videoman Dave and I were scurrying about the show grounds collecting a batch of new video material for your viewing enjoyment in the weeks ahead.

I am pleased to report LAMA's Ninth Annual Dinner went very well with about 280 LSA and light kit business persons in attendance. They witnessed the first of the "Great Debates," this time with engine manufacturing describing their products and answering questions posed by moderator Sebastien Heintz (Zenair). Numerous comments were offered that revealed even those in the business learned new facts about engines.

Of particular interest was a discussion about fuels that can be used with each engine. Part of the fuel debate portrayed ethanol as a very challenging substance not only for the engines but for the airframe systems such as fuel tanks and lines. LAMA Dinner invitees also heard about the coming 2210 and 3310 Jabiru engines, an announcement that caught everyone by surprise.

The debates (photo below) included Rotax, Continental, Jabiru, UL Power, and Viking with comments from publisher Will Tacke regarding electric propulsion.

With its "beta test" of the Great Debates successfully completed, LAMA will now dive deeper into plans for additional Great Debates at Sun 'n Fun 2016. Debates will be held on LAMA's space (LSA Mall) in Paradise City. Everyone is encouraged to visit, not only for the debates but to see the newly improved and significantly lengthened runway at Paradise City.

The Great Engine Debate, featuring (L-R) moderator Sebastien Heintz, Rotax's Christian Mundigler, Continental's John Heitland, Pete Krotje of Jabiru, UL Power's Robert Helms, Viking's Jan Eggenfellner, and publisher Willi Tacke.


See the New Merlin PSA at Sebring 2016
By Dan Johnson, January 19, 2016

SEBRING 2016 PREVIEW — Why do pilots and friends flock to Sebring? Several good reasons come to mind: Weather is flying-friendlier than in America's snow belt; More than 130 exhibitors include dozens and dozens of the most popular and successful Light-Sport Aircraft, light kit aircraft, and ultralights; Many educational forums are presented; Hear speakers and panels; Excellent demo flight possibilities; and, for those in the business of serving LSA and light kits, the LAMA Dinner on opening night promises to be interesting with a "Great Debate" of engine manufacturers.

Sebring Expo is also the place where new aircraft appear, trying to get a jump on the aviation calendar with new offerings. In this article, we bring one of these to your attention.

I've written about Chip Erwin's newest development before (here and here). At Sebring 2016, you will finally get to see an example so fresh the paint is barely dry ... yet you will hardly miss its attention-getting color.

Offered by Aeromarine LSA and clearly labeled Merlin PSA, this is not Glasair's Merlin LSA. Instead "PSA" refers to Personal Sport Aircraft and perhaps the surest way to identify Merlin PSA as such is the single seat inside this handsome, bright aircraft.

Although some may be dismissive of the single seat, recreational aircraft are often flown solo and the economic facts are that a single seater can be much less costly, which may be less about the airframe than the engine needed to make it perform well. Whatever the explanation, Merlin PSA is advertised at the very modest cost of $34,900 for a finished kit; building it is said to be swift. Based on how many folks talk about the cost of high-end LSA, I expect Chip could find some significant interest from those attending Sebring.

Merlin is said to have a cruise speed of 120 mph (104 knots), has a fairly roomy cabin and offers an interesting set of possibilities including a four stroke engine, an electric propulsion option, and amphibious floats. Other options that may prove popular include glass instrument panel choices, autopilot, and a BRS emergency airframe parachute.

Come see Merlin PSA at Sebring and talk to Chip.

Floatplanes do all sort of duty in Alaska, including hauling lumber strapped to the floats.
As they did last year, the local EAA chapter will host a dinner on Friday evening (22nd) and invites Sebring attendees or exhibitors to come help support their efforts.

In recent years, Chapter 1240 has entertained guests with a dinner served by high school students who benefit from the work of the EAA group to interest them in aviation. This year's guest speaker will be J.J. Frey, a float flying expert who offers a book called (logically) "How to Fly Floats." Copies will be available for budding seaplane pilots for only $10.

The student-focused group is led by local aerospace teacher John Rousch and has attracted funding for their hangar from aviation philanthropist James Ray. Ray helped with construction costs for a 60 x 70-foot structure on the Sebring airport. The hangar has classrooms and other facilities to help students learn aircraft restoration. Flight training scholarships are also offered.

The event is a fund raiser to benefit their work with the students, so dinner is $50 or you can sponsor a table of eight for $500 and bring friends or customers. The meal is not your usual mystery-meat but has previously featured some rather fine dining on fare such as Cornish Hen, red potatoes, grilled vegetables, salad, beverages, and dessert prepared by local culinary experts. Help a good cause and enjoy an excellent meal.


Sam Aircraft Snapped Up by Zenith / Zenair
By Dan Johnson, January 19, 2016

Watch our video about Sam Aircraft's Sam LS.
Zenith and Zenair are closely-linked enterprises with different leaders in different countries. In recent years, the three Heintz brothers took different responsibilities for the business founded by dad, Chris Heintz. An aeronautical engineer, Chris founded Zenair Ltd., in Canada in 1974 and parleyed his design pedigree into a flock of airplanes that have sold by the thousand all over the world. Today, Matt, Sebastien, and Michael run the multifaceted firm.

Through 2015, the combined effort of Zenith and Zenair sought to produce light plane models called 750 STOL, 750 Cruzer, and 650B Zodiac plus four seat kits called CH 801/8000, a sport-utility plane, and the four-seat CH 640 plus a type-certified four seater called CH 2000.

That fleet recently got a bit larger when Zenith / Zenair bought the assets from the Canadian developer of Sam LS.

"Sam Aircraft assets have been acquired by the ... owners and operators of Zenith Aircraft Company (U.S.) and Zenair Ltd. (Canada)," Matt and Sebastien Heintz announced on January 18, 2016. Founded in 2009 by Thierry Zibi in Quebec, Canada, Sam Aircraft's LS model was developed as a Light-Sport Aircraft.

A low-wing all-metal tandem two-seater, the Sam Aircraft design sets itself apart with a rare balance of retro styling and modern engineering. Thierry was inspired by legendary trainers of the Golden Age of Aviation but he wanted to offer pilot comfort, modern technology, and dependable flight characteristics that present-day pilots seek.

"Several variants of the design are being developed for different load configurations and performance characteristics," said the new owners. They referenced variations that feature different wing sections with various spans; both tricycle and tailwheel landing gear; and fully enclosed or open cockpit canopy choices.

As they absorb the new model into their fleet of Chris Heintz original designs the brothers have been researching market viability for the different design configurations. The possibilities include the LSA version at 1,320 pounds gross weight, or Amateur-Built Experimental at 1,440 pounds gross weight. These will use a wing span of 28.5 feet, and the company believes the Sam flying prototype meets the LSA definition.

Kit variations can have different parameters. For example, Amateur-Built Experimentals can operate at 1,800 pounds with the option to install heavier engines such as the Lycoming 0-320 at 160 horsepower or modern auto conversions. Wing span for these models is 32 feet.

Finally, a amateur-built Sport Aerobatic Configuration would have a wing span of 25.25 feet and carry two people at 1,440 pounds for limited aerobatics or one person at 1,200 pounds for full G-load aerobatics as per FAR 23.

You can read my pilot report after flying the Sam LS with developer Thierry Zibi.
"Zenair engineers are currently performing a thorough review of the Sam Aircraft design," said Matt Heintz of Zenair. "The advanced engineering [Thierry] used in developing the Sam is impressive, including extensive use of 3D modeling. With us bringing this aircraft to market, the new Sam Aircraft design will benefit from our 40 years of experience manufacturing aircraft kits."

To help the companies focus on the most popular features for the new Sam Aircraft models, Zenith Aircraft has created a short survey and is inviting all interested parties to complete the online survey.

Sam in all its variations appear to fit the Zenith / Zenair enterprises well. Like the companies' existing Heintz designs Sam Aircraft models are constructed primarily of 6061-T6 aluminum assembled with blind rivets, making them easy and quick to build as well as durable and affordable.

"The design, construction and assembly of the SAM Aircraft series will integrate well into Zenith Aircraft's current production, which already relies heavily on CNC parts production, said Sebastien Heintz, president of Zenith Aircraft Company in Missouri. Based on survey results, SAM Aircraft may be offered as complete kits, quick-build kits, and/or as fully factory-assembled aircraft.


MVP on Tour — Thunderbird Pilot Joins Team
By Dan Johnson, January 18, 2016

SEBRING 2016 PREVIEW — Folks are headed to Sebring. I'm already here, residing about three hours north in Daytona Beach, and it is sunny and pleasant outside. To a Floridian, it seems a bit cool ... meaning mid-50s. Now, I know it's become quite cold up north, so 50s may not sound bad; we're softies down here.

Opening day Wednesday looks improved with forecasts saying a high of 63 degrees and winds out of the north at 5-10 mph. Thursday looks even warmer with a high of 71 and winds south-southeast at 5-10 mph. Friday should remain warm but rain is forecast. However, the final day, Saturday the 23rd, looks sunny, cooler (55) and windier. Every day may not be perfect but the two opening days look optimal.

For aircraft departing on Sunday, weather again looks quite accommodating with the high above 60 and winds out of the west-northwest at only 5 to 10 mph.

MVP beautifully displayed in its appointment-only showroom at the Spruce Creek Fly-in near Daytona Beach, Florida.
"The MVP World Tour continues with it's first public showing in Florida at the Sebring Expo," indicated MVP.aero boss Darrell Lynds. "MVP's unique transformation ability will be demonstrated live with the camping and fishing configurations. Come and see the future of aviation innovation up close and full size!"

In a similar class as Icon's A5 but boasting greater forms of utility (many details in this video), MVP, along with the Vickers Wave, are examples of what I call third-generation Light-Sport Aircraft. Although a few other good examples exist for 3rdGen LSA, these three — A5, MVP, and Wave — are exceptional developments. Icon is starting the effort of production while MVP continues in design and team building. Their aircraft has played to rave reviews at AirVenture Oshkosh and other locations where its has been examined.

Speaking of team building, MVP welcomed Jeff "Roach" Rochelle to their team. Jeff is a fighter pilot turned businessman with more than 4,500 hours in the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

"Roach" is an aeronautical engineering graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, a graduate of the Air Force "Top Gun" Fighter Weapons School and has a Masters Degree from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. His pedigree includes a tour with the Thunderbirds aerial demonstration team. Jeff joins MVP after over 11 years with Lockheed Martin Aeronautics fielding the latest technology in the F-16. Now the founder of an aviation company flying the Eclipse jet and Extra aerobatic aircraft, Jeff brings MVP Aero over 40 years of aviation experience as a pilot, engineer and businessman.

Regarding MVP, about which he is clearly enthusiastic, Jeff aid, "MVP uses brilliant engineering to make the world's safest and most useful seaplane! The discerning pilot will appreciate this aircraft."

Come see MVP and hundreds of other aircraft and all manner of aviation equipment at Sebring. You can also attend forums, talks, and business folks will enjoy the LAMA Dinner on opening night. C'mon down!


Redefining Open Cockpit Flying ... Sky Skiing?
By Dan Johnson, January 17, 2016

For my weekend posts, I often like to check out something out of the ordinary. From the photos you see nearby, you can see I found a qualifying topic. However crazy as this activity — involving the name "WingBoard" — may look, it appears grounded in reality.

If you think of wingsuit sky diving as just "edgy," then Aaron "Wyp" Wypyszynski's Wingboard could seem relatively tame.

Watching all his videos, I'd say Wingboarding was more akin to sky skiing, as in water skiing behind a boat, except a wider use of three dimensions than you get on water.

Start with the following video which gives a decent explanation of the project from the developer's point of view.

Aaron "Wyp" Wypyszynski began flying full-scale aircraft at age 13, soloed at 16, and remains an active pilot (photo below). He was inspired by a cartoon, saying "Kit Cloudkicker [was seen by] millennials who grew up watching "TaleSpin," and dreaming of carving through the sky like Kit on his airfoil." Funny how something we experience as a very young person can stick with us our whole lives, eh?

Aaron went on to more conventional flying but was drawn back to Kit and his board. Having acquired real world skills, he was driven to try designing a real wingboard. You can ponder if this was crazy or inspired.

Look, I know it's highly unlikely that you would ever try this but the idea is engaging. Sky divers do stuff somewhat like this all the time. Jetman inspired many with his stunts. BASE jumpers show incredible daring do. Maybe not you, but somebody will think this is the neatest invention ever, and it is actual flying, not like riding along in an automomous air vehicle.

The project has progressed through several stages from miniature to one-sixth scale to 40% scale (in December 2015) where the "pilot" — itself a pretty nifty bit of engineering — parachutes away from the board for landing. The wing has its own parachute. Let's check it out further.

According to the WYP Aviation website, "WingBoard works through a close coupling of the rider, tow rope, and WingBoard itself. The best analog is to look at the WingBoard as a wakeboard [operating] in three dimensions."

Staying true to his childhood fantasy Aaron WingBoard's "rider" — he uses this term instead of pilot but it clearly involves piloting skills — "...stands in an upright stance, similar to a wakeboarder, allowing him or her to lean and twist in all directions, while still maintaining a stable stance to brace against the tow forces." Aaron continued, "The rider is attached to the board via a binding, similar to a snowboard biding, providing a flexible connection to the board."

If flying a WingBoard sounds a bit nuts to you, how about standing on it while doing so?

As a longtime hang glider pilot I can tell you this is not so very different than modern ultralight-aircraft-tow-launched hang gliding, except the hang glider wing is above the pilot not below him and you fly prone rather than standing. Yet essentially these are very similar and hang gliding enjoys an excellent safety record. A good friend, Malcolm Jones, has operated a hang glider tow park called Wallaby Ranch in central Florida for nearly 25 years. They have done several tens of thousands of tows with very few incidents.

How does Aaron plan to tow his WingBoard?

"A key design feature is the tow rope connection," he wrote. "A single tow rope [splits into a Y-shape] approximately 10 feet in front of the rider. A lower line connects to the WingBoard, while the upper line goes to a tow bar, which the rider holds. The tow bar is then connected to the rider in a manner similar to a kite surfer, alleviating the loads the rider must bear."

The hang glider tow crowd learned the hard way to use things like weak links in the tow line to keep pressures from getting too high." Before a loss of control, a weak link triggers a release under tow, however, this makes me wonder how Aaron will cope with practical problems like this especially when it happens before parachute height.

Wyp WingBoard developer, Aaron "Wyp" Wypyszynski.
"WingBoard is controlled via two methods. The primary control input is the rider's position. Leaning forward and backward changes the angle of the tow rope triangle, thereby altering the WingBoard angle of attack, vertical position behind the tow plane, and amount of lift generated. The rider also leans and rotates to the side to place the board at that angle, using a side component of the lift vector to pull out to one side or the other of the tow plane. In addition to the rider's position, force sensors in the foot bindings and on the tow bar allow the rider to input additional roll commands. These commands further aid in rolling the WingBoard to the side and also allow for spectacular aileron rolls."

Aaron seems to have considered safety carefully. He is surely aware of some important things to work out about initial launch but he reports a cadre of high-time test pilots with backgrounds in piloting, skydiving, and wakeboarding.

As Aaron's team prepares for manned flight, they figure to start with a helicopter-deployed rider and WingBoard. "The helicopter will allow for sufficient height to be obtained before starting testing, allowing the rider to detach and deploy their parachute at any time during the testing should need arise," explained Aaron. As he learns more, he'll proceed to fixed wing aircraft of varying description.

Here's a link to their Phase 3 manned flight plans if you want read further. And if you're so inspired you can help with crowd funding.


Angle of Attack Indicators — Why the Buzz?
By Dan Johnson, January 15, 2016

Icon A5's use of an Angle of Attack indicator is the best implementation I have used.
Back in early 2014, Flying magazine online wrote, "There's an old saying among pilots that 'airspeed equals life.' In other words, keep your speed up, and you'll avoid stalling the wing during critical phases of flight, such as the base-to-final turn. But, that's a misnomer since the stalling airspeed of a wing will change based on aircraft weight and load factor."

Many ex-military pilots also insist AoA is a vitally important gauge. Air Force jet jocks are often shocked that civilian pilots are still flying based solely on airspeed.

FAA certainly caught the fever, proclaiming statements similar to this one: "Inadvertent stalls are implicated in almost half of the GA approach and descent accidents." The implication is that AoA will cure this deathly problem.

Dynon's SkyView digital instrument has Angle of Attack built in (with a minimal investment in hardware).
Advanced Flight Systems was quoted as saying, "Nearly one-half of Experimental and over one-fourth of certified aircraft fatalities are the result of stalls and spins. The killer-turn from base to final is the leading culprit."

Wow! You better get an AoA as soon as possible, right? Not so fast.

John Zimmerman, writing on AirFactsJournal.com back in 2013 (whole article here), took a more thoughtful approach to all the AoA buzz. While I see the value of AoA, I thought John summarized the situation well.

He wrote, "Icon's new AoA instrument (photo) is nice, but it won't magically make pilots safer. I think that's hopelessly naive." John added, "Pilots have to look at the instrument for it to be of any use. In the Asiana 214 crash in San Francisco, the crew managed to ignore the airspeed indicator for a long time, even as it eventually showed them being almost 30 knots slow. Another instrument wouldn't have prevented this disaster."

Bendix calls their AoA a Lift Reserve indicator, but I don't find it as intuitive as Icon's version.
In his article, John referred to the breathless campaigns proclaiming the life-saving potential of AoA instruments. Since loss of control is indeed the number one cause of general aviation accidents, the AoA revolution could be the most important safety innovation in our lifetime, we heard. FAA declared affordable AoA instruments one of its most-wanted safety improvements and AOPA's Air Safety Institute has enthusiastically supported the cause. However, enthusiasm and federal pressure cannot solve all problems.

"Besides looking at the instrument, pilots have to know how to react to its indications," John explained. "For the [sport] pilot struggling to log 25 hours in a year, the physical stick and rudder skills may be more important than the recognition skills."

"Here's the simple fact that most AoA proponents know, but don't like to admit: airspeed is a great proxy for AoA most of the time," continued John. "[Sport] pilots fly in a very small envelope: +/- 10 degrees in pitch and 30 degrees of bank in most cases. Within those boundaries, monitoring airspeed is a perfectly good way to keep from stalling. If you're doing aerobatics or flying a jet at FL410, an AoA instrument may be essential; in the pattern in a [light plane] it's not going to tell you much more than the airspeed indicator."

Advanced Flight Systems also offers a digital version of AoA. Do you think you know how to use it properly?
While I think John makes some excellent points, AoAs do appear to coming to our cockpits. In fact, any Dynon (and other digital instrument brands) already has AoA capability.

My own observation, though actual use, is that AoA indicators require training and acclimatization like any other cockpit instrument. As wonderful as I now find computer screens from SkyView to G3X to an iPad, all took some familiarization. Even that's not right. I spend hours studying and practicing before I truly began to see all the potential of a glass panel. AoA strikes me as more of the same, albeit somewhat simpler.

I've flown quite a few hours with SkyView and for the most part, I ignore the AoA indicator. Airspeed is what I'm most familiar with and on which I primarily rely — that, and plain old seat of the pants flying where I use my senses to avoid getting too slow.

At the Copperstate show last fall, I flew with John McBean in his Kitfox equipped with AoA. He was very familiar with it and used it. I tried with John's encouragement. Yet seeing my sluggishness at interpreting it, John referred me back to airspeed.

This summer when I flew Icon's A5 (video pilot report), I found their portrayal of AoA far and away the best. I could actually use it and did so soon after takeoff — admittedly with encouragement and advice from my ex-military demo pilot Craig Bowers — nonetheless, I found it quite useful.

What do you think? Find my post on my Facebook page and add your comments, if you like.


Two Week Wonder = Wonderful Two Weeks
By Dan Johnson, January 14, 2016

Your choices in the affordable aircraft range of options are composed of one of three segments that this website tracks closely: Light-Sport Aircraft (SLSA or ELSA), light kit-built aircraft, or Part 103 ultralights.

In the first one, you can spend some real money with a few aircraft breaching the $200,000 barrier. Some handsome, well-equipped, high-performing aircraft are offered in that range, to be sure, but they may not fit your budget. Not all SLSA are not so expensive; some excellent candidates list for $40,000 to $125,000. If a Part 103 aircraft may suit your flying needs, you have a more choices that will get you aloft for a literal fraction of the high-end models.

Alternatively, you can build your own airplane.

If you choose the homebuilder route, your range of choices becomes even larger, in fact, almost infinite in that you can personalize an aircraft any way you wish and keep changing it as you like. The Experimental Amateur Built sector continues to be a great way to own a great airplane ... IF you don't mind the build time investment. In some cases, this is not too long, a few months, perhaps. In other cases, it can become a lifestyle, taking years.

If you fit into "none of the above" categories — that is no SLSA, no Part 103, and lack the time for a full build job — you have one other choice. Deliciously, it is an excellent one.

Unless you cancelled every aviation magazine subscription and turned off your Internet service, you can hardly have missed the One Week Wonder. In their usual marvelous fashion, EAA promoted the blazes out of this effort, which brought together expert builders with 2,500 "part timers" to assemble a Zenith CH-750 Cruzer at AirVenture Oshkosh ... from crated kit to fully assembled in one week!

You can watch our video interview with Roger Dubbert about this fascinating, EAA member project just as it was getting underway at the big summer show in 2014.

If you missed out on the One Week Wonder — or even if you helped — the aircraft wasn't yours in the end. (Of course, neither did you have to pay for it.) How about adding one extra week, a reasonably modest sum of your own money and end up with your very own STOL 750, Cruzer 750, or Zodiac 650B?

From Zenair Ltd., just across the U.S. border in Ontario, Canada, comes the Two Week Wonder. How does this work?

First, you choose which of those models most interests you. Each has a long history and many other builders. Ask around and you'll likely find someone in your aviation group that has built or helped build one of the Chris Heintz designs. Two of Chris' sons, Matt and Michael, started the Two Week Wonder (2WW) program.

Professional builder-assist centers are scattered around the USA and they are a great way to help less-certain builders get their airplane done and do so without the project dragging on forever. FAA approves of this technique as the pros only help you do the work, advising you on techniques and processes and offering space and tools.

Zenair's 2WW arrangement is especially functional as the same family controls the designs, makes the kit components, and has lived with and flown these aircraft for decades. That kind of experience doesn't generally come cheaply but how about $99,990 ... for everything!?

For less than $100K, Zenair lets you have it your way as simply as 1-2-3. First Zenair has you select your model: Pick the high wing, bubble door Sky Jeep (STOL 750) or its speedier sibling (Cruzer 750), or the low wing, faster-yet Zodiac 650B. Second, choose your engine: Continental O-200D or Rotax 912 ULS, or UL Power. All are good choices with good history. Field support for Continental is widespread. Rotax has built an impressive service network and UL Power has personalized support from importer, Robert Helm. Third, pick your avionics, and what a tough choice that will be, deciding between Garmin's superlative G3X Touch or Dynon's ground-breaking SkyView Touch. Both come with com radio, intercom, and transponder. If you're not content with this excellent package, you can further personalize your airplane with options.

When you're done choosing, Matt and Michael arrange professional help from PlaneCrafters, located beside Zenair in the beautiful Georgian Bay area of central Ontario. While you're building your kit, stay onsite or at one of the many local hotels, taking advantage of the low-cost Canadian dollar.

"Buyers can build their airplanes with supervision and guidance from factory experts, using factory fixtures and special tools," said Zenair partner and Heintz brother, Michael. "Zenith kits are easy to build and we want to allow customers to [have] that experience, in a supervised ... factory setting, where all the tools are readily at hand and experts are guiding the buyers."

Build the airplane to your wishes, but any model can be constructed within the 1,320-pound weight limit that will let you fly it with a Sport Pilot certificate and no medical.

Here is what you will do ...

  • Close the wings and tail sections and complete the advanced airframe kit
  • Complete the instrument panel and pre-wired electrical system (plug-n-play)
  • Bolt-on a factory-new engine with a the supplied firewall-forward package
  • Install the wings and tail sections (that were completed in the first week) to the fuselage
  • Finalize the installation of the controls and fuel system
  • Complete a detailed inspection of the aircraft
  • Start the engine and taxi the aircraft!

All for the introductory price of $99,990. Ready?


Is the Future of Flight Autonomous?
By Dan Johnson, January 9, 2016

As techies know the giant Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has been in the news over the last week and we've seen articles about cool stuff at the event. I don't remember ever seeing anything about manned aircraft in CES coverage before though quadcopters have had a clear presence. At the 2016 event, though, one vehicle got a lot of attention: eHang 184, from China. You can check out their video below.

I found eHang very intriguing but I hesitate to call it an aircraft, at least compared to manned airplanes. It is more like an autonomous air vehicle and I say that because the occupant is not a pilot. As its developers tell the story, you get in, use the screen in front of you to tap where you want to go and eHang flies you to that destination. I'd be more likely to call it an "aircab."

As currently portrayed and as seen at CES, eHang is something very different. It is a one person transport device though I imagine they are thinking more seats in the future.

When you think about modern drones — such as the dji-brand I am flying — you realize these things are already quite capable. My Phantom 2 Vision will automatically return to "home" if I lose signal, will automatically return home before its battery gets too low, and can be programmed with up to 16 waypoints to fly autonomously.

Is it so hard to envision eHang taking you to your doctor appointment or the grocery store?

Yet eHang is entering a field we may shortly call crowded. Let's have a look at another example, one we know better. On several occasions, I've reported about Terrafugia's Transition The brain trust at Terrafugia worked hard on their flying car even going to the trouble to get a weight exemption so they could meet highway regulations that are as onerous as FAA regs for airplanes. Yet it appears the Massachusetts company has set off a new direction.

Enter TF-X. What's the difference? A lot, actually, as TF-X is driven like a car, rather conventionally, but only to a runway or helicopter-like pad where you tell the TF-X where to take you. TF-X does the flying for you, autonomously. Do you see a theme emerging?

TF-X unfolds short wings but then deploys electric-powered, folded propellers to achieve an MV-22 Osprey-like take-off that morphs to level flight. Once aloft and moving forward the spinning props retract and a high-horsepower engine pushes TF-X through the air at speeds around 200 mph until near your destination. Then the spinning props redeploy and resume a helicopter function, lowering you to the ground. After folding the empennages into the body again, you drive to your destination.

Like eHang, the TF-X's "wow factor" is almost off the charts.

Even Transition has would-be competitors as I described in this article or this one. Most of these are dreams that may never happen although I-Tec's Maverick has been flying for a few years and a limited number of examples were delivered.

I have also written about a China-developed "carcopter." This is a twist on the Transition flying car, the Maverick dune buggy-ish powered parachute, or SkyRunner's MK 3.2 "flying ATV." However, all four of these entries are meant to be flown by someone, by a trained pilot inside the machine. Autonomous air vehicles such as eHang or TF-X (when airborne) are something different.

Of course, by now every knows about Amazon's ambitious drone delivery plans. That, too, is something yet again.

One we know even less about due to a dark curtain of secrecy surrounding it is the Zee.Aero concept. All I know is what can be found by anyone digging through patent applications. I know one employee of the company but he will not say a word. I also know the founder who created some interesting hang gliders. I don't know what Zee is planning but based on the drawings it sure looks like a — you guessed it — autonomous air vehicle, perhaps an aircab.

Why write about such non-pilot vehicles on a website frequented by pilots who want to be at the controls? Well, these developments are technologically interesting and they may start to occupy the air we use, just like drones are doing today (though conflicts are vanishingly small, at least so far).

These future of flight developments also make a favorite expression of mine even more relevant. As a Star Trek fan, I have long said that when we can "Beam me up, Scotty" the end will come for transport aircraft. Who'd sit in a crowded human mailing tube if you could beam to your destination? However, flying for fun will always have a place. Airliners may disappear in the far future but LSA, hang gliders, gyrocopters, aerobatic airplanes and other sport or recreational aircraft should continue as long as people want to play in the sky.

Following is eHang's promotional video with a story that includes development failures. eHang's time may be off in a distant future but given this level of determination, who knows?

You may have already seen this (it has almost 3 million views) but since Terrafugia is a U.S. company deeply involved with the ASTM standards and the LSA regulation, I include their impressive video.


VIDEO — Video Pilot Report: Evolution Revo
By Dan Johnson, January 6, 2016

Sometimes I am pretty darn sure I may have the best job in the world, or at least one of the best jobs. Other times, it seems like work, as does any job. However, when it's good, it can be ecstatically great, no question about it. One time I know this is the case is when I get to go aloft in a truly great flying machine with an excellent instructor or demo pilot to explain their aircraft and show me how to optimize the machine.

Such was the situation when I got to fly the Evolution Trikes Revo with Larry Mednick at the Arizona Copperstate show in October 2015. We hadn't been to this event for some time and mid-fall in Casa Grande demonstrated why they hold it then.

I grew up in the desert and to this day, I find that landscape beautiful. I love green trees covering granite mountains, or ocean views, but the Arizona desert is simply stunning to my eyes. To see it so perfectly well as you can in an open cockpit aircraft like Revo is very special. You see desert charm in the photos accompanying this article, but I think the video conveys it even better. So, come on along ... let's go for a flight.

As I've said in previous writing and earlier videos, Revo is one of those aircraft that gets better looking the closer you examine it. Larry and his team — including the delightful Amy Saunders, and dad, Phil — have not overlooked a single, even minor, item. The hardware detail is absolutely exquisite in every knurled knob, sweeping sculpture of fiberglass, or shiny, anodized aluminum component. If you don't believe my enthusiasm, I encourage you to scrutinize Revo with a magnifying glass.

In Revo, you can have digital glass instrumentation. Radios and intercom work well through helmet headsets. Controls are available front and back seat and that applies to the hand and foot controls needed to fly a trike. Seats are comfortable and the rear seat has excellent forward visibility.

A one-piece curved mast — the massive strut connecting carriage to wing — provides added comfort for the passenger. The front seat offers quick-adjust foot pedals for even the tallest of pilots. An airframe parachute is available and installed — like everything else — in a most sanitary manner. All carriages are available in brilliant colors and many hardware parts are color coordinated to the overall color scheme.

Our Revo videos — you see both below or find more on our LSA Videos page with hundreds more — reveal the equivalent of a half-hour flight lesson. During the flight you can quite clearly hear Larry's instruction to me as I worked to refine my technique for this evolved trike. Over the years, I've accumulated quite a few hours flying a wide range of trikes (dating back further than I care to admit). I've enjoyed most of those hours but handling a few trikes were more like working out on a Nautilus machine. Revo is nothing like that. On the video you'll hear us talk about control bar pressures and you'll see each of us execute steeply banked roll reversals.

Revo is pushed aloft with great vigor by a 100-horsepower Rotax 912iS engine. The wing, called Rival S is a 12.4 meter wing, meaning it has 133 square feet of area. Evolution has worked equally hard on the wing as they have on the carriage. In the old days, sturdy trikes like Revo were very difficult to fly, certainly so if they were also fast. I once admitted doubt that Revo would be different, but somehow the magic of sail sewing — itself something of an artform — has risen to the challenge.

To relieve the pilot's effort — just as in any three-axis airplane — Revo offers electric in-flight adjustable speed trim. This isn't the trim of yesteryear on trikes; this is done as well as any airplane trim system. They say it "Gives effortless cruise up to 100mph." I can confirm this and video proves it.

Below, you see both videos comprising our two-part Video Pilot Report (VPR) on the Evolution Revo. First is the in-flight portions (29 minutes) followed by a cockpit and details review (16 minutes). Enjoy!

Watch more than 1,000 videos ... on Videoman Dave's YouTube channel publishing as SportAviationMagazine.com. Your support of Dave's YouTube channel allows him to do his work. Please consider subscribing annually or Lifetime.


Levil Is a Story of Determination and Good Timing
By Dan Johnson, January 3, 2016

Ruben Leon poses at Levil with his first, tiny AHRS unit.
If you ever read newspapers or watch network news, you can hardly avoid hearing about the meltdown in Venezuela following the early 2013 death of Hugo Chavez. That Cuba-emulating country was taken over by Nicolás Maduro and things deteriorated quickly. I start the story of Levil this way as I recently visited their Oviedo, Florida facility and I had to wait until proprietor Ruben Leon returned from travel. When I arrived at Levil headquarters I found he had returned to his former home, Venezuela, to vote in the elections. The elections won by the opposition served notice on the Maduro administration that his countrymen are fed up and want change.

How this all relates to the business of Light-Sport Aircraft products is a tale of one man's resolve and determination. I found it fascinating and hope you will, too.

After completing his education, Ruben sought work in a country where finding a good job can be a challenge. As a bright, young fellow with an education he did find work but realized this was not as fulfilling as he wanted. Over time, he ended up starting a machine shop enterprise that continued for many years ... until the arrival of Chavez in 1999. For a time, things worked for Chavez, a self-described Marxist who used oil revenues to pursue a socialist agenda, nationalizing industries and implementing social programs. However, the economy began to decay with increasing speed. As Chavez policies intervened, Ruben saw a dimming future and chose to leave his home country.

Ruben still owns the machine shop in Venezuela but he turned it over to his employees. However, that shop continues to make machine parts for some of Levil's line of small CNC machines.

Levil Technology started out making small CNC mills, an activity that continues.
After a stop in Miami — that gateway to so many from South American countries — Ruben and his family ended up in Oveido on the northern outskirts of Orlando, Florida. Most Americans have no real idea what it is like to leave their home country and to essentially start all over. However, like other high-achieving immigrants, Ruben is powerfully motivated and was willing to learn new skills and take the risks necessary to succeed.

Ruben started his U.S.-based career building tabletop computer-controlled machine tools or mills. Levil's machines — a little larger than a home microwave — are designed for small machine shops, jewelers, educational institutions and R&D laboratories that want to fit a complete CNC system into a small space.  The machines feature servo-control technology that enables high speeds and precision when machining small parts or prototypes made of a variety of materials, including plastics, aluminum and steel. Though small in size, Levil's machines aren't limited to small volume manufacturing. For example, the company's second biggest customer in Malaysia uses their Levil machines for round-the-clock manufacturing of tiny plastic lenses.

While I found the small CNC machines interesting, my focus was on his aerospace devices. Now 60 years old, Ruben's efforts have developed these twin high-tech niches. He enjoys serving as head of R&D for the two companies he launched in America. While he remains the leader of the business, Ruben's "desk" is actually a workbench crammed with works in progress. I was most impressed with his versatility and drive. When he doesn't know something, he throws himself into study and in seemingly short order, becomes expert in the endeavor. He is backed by family members who serve roles inside the company.

Start Wars fans can be excused for thinking this is a miniature Death Star but it is actually a calibration device.
Turning to Levil's aviation business, Ruben said, "It didn't start out as a business venture." With a partner, Ruben fabricated a homebuilt aircraft, pictures of which adorn his walls. "There were a bunch of instruments I wanted to put on an airplane I was making," started Ruben. "The instruments were expensive. I decided I could make them for a lot less money than I could buy them."

Being a creative and restless entrepreneur, Ruben devised instruments that others admired and he thought to take some examples to an airshow to see how the market responded.

At one of these event, he showed one of his instruments to representatives of a big aviation company. "They liked it and asked him to build one customized for their need," recalled Ruben. The helicopter company needed FAA certified instuments, a process then unknown to Ruben but, as usual, he threw himself into the effort and gained approval for what became on ongoing product.

His daughter, Ananda Leon, now works the airshows with her father. Ananda grew up flying with her father and is now a private pilot herself. "We started selling aviation products in 2008," Ananda remembered. "That was the year I graduated from college, and I started working for the company." Her focus is on the software side. With the introduction of Apple's now-ubiquitous iPad, Levil's special ability with electronic gizmos opened the door to a new line of products.

Levil devices found a powerful ally in the Apple iPad. One LSA has been fitted with three such devices as the only instruments. Pictured is iLevil2 SW

Today Ananda is General Manager and Chief Software Engineer of Levil Aviation. The Florida company manufactures standalone Attitude and Heading Reference Systems (AHRS) boxes that are designed to replace conventional mechanical flight instruments. The arrival of glass cockpits a few years into the LSA phenomenon followed by the iPad in 2010 provided the power to move Levil's aviation enterprise forward.

The company claims to have developed the first iPad-compatible AHRS for general aviation. (Some others were in the game before, but had focused on supplying GPS signals, not digital flight instruments.) "All of your instrumentation can now be contained in a little box with a WiFi chip that sends flight data to an iPad," said Ananda. With a smartphone or tablet — Levil now serves Android as well as iOS — she added, "Basically, you can have a full panel in the palm of your hand."

Levil's current line for LSA and Experimental aircraft includes the following products — Sport, iLevil2 SW, and iLevil2 AW. Here is a summary of their capabilities and other specs:

  • Levil's hand-holdable $795 Sport provides AHRS, GPS, and a WiFi connection with an internal antenna. It offers a 12-hour battery life, a small solar panel, or external power, for example, from a USB or serial port. It weighs 5 ounces (141 grams).
  • iLevil2 SW is an $1,195 paneltop unit that provides AHRS, GPS, weather, traffic, and a WiFi connection. It offers a 5.5-hour battery life, a small solar panel, or external power. It weighs 10 ounces (283 grams).
  • iLevil2 AW is an $1,395 remotely mounted unit with a remote antenna that allows a full suite of avionics, including Pitot-Static data providing AHRS, GPS, weather, traffic, air data and a WiFi connection. It offers a 4-hour battery life or external power. It weighs 11 ounces (311 grams).
  • All Levil units offer WIAM or Wireless Integrated Avionics Module. WIAM is a term invented by Levil and refers to WiFi compatibility that integrates more than one flight instrument such as AHRS, GPS, and ADS-B.



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Evolution Trikes developed and continues to refine their Revo, an absolutely magnificent weight shift control aircraft (or trike). Rev is their new very affordable single place machine.


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.

Aero Adventure offers what is likely the lowest cost boat-hull seaplane in the light aircraft space with a kit that, complete with engine, sells for less than $50,000. Add a long history to its credit and Aventura is a seaplane worthy of a close look.


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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

Tecnam is the world's leading manufacturer of Light-Sport aircraft offering more models and variations than any other producer.

Besides the world's fastest-selling light twin and their new P2010 four seater, Tecnam offers these LSA: P-92 Eaglet, Astore, and P2008.

Many Light-Sport Aircraft & General Aviation models

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

Hansen Air Group represents recognized brands in the LSA
space: FK Lightplanes and their distinctive biplane Comet, FK9, and FK51 plus the great-flying Magnaghi Sky Arrow. Based in Atlanta, Georgia Hansen Air Group is an experienced player in the LSA space.
Multiple LSA

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

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

The New J-230D

Flight Design USA imports CT, the top selling Light-Sport Aircraft. CT is a 98% carbon fiber design
with superb performance, roomy cockpit, great useful load, and a parachute as standard equipment ... the market leader for 10 years!
CTLSi

BRM Aero manufacturers the handsome Bristell all-metal SLSA. This highly evolved, next-generation Light-Sport was carefully engineered for luxury, comfort, excellent stability, and safety while being fun, fast, and easy to fly.


MVP.aero turned many heads when introducing its one-of-a-kind entry to Light-Sport Aircraft seaplanes. MVP, for Most Versatile Plane, justifies that phrase by doing more than flying off water. Here’s one to examine much more closely!


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

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.

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

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.


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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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