For more than 15 years one class of Light-Sport Aircraft has been held down in America even while it has been burgeoning in other parts of the world. The class is LSA gyroplanes, for a decade and half prevented from selling a fully-built model in the USA. How well is the category doing in other parts of the world? The answer draws on reports from dominant engine producer, Rotax Aircraft Engines, which has reported for years that the class of aircraft buying the most engines has been gyroplanes. Considering the many fixed wing designs also use that engine brand, Rotax’s statement carries tremendous weight. The story about why gyroplanes were denied the full privileges of Special LSA — and therefore have to be built as Experimental Amateur Built (EAB) kits in America — is a long, sad story …but it is one that appears to be ending, thank goodness! As described in this recent article about FAA’s plans for revised regulation of LSA (as well as other non-LSA segments), the leash around the neck of gyroplane producers is set for release.
Sunward Aurora Specifications (per factory):
- Gross Weight — 1,320 pounds
- Empty Weight — 750 pounds
- Useful Load — 570 pounds
- Payload (with full fuel) — 380 pounds
- Length — 22.6 feet
- Wing Span — 28 feet
- Never Exceed Speed — 146 knots
- Cruise Speed — 118 knots
- Stall Speed — 39 knots
- Maximum Climb Rate — 1,080 feet per minute
- Takeoff Distance — 590 feet
- Landing Distance — 590 feet
- Powerplant — Rotax 912 ULS (carbureted)
- Fuel Capacity — 31.7 gallons
- Range — 745 statute miles
Welcome to the newest Special Light-Sport Aircraft, entering our popular SLSA List at number 149. The newest is also unique among all 149 entries in one way. Sunward’s Aurora is the first entry from China. The company has been producing aircraft since 2013 and reported delivering 100 aircraft in that time, all in China, averaging about one a month. The U.S.-registered entry seen at Oshkosh (N871LS) is the first outside China. Here is link to the Aurora information. You need a specific link because Sunward is a conglomerate active in diverse fields, for example, large earth movers and excavators. The photo of their expansive facility tells a thousand words. This is not uncommon in China. Many of that country’s acquisitions of major American aviation companies were done by still larger enterprises in China. Mostly these are private businesses, not the more staid state companies. Assembled discreetly in Denton, Texas, Sunward quietly earned its Special Airworthiness Certificate — verified by examining the printed document kept in the aircraft — just in time for American Chief Pilot Patrick Keeling to take off and fly to Oshkosh.
It's Ultralight and It's AffordableBudget and household income vary widely as do people's decisions about how to use the funds they have. Some buy $175,000 superdeluxe Light-Sport Aircraft. Some look to save money with ultralights like Kolb's FireFly, U-Fly-It's Aerolite, CGS Hawk's Ultra, Air-Tech Quicksilvers, and M-Squared's Breese I. Some buyers simply like the freedom afforded by Part 103 operations. "Expect to spend anywhere between $11,700-$28,500 for a brand spanking new Badland kit," said Chris, the owner of Badland Aircraft. "You can expect to spend another $2,000-$4,500 for the firewall forward parts unless you have an engine laying around." However, as Chris puts it, "$35,000 will get you one of the baddest bush-style ultralights in existence." Referring to the F5 Fujita he asked, "Who wouldn’t love a full titanium airframe, 21-inch bush tires, 8-inches of suspension travel, a 60 horsepower ultralight that can take you anywhere you want to go? The deluxe model is not ready at this time, but Chris said they were moving with the project. "A ready to fly base model F-1 starts at $18,900 and runs to the top of the line F-5 built with full titanium welded cage, 58 horsepower yet still 100% Part 103 Ultralight legal," said Badland. "[This is] our dream machine, with every option to make you feel on top of the world; for $37,000 we’ve got you covered." "With the folding wings and the ability to park it in a 20 foot by 8.5 foot enclosed car trailer or a single car garage, you’ll appreciate the versatility." What I examined at Oshkosh 2019 looked good with many quality machined parts and an attention to detail you could see in several places. Badland may be new but Kitfox Lite is known and accepted. I think we'll be seeing more of Badland Aircraft.
One More ThingAre you not too sure about flying with an Italian Polini engine doing the heavy lifting? Knowing the concern some pilots have about two-stroke engines, Badland has a solution. Here's how they put it: "Stay tuned for more info on our very own 450-cc, 45-horsepower, four-stroke engine that weighs less than 65 pounds!" Indeed! If they meet that goal and if the engine proves reliable, that could be of great interest to the legions of pilots unsure about two-stroke powerplants on aircraft.
* Yes, I know I incorrectly (but deliberately) wrote "Ultralight Aircraft" in the title when it is technically "Ultralight Vehicle." ** Some are not aware as I discovered at Oshkosh 2019 but in early June James Weibe and his Belite Aircraft enterprise suffered a terrible loss. The factory was ravaged by a severe fire destroying aircraft, lots of inventory, tools, records, and more. This is why the company did not exhibit at AirVenture after many years in attendance. We wish Belite a full recovery from this disaster. The sale of the Kitfox Lite to Badland occurred before this fire and the deal is unaffected by the tragedy.
Once we had Avid Flyer. It begat Kitfox, which begat many models before returning to the starting point by creating a Part 103 ultralight vehicle* called Kitfox Lite …what else? At that time Kitfox was owned by its principal, Dan Denney. A good marketer Denney’s Kitfox once employed a whole staff of sales people following up on loads of leads that the then-new design was generating. Even now, decades later, Kitfox, doing business as Fox Air, is building one of the most successful kit-plane designs in aviation history. (For the facts and market position of Kitfox visit our Tableau Public page of LSA and SP kit statistics.) While the Dan Denney version of Kitfox Inc., addressed strong demand, they also began working to widen the market they served. Kitfox had found success as a two seater in various configurations but did a market exist for a single seater?
Then Arrived FX1FX1 is Alfredo’s latest and best design. "It features a totally new airframe that incorporates numerous improvements and refinements using state-of-the-art methods and materials," said InnovAviation. "FX1 is a high-performance sport plane that reflects Alfredo's great sense of style, his attention to detail, and his high standards for airworthiness and safety." Sitting in FX1 at Oshkosh, it is immediately clear this is not the JetFox97. The older model was much more challenging to enter as you had to contort your body to wriggle around structure. Once in it was comfortable but the all-new FX1 is far easier partly thanks to those shapely curved doors. FX1 is a welded steel structure with a carbon fiber skin. During an Oshkosh video interview we learned the carbon fiber skin can be completely removed in about one and half hours when, for example, you may need to do a very thorough inspection. Some aircraft that evolved from similar design can have rather awkward engine mounts, commonly with exposed engines. While I see nothing wrong with that — and they are certainly easy to inspect and maintain — Alfredo's has smoothly encased the fuel injected Rotax 912iS in… you guessed it, more carbon fiber. Wings and control surfaces are riveted aluminum, which can be repaired as needed by airplane mechanics almost anywhere in the world. A luggage compartment aft of the cockpit has access doors on each side and the space is open side to side giving ample area for items you wish to transport to your destination. For things you might want in flight, a space behind the occupant's heads is available. Seats are comfortable and the cockpit measures a broad 49 inches wide (almost 10 inches more than a Cessna 172). In the side-by-side seats, FX1 features handsome side sticks on the outside of each seat. A single throttle is center mounted. All controls are within an easy reach. Visibility is enormous, with occupants surrounded by perhaps 300 degrees of clear acrylic. The Rotax engine above and in front of the cockpit is almost out of sight and only very marginally impedes your vision, less so than most engines on the nose of an aircraft. "FX1 delivers ease of flying, comfort, safety, ruggedness, durability, attractive styling and exceptional performance across the board," boasted the company. For more, check our report after Aero 2018 last year, which also has our video interview from that show. In the USA, FX1 is represented by Fly Light Sport CA, with operations in Fullerton California and Fort Pierce, Florida.
InnovAviation FX1 Specifications
- Cabin width — 49 inches
- Wing Span 27 feet 7 inches
- Wing Area — 122.7 square feet
- Empty Weight — 728 pounds
- Max Takeoff Weight — 1,320 pounds
- Useful Load — 592 pounds
- Payload (full fuel) — 407 pounds
- Baggage Allowance — 77 pounds
- Fuel Capacity — 30.9 gallons
- Maximum Continuous Speed — 136 mph / 120 knots
- Cruise Speed (75% power) — 124 mph / 108 knots
- Stall Speed (flaps down — 40 mph / 35 knots
- Never Exceed Speed — 150 mph / 130 knots
- Range — 645 nautical miles
- Endurance at Cruise — 5.5 hours
After impressing European pilots at the big German show called Aero Friedrichshafen, producer InnovAviation brought their sleek and sexy FX1 for Americans to see at Oshkosh 2019. For American representation, the Italian producer will be teaming up with Deon Lombard, who also represents the AeroPilot L600 from a Czech manufacturer. I can’t imagine how anyone can look at Alfredo Di Cesare‘s creation and not react with admiration. Italian companies are known for dashing and innovative lines (think: Ferrari or any number of auto companies or LSA giant, Tecnam). Design talent is definitely not lacking from Italian products; FX1 should be an object of national pride. The FX1 is an evolved fourth-generation aircraft following the JetFox 97 from the 1990s. Designed by Alfredo Di Cesare, a noted aircraft designer with over 35 years of experience in the sport-plane industry, FX1 is clearly related to the earlier model but it is so different in many ways that it is unfair to compare them directly.
(Re)Introducing RV5Truthfully, Van's Aircraft Vice President and Chief Engineer Rian Johnson is only displaying a personal project. RV-5 was never offered for sale and won't be now. Yet the light aircraft enthusiast in me noticed it right away. Probably like most other attendees I wondered, "What is that? "Of course, we want people to focus on our current popular kits such as RV-8, -10, and -12," quickly added, "but I thought Oshkosh visitors might enjoy seeing a bit of Van's history." RV-5 dates way back to 1975 when it was built by Dick VanGrunsven and EAA 105 chapter members to evaluate several design concepts. Among the goals of the group, Rian explained, were light weight and fuel efficiency. RV-5 was never intended for production. RV-5's wings swing back over the flat aft fuselage for easier transport or more space-efficient storage. No control linkages need be disconnected thanks to a clever center-mounted mixer that stays in place when folding the wings. "Some years back, I was up in a loft storage area looking for something and uncovered a dusty airframe. When I asked Dick about it, he asked, 'Do you want it?' Be careful what you ask for," Rian noted although he did eventually tackle the restoration project marrying the airframe of RV-5 to the canopy of RV-2. The single seat design is small. A very lean Rian said he weighs 138 pounds and RV-5 is even somewhat snug for him so this is not an aircraft for pilots who tip the scales beyond FAA's 170-pound reference weight. That hardly matters, however, as this is not an active project for anyone but Rian. Needing only 40 horsepower to perform enthusiastically RV-5 is powered by a Rotax 447. Carrying 10 gallons of fuel, burning three gallons an hour at a 90-mph economy cruise, RV-5 has a range nearly 300 miles.
RV-5 Specifications (provided by Van's Aircraft):
- Empty Weight — 312 pounds
- Gross Weight — 577 pounds
- Length — 16 feet 7.5 inches
- Cockpit Width — 19 inches
- Wing Span — 20 feet
- Wing Area — 75 square feet
- Top Speed — 120-125 mph
- Cruise at 75% Power — 100+ mph
- Stall "Dirty" — 41 mph
- Takeoff Distance — 175 feet
- Landing Distance — 300 feet
- Climb Rate — 1,200+ fpm
Cruising the grounds at Oshkosh, looking for aircraft to report, I looked around the all-new Homebuilt Area. This group has long occupied a fairly spacious grassy area in a good location south of the Warbirds Area, said to be Oshkosh’s biggest draw. However, for 2019 EAA relocated the area bringing vendors closer to the densest customer traffic, which may encourage more attendees to examine their aircraft. Several exhibitors I spoke to seemed content with the new location. The new area had the usual collection of vendors, many of which qualify as Sport Pilot kits that can be flown with the certificate that needs no aviation medical. Quarters looked rather tight compared to past years, with airplanes somewhat shoehorned into the allocated space. Like all changes — and EAA has made a huge number of them in the fifty years the event has been held in Oshkosh — visitors and vendors will adapt quickly enough and soon we’ll forget the old “North 40” where homebuilt kits once displayed.
Vashon Ranger FAQsThe success of Ranger R7 begged the answer to some questions submitted to the company by Kent Misegades of Seven Lakes, North Carolina. Kent posed the questions to Ken Krueger, chief engineer of the Ranger R7, to get the following answers. Krueger formed his own company called Sky Designs after leaving Van's Aircraft. Kent's questions are shown in colored text.
- Number sold and delivered since AV18. We've delivered 14 airplanes since AV 18 and we have a sizeable backlog of customers who've put down deposits.
- Estimated production numbers in 2019, if this is something you wish to divulge. We've produced 12 aircraft so far in 2019 and are working to get the production rate to 4 aircraft per month.
- Where are the delivered airplanes based, in a general sense. How are they being used? Most aircraft are personally owned and used for sport flying although our very first customer airplane went to a flight school at our home airport near Seattle. Our customers are spread across the USA, we've delivered airplanes to Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Ohio. We also have one airplane in Canada.
- Interest among flight schools to replace C150/C152? As already mentioned, our first delivery was to a flight school, but, yes, lots of interest from other flight schools and flying clubs.
- Is the R7 only for those interested in Sport Pilot/LSA? Emphatically, no. One of our design goals was to have an airplane that appeals to many different segments of the market. Ranger's cabin is large and comfortable, everyone who's flown in the airplane has praised it's flying qualities, and I think we've done a nice job of integration with Dynon avionics. Plus our price point is quite competitive.
- What have you learned since AV18? With the increasing number of customer airplanes flying, we're gaining a better understanding of what customers want and the environment they are operating their airplanes in. Also we're learning that it takes effort to efficiently build the airplanes while maintaining consistent quality.
- What new topics are you focused on at AV19? Product awareness, we are here to let folks know about the Ranger and Vashon Aircraft. As the aircraft itself is maturing, that allows time for us to develop necessary accessories like tow-bars, windscreen/cabin covers, and the like.
- What has changed in the specifications / pricing / offers since AV18, ie obvious from your web site and literature? Nothing, pricing and options remain the same as last year.
- Anecdotes from customers/operators and how you have addressed requests/problems (the true indicator of excellence). We've had a couple of ground handling mishaps with customer airplanes which resulted in bent metal. It was gratifying to go through the process of assessing the damage, deciding which parts would need replacement, and seeing the repair process move so quickly. With our pre-painted metal and since all the parts are manufactured on CNC machines, the speed and accuracy with which repairs can be made is pretty amazing.
- Where can a person get a demo flight? Here at AirVenture 2019, simply swing by our display and ask as we will be offering demo flights in our company aircraft. Otherwise, just call Vashon and talk to Kurt Robertson or Kelsey Hickman.
More FAQs See Vashon at Oshkosh 2019
- How are purchased aircraft delivered to the customer? Do they receive any introductory flight or light maintenance training? Customers can either travel to Paine Field, near Seattle, to pick-up their new airplane or we can deliver it. In any case, included with each airplane is up to ten hours of transition training with one of our CFI's.
- What sort of manuals come with the aircraft? The Pilot's Operating Handbook, Flight Training Supplement, Maintenance Manual, plus manuals for the engine, prop, and other equipment on the airplane.
- What has the reliability record been so far? Good overall. No major airframe or powerplant issues.
- Where is your exhibit located and who will a person meet there? Vashon is in the Main Aircraft Display area, booths 17 & 18. Vashon (and Dynon) CEO John Torode, General Manager Scott Taylor (each pictured nearby), Marketing Specialist Kelsey Hickman, Marketing Manager Kurt Robertson, and Chief Engineer Ken Krueger can all be found there.
- At what other public events can one see an R7 this year? We will be at the Arlington, Washington fly-in in August. With more airplanes being delivered each month, folks will start seeing Rangers dropping-into airports for fly-in events and/or fuel stops.
- What are the sales/support/service channels for the R7? Right now, all this is handled through our main office in Woodinville, Washington.
- Any plans for a kit version? Tailwheel version? Float version? Other powerplant? No current plans to offer a kit version, or tailwheel version of the Ranger. As for powerplants, we will be staying with the Continental O-200-D for the time being. We are, however, pretty excited that our prototype airplane, N219VA, has been mated to a set of Edo 1320 floats and is now flying off Lake Washington. The airplane was designed from the beginning to a floatplane and, as such, it looks great both on the water and in the air.
- What is the 'sweet spot' / advantages of the R7 compared to the competition? Affordability both in terms of purchase price as well as operational costs, integration of modern avionics, and the well proven direct-drive, air-cooled engine.
- Are any customer-owned R7s coming to AV19? Yes, we're expecting a couple of customers to fly in with their airplanes. N133VR, one of the customer airplanes seen last year is here again on display.
- What positive surprised have you experienced since AV18, beyond sales. For instance positive comments from customers who had not expected.One customer has commented to us that he has to budget at least a half-hour to fill-up his airplane. This is because wherever he stops, folks come out to look at his Ranger and ask questions.
- How well is the vinyl wrap holding up? Can a customer get any design he wants? (We don't have mountains down here in the South.) The wraps are holding up well to environmental conditions such as sun, heat, cold, moisture, and bug splats. Vinyl has been in use on cars for many years now, so it is very much a known quantity in terms of durability. It isn't a whole lot different than paint, however, in that you still need to be careful when installing/removing the cowling to avoid causing damage. As for custom designs, yes, customers can get anything they want. There have been a few custom-wrap airplanes delivered and it was fun to see people getting creative with their design.
- Anything else readers should know? We will be giving a forum at AirVenture 2019 — Friday July 26th from 11:30 am to 12:45 pm at Forum Stage 5. There will be time at the end of the presentation for questions and answers. I hope to see everyone there!
Sometimes a new Light-Sport Aircraft producer bursts on the scene in dramatic ways. Think of Terrafugia and their folding wing flying car or Icon and its sexy A5 LSA seaplane. Others enter from different positions of strength. One of the newest of these is Vashon Aircraft with their Ranger R7 (here’s our earlier reporting on Ranger). While organized as completely separate companies, Vashon shares common ownership through the name John Torode, the founder of Dynon Avionics. The two businesses work hard to stay separate but it’s clear one success might help the other just as John’s earlier success in the tech industry lead to Dynon being formed. When you check the Tableau Public tally of market share information — you can select to show only Light-Sport Aircraft, Sport Pilot kit aircraft, or modern gyroplanes, or any combination, but the link defaults to all aircraft.
LSA Is a Success StoryFor 15 years Light-Sport Aircraft and their producers have proven themselves, LAMA argued. FAA concurred; the agency has often referred to the safety record as "acceptable," reasonably high praise from regulators. “A lot of [the rule change] is based on the [generally positive] experience with LSA,” FAA noted. They also said the revised regulation will be “less prescriptive, more performance-based.” This is seen as a deregulatory effort by the agency. Regarding the much-anticipated max weight increase, FAA refers to a "Power Index." This term means a formula-based method to replace maximum takeoff weight in the definition of a LSA, involving wing area, horsepower, and takeoff weight. FAA is also looking at up to four seats, “for personal use and for flight training.” Airspeeds — referring to maximum horizontal and never-to-exceed speeds (Vh and Vne) — may be higher than in the current rule, but will still be limited. Neither will FAA be prescriptive about (that is, tightly defining) powerplants. The 2004 version of the LSA rule prohibited electric motors because rule writers wanted to discourage turbine power and therefore specified reciprocating engines, which knocked out electric. FAA will now consider both electric and hybrid. Yet FAA was clear, “Movement of people for hire (such as the multicopter air taxis proposed by numerous companies) is not part of this.” FAA is also reviewing what type of mechanics (LSR-M or A&P) can do what kind of work on specific systems of aircraft (examples: in-flight adjustable prop or electric propulsion systems).
When Will the New Rule Emerge?One of the most-asked questions is when will this rule be announced, meaning when will an NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) be published for public comment. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 includes a deadline of 2023 for implementing a key mandate that suggests the longest it should take. Once an NPRM is published, a comment period follows to hear from the public after which FAA needs time to address the concerns raised during that comment period. After closure of that comment period, the FAA has 16 months to publish the Final Rule. Throughout the LAMA/FAA teleconference some ideas were repeated by FAA personnel…
- “The former (current) regulation “was unnecessarily restrictive.“
- FAA wants the revised regulation to “allow the industry to do more.”
Update on LAMA's Specific RequestsOver the last few years LAMA made several specific requests: aerial work or commercial use of LSA; fully built gyroplanes (only kits have been permitted); single lever control for in-flight adjustable props; and electric propulsion. LAMA also supported the idea of increased weight. Each of these was explained via a detailed white paper submitted to the agency followed by more discussions with FAA executive management over several meetings in Washington DC. “All of these requests are on the table,” FAA acknowledged in the June teleconference. Of course, this does not mean all are certain to be included, but they represent a “huge opportunity [for industry and for pilots].” Gyroplanes — Special LSA (fully-built) gyroplanes are part of what is being considered for the new regulation but this remains a work in process. LAMA presented new arguments, assembled safety data that FAA requested, and kept up the pressure resulting in its inclusion in the proposed new regulation. Weight Increase — Yes, weight will increase. The often-mentioned "3,600-pound gross weight" number is irrelevant, however, because FAA will use the power index as mentioned above. Under this more performance-based approach, LSA manufacturers would have more flexibility in making trade-offs among these parameters to meet a new power index limit. That new limit is intended to allow for up to a safe, robust, four-seat airplane. “All this is seen [within the agency] as relieving on industry; enabling, not tightening the screws,” said FAA. Aerial Work / Commercial Use — The topic of for-hire work in LSA involves another group — Flight Standards Service. Most of the proposed changes originated with Aircraft Certification Services office. “The Flight Standards people are considering [aerial work],” said FAA. This important topic has been a priority for LAMA because it could become a vital activity to keep manufacturers healthy by expanding their capabilities and the markets they can serve. Pilots could also gain as this would provide more compensated flying jobs and business opportunities. Electric Propulsion — Not only is electric fully on the table, but hybrid power involving both gasoline and electric is envisioned as well (though ASTM standards for hybrid have yet to be composed). Notably, the discussion did not involve batteries. Single Lever Control (in-flight adjustable prop) — The concept for Single Lever Control (SLC) is that the prop adjusts automatically based on information supplied by instruments and the engine such that the system “knows” what prop pitch might be optimal. A pilot puts the throttle where needed (full forward for takeoff) and the prop adjusts. At altitude, the system also knows this and can adjust to a cruise setting. While SLC is more complex and currently more costly, LAMA believes continued development will lower costs. However, SLC does not raise the workload of the pilot, thereby staying with the “simple, safe, and easy-to-fly” mantra. LAMA is "very pleased with the FAA’s open attitude and willingness to consider important changes that industry and the flying community seek."
Many have asked about progress on FAA’s proposed rewrite of the Light-Sport Aircraft regulations. Following a lengthy teleconference at the end of June 2019, LAMA, the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association, provided another update. The update to industry covered a lot of ground but here we’ve tried to make it a quicker read. Two key points: First, FAA is in the early stages of this rulemaking; at least minor changes are certain. FAA itself does not know all the specific details of the proposed rule at this time. Secondly, the steps reported here come from actual rule writers but their effort has support from top FAA leadership. Driven by a Congressional mandate we know this will go forward. LSA Is a Success Story For 15 years Light-Sport Aircraft and their producers have proven themselves, LAMA argued. FAA concurred; the agency has often referred to the safety record as “acceptable,” reasonably high praise from regulators.
Epic Ultralight FlightAt age nine, visiting with Dad, Henry asked, "Could I fly [into Oshkosh]?" That question alone puts Henry in a class of his own. Most kids that age are playing with dinosaur toys, not asking about flying into the world's busiest airport. So, in 2019 commenced a major cross country flight of some 720 miles from Warrenton, Virginia to Oshkosh, Wisconsin. This took a whole series of short legs because any true Part 103 ultralight may only carry five gallons of gas, or something over an hour of flight with a reserve. A map shows a path over the Appalachian mountains and midwestern farm land. With average flight segments of 45 minutes, lots of landing were involved. "We used a methodical process," remembered William. "I didn't want my son to be hurt and aviation can be merciless." William and Henry started with a powered paraglider when the lad was only 10 years old. He soloed at 11 after bringing in an expert from Florida to assure he really had the right stuff. Dad William is an experienced GA pilot but knew little of PPGs. At Henry's age 13, the Scotts ordered an Aerolite. This followed many flights in a Cessna 150 with his father, where he learned all the basics of flight while someone was ready to assist when (and if) needed. However, at his youthful age and unable to obtain a Private Pilot certificate, Henry could not solo the C-150. "We chose the Aerolite 103 because it looked like an airplane," explained William. "It was confidence inspiring. It had airplane features I was familiar with, such as flaps." Yet, he humorously added, "It's an anodized aluminum chair." For readers that may not know, Part 103 is a very special regulation dating to 1982. The entire rule can be printed on the front and back of a single piece of paper making it aviation's most charming rule, in my opinion. No pilot certificate is required. No aircraft registration is required. No medical of any kind is needed. Plus, a Part 103 aircraft can be delivered fully ready to fly.
Typical Henry Scott Flight PlanFor most pilots, a 700-mile cross country would be a good voyage. Commonly, though, they would complete the trip with two or three stops. As you can see from the map and read below, Henry had to plan approaches and landings many times while dad and sister raced along in the ground chase vehicle. "We planned 10 days for the trek," William detailed. Each day involved multiple landings. "On one day, Henry flew seven legs." Commonly, legs were 45 minutes, making the trip a series of bite-sized experiences but also allowing close checking of weather allowing Team Scott to simply avoid most weather. Despite their close eye on Mother Nature, Henry got completely doused as he flew in rain at one point (he had no other problems). As you might expect at this point in the story, a wet Henry remained undaunted. "Typically he flew at about 1,000 feet AGL," said William. "The Appalachians were more challenging with up and down drafts. We prepared for this by going to Colorado in the Commander and taking a mountain flying course, learning about anabatic and katabatic (upslope and downslope) air movements." This prepared Henry to use lift when it was available and to learn the hazards of sinking air in such terrain. Each day involved about four hours of flying. Father and son planned 28 legs over seven days assuming some days lost due to weather. Each segment covered about 35 miles. "Forty miles is possible with a safety reserve, but we proceeded with caution." Even for those of us with a lifetime of flying in our logbooks, I'm not sure how you top the experience Henry is gaining as this is written. Good for Henry and good for dad and sis' for supporting their son and brother en route to aviation's summer celebration of flight! UPDATE: As I finished writing this article, William texted me, "He's on final for 36!" Hurray for the Scotts!
Happening right now as this is written …a young pilot, with impressive support from his father and sister, is flying to Oshkosh. Have you ever done it? I’ve frequently had the pleasure to fly into KOSH during the show. Every time, it’s been an eye opening experience, literally and figuratively. See this article describing one such experience. Now, imagine making such an epic arrival in an ultralight aircraft… ‘er vehicle, cruising at 40-50 mph. Of course, a Part 103 ultralight means flying solo, so you do your own head-swiveling to look for traffic. Your planning better be solid to make this a reasonable task. Go even further and imagine doing all this while you are 14 years old! Sound crazy? Yeah, it might seem that way but in an hour-long conversation with father William Scott, I came to admire the preparation for son Henry Scott‘s flight.
Now Read This…We have an "Unbeatable Warranty," declared Scott Severen, the representative for Jabiru in the USA under the business name US Sport Planes! What does he mean? "Jabiru Aircraft will be offering an increased warranty at Oshkosh 2019, lasting the duration of the show," Scott explained, revealing great confidence in this roomiest of Light-Sport Aircraft. "The warranty offered will be five years or 1,000 hours, whichever occurs first, for the airframe and the engine." Having followed light aircraft for many years, I have never heard a warranty for an aircraft that extends this long. Also, almost no other aircraft companies can offer a warranty on both airframe and engine, both manufactured by Jabiru in Australia. * By way of explanation, it seems with the in March 2017 launch of Jabiru’s new Gen 4 engine — a 6-cylinder, 120-horsepower, direct-drive, air-cooled powerplant — the down under producer of the composite high wing aircraft with a well-evolved engine, is seeing great results. See this article challenging Jabiru engines and the satisfactory resolution that followed. "They are claiming reduced maintenance for the engine due to the improved manufacturing configuration," clarified Scott. "This 30-year-old company has historically been quite conservative in their business approach, always operating on their own capital without incurring debt." Apparently Jabiru's history with the engine and airframe has the Australian manufacturer very comfortable extending this type of offer and support, overcoming the earlier news. "J230-D comes with a 10-inch Garmin G3X Touch display with synthetic vision; flight director; auto pilot; Garmin ADS-B in/out transponder providing weather and traffic on screen; intercom; leather interior; tinted windshield; wheel pants; 120 horsepower, 6-cylinder Jabiru engine; three human-sized doors, composite ground-adjustable prop… all standard for $149,900. "This is looking to be a great value at the show this year," said Scott." Find the Jabiru LSA at US Sport Planes' exhibit in the main aircraft area: booths 354 and 363 (just SE of Boeing Plaza). In case the J230-D price tag sounds beyond your budget, remember Jabiru has other choices. "The 4-cylinder J170 is priced at $129,900," observed Scott. The smaller J170 pares down on some of the options but still comes set up for night VFR. It's equipped with the 7-inch Garmin G3X Touch Display with synthetic vision, flight director, ADS-B in and out offering weather and traffic on screen. The lower cost model does not have auto pilot, comes with a wood prop and no wheel pants plus the interior uses cloth rather than leather. However, despite the lower price, "the Unbeatable Warranty applies to J170 as well," noted Scott. At 2018's DeLand Showcase, Scott and I went up for a flight to make a Video Pilot Report. Look for that at Dave Loveman's Light Sport and Ultralight Flyer YouTube channel but here is a short view of the Australian LSA. https://youtu.be/M_Mvms8uJpw * In this article, readers learned that Jabiru engines are represented and maintained in the USA by Arion Aircraft.
Price matters. While pilots enjoy a huge range in aircraft types, capabilities, descriptions, and price points, the fact remains that some aircraft will always be too expensive for some buyers. A smaller number tilt the other way, thinking a too-cheap aircraft might be, well… cheap, as in cheaply built. Airplane buying is as subjective as any other purchase. It has to work for you! If, for purchase consideration, you examine any of the LSA industry’s leaders, odds are the price of a new aircraft may require partners, financing, or a thicker wallet. However, one other factor enters into the decision: warranty. Really? Have you considered this when seeking a new airplane? Perhaps not, at least not the same way you consider a new auto warranty. The latter usually have a longer timeframe (especially in the last couple decades) yet warranty can be significant if a major problem arises. Now Read This… We have an “Unbeatable Warranty,” declared Scott Severen, the representative for Jabiru in the USA under the business name US Sport Planes!
Brazilian InvasionAmong nations that embrace non-commercial aviation, America leads the parade. Europe has a very large aviation community and like most non-U.S. regions, the concentration is on sport or recreational aircraft. America overwhelmingly dominates "general aviation" with about 80% of the world's GA fleet.* However, in sport or recreational aircraft, the USA represents around 20% of the world's aircraft population (chart link at bottom). Evidence of Brazil's prowess in creating aircraft that fit the LSA category include the excellent SeaMax LSA seaplane, Super Petrel LS, Pelican, the new Texas Aircraft Colt, Paradise P1, plus a handful of older designs. What's particularly amazing to some is that SeaMax, Super Petrel, Colt and now Hero have set up U.S. operations, most with aspirations of doing most or all manufacturing in America. André described his new entry to the LSA sweepstakes. Hero is "all 2024-T3 aluminum with cantilever wings and carbon fiber fairings. This model uses the fuel-injected Rotax 912iS engine with wheels and anti-skid brake system from Beringer and provides a Garmin panel." Hero uses unique yoke-mounted joystick somewhat reminiscent of Cessna's joystick in Skycatcher except better achieved. Hero's interior is large with its internal space "planned for world height standards without compromising the performance of the aircraft." He reports it has "great access to the interior with doors opening upwards." "I had many partners and sponsorships during development," André continued, "the largest being Dassault Systems SolidWorks with all software and engineering support, Bose Aviation, Akzo Nobel with extensive aerospace links, and others who supported the project." André acknowledged, "We are now in the flight test phase for ASTM compliance with ANAC Brazil (the country's version of FAA)."
- All aluminum 2024-T3 used for main spar
- Landing gear employs 7075-T6511 alloy
- Cantilevered (no struts) high wing design
- All rivets are flush mounted (AN426)
- All fairings are made of carbon fiber
- Rotax fuel-injected 912iS Sport engine
- Wheels and brakes supplied by Beringer
- Garmin's touchscreen G3X with dual screen panel with PA and G5 backup
- Bose A20 headphones
- Sensenich three-blade propeller
- Yoke-mounted joystick with HOTAS (Hands On Throttle-And-Stick)
- Stall Speed, no flaps — 43 knots
- Top Speed — 120 knots
- Cruise Speed — 110 knots
- Takeoff Distance — 360 feet
- Landing Distance — 533 feet
- Climb Rate — 1,400 feet per minute
- Range — 730 nautical miles
- Wing Span — 34 feet 5 inches
- Length — 22 feet
- Empty Weight — 816 pounds
- Cabin Width — 43 inches
- Fuel Capacity — 26.4 gallons
From Brazil comes a new Hero, an aircraft most Americans have never seen. Outside of the South American country, few know of Hero in its two models. That’s about to change with this article. The cantilevered all-metal design has excellent ramp appeal, good specifications, and approval as a Special Light-Sport Aircraft is underway at this time, the developer said. He also added, is coming to the USA, to Florida, to be manufactured. The Brazilian invasion continues… For this article, I exchanged communications with André Godoy, Sector Aircraft‘s CEO and aircraft designer. He explained, “I have experience building LSA for other companies in Brazil but I am now working on my new design and company. His project is “Hero, a new high wing LSA.” Brazilian Invasion Among nations that embrace non-commercial aviation, America leads the parade. Europe has a very large aviation community and like most non-U.S. regions, the concentration is on sport or recreational aircraft.
East and West Coast Flight OpsBoth Sling Pilot Academy (SPA) and Sebring Flight Academy (SFA) are relatively recent starts but both already have students well trained enough that they can begin taking some of the chores of training the next batch, under controlled and highly supervised leadership, of course. This is serious stuff. These students could be piloting the airliner in which you are flying in just a few years. When students earn their credentials and are ready for more, SPA uses a pair of recently-acquired dual-Rotax-engine Tecnam Twins. SFA uses the well-proven Piper Seneca twin. Both places appear to be humming with activity! SPA has evolved from a modest, quiet flight school into a bustling operation. "We're just getting started," said SPA boss, Matt Litnaitzky. "Four new aircraft are on their way, we've added an additional hangar, as well as nearly quadrupling our staff. The first academy class is already airborne well on their way to a dream career." SPA said students are expected to complete their ratings in nine months and finish building their 1,500 hours in a year and a half. By utilizing efficient Rotax-powered aircraft with state-of-the art modern avionics, SPA students will be entering the airlines with glass cockpit experience at a fraction of the cost. Across the continent at Sebring Flight Academy, they are using Lou Mancuso's ingenious system of elevating their freshly-certificated students into flight training under the supervision of seasoned pros. As a former instructor myself, I can confirm a CFI learns every bit as much as each student he or she trains. SFA offers a full package of nearby lodging (they bought a house not far from SEF airport) and a work opportunity as ways to hold down the cost and concentrate the student's payment into actual training rather than lodging and transportation expense. Likewise, SPA has a whole web page dedicated to showing the savings they can offer. Both of these modern schools are very keenly aware that, as SPA reported, "The hot topic of every FBO around is 'a pilot shortage is upon us'..." Indeed, Boeing predicts over the next 20 years that North America alone will need 206,000 airline pilots. Globally that figures rises dramatically to some 800,000 pilots. Students getting into professional courses like those offered by SPA and SFA have very bright futures in my opinion. Airlines have great need, but so do corporate bizjet departments and military aviation divisions. China's military — even given its immense population — is increasing recruitment as they face upcoming shortages. Then, we have eVTOL air taxis in hot development and all manner of remote pilot positions. It's not just pilots either. Although it's a story worthy of another article, mechanics are predicted to have even higher job opportunities with pay scales increasing to entice trained workers. This is a great time to be a young person pursing aviation, better than I've seen in many decades of following aviation closely. It's wonderful to see Sling Pilot Academy and Sebring Flight Academy rewriting the old rules of how a flight school should be operated. I'm exceptionally proud of both enterprises. Current pilots can contact The Airplane Factory USA or Bristell USA to learn more about the aircraft they represent.
For years, I have been interviewing suppliers of Light-Sport Aircraft about how functional and durable their SLSA are for flight training. Contrary to what many think many SLSA actually make good trainers (see this recent article). Old timers might think you have to stick with Cessna or Piper to have an airframe built robustly enough to handle student flight training. Those who feel that way are behind the times. LSA are here and now in flight schools. This is a tale, not of two cities, but of two coasts, the Pacific and Atlantic yet the story is unfolding in several other locations, too. Based on multiple flight schools deep into using LSA (as portrayed in the linked article above), current LSA appear more than up to the job. That has been ongoing for some time. The new development that is popping up on the coasts and elsewhere in between are entirely new flight schools, ones organized completely around Light-Sport Aircraft as primary trainers.
Many Deserving PersonsI think we are very lucky aviators. Americans, Europeans, and aviators in many countries have literally hundreds of great Light-Sport Aircraft or Sport Pilot kits to choose between. The list is so extensive that making a choice of the one you can probably afford is challenging, enough so that we created PlaneFinder 2.0 to help airplane shoppers narrow the list. (It's fun; give it a try, no cost involved.) Many of the Award winners have been aircraft designers and/or manufacturers. Others who have won this award serve the light aircraft industry in other ways. For example… In 2018, LAMA honored Adam Morrison, the steady hand at the tiller of the ASTM committee that writes and updates the industry consensus standards that allow LSA to fly in America and other countries without having to go through terribly expensive Part 23 (Type Certificate) level approval. For his service to the light aircraft community, Adam Morrison was chosen after numerous nominations were received from hundreds of people. For several recent years, Adam Morrison has led the F37 Committee for ASTM in what is a challenging and rather thankless task but one essential to the approval of new LSA. Like nearly all who work on this committee, Adam volunteers his time. Adam successfully converted a childhood love for flying into a career focused on helping aircraft manufacturers prepare their designs for the market. Many of the leading companies have benefitted from his deep knowledge and expert guidance. His company, Streamline Designs, has been in operation for more than 20 years.
Presenting at OshkoshEvery year at the big summer celebration of flight called "Oshkosh," LAMA presents its newest recipient with a plaque to take home and engraves the winner's name on an obelisk that EAA generously displays on a permanent basis in the marvelous EAA Museum. If you never gone, you might want to put this on your bucket list; it's a fascinating and professionally-achieved display of recreational aviation and more. For this 28th year of this award, aviation professionals have been invited to submit a name for consideration. From all the nominations received, the one with the most votes wins. Very simple rules guide the vote. As LAMA founder, Larry Burke, told pros, "Select any individual you wish from the aviation community … someone you think has made significant contributions to the light aviation field." During or after AirVenture 2019, LAMA will announce the newest recipient of the organization's highest award.
- 2018: Adam Morrison (Streamline Design & ASTM)
- 2017: Sebastien Heintz (Zenith Aircraft)
- 2016: Professor Luigi Pascale (Tecnam)
- 2015: Jeremy Monnett (Sonex Aircraft); posthumous award
- 2014: Roy Beisswenger (Powered Sport Flying magazine and USUA) AND Laura Vaughn (Sun ‘n Fun convention director); first dual award given
- 2013: Bill Canino, (SportAir USA)
- 2012: Jan Fridrich (Chairman, LAMA Europe)
- 2011: Jack Pelton, (Cessna Aircraft)
- 2010: Tom Gunnarson (FAA Small Airplane Directorate)
- 2009: Mary Jones (Experimental Aircraft Association)
- 2008: Matthias Betsch (Flight Design, Germany)
- 2007: Eric Tucker (Rotax)
- 2006: Dan Johnson (ByDanJohnson.com)
- 2005: Earl Lawrence (EAA)
- 2004: Phil Lockwood (Lockwood Aviation Supply)
- 2003: Mike Loehle (Loehle Aircraft)
- 2002: Chuck Slusarczyk (CGS Aircraft)
- 2001: Chris Heintz (Zenair Aircraft)
- 2000: Darryl Murphy (Murphy Aircraft)
- 1999: Bob Gavinsky (Stoddard-Hamilton Aircraft)
- 1998: Tom Peghiny (Flightstar Aircraft)
- 1997: Dennis Soder (Kolb Aircraft)
- 1996: Homer Kolb (Kolb Aircraft)
- 1995: Phil Reed (Skystar Aircraft)
- 1994: Lance Neibauer (Lancair Aircraft)
- 1993: Randy Schlitter (Rans Aircraft)
- 1992: Dick VanGrunsven (Van’s Aircraft)
Every year, the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association asks industry professionals to nominate a deserving person to receive the LAMA President’s Award. Rest assured this has nothing to do with the POTUS spectacle about to begin. Instead this vote is for an individual that has made significant contributions to the light aviation field and is perhaps more relevant to your daily enjoymemt of the art of flying. Many Deserving Persons I think we are very lucky aviators. Americans, Europeans, and aviators in many countries have literally hundreds of great Light-Sport Aircraft or Sport Pilot kits to choose between. The list is so extensive that making a choice of the one you can probably afford is challenging, enough so that we created PlaneFinder 2.0 to help airplane shoppers narrow the list. (It’s fun; give it a try, no cost involved.) Many of the Award winners have been aircraft designers and/or manufacturers.
How Long to Build?At recent Oshkosh events, two "One-Week Wonders" were built using a kit from Zenith with power from Rotax or a Van's RV-12 with another Rotax 9-series engine. These were amazing efforts as this video describes, but Dennis and his Aerolite thinks they can do it quicker — far quicker. Plus, a deal awaits some lucky buyer. "We have a 'super offer' in conjunction with AirVenture in Oshkosh next month," announced Dennis in June 2019. "We will be assembling an Aerolite 103 during the show from a Quick Build Kit, and the aircraft is for sale (you can purchase it now, and pick it up at the end of the show or we can deliver it to you on the way back to Florida). If we have not sold it prior to the show, you can buy it at any time while it is being assembled)." Now — get this — a $3,000 Oshkosh discount applies! After he put this on his Facebook page, this "show" airplane will surely sell long before Oshkosh 2019 starts. Assembly will take place in the Workshop Tent — next to the Red Barn in the Ultralight Area, now known as the Fun Fly Zone — Tuesday through Saturday, during 9-11 AM and 2-4 PM. It will be completed and ready to taxi on Saturday afternoon. I'll do the calculation for you. In a mere 20 hours — during "banker's hours," some might say — an Aerolite 103 will go from kit to flyable aircraft. Bang! Compare that to the large gang of people who built the Zenith 750 or Van's RV-12 at Oshkosh (although they were amateurs, not experts). "The new owner can load it up on Saturday afternoon/evening," Dennis finished, "or we can deliver it to you. Delivery is free if you are someplace close to our route home (nominal delivery charge if you are not close to our route back to Florida)." The Oshkosh 2019 Super Wonder Aerolite 103 will be equipped with these options or upgrades:
- Hirth F33 engine
- Electric start
- Lightweight lithium battery
- Culver pProp
- EIS panel
- Hydraulic brakes
- 6-inch wheels and tires
Super affordability. Super Wonder. “Super?“ — surely, I exaggerate, right? Hmmm, I don’t think so. Let me explain. In an age where many Light-Sport Aircraft run $150,000, to well… possibly much more, “affordability” becomes something of a tortured word. What might seem affordable to a pilot that can buy a nearly one million dollar Cirrus SR22 is vastly different from what is affordable to most readers of this website. So, how affordable can Aerolite be to warrant my claiming “super affordability?” Rob Tuttle, following Aerolite on Facebook, posed a similar question, “How much minus delivery?” U-Fly-It owner Dennis Carley replied, “The normal price for this aircraft, assembled and ready to fly as it is equipped, is $21,680 without the parachute, $25,065 with the chute.” Airshows can bring even better prices but continue with this story for an even more unbelievable value. Consider this perspective. Automobile companies, building tens or hundreds of thousands of a single model, have an average U.S.
What's New? …Everything!As you look at our short video below, you can see that the baggage area aft of the two seat is huge, rivaling the capaciousness of even Jabiru's roomy J-230D. This voluminous aft compartment may suggest a natural progression to the four seater F4 that will follow but it is not just a large baggage area that looks different. The entire airframe is new as a quick glance confirms. F2's cabin is 3.1 inches wider — now 51 inches wide, among the broadest in the category — and two inches taller than the CT series’ cabins. Door dimensions have also been increased, making for easier entry and exit. The entry door is set 2.3 inches lower than those in the CT series and pilots who are less flexible will appreciate these changes. Four cabin windows and a sunroof in the rear give the cockpit an open feeling and improve overall visibility, boasts Flight Design. F2 is available with either a 100-horsepower Rotax 912 iS engine or, for the European market, a 141-hp turbocharged Rotax 915 iS engine (915 presently requires an in-flight adjustable prop not allowed under current U.S. regulations for LSA). Rotax's 912 iS engine delivers excellent fuel economy resulting in a maximum range of about 750 nautical miles for F2 from 34 gallons of fuel onboard. Deliveries of the new model were expected to begin in August 2019. While they will not be bargain-priced, F2 models come well equipped; standard features include AmSafe panel-mounted airbags, three-point inertia-reel harnesses, a ballistic parachute recovery system, and Garmin’s G3X Touch flight display. "Sculpted winglets reduce induced drag, improve climb and cruising range," noted Flight Design spokespersons. "The smooth cantilever strutless wing also reduces drag and allows maximum visibility from the cockpit. The highly optimized airfoil of the F2 allows generous internal volume for the fuel tanks and is also structurally efficient. Aerodynamic features have significantly improved the F2′s stability, control and its overall ease of flying." Pilots used to a full avionics suite should be pleased with the Garmin G3X panel including PFD, EMS and Map functions and a battery backup. With a Garmin GTX 345 transponder F2 is compliant with the FAA’s ADS-B “Out” required by 2020. Options can further outfit an F2. See the entire equipment list and pricing on the company's dedicated F2 page.
Charged Up for FlightSince the Aero Friedrichshafen show, on June 5, 2019, the first public flight of the Flight Design F2e took place at the Strausberg, Germany airfield using its innovative electric propulsion system. On its first successful first flight, Flight Design said, "Energy consumption for take-off and cruise was within the expected range, and the temperatures in the system were more positive than expected." Flight Design created F2e with partners Siemens eAircraft, the manufacturer and developer of the propulsion technology, and APUS, a Strausberg-based company specializing in the development and integration of aviation propulsion systems. F2e is based on standard components that are used in the Rotax 912iS-powered version of F2. "Flight Training is one area that generates the best opportunity for improvment in the environment for nature, nearby residents and airfields as noise emissions are concentrated in that one place, the airfield, where future pilots spend a lot of time flying," stated the company. The propulsion system employs a 55 kW (approximately 75 horsepower) electric direct-drive motor, inverter, and electronic control systems. This propulsion system has already been extensively tested in laboratory and ground tests as well as flight tested for hundreds of flight hours under the supervision of Siemens eAircraft, reported Flight Design. At this time, development of the electric propulsion continues while regulatory bodies around the world decide how they will handle approval of e-powered aircraft. Following is our short video look at F2 as displayed at Aero Friedrichshafen 2019… https://youtu.be/wuUUbP4imNE
Once upon a time in the then-new world of Light-Sport Aircraft Flight Design lead the pack for airplanes delivered and registered. That #1 ranking lasted for a decade. Then came a pause in the juggernaut that is Flight Design, a German company with a popular design. The company’s expenses outran their revenues and a major restructuring was forced upon them by the German legal system. This was 2015 but at Aero Friedrichshafen 2019, the company was looking strong. Their prominent space in Aero’s huge gymnasium-sized exhibit halls was filled with interesting machines, including the distinctive Horten flying wing. All these today operate under the parent name, Lift, which also acquired the Rotorvox deluxe gyroplane. Attracting a lot of attention was their brand-new F-series. Displayed as the first aircraft visitors saw, F2 is an evolved version of the company’s successful CT-series, which remains in active manufacturing.
Five Months In Combined ReportThe first chart reflects both LSA and SP kit registrations through May of 2019 and also depicts the equivalent performances for the full years of 2017 and 2018. What the chart suggests is that 2019 is a solid year with the light sector on track to hit 725 aircraft for the year, up about 5% over last year and up more than 10% over 2017. For space reasons the chart only shows ranks 1–18 but all are available on Tableau Public. Digging deeper, the chart shows that longtime market leader Zenith/Zenair lead by a substantial margin in 2017 and 2018 but that gap may be narrowing for 2019. Please keep in mind that a kit company completes a sale long before the aircraft gets registered and appears on FAA's database. Also, a kit sold may never be finished. Conversely, Icon's 27 registrations this year are for ready-to-fly aircraft although that does not mean they were registered by the end customer. The leading LSA builder so far in 2019, Icon is on pace to register 65 aircraft this year, up 38% over last year. American Legend, which operates both in the RTF and kit business, is ticking upwards. They may hit 29 registrations, up 140% over last year. Arion is another both-ways manufacturer looking to have a much improved 2019 while newcomer Vashon should double last year's registrations. Strong SP kit suppliers include Kitfox, Vans, and Rans — no real surprises but here's a couple observations. Kitfox is on a pace to hit 70 registrations this year, up about 80% over 2018. Van's Aircraft is headed to 60, up 50% over last year. Rans will remain about even. Remember, we only count aircraft that can be flown by a Sport Pilot or a higher-certificated pilot with no medical. Van's, for example, sells many more kits but most won't meet that criteria.
Separating LSA from SP KitsFlight Design continues its recovery, on pace to increase from last year's low number by 50%. Now that we can separate CubCrafters RTFs from kits, the CT maker is back atop the all-years SLSA rank list. Number two producer, Czech Sport Aircraft should be about even from 2018 but is well off their 2017 registrations. Powrachute and AutoGyro slipped from stronger performances in recent years. On the downside, Glasair suspended production for their Merlin that never found reception in the market. Looking at cumulative registrations, Zenith/Zenair clearly holds the top spot among Sport Pilot kit aircraft sellers. Rans, Sonex, and Kitfox are the next big producers in the light kit space, followed by Quad City and Just Aircraft, trailed a bit further back by Searey maker Progressive Aerodyne, CubCrafters, and Quicksilver.
One More Thing: ELSA FactorYou might see that kits appear to be the larger enterprise over fully-built LSA. That's correct, but consider the kit companies have been building their business and networks for far longer and they have lower price points …although you obviously must invest a good many hours to complete a project and some will get discouraged along the way and never finish the job. Yet the real surprise comes when you look at our final chart of this article. Kits appear ascendant since 2013, especially when compared to Special LSA that seems to have found a stable registration rate of around 200 aircraft per year. However, when you combine SLSA with Experimental LSA, you can see that all LSA types number closer to 300 units per year, compared to all SP kits at just shy of 400. Specialty registrations like Experimental Exhibition are steady but at a far smaller unit count. Any ELSA must be shipped from the factory as a bolt-for-bolt copy of the SLSA model, as required under the regulation. No producer can sell an ELSA without first getting approved for a SLSA, so to my mind, combining SLSA and ELSA makes for a fairer comparison to Sport Pilot kit aircraft. If you love these numbers, please visit Tableau Public. You can learn a lot more about the vibrant light aircraft sector. Enjoy! Disclaimer: These reports rely on FAA’s registration database. We believe this to be a reliable resource but it presents data that are different than what any company reports in sales or deliveries. Over time, these two sets of data draw closer but will not precisely mirror one another. Data presented on Tableau Public are arranged according to a defined method explained on that page (see button labeled “Where the numbers come from”).
A funny thing happened on our way to quarterly reporting of LSA and Sport Pilot kit market shares. Our first quarterly report in many years should have come about April 1st. It did not. That date came as Sun ‘n Fun was getting underway separated by only one day from the German Aero show. So involved were we in those season-starting events that we just blew past the date. Five Months In Combined Report The first chart reflects both LSA and SP kit registrations through May of 2019 and also depicts the equivalent performances for the full years of 2017 and 2018. What the chart suggests is that 2019 is a solid year with the light sector on track to hit 725 aircraft for the year, up about 5% over last year and up more than 10% over 2017. For space reasons the chart only shows ranks 1–18 but all are available on Tableau Public.
Bolts of LightningLightning LS-1 is an all-composite design with welded or machined elements. All components are made in house by Arion's experienced staff. More than 100 Lightnings are flying American skies (latest data here). The company reported 160 Lightning models are flying world wide since Lightning first flew on March 3, 2006. "Lightning LS-1 is designed and built around Jabiru’s powerful 3300 aircraft engine," noted Arion. "With a displacement of over 200 cubic inches and a direct drive crank, this little beauty has over 120 horsepower on tap for performance rarely matched in a Light-Sport Aircraft." Lightning has no trouble hitting the LSA speed limit of 120 knots (138 mph). "[We] spent more than three years making the kit Lightning as efficient and fast as we could, so slowing down to 120 knots was a complete reversal of thinking that had its benefits," said principal and designer, Nick Otterback. "By changing the airfoil slightly and adding three feet of wing span, LS-1 stalls below 44 knots clean, giving our aircraft an impressive 52 knot approach speed." Solo climb is in excess of 1,200 fpm and owners can expect 1,000 fpm at 1,320 pounds. At cruise speeds of 120 knots range fuel burns runs 5.5 gallons an hour. "These are real performance numbers a pilot can rely on; not on a perfect day at sea level or flying around solo, but all loaded up," stated Nick. Most companies list useful load, but Arion said the more meaningful payload can be up to 470 pounds. That will allow two big Americans plus some luggage assuming weight and balance confirms. "Now standard equipped with 40 gallons of fuel, you can go over 800 nautical miles with VFR reserves," Nick added. Lightning is offered only in tricycle-gear configuration — as most pilots prefer — but a taildragger version has been created by a builder. Read about that here. Lightning XS, available only in kit form, offers a redesigned forward fuselage structure that gives the builder the option to choose engines up to 180 horsepower. At Sun 'n Fun 2019, Arion displayed an XS powered by the Continental Motors Titan XIO340, although the company also supports "legacy piston engines O200-O320 at 115 to 160 horsepower and UL Power's UL520is at 180 to 200 horsepower. Taller landing gear permits bigger props on this new kit to allow the speedier model to hit speeds of 160 knots (184 mph). Firewall aft XS is much the same as the classic Lightning including its 42-inch wide cabin. Arion also offers several propeller choices for the engines above. "For fixed pitch we like Sensenich wood or composite ground adjustable props," said Arion. "We have tested in-flight adjustable props as well. For the Titan or Lycoming types, Whirlwind aviation makes the RV200 series light weight CS prop. For Jabiru or UL Power we have tested the Airmaster series." Installation of an in-flight adjustable prop can increase performance but, of course, builders must plan for the extra weight on the nose during the build process. Pricing and other questions are answered on Arion's FAQ page. For those unsure about building a kit, you can always choose the LSA model and pick it up ready to fly. If you want the extra speed, Arion offers a builder assist center at the Shelbyville, Tennessee facility about an hour south of Nashville. As the video mentions, Lightning was selected by Bye Aerospace as the airframe for its electric propulsion project. The sleekness of the model is a perfect mate for electric power (here's an earlier article about that project). https://youtu.be/6B90OEtC7jg
Most pilots love a fast-looking aircraft that looks as good on the ramp as it does in the air? Sure, gnarly backwoods airplanes on huge tires and tall gear struts have huge appeal, and float-equipped aircraft and seaplanes also draw strong interest. Yet aviation’s leading draw may be speed …more is better, right? If that’s an accurate assessment, then let the drooling begin over this beautifully contoured flying machine that can race 135 to 185 miles an hour for a fairly modest investment. I’m writing about Lightning from Arion Aircraft, available as either a Light-Sport Aircraft or an Experimental Amateur Built version. That these handsome aircraft are also 100% designed and manufactured in the USA may be sweet icing on the cake for many readers. LS-1 is a true Light-Sport Aircraft that meets all the parameters and survived a detailed FAA audit a few years ago. In the field owners I’ve spoken to love Lightning and its speedy ways.
Why Did Sebring Shut Down?One man very close to the Sebring Expo knows more than journalists, attendees, and other vendors. I asked Phil Lockwood for his thoughts. He's been involved since before Day One and was consulted by airport executive director Mike Willingham when this decision drew closer. Following are Phil's thoughts presented with his permission. Disclaimer: I caution readers that Phil does not speak for the Sebring Airport Authority but his information is highly reliable. People that know Phil are aware he speaks carefully and tends not to speculate about things he does not know. Phil wrote, "I think the following presents four primary factors that killed it." (1) "Sebring has always struggled with the local weather during the show, which has not always been friendly, greatly affecting attendance," Phil said. "Maybe three out of five shows have suffered from unseasonably lousy weather during the history of the show. It's an unpredictable and uncontrollable variable that makes the entire process a big gamble. In addition to the local weather issues, we have [often] been hit with a nasty line of intense weather blocking off Alabama and Georgia prior to and during the show, which prevented many small planes and vendors from making the trip into Florida." In our conversation, Phil observed that he has frequently been out on the ramp prior to and after the show to experience beautiful weather and calm winds, the kind Florida has in abundance while the U.S. northern states are suffering through winters like the one just passed. However, when a three-day show starts it can easily be held hostage to a single weather front passing through. Phil noted a week-long show can suffer a couple poor weather days and still be successful but a shorter show can be completely inhibited by lousy conditions.
News about Sebring Expo’s shutdown captivated readers of this website. Other media outlets also picked up on the news. It may be unfortunate that bad news attracts us so powerfully but that is reality. Many readers asked a similar question: “Why?” While some other media outlets clearly speculated over the reasons for the shutdown decision, I did not buy all the explanations. One writer guessed that exhibitors had decreased. While the number of vendors buying space has fluctuated over the years, as it does for all other shows, I’m lead to believe that was not a primary reason. Another reporter said “foot traffic” was too low but that probably shows that the writer compares every aviation event to Oshkosh and if it does not draw similarly-dense crowds, then something is wrong. Instead, these events — that I call sector-specific shows — are more focused. That makes them far more accessible to serious buyers wanting extra time with the representatives of the aircraft that have drawn their interest.
Another One Bites the DustPerhaps the Sebring cancellation is a sign of the times. Another, even better-known series, is also calling it quits. Plane & Pilot magazine's online outlet reported, "For 16 years now, since its inception in 2003, the Red Bull Air Races have given the aviation world the kind of star power that other motor sports are all about. But the expensive and logistically difficult-to-produce events haven’t created household names, as is the case with other motor sports, though the company didn’t cite that as a cause for its decision." "The news came as a shock," Plane & Pilot continued, "with the company suddenly announcing on Wednesday, May 29 that 2019 will be its last year. Three races remain for this year’s series, with events in Russia, Hungary and Japan. In all, the series has included more than 90 races.”
So, with some sadness, we conclude our reporting from Sebring with many articles and videos earlier this year. More videos are still in development and people will be telling stories about Sebring for years to come. Thanks for the memories, Mike Willingham, Bev Glarner, Janice Rearick, Jana Filip, and Bob Woods (leaders of Sebring Expo over the years). You gave it your all and it was good. Blue skies! For those that want to reminisce, here's a link to our many stories from Sebring over the years.
“It’s a wrap” as the iconic LSA show called Sebring Expo (full name Sebring U.S. Sport Aviation Expo) is shutting down after 15 years. The show started the same year LSA arrived on the scene — barely a month after FAA announced the new airplane and pilot certificate category — as the event was initially held in October before shifting to January to avoid hurricane season disruptions that affected the first year. Sebring was hardly on the aviation map as the show began. A notable early success was attracting Phil Lockwood and his multiple enterprises. Those who know Phil are aware he is a particularly careful and deliberate planner so his selection of KSEF was significant and perhaps presaged the long and successful run of Sebring Expo. Over the years, airport executive director Mike Willingham and those he retained to operate the event tried various tactics including a night airshow, adding drone racing and exhibits to the mix, plus relocating the center of activity, finally ending up right in front of the new beautiful airport terminal Mike initiated during his equally long run as the man in charge.
Success Story MkIISee the P92 MkII video or images for yourself but I think you will agree this is one gorgeous aircraft. You can find several of our reports about P92 in its many forms via this link. Americans can contact Tecnam's U.S. base at the Sebring airport. "After 27 years," the company announced, "the Tecnam P92 comes back with a new version. P92 Echo MkII comes today with up-to-date technology, composite fuselage, glass avionics, and the same pleasant flying qualities …safe and easy to fly with beauty, inside and outside." As with its earlier models P92 uses metal wings and a metal stabilator. Tecnam engineers stuck with metal wings and stabilator structures "for strength, reliability, and the ability to flex in flight, thereby ensuring a more comfortable ride." However, "to produce the desired increase in cabin width and greater aerodynamic efficiency [we] chose to construct Mk2's fuselage with carbon fiber." They elaborated that they chose both materials —making this a true composite — for the optimization of aerodynamic qualities, flight characteristic, and reliability. "This addition enabled [us] to make construction decisions based on optimum design and structural integrity rather than purely the cost of production." P92 Echo MkII's interior has also been completely redone. "Doors are lined with automotive-type door seals, seats that give full support with excellent leg room, side map pockets as well as pockets in the back of the seats combine to make the MkII a very comfortable aircraft."
Looks Terrific — Still Flies GreatHow is P92 still worth your investigation even while Tecnam has a whole fleet of desirable aircraft? As the specs below show, it cruises near the top of the allowed range. P92 MkII has a low stall speed (39 knots) "with excellent response at all speeds." Tecnam has long boasted "uncompromising build quality" and P92 MkII has been built to meet requirements for Europe's CS/VLA standards for aircraft certified to this category. Tecnam offers models meeting the European ultralight category (different than the U.S. interpretation of that term), LSA ASTM standards, and Part 23 fully certified aircraft. They make models using twin Rotax power and an 11-seat regional aircraft (seen briefly in the video alongside the P92 MkII). Beside "excellent visibility, roomy space, quiet and ergonomic," P92 uses an all-movable stabilator-type horizontal tail that is traditional on Tecnam aircraft. They say this "allows excellent controllability and excellent 'hands off' longitudinal stability." My own experience backs up this claim. Every Tecnam I've ever flown (most models) have superlative handling. Inside P92 MkII, "the cabin offers newly designed seats and seat rails which are easily operated and adjustable fore and aft via a single handle with a reinforced area between the rails to make cabin access even easier." The company continued, "A roomy baggage compartment with internal access accommodates voluminous items. A comfortable armrest and USB charger round out the luxurious interior." A generously sized instrument panel provides plenty of room for digital screen avionics although a base model is available with simple analog instruments. The model you see in the images and video represent the "Glass Package" featuring avionics from Garmin and their wonderful touchscreen G3X Here are a few specifications on the renewed P92 Echo MkII when built as a Light-Sport Aircraft. Get more directly from Tecnam:
- Max Cruise Speed — 115 knots
- Stall Speed — 39 knots
- Takeoff Distance — 460 feet
- Landing Distance — 393 feet
- Rate of Climb — 755 feet per minute
- Maximum Takeoff Weight — 1,430 pounds (permits adding floats)
- Empty Wight — 750 pounds
- Useful Load — 551 pounds
- Fuel Capacity — 29 gallons
- Range — 700 nautical miles
- Wingspan — 29.5 feet
- Cabin Width — 45 inches
- Baggage Capacity — 44 pounds
I regularly attend Aero Friedrichshafen every April certain I will see aircraft I’ve never seen before — but also because I will see upgrades to existing popular models. This year my informal award for the Most-Improved category goes to Tecnam and their P92 Echo, now in MkII form. First, congratulations! — As I researched this story I discovered Tecnam had a blow-out year at Aero 2019. The company reported exceeding “all of its pre-show expectations with the sale of 51 aircraft covering Certified and Light categories.” Tecnam also celebrated its 70th birthday at Aero where a large staff manned an enormous space featuring three new models: P92 Echo MkII, P2008JC MkII, and P2002JF that is now completing full IFR certification. Success Story MkII See the P92 MkII video or images for yourself but I think you will agree this is one gorgeous aircraft. You can find several of our reports about P92 in its many forms via this link.
Flight School OwnerSunrise was founded and is personally supervised by Michael Church, a national flight training authority, honored by the FAA as Safety Counselor of the Year and recognized as a Master Flight Instructor and Master Aerobatic Flight Instructor. Church has logged more than 11,000 hours of flight instruction given. What does he have to say about his experience with LSA? "It was obvious that LSA was going to potentially revolutionize flight training by reducing expense." Mike acquired his first Evektor in 2009, only five years after LSA burst on the aviation scene. Sunrise trains to all levels, even including aerobatics, so pilots that start in LSA may transition later. Mike wondered how Sunrise students would proceed after primary training in LSA and afterward moving to larger aircraft. "SportStar is perfect. It is a great training vehicle and the transition to larger aircraft seems to be very straightforward." Mike amplified, "Flight instructors like it because it is really a great training airplane. The best trainers are light, small, maneuverable, frisky. The quicker the airplane makes the student aware of a problem, the quicker the student will recognize a maneuver that didn't look right, the easier it is to get the student involved with fixing the problem. From the flight instructor's view, it simply makes the job easier."
Experience — Then and NowAny owner can get jazzed about an airplane he or she recently bought. The excitement of a new purchase can overwhelm the pragmatic aspects of longer-term ownership. Here are Mike Church's thoughts six years ago, in 2013. Later on, we'll update his perceptions. "Cost of operation has proven to be the single biggest value." That was very important to this businessman. He specified fuel use was so much lower than what his schools was used to with Cessna 150s and 172s. Since 1978 avgas has only gotten more expensive. Lower fuel cost seems obvious, perhaps, yet endurance of the airframe is one of the problems regular GA pilots note. "Apparently the low inertia and light weight means they don't break very much," Mike observed. In just four years, he reported reaching engine overhaul in two airplanes, logging more than 2,000 hours in each. "We had very few problems." Way back then, Mike felt, "This is the training airplane to which Sunrise is now committed." So he liked Evektor. What about the Rotax engine those models use? Mike noted that his earlier aircraft went through four overhauls of their Lycoming engines. He became very confident with them. In 2013, Sunrise was still acquiring time with Rotax and Mike considered the trial ongoing but added, "to date, the Rotax engines have been remarkably trouble free." And now? In the six years since, he has become an even bigger advocate of Rotax powerplants. By January of 2019, he reported, "We now have a fleet of five Evektor [both SportStar and Harmony models], and we have accumulated more than 18,000 hours of experience on the airframes and engines." "I can say now with great assurance that the Rotax has proved to be a remarkable piece of machinery. Low cost of operation. Low cost of maintenance. I'm a fan!" Moving from Rotax to other engines means students must learn some new tasks, such as operating mixture control, but he concluded, "This is relatively simple [training] stuff to teach."
How about Mechanics?A flight school owner might be expected to be positive about purchase he made. What happens when Sunrise mechanics are asked about their views of Evektor airframes and Rotax powerplants? Sunrise mechanic Matt Wilderman is an A&P with Inspection Authorization. He relates experience since 2009. "I've never worked with an airplane that demanded so little maintenance. It's mostly been tires and brakes. We've had no major airframe issues and very minor engine issues." He enthusiastically added, "If you keep on top of them, they've been fantastically reliable, more so than any other airplane I've worked on." How does Matt feel about Rotax? "They've also been fantastic. I've never worked with a better aircraft engine." To clarify, Matt added, "We change the spark plugs, the oil, and the filters every 50 hours. Even running avgas we've had no problems with leading that some people have reported. In 2,000 hours we replaced one small spring on the sprague clutch; that's it." "We've had no lubrication issues, no ignition issues. I had questions at first, but despite hard use by students, the engines have held up exceptionally well. Most squawks that I've received have been indicators; it always seems to be the sensor but today even those problems appear to be resolved." "The airframes are so light that you don't see a lot of wear," Matt continued, and in so saying he turns the "light" problem upside down to become a positive. "They just haven't been breaking. I have nothing but praise for the whole LSA program."
What Do Instructors Think?Instructor don't own the equipment nor must they repair it. Here's a sampling of what various Sunrise instructors say. "SportStar is excellent for training. It has nice control responses." "My students love flying this [Evektor]. It's so easy to fly." They relate the students are comfortable in the airplane. "Visibility absolutely unrestricted" and their students like that. "The view is amazing." "The climb performance that Evektor provides us is incredible." Evektor has proven very cost effective. "You only spend about twenty bucks on fuel," said another CFI, referring to the cost of providing a flight lesson. When a Master CFI and owner/operator of a Part 141 flight school talks this way after a decade of experience, it would seem to carry more heft than your average Private Pilot. After building 18,000 hours of total time on a fleet of five Evektor LSA over 10 years experience, Sunrise Aviation remains committed to Evektor Light-Sport Aircraft for primary flight training. Added 5/17/19 — Listen to Sunrise Aviation owner, Mike Church tell you in his own words about his experience with Light-Sport Aircraft as training aircraft in his busy flight school. https://youtu.be/OLd720HCYhU Want more? Here is our flight review of the Evektor Harmony shot at DeLand Showcase 2017: https://youtu.be/nsxFl45FjQw
One of the controversies surrounding Light-Sport Aircraft has to do with that first word: “light.” Early on, one aircraft importer lobbied to remove the word as it was negatively viewed, he believed. Article updated (5/17/19) with newly released video with Sunrise Aviation owner, Mike Church (see below). Indeed, outside of the LSA world, many pilots I’ve spoken to believe these aircraft are too lightly built to hold up in flight training, one of the most demanding of all flight activities. “Yes, an experienced pilot may love a LSA,” they may concede, “but these aircraft cannot hold up to regular flight instruction duty.” Enthusiasts may be biased but what would an actual flight school operator say? To get it straight from the horse’s mouth, I inquired of Sunrise Aviation. This substantial flight school has for more than 40 years operated out of the very busy John Wayne airport in Orange County, California.