A key phrase for this website is “Affordable Aviation” (in fact, we bought AffordableAviation.com for future use). Our focus is on aircraft that can work within the budgets of many recreational or sport pilots. Reading about bizjets or self-flying drones in major magazines may be interesting but those of us who love to fly prefer flying machines we can genuinely afford. A kit-built aircraft is one way to make airplanes more affordable, and more personal. The great news is you have many wonderful choices. What you may not have is time and that’s why this article covers Merlin PSA. How much time must you invest to get airborne? Would you believe a mere two weeks? Many kits ask for months, even years of your labor plus a place to do this work. If you love the craftsmanship, that may be fine but if you build so you can fly, why not have the process be easier and swifter?
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.
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.
Are you intrigued by an affordable yet well-performing single-seat Personal Sport Aircraft? In a time when so many claim light aircraft have simply become too expensive, one aircraft is coming to challenge that belief. Some rather grudgingly acknowledge that, yes, you can buy a low-cost aircraft but that it won’t satisfy your desires … that it will have an open cockpit, or is too slow, or uses an engine you don’t know, or that it lacks the right instruments, or it will be a weight shift aircraft or a powered parachute … or something that disqualifies it for them. Well, even our friends at Flying magazine — thanks to popular writer Pia Bergqvist, who also covered such aircraft as Quicksilver‘s wide-open Sport 2 SE — gave recent prominent coverage to what importer/developer Chip Erwin is doing with his Merlin PSA. Does the name Chip Erwin ring a bell?
What’s in a name? I like Glowfly, as a sort of double entendre. It could suggest “Go fly,” or it might refer to glow as in the spark employed to start a turbine engine. Yup, in case you didn’t see our earlier article by Dave Unwin, the newly renamed Glowfly is a jet-powered sailplane that uses electric-powered main wheel propulsion to assist. How’s that for — as my favorite British comedy troupe, Monty Python, used to say — “something completely different?” Formerly called GloW (which nearly everyone was sure to misspell; certainly your smarty-pants smartphone would never get the capitalization right), Glowfly is moving along smartly. Here’s an update the folks at ProAirport sent along. “The first public reveal — Project Glow becomes Glowfly,” glowed the ProAirport team. In the last weekend of November at the Flyer Live show, ProAirport said, “We were overwhelmed by the number of visitors to the ProAirsport stand. It was truly fantastic to meet and talk to all these extremely interested people who had made a beeline for us after hearing and reading all about Project Glow [the project’s earlier name].” They reported that many interested pilots specifically came to see Glowfly live, as the show name suggests.
This website focuses on the affordable end of aviation. However, “affordable” is a relative term. I’ve written about Icon’s A5, which may set the bar highest among Light-Sport Aircraft at around $247,000 for a well-equipped LSA seaplane. (See our Video Pilot Report.) If you had the money would you buy an A5 or a Cessna 172 Skyhawk for around $400,000. You probably have a response but then, the question is rhetorical because most readers likely don’t have a quarter-million to do drop on a LSA, no matter how magnificent it may be. I’ve also written about the $16,000 (or so) fully-built Aerolite 103. Some think that’s a wonderful deal on a very nice single seat airplane. Yet at least one person wrote on my Dan Johnson Media / Affordable Aviation Facebook page that even Aerolite is too expensive. Fair enough. We all have different budgets.
Aerolite 103 from U-Fly-It has been on a tear for the last couple years, producing at capacity and stretching to produce even more for 2016. Some of those very attractively priced aircraft — way under $20,000 ready-to-fly! … take that, sluggish economy! — are headed off on the longest trip of their lives. The DeLand, Florida company has been shipping units to Europe where their German-based European distributor operates. So much for too-costly airplanes. Aerolite 103 (and a few other well-priced examples from light aircraft producers) proves an airplane doesn’t have to be costly to deliver a good time. The German Aerolite 120 is somewhat costlier to account for shipping, German certification expense, etc. “British pilots have embraced Aerolite 120,” said German distributor Vierwerk Aviation. “Aerolite’s proper design, very good quality, and meticulous workmanship in every detail have been praised and recognized by everyone.” Aerolite 120 is the European-approved version of America’s Aerolite 103.
I’m always impressed with good turns of phrase and cleverly-worded presentations. Given that I am a writer, I suppose that doesn’t surprise you. However, I am even more impressed when someone can present a concept in such clear language that everyone gets it right away. Following is such a story. My longtime friend and fellow board member, Tom Peghiny, participated in our annual Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association board of directors meeting at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, where EAA kindly provides a quiet, air-conditioned space for our group to meet. LAMA has four initiatives that the association is pursuing*. One of them is trying to break the logjam of electric propulsion In an FAA-organized gathering on this and other subjects at AirVenture 2014, industry experts observed that FAA never intended to block electric power. Agency rulewriters were intent on preventing use of turbine engines on LSA so the regulation specifies reciprocating engines only, effectively blocking electric power even if doing so was never the goal.
The big summer celebration of flight has ended. I have more info from AirVenture 2015 and next I plan a summary article. A preview includes the most positive prognosis from industry players I have seen in recent years; strong sales reported by several producers; several interesting developments or benchmarks; and a wonderful week of weather as icing on the cake. My video partner and I put in long days to secure perhaps 30 or more new videos including many on the freshest topics in light aviation. Stay tuned for more and go here to see the hundreds of videos we have posted from previous events. The Shiniest Part 103 … We shot a video interview on the line of Hummel Aviation light aircraft, including two Part 103 models and one Experimental Amateur Built version. Toward the end of the week, one that had been sheltered in a tent on one end of the sprawling AirVenture grounds was hand towed to the Ultralight Area — called the Fun Fly Zone — so people could see this mirror-finish (highly polished aluminum) UltraCruiser in the air.
The following article is a guest editorial by Chip Erwin, a name many rightfully associate with the highly successful SportCruiser LSA. A restless entrepreneur, Chip has been working behind the curtain for several years. He emerged with the Zigolo and is now proposing a fresh name for a segment that seems to have energy behind it. I have reported on England’s new SSDR 300 category and I have observed the rejuvenation of Part 103 vehicles. So, on our recent travels to China, I encouraged Chip to express what he has in mind. Article Update 6/15/15 — At the end of this article see our video shot at Sun ‘n Fun 2015 regarding Chip’s electric motor and plans. Is “affordable aircraft” an oxymoron? For most people, probably yes. One answer could be a class of aircraft I like to refer to as a PSA, or Personal Sport Aircraft.