One of the stalwarts of the light aircraft sector is Kitfox, a brand known widely around the globe. First flown in November 1984 by Dan Denney, nearly 5,000 aircraft in various models have been produced. Nearly all were built from kits but the company also achieved Special Light-Sport Aircraft status allowing flight instruction for compensation. Kitfox, like all that appear somewhat similar, evolved from the original Avid Flyer by Dean Wilson in 1983. The Kitfox brand went through various owners after Denney sold and today resides with John McBean though the company has always hailed from Idaho. “Working from the very successful and robust Kitfox S7 Super Sport, we created a clipped wing, aerodynamically refined, and superbly stylized taildragger Speedster that is guaranteed to get the heart rate up to redline,” said McBean in news announced just before Airventure 2017 is set to begin (next Monday, July 25th).
Dragonfly Grows Up
Dragonfly was designed to fly slowly. A hang glider cannot be towed safely at speeds much above 30-35 mph. Dragonfly can stall below 20 mph. It has elephant-ear-sized flaperons, a large empennage, and Vne was 55 mph on the first models. As I said: purpose-built to tow hang gliders.What else might it do? Well, plenty perhaps, and especially so should FAA allow LAMA to coordinate with industry for a test period to see if Light-Sport Aircraft can become working aircraft. More on that another time. Ed Pitman, a longtime hang glider pilot turned aircraft manufacturer, recently gained approval for a Dragonfly Rancher model as a Special LSA. "Got both 900 & 582 series Dragonfly Ranchers approved SLSA yesterday," he wrote, taking after Bobby in being frugal with words. I pried a few more from him. "We reworked the Dragonfly to make it more pilot friendly to the GA market and targeted farmers and ranchers, by making it a tax-deductible piece of farm equipment." Under current regs a farmer can use such a flying machine for his own fields. "However," Ed added, "second and third world countries are interested in it for commercial crop dusting." Every U.S. state is different when it comes to aerial application, said Ed. "Here in California, a land owner is allowed to spray their own property from the air with a standard Applicators Permit. Dragonfly Rancher is a bonafide piece of farm and ranch equipment." "Vne on Dragonfly was 66 mph (upped from those earlier models) and Rancher goes further, to 88 mph Vne." The newly beefed-up Dragonfly can carry enough payload to do micro spraying, which — if you don't know as I did not — is a legitimate method of application in some situations. "We increased the gross weight to 1,200 pounds because we will be putting it on floats, also," said Ed. "Bobby re-schemed the wings, which only gained 2.2 pounds each to get to that higher gross weight." The all-up weight went from 992 pounds (450 kg) earlier. I asked Ed to explain what they did to bump gross and Vne speed. "We reduced rudder pressure, added electric flaperons, reinforced the main gear, and improved longitudinal stability of the Dragonfly," he clarified. A nose cone and windscreen reduces fatigue for a working pilot. Yet Dragonfly remains "fun to fly," he asured. "It actually performs better with flaps up in aerobatics — spins and loops — and still does a controllable spin." "With floats it can be used for Introductory Flights as a SLSA," added Ed. Training pilots for towing required a second seat, though it is commonly, and easily, removed along with the aft joystick and pedals. Interested in micro spraying? "My website has tax calculator link to see federal tax benefits," reported Ed. (calculator is another website) Also some videos. Get more info on this hard-working aircraft on Ed's website, then click Rancher. Go here to see more of Dragonfly's history.
You may not know this Dragonfly airplane but I do. Very well. Since before it was called Dragonfly, I followed the development of this unusual aircraft by Bobby Bailey. You probably don’t know him either but he’s one of the most inventive light aircraft designers. A man of very few words, he prefers to create than to talk about it. Dragonfly is an important icon in the hang gliding community. This aircraft was purpose-built to tow hang gliders aloft. At a place near Sun ‘n Fun called Wallaby Ranch, this happens nearly every day of the year. Proprietor Malcolm Jones founded “the Ranch” in 1992. He has a fleet of Dragonflys that he uses to tow up experts, students learning to fly, or almost anyone wanting to get an introduction to hang gliding. Dragonfly has been fantastically productive, towing so many thousands of flights that I doubt they could be accurately counted.
How did Mike Lotz do it?"While doing first basic construction steps, I kept toying with the tail wheel idea. I started researching plans and books: Tony Bingelis' Sportplane Builder and my favorite, Ladislao Pazmany's Landing Gear Design For Light Aircraft. "While in construction, I decided I would commit to the tail wheel conversion. At the same time, just to see if it could be done, I decided to modify Lightning's controls to create center stick, another thing the factory had not done. I thought this would make entry easier and also let my wife have her own uncluttered space. This was my first project and at the rate I was going, I figured I wasn't going be doing too many of these so I wanted to do this one exactly how I wanted it. "I contacted Nick and got some better clarity on center of gravity and possible wheel positions and applied them to Pazmany's formulas until everything came in within the guidelines. Theoretical weight and balance and prop clearance were also considerations. I am a retired machinist, so the metal work and fixturing was very familiar to me although I did have to 'tune' up my welding for about a year and a half before I attempted the landing gear legs and supports. "At this time I've got about 2,500 hours into it. Although the empty CG moved a little more than an inch aft with the tail wheel, we are still well within the envelope and Light-Sport limit with two people and 20 gallons of fuel. "I'm using the Jabiru 3300 and without the nose wheel, I hope to add a few miles an hour in cruise and lose a couple on landing." Wisely, Mike hasn't decided if he'll do the test flight on his Lightning TD. "I've spent more time building than flying lately," Mike admitted. This is a common, smart move… to let a person other than the builder do the test flight. Mike continued, "Buzz Rich, who is very involved with Nick at Lightning and has a ton of time in the Lightning and tail wheels, has offered to do the first flights and it would be a kick to get his take on my project if we can work it out. I'll be flying amateur built but Lightning TD will come within Light-Sport limits. "This is way more plane than I could have ever imagined for myself." Make is both clever with technical skills and is diplomatic as he added an essential thank-you note. "Thanks to my wife Kathy for the great seats she sewed, for helping me move, lift, hold, and generally assist in the barn and for tolerating airplane parts in rooms around the house for seven years now. In fact, I think she misses the propeller not being in the living room anymore." Mike also added thanks to Nick, Mark, and Buzz at Arion Aircraft. So, now that you know Mike's story, what will you do this weekend?
I readily admit I find Arion’s Lightning LS-1 (the Special LSA model designation) one of the most handsome in the Light-Sport fleet …which is saying something as we enjoy dozens and dozens of quite beautiful aircraft in this sector. It’s also all-American, referencing its design and manufacturing. Lightning lives up to its name, running easily to the 120-knot maximum for LSA, especially when powered with a very muscular six-cylinder, 120 horsepower Jabiru 3300 powerplant. Every Lightning to date has been a tricycle gear airplane and, honestly, for most pilots, that is the right choice. However, like many aviators, I love the look of a tail dragger so when I stumbled across the one you see in the photos, I did a double take. Whoa! That looks hot! What you see here is a product of seven years of work by builder/owner Mike Lotz. I asked him to tell me about it and he offered enough that I’m going to let him tell his story.
Think back far enough in the still-fairly-new LSA sector and you should recall a time when one brand made some major impact on all of personal aviation. The company was Remos and their U.S. team amped up promotional activity to the level of full page ads in most of the biggest aviation magazines in aviation. By my casual estimate, Remos was spending north of $35,000 per month on splashy advertisements. Remos also did an airplane giveaway with AOPA; the company was a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut. Prudent or not, you had to admire that the company pulled out the stops in an effort to become the main LSA brand. Such a no-holds-barred approach has worked for products in other industries. However… Then the door of opportunity slammed shut. It was not that the advertising didn’t work. Certainly it did make the brand well recognized. However, by 2009 the global economy was in a tailspin.
You may not be thinking about it now while the snow swirls and piles up in mountainous white drifts, but in a few months, Canada will again be a very scenic place to fly. May an American LSA owner do so? While a growing number of countries around the world have been steadily embracing use of ASTM standards — as are used to gain FAA acceptance in the U.S. — Canada has resisted the trend. America’s neighbor to the North has another category called Advanced Ultra-Light Aeroplane (AULA) that is very similar to LSA and has worked for Transport Canada for years. Canadian authorities have subtly changed the game and relaxed the cost of flying your Yankee LSA north of the border. According to writer Patrick Gilligan, “An exemption by Transport Canada (TC) makes it more affordable and less onerous for Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) from the United States to be flown into Canada.” Gilligan continued to explain (original COPA article) saying that American LSA owners simply have to download and complete a Standardized Validation form (available here).
Even very familiar companies like Zenith Aircraft company, part of a family light aviation empire including Zenair in Canada•, has to prepare well when FAA comes to visit. Specifically, this would be the agency’s KET or Kit Evaluation Team. When various representatives of the regulatory agency visit they use a multi-page list to assure that a kit aircraft meets the requirement that 51% of the kit is built by the owner. Formerly called Experimental Amateur Built (or EAB), many aviators simply say the “51% rule.” In earlier times, kit aircraft were scratch built — meaning a builder secured raw materials that had to be formed and finished while referring to drawings, a potentially very lengthy process. To ease the effort and increase sales, an industry developed to sell component kits. These have become increasingly sophisticated with qualities such as match-hole construction using CNC machines. Making it easier for a builder to assemble his or her aircraft is good, but the kit manufacturer must be able to clearly demonstrate how the owner will do 51% of the work, as required.
The great show of Europe called Aero Friedrichshafen is about to begin. It starts officially tomorrow and runs through Saturday (April 20-23, 2016). I’ve lost count, but believe this is my 20th year of attending, far more than any other European show. As he worked to help exhibitors and manage the million details of his event, boss Roland Bosch said the event started in 1977, meaning next year would be its 40th, but… Aero alternated years from 1977 through 1991 (as do many European airshows). With the 1993 event it went annual, meaning this is the 31st Aero. On Monday, the vast 11 halls of the Messe (the facility name) were largely empty but slowly becoming populated with airplanes. In all of the gymnasium-sized halls with their elegant curved wood roofs, workers assembled displays. In Halls B1, B2, and B3 — where the light aircraft I follow are concentrated — displays are more elaborate than anything we typically see at U.S.
Unless you’ve had your mind on other pursuits — oh, for example, preparing to head to Sun ‘n Fun 2016 next week (the show runs April 5-10) — you could hardly miss the growing buzz surrounding Icon. A soft whistle of air escaping the cabin turned into a deafening roar as Aero-News.Net (always fast with news), AOPA online, AVweb and others piled on to a story about Icon’s 40-page A5 purchase contract. Credible journalistic work was done by Jim Campbell, Jim Moore, and Paul Bertorelli (respectively of each of the publications mentioned above) in documenting the behemoth contract. I have an opinion too — one part respectful of the California company’s wish to protect their brand and their investment and and one part saying, “What the…?” I see no reason to delve into further than the lengthy stories my fellow writers already posted. Instead, I like following what’s new in Light-Sport Aircraft, light kit aircraft, and ultralights.
Predictions of a great thinning of the herd… of a consolidation of LSA producers to a handful of leaders never came to pass. No wonder, when the new Special LSA acceptances keep piling up. What I find quite fascinating is that the four newest SLSA were Made-in-American aircraft or seven of the last ten. The Yankees are coming on stronger after the Europeans owned the market for the first few years. I have new SLSA airplane market share numbers for 2015 thanks to hours of work by my friend and LAMA associate, Jan Fridrich. With Sun ‘n Fun and Aero approaching I have simply been short of time to give such important info the attention it deserves. Yet, as soon as possible… Meanwhile I am pleased to announce the latest SLSA. Welcome to Glasair’s Merlin LSA that we reported in this video with company president Nigel Mott. AOPA crack reporter, Al Marsh reported Merlin LSA is priced at $149,950.
In the beginning … the light aviation world was void and without form. Those were the earliest days of light powered aircraft that people could truly afford. I refer way back to the late 1970s following a period when hang gliders were the darlings of the affordable aviation world. Hang gliders evolved in various dimensions, among which was the addition of an engine to a previously unpowered type of flying machine. In those formative years one man stood large. Not only a big man in physical form, he was big in stature and bold in his goals. Some readers already know to whom I refer — the always impressive and irrepressible Chuck Slusarczyk. History about him goes back far enough that much of it precedes the World Wide Web. The earliest articles about Chuck and his enterprise never made it into the digital universe but see this link for a number that did, including some videos.