The Midwest LSA Expo 2020 is over, the final airshow of this strange year. Light aircraft are holding up well and coverage appears below and will continue, plus check our 3-minute video library on the ByDanJohnson YouTube channel. In addition, you can find nearly 1,000 LSA and Sport Pilot kit videos featuring Dan on Videoman Dave’s “The Ultralight Flyer” YouTube channel + view hundreds of our best videos archived here in a searchable format. Thanks for your visit. We genuinely appreciate those of you who have become members!
Keep Helping, Please!If these aircraft interest you, please review the list and tell me of any additional producers I did not include. I want them all — IF — they meet these four criteria: 1️⃣ Current production aircraft only. If an aircraft is not actively being sold today, I will not include it, however, I have listed some "in development" models as they are from known producers who have made Part 103 aircraft before. Multicopter designs will not be included as none have entered the market to-date. 2️⃣ An aircraft must be able to qualify for Part 103 according to FAA's Advisory Circular AC-103-7. This can include a kit-built Part 103 aircraft that a buyer may register in Experimental class so long as it can genuinely comply with Part 103 parameters. Part 103 Ultralights built from plans will also be included. 3️⃣ Powered, wheeled aircraft in these configurations: fixed wing, weight shift trike, powered parachute, gyroplane, motorglider or paraglider with wheeled carriage. 4️⃣ No one-off, custom designs or aircraft still in an early development phase. I only want aircraft that a customer can buy for delivery within the next 12 months. To encourage all producers to tell me their delivery numbers, I will anonymize manufacturer data in reporting results and I will protect the data with my reputation. I will not share information provided in confidence but I will summarize results aiming to report a whole-industry production figure. I will report how many aircraft in each of the aircraft types noted in the draft list below. I will report how many are designed and built the USA (see flags). If and when I am given permission, I may report on the more successful aircraft and how many the producer has delivered. This industry data will be quite different from our data on Light-Sport Aircraft, Sport Pilot kit-built aircraft, and modern gyroplanes. You can find out everything about these segments on our Tableau Public page. This data comes 100% from FAA's aircraft registration database. I believe it to be the most complete and most accurate information anyone has on these three segments. Because Part 103 ultralights are not required to be registered with FAA, I will ask each producer to tell me how many aircraft they delivered in 2019 and 2020. I will exercise my own judgement and do my own due diligence to make this information as accurate as possible. I will use my intimate knowledge of this sector to determine if numbers seem unlikely and then I will investigate further. At least over time, I believe this can provide reliable information but even in the first year, it will be the best information anyone has. I suspect the Part 103 List will become as popular as our present SLSA List. Along with PlaneFinder 2.0, the SLSA List is one of our most-visited pages and I think the Part 103 List may come to rival those two because readers of this website like affordable aircraft …and Part 103 ultralights are aviation's most affordable.
List of Ultralight Producers The Part 103 "Draft" List
This list is not in any particular order. Please attach no significance to the position in this draft list. A flag shown after the aircraft indicates both the origin of the design and the location of its manufacture is the United States. This is just for illustration and carries no particular meaning.Before the Part 103 List goes online, I will add web addresses and email addresses for all companies plus links to my articles about that aircraft or company. Here then, 54 producers strong, is the draft list that I fully expect to expand: FIXED WING / THREE AXIS AIRCRAFT This list is still in development; more entries are expected 1— U-Fly-It Aerolite 103 🇺🇸 2— Kolb Firefly 🇺🇸 3— Quicksilver Sprint, Sport 🇺🇸 4— Better Half VW Legal Eagle 🇺🇸 5— Aeromarine-LSA Merlin Lite 6— Aeromarine-LSA Zigolo 7— Badland Aircraft F-series (formerly Kitfox Lite) 🇺🇸 8— Just Aircraft 103 Solo (in development) 🇺🇸 9— Hummel Aviation UltraCruiser 🇺🇸 10— TEAM MiniMax, multiple models 🇺🇸 11— Fisher Flying Products, multiple models 12— Aero Adventure Aventura UL (formerly Buccaneer) 🇺🇸 13— JH Aircraft Corsair 14— SD Planes SD-1 (qualification pending) 15— AVI/Modern Wings Swan 120 16— Quad City Ultralight Challenger 103 🇺🇸 17— CGS Hawk 103, Ultra 🇺🇸 18— Phantom Classic X-1 🇺🇸 19— M-Squared Breeze SS 🇺🇸 20— Ekolot Elf KR-01A 21— Earthstar Gull 2000, Soaring Gull 🇺🇸 22— Carlson Sparrow (market reentry underway) 🇺🇸 23— Sherwood Kub 24— Eurofly Minifox 25— Lazair Nouveau 26— Thunderbird SNS-8 Hiperlight 🇺🇸 27— Airsport Song UL 28— Jordan Lake Aero Air-Bike 103 🇺🇸 29— Mitchell Wing A-10D 🇺🇸 30— Sector Aircraft Quantum 103 (in development) 31— Simplex Aero Zing, Cloudster 🇺🇸 32— Cloudbase Aviation Skylite, Lil’ Bitts 🇺🇸 33— Wings of Freedom Phoenix 103, Flitplane 🇺🇸 34— Tri-State Kites Smithsilver 103 🇺🇸 WEIGHT SHIFT (TRIKES) 35— Evolution Rev 🇺🇸 36— North Wing ATF, Solairus, Maverick 🇺🇸 37— Fly Hard Trikes Skycycle 🇺🇸 38— Air Creation Pixel 39— AirBorne Australia T-Lite 40— Airtime Aircraft Explorer 103 (amphibious) 🇺🇸 41— Grif Italia, multiple models 42— Aeros Ant 43— FlyLight PeaBee 44— Ace Aviation Spirit series 45— Eurofly Snake POWERED PARACHUTES 46— Infinity PPC Challenger 🇺🇸 47— Six Chuter P3 Lite 🇺🇸 HELICOPTERS 48— Innovator Technologies Mosquito Helicopter GYROPLANES 49— Fusioncopter Nano gyroplane 50— Star LSA Star Bee Gyro 🇺🇸 POWERED, WHEELED PARAGLIDERS 51— Blackhawk LowBoy III, Quad 🇺🇸 52— Sky Driving Skykart 🇺🇸 53— Green Eagle, multiple models 🇺🇸 54— Fresh Breeze, multiple models
A note about our Part 103 Ultralight logo — Yes, I know this is actually a drawing of a two-seat Flightstar II. It was the most appropriate artwork I had (thanks, Rich!) of an aircraft not presently in production and one that will not return. I wanted something neutral and I thought this worked. If you noticed this "anomaly," pat yourself on the back for your sharp eye.
UPDATE 12/3/20: Adding even more…! —DJ A great many of you read the article about the new Part 103 List. Your enthusiasm plus lots of comments reflect the strong interest generated by these lightest, most-affordable, and fun-to-fly aircraft. With input from readers and through more research, I have increased the draft list to the one you see below, now 54 producers strong! Honestly… I expect even more. Many readers were surprised by the number of producers of these aircraft that too many pilots thought were dead and buried by Light-Sport Aircraft and FAA’s requirement that previous two-seat ultralight trainers had to leave paid flight instruction and become private aircraft. As the list shows — and as my plan to attempt counting the number of aircraft built every year proves — Part 103 Ultralight Vehicles are indeed alive and thriving. Keep Helping, Please! If these aircraft interest you, please review the list and tell me of any additional producers I did not include.
Lower-Priced ColtTexas Aircraft Manufacturing announced they are now offering an entry-level Colt Special LSA with a single Garmin G3X Touch flight display at a much-reduced price. The company's first offering listed for $167,000. “As we come out from under Covid-induced flight training restrictions, operators of several flight schools have come to us asking for an affordably-priced, all-metal, Garmin-equipped training aircraft,” CEO, Matheus Grande, stated. “Our solution is the highly-advanced and very-affordable entry-level Colt SLSA, which is priced at $139,900, below the cost of the fully-equipped Colt-S and Colt-SL models.” Their Texas Aircraft Colt SLSA standard package includes:
- 10.6-inch Garmin G3X Touch configurable touchscreen display with built-in Synthetic Vision
- Single Garmin communications radio
- Garmin ADS-B Out transponder
- Analog flight instruments
- Synthetic leather upholstery
- Left-side only toe breaks
- All-white exterior paint with no graphics
One More ThingI love using the old Steve Jobs line that held so many in suspense at the end of one of his wildly-popular Apple product presentations. "One more thing" became a phrase that would set the Mac Fanboy hearts pumping. "What could it be this time," they would wonder? More About LSA Costs — What I'd like to invite is your read of AVweb writer Paul Bertorelli's article, titled, "LSA or Legacy? Costs Compared" Paul always does a credible job, as you'd expect from a longtime professional journalist. His writing style is approachable. He's not afraid of some controversy. No wonder people love reading his stuff. Paul's LSA-related article is one of specific interest to ByDanJohnson.com readers (and, no, I'm not just saying that because he quotes me near the beginning of the article). In case you don't follow the link, here's a few key comments: Compared to New GA — "[New LSA] would be cheaper to buy … relative to new, standard-category [conventionally-certified] airplanes … with similar or greater capability." Purchase and Maintenance — "Are LSAs cheaper to own than equivalent legacy [used] airplanes? The answer depends on how you crunch the numbers, but if investment costs are tallied, the answer is no. If operating costs alone are considered, light sport airplanes look attractive against both legacy airplanes and definitely any new standard-category aircraft." Contrast with Cessna 150 — "Consider the last model year of the Cessna 152, 1986. Find them in the low- to mid-$40s to as much as $90,000 for a fully restored [that is, similar to new] airframe." Annual Expenses — "If anything is a constant in aviation, it’s that’s bigger, faster airplanes burn through money at a faster rate and the near-ruinous annual is always in the offing. In that respect, legacy two-seaters and LSAs are definitely less money hungry, starting with annuals." Satisfaction — "Owners who bought new or recent used Light-Sport Airplanes seem satisfied with the purchase and operating costs and report no unpleasant surprises, nor regrets in having made the purchase. These owners were a mix of step-down buyers and bucket listers who always wanted to own an airplane and found the ability to do that in an LSA." Good info. Thanks, Paul!
As regular readers know, I promote ByDanJohnson.com as the home of “affordable aviation.” I even own the domain name AffordableAviation.com. Yet “affordable” is one of those very personal words. What each of us can afford — or chooses to afford — is different than almost everyone else. Therefore, an especially wide range of choices is good. I have written a lot about very inexpensive aircraft (see many in this series of articles) and you can find lots more from $8,000 to $180,000. Yesterday, a premium supplier of Light-Sport Aircraft made their new entry more affordable. Lower-Priced Colt Texas Aircraft Manufacturing announced they are now offering an entry-level Colt Special LSA with a single Garmin G3X Touch flight display at a much-reduced price. The company’s first offering listed for $167,000. “As we come out from under Covid-induced flight training restrictions, operators of several flight schools have come to us asking for an affordably-priced, all-metal, Garmin-equipped training aircraft,” CEO, Matheus Grande, stated.
Then…In the 1990s, a pair of Canadian aircraft dominated the light aviation market in America's neighbor to the north. The two planes are known to many Americans: Beaver and Chinook. Thanks to a rescue by second owner ASAP many years ago, both continued to be manufactured in Canada's West. Long-departed Birdman Enterprises did a fine job of originating the Chinook. When ASAP took over, Canadians and ultralight enthusiasts in many places celebrated ongoing support of this aircraft. Hundreds of Chinooks were built. That is now rather distant history. Bringing Chinook not only into the present day but also into the USA is the Aeroplane Manufactory.
…and NowFor several years, ASAP sold the Chinook Plus 2, tagging the two-seater model with the “Plus” suffix after ASAP's team improved and refined the aircraft following their acquisition. In more modern times, after purchasing the Chinook design rights and inventory in 2013 (five semi loads' worth!), Aeroplane Manufactory brought the north-of-the-border design way down south to the Houston, Texas area. "We at Aeroplane Manufactory, with almost 50 years of aviation experience, strongly desire to balance the price of building and flying your own aircraft with safety, reliability and affordability," said John Couch, a deeply-experienced aviator leading the Texas kit builder with his wife, Kim. "The Chinook line of aircraft has been on the market for over 35 years, with over 900 aircraft flying in more than 30 countries." Careful to give credit where due, John noted, “Kim is more than my equal partner; she does all research, shipping, packing and handling, and purchasing.” He called her “my own Olive Ann Beech, who even works in the factory making parts!” "We offer the lowest price for the highest performing aircraft in our class," John boasted. "The quality of our parts and kits and ease of construction is paramount to our business and your success as a builder/pilot. Your dream and passion for building and flying your own aircraft is a shared dream and passion of ours. We are with you throughout the building process from start to finish." John is an airline transport rated pilot who has been a flight instructor for 41 years. He has taught flying in the U.S., UK, Australia, and the United Arab Emirates. Learning to fly gliders when he was barely a teenager, John was flying a Lear 25 at the tender age of 24. He reports having flown 140 aircraft in his long career.
More About ChinookSome have said Chinook’s wide cockpit gives it a pudgy appearance from some vantage points. Others enjoy its angular facets, a design feature rising in popularity among auto designers (think: Telsa's proposed CyberTruck). In their days, ASAP added a full Lexan enclosure for the Chinook Plus, making a virtual greenhouse surrounding the pilot and passenger with many square feet of clear plastic offering an unlimited view. In colder northern climates, that enclosure provides a reasonably comfortable environment. Entering a Chinook means lifting yourself over a gap from the outside edge of cockpit to the seat. However, once you swing into position, you’ll love the roominess. Even with a rear seat passenger’s feet on rudder pedals right alongside your seat, space is plentiful. If you’re a wide pilot, this machine might be your dream. As proof, John reports he is 6 foot 7 inches tall and weighs 220 pounds. He fits with room to spare. Since I flew Chinook more than two decades back, the formerly snug aft cabin has been widened by four inches and the lower fuselage pan has been converted to metal skins. John also engineered a change from 1.5 to 5.0 degrees of dihedral to enhance stability. He added, "It is now rock stable in the air." The massive amount of clear surrounding you means visibility from the cockpit of Chinook is sweeping, even before you leave the ground. Taxiing out on a breezy day, I appreciated the low stance of the Chinook on its original gear. You hardly feel like you were operating a taildragger because the deck angle is modest. Most pilots will be happy to hear you can handle the Chinook as though it were a tricycle-gear design. My experience flying Chinook showed it has light and powerful ailerons, which makes it easy to guide through the air. In general, the plane’s handling is quite pleasant despite, or perhaps because of, its somewhat unorthodox shape. When I flew Chinook, the aircraft recorded one of the lowest idle-thrust sink rates of any two-seat ultralight I’d flown at the time. Today, John said that a "60 mph cruise" is achieved despite the draggy but highly shock absorbing DR gear (nearby image). "Dan Reynolds is the designer of the 'DR' gear option for our Chinook line of aircraft," noted John. "Dan is a bush pilot in the Yukon, Canada and flies several modified Chinooks. He broke the world record for shortest landing in the LSA class at Valdez in 2018, and came in second place with the shortest landing at the 2020 Lone Star STOL competition in Gainesville, Texas." Among the several changes John has created, flaperons have been broadened. With its hard-working wing (note close rib spacing), he reports Chinook performs as well as a purpose-built STOL aircraft. "Chinook Plus 2 is typically equipped with a 65-horsepower Rotax 582 and is the gold standard in short/soft field capability, useful load, ruggedness, reliability, range and cockpit size with unlimited visibility" said John. "Fuel capacity with up to four fuel tanks is 22 gallons usable. Add options for tundra tires, skis, or floats and this aircraft can literally take you where no other aircraft can in its class." Airframe kits run $20-23,000 for the Chinook 2 Plus or $30-35,000 for the outback gear DR model. When using the Rotax 582 you can get a standard Chinook 2 Plus airborne for "around $32,000," said John. For roughly $10,000 more you can install a 80-horsepower Rotax 912. Here you can find Chinook Plus 2 Specifications. One model not seen in many years is a single seat version. John promised, "A Chinook Pup Part 103 entry is currently in development. He said it "will absolutely meet 103" using a Kawasaki 340. Five full-time employees pursue the Chinook line and three welders come into the shop a few times a year to make those parts. This team is capable of building about a dozen aircraft a year, John said. Keep up with developments and see loads of photos of customers work to assemble their Chinooks at the company's Facebook page.
One More ThingChinook has been my focus so far but a word about their base of operation is in order. Welcome to Gloster Aerodrome. "We are located less than an hour's drive west on I-10 from downtown Houston in beautiful southern Austin County's Brazos Valley. Our philosophy is to provide a safe and friendly environment for all levels of flying activities for sport aviation. Our field is based on an old English Aerodrome featuring Nissen-style hangars designed with the sport pilot in mind. It's perfect for homebuilt, aerobatic and production-built aircraft under 6,ooo pounds." After many years of providing flight instruction, John's specialty is transitioning from tricycle gear aircraft to tailwheel, short field landings, takeoffs over obstacles and upset training. John also teaches transition courses from general aviation to Light-Sport Aircraft. He gives several flight reviews for airmen each year." "The Gloster School of Special Flying (GSSF) is designed to teach unique skills from beginner students as well as advanced pilots."
Then… In the 1990s, a pair of Canadian aircraft dominated the light aviation market in America’s neighbor to the north. The two planes are known to many Americans: Beaver and Chinook. Thanks to a rescue by second owner ASAP many years ago, both continued to be manufactured in Canada’s West. Long-departed Birdman Enterprises did a fine job of originating the Chinook. When ASAP took over, Canadians and ultralight enthusiasts in many places celebrated ongoing support of this aircraft. Hundreds of Chinooks were built. That is now rather distant history. Bringing Chinook not only into the present day but also into the USA is the Aeroplane Manufactory. …and Now For several years, ASAP sold the Chinook Plus 2, tagging the two-seater model with the “Plus” suffix after ASAP’s team improved and refined the aircraft following their acquisition. In more modern times, after purchasing the Chinook design rights and inventory in 2013 (five semi loads’ worth!), Aeroplane Manufactory brought the north-of-the-border design way down south to the Houston, Texas area.
However… Better News"A one-day Fly-In will take place on Saturday, January 30, 2021 beginning at 9:00 AM at the new Airport Management Center and ramp. That's the opposite side of the field (East side) from the DeLand Showcase location. Many vendors already know this structure because that's where the exhibitor reception was held for the DeLand 2019 event. This makes great use of the new airport terminal building and its roomy ramp space on airside. "Tesla will provide a fleet of their powerful and intriguing cars for visitors to test drive," reported Jana. "EAA Chapter 635 will prepare their Pancake Breakfast and seating will be outside under the verandas for appropriate social distancing due to Covid." She is also arranging aircraft displays and my guess is that airplane representatives — at least the several that are located within the state — will happily come out to meet with customers and enthusiasts. DeLand's one-day Fly & Drive-style event closely resembles the Holiday Flying Festival and Car Show occurring on the Sun 'n Fun campus over December 4th and 5th, 2020. I plan to attend both events and will first report how things look in Lakeland. Here's their schedule of events. I hope many of you can attend both events to support these organizations. Both have taken a massive financial hit by having to postpone their regularly-scheduled airshows. I'm sure they would appreciate you coming out and they each plan to have cars and planes of interest. It's Florida so you can comfortably be outside where worries about Covid are much reduced. See you there!?
As 2020 nears its end, I have news about the first airshow of the new year. It was supposed to be the last airshow of this year but that was scuttled amid all the cancellations due to Covid. …sigh… What’s new? DeLand Showcase 2020 — once hopefully pushed back a couple months, rescheduled for January 2021 — is officially postponed. Like many other events that were dropped from the calendar this troubled year, DeLand’s event made a valiant effort but lost out. DeLand Showcase 2021 will instead go back on the slate for the time period used for all its prior years. Except for a yearlong wait, this may be the best plan as November is actually a great month in Florida. Weather is usually wonderful (still in the 70s or 80s but without the hot, humid summer temperatures). Plus, lodging, rental cars, airfare, and more are usually plentiful as this is considered the “off-season” in Florida.
In the earliest Light-Sport Aircraft days, nearly 70% of available models came from Europe. Slowly but steadily, U.S. producers emerged as did importers for aircraft from other countries. That continues but a parallel development occurred. International manufacturers established American operations that often lead to some level of manufacturing.Joining the movement, Seamax Aircraft announced the launch of the company assembly operations in the USA. Fabrication remains in Brazil but large and small components are shipped to Datona Beach, Florida, where the company's U.S. operation assembles the full airplane near the campus of Embry Riddle, the world's largest aeronautical university.
"In pandemic times, while most businesses are holding tight on their seatbelts, Seamax makes a bold statement to the American market by adding an 'assembled in the USA' tag to their superior performance aircraft," reported U.S. representative Shalom Confessor. The company said they have been planning this move for the past three years, following extensive market research and engineering upgrades. The join-up has been good for each side, experience has shown.Seamax officials have made good use of their location at Research Park, part of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU), "where some 100 students, both graduate, and undergraduate students tutored by business professors, prepared comprehensive business assessments," reported Shalom. The work provided useful intelligence for Seamax but also offered real-life, real-time experience for students and faculty.
While this evaluation was ongoing, engineers lead by designer Miguel Rosario developed new features for the M-22 to match the American market. One such was a new all-glass Garmin cockpit. Work also allowed Seamax to retain their FAA approval while adding the fuel-injected Rotax 912 iS engine. Seamax combined these elements as it delivered its first IFR-capable Seamax to a veteran fighter pilot customer with experience flying as captain of Boeing 767s for a major U.S. airline.
Assembled in America
"With Seamax enhanced for the American market," Shalom continued, "the company strengthened its brand and presence in the USA by adding the assembly operations, which brings factory-level support, maintenance, spare parts inventory, and training capabilities to the USA." Embry Riddle is based at the main Daytona Beach airport where Seamax's new assembly building is located. ERAU's Research Park incubator area recently added a new taxiway to provide convenient access to company facilities.
SEAMAX M-22 is flying in more than 20 countries, and holds certification in a dozen countries since manufacturing began in 2000. After 20 years of continuous engineering improvement, the product is mature enough to allow the company to transfer technology to the United States. "We took a conservative, gradual, and very well-planned approach to U.S. manufacturing," observed Shalom, the company's Executive Director for the United States.
Company CEO, Dr. Gilberto Trivelato, said "Assembling Seamax in America will allow the company to further develop the Seamax M-22 aircraft and to further accelerate our technology and business capabilities in future developments and projects."
See Seamax at Deland Showcase 2021From January 28 to 30 of 2021, the city of DeLand, FL will host its Sport Aviation Showcase 2021 event and the Daytona company signed on as an Elite sponsor. "This is the fourth year in a row that Seamax will exhibit the M-22 in this great show with the presence of our Brazilian team," added Shalom. "We will be right in the middle of the show at our traditional booth #71." The DeLand Sport Aviation Showcase (DSAS) was held in November for its first four years but had to reschedule for January to avoid conflicts associated with Covid. I'll be attending as I have every year — I hope to see many of you as well. We can all check out the new Made-in-the-USA Seamax M-22 along with a solid roster of other aircraft and aviation equipment providers.
Learn more about Seamax from designer Miguel Rosario and U.S. Director Shalom Confessor in this video. https://youtu.be/MuBFCuQ0Yac
In the earliest Light-Sport Aircraft days, nearly 70% of available models came from Europe. Slowly but steadily, U.S. producers emerged as did importers for aircraft from other countries. That continues but a parallel development occurred. International manufacturers established American operations that often lead to some level of manufacturing. Joining the movement, Seamax Aircraft announced the launch of the company assembly operations in the USA. Fabrication remains in Brazil but large and small components are shipped to Datona Beach, Florida, where the company’s U.S. operation assembles the full airplane near the campus of Embry Riddle, the world’s largest aeronautical university. “In pandemic times, while most businesses are holding tight on their seatbelts, Seamax makes a bold statement to the American market by adding an ‘assembled in the USA’ tag to their superior performance aircraft,” reported U.S. representative Shalom Confessor. The company said they have been planning this move for the past three years, following extensive market research and engineering upgrades.
Calling All Ultralights!With this blog post on ByDanJohnson.com, I am putting out a call to identify all active manufacturers of ultralight vehicles. Below you will see a list that I've identified. I'm sure I missed some. If you know of an aircraft or manufacturer not appearing on the list below, please identify it in the comments below. Do not send email. Why? Because using the comment section may stimulate others to report an aircraft I haven't listed below. Before you inform all of us… see the four-point checklist below. While I'm intrigued by earlier aircraft that could qualify (like these in our Vintage Ultralight series of articles), I will limit the Part 103 List to aircraft you can buy new today. I'm interested in aircraft from anywhere in the world, but all must comply with U.S. Part 103 parameters. Non-U.S. Readers… With one-third of all readers of ByDanJohnson.com residing outside the United States, I expect some additional entries originating in another country. They are welcome for the Part 103 List whether represented in America or not, but please only submit entries that genuinely qualify for Part 103 in the USA. Do so using the comment section; do not send email. Entries qualifying for Germany’s 120-Kilo Class and UK’s Sub-70 Class will be accepted. Others will be evaluated individually.
Counting the FleetIn addition to this announcement, I will be writing to all producers. My request is simple: How many units did you deliver to customers in 2019 and 2020? In the interest of simplicity and accuracy, I will only ask for data on the last two calendar years. As most readers know, we built a very accurate system to count all FAA-registered Light-Sport Aircraft, Experimental kits that Sport Pilots can fly ("Sport Pilot Kits"), and modern gyroplanes, most of which are registered as Experimental. You can check every single aircraft in lists, charts, and graphs on Tableau Public. However, because FAA does not require registration for ultralight vehicles — a good thing, many believe — we cannot use their database to count ultralights in the fleet. The only option is to go direct to each company and ask for information. You may ask, "Well, can't the manufacturer just lie about his unit deliveries, since you have no way to verify their claims?" Right you are. Yet I know this industry rather intimately and believe I can detect gross exaggerations. If I keep asking year after year, I will get additional information that should help cull most errors. This is important — Because many producers sell small numbers, they may not want to share their info publicly. I will respect that. To assure builders willing to provide their delivery numbers, I will not report them by company. In tech terms, I will anonymize manufacturer data in reporting results. I will present these numbers in ways I believe readers will find useful as they consider purchase of a 103 ultralight. Later, perhaps I can reveal which companies are the most successful but to encourage early responses, I will protect the data with my reputation. I will not share confidential information.
How Can Ultralights Qualify for the Part 103 List?Here is the criteria I established to make sure this list has value to pilots and future buyers. 1️⃣ Current production aircraft only. I do not want to include any ultralight that is no longer produced. Examples are: American Eagle, Easy Riser, Pterodactyl, and so on. If it isn't made today, I will not include it. Later, I may include some older models as they can still be found for sale but for now, I prefer to keep it simple, reliable, and useful. 2️⃣ The aircraft must be able to make Part 103 according to Advisory Circular AC-103-7. I don't object to a company selling Part 103-like aircraft that a buyer may register in Experimental class. However, the company must offer at least one currently-produced model that genuinely complies with Part 103 parameters. I will accept aircraft delivered either fully-built or as a kit but only if it can legitimately meet Part 103. Aircraft entries that comply with Germany’s 120-Kilo Class and UK’s Sub-70 Class will be accepted. 3️⃣ For now, I will collect info only on powered, wheeled aircraft in fixed wing, weight shift trike, powered parachute, gyroplane, or motorglider configurations. While I personally love hang gliders, foot launched powered paragliders, and unpowered gliders/sailplanes, I will not include them in this initial effort (maybe later?). A powered paraglider with wheeled carriage is acceptable. 4️⃣ I will not accept one-off, custom designs or aircraft still in an early development phase. I only want aircraft that a customer can buy for delivery within a reasonable time. At this time, neither will I include any multicopter designs, such as Kitty Hawk's Flyer or others as they have not entered the market.
List of Ultralight Producers The Part 103 List
This list is not in any particular order. Please attach no significance to the position in the list. An American flag after the aircraft signifies both the origin of the design and the location of its manufacture is the United States. This is just for illustration and carries no particular meaning. Articles about most planes in the list below can be found on this website; use the Search bar at the top.
As the the Part 103 List develops, I will add web addresses and email addresses for all companies plus links to all articles on this website about that aircraft or company. For now, we begin with this draft list …to be expanded with reader input:
- U-Fly-It Aerolite 103 🇺🇸
- Kolb Firefly 🇺🇸
- Quicksilver Sprint / Sport 🇺🇸
- Better Half VW Legal Eagle 🇺🇸
- Aeromarine-LSA Merlin Lite
- Aeromarine-LSA Zigolo
- Badland Aircraft F-series 🇺🇸 formerly Kitfox Lite
- Just Aircraft 103 Solo (in development) 🇺🇸
- Hummel Aviation UltraCruiser 🇺🇸
- TEAM MiniMax, multiple models 🇺🇸
- Fisher Flying Products, multiple models
- Aero Adventure Aventura UL 🇺🇸 formerly Buccaneer
- JH Aircraft Corsair
- SD Planes SD-1
- AVI/Modern Wings Swan 120
- Quad City Ultralight Challenger 103 🇺🇸
- CGS Hawk 103, Ultra 🇺🇸
- Phantom Classic (X-1) 🇺🇸
- Innovator Technologies Mosquito Helicopter
- M-Squared Breeze SS 🇺🇸
- Ekolot Elf KR-01A
- Earthstar Gull 2000, Soaring Gull 🇺🇸
- Carlson Sparrow (market reentry underway) 🇺🇸
- Sherwood Kub
- Eurofly Minifox
- Lazair Nouveau
- Thunderbird SNS-8 Hiperlight 🇺🇸
- Airsport Song UL, Song SSDR
- North Wing ATF, Solairus, Maverick 🇺🇸
- Evolution Rev 🇺🇸
- Fly Hard Trikes Skycycle 🇺🇸
- Air Creation Pixel
- AirBorne Australia T-Lite
- Airtime Aircraft Explorer 103 🇺🇸
- Infinity PPC Challenger 🇺🇸
- Six Chuter P3 Lite 🇺🇸
- Fusioncopter Nano gyroplane
- Star LSA Star Bee Gyro 🇺🇸
- Blackhawk LowBoy III, Quad 🇺🇸
Please remember… if you know of another aircraft that should be included, please tell me (and everyone) using the comment system. I will approve uploaded comments as quickly as time allows. THANKS!
Pilots around the world are aware of Part 103 Ultralights but many have a blurry view of the industry that produces these aircraft. Most are unaware how well this often-overlooked segment is doing in recent years, even during Covid 2020. FAA refers to these lightweight flying machines as “ultralight vehicles,” a term that creative rulewriters adopted in the early 1980s to avoid heavy regulations typical for “aircraft.” This wording helped the young industry grow and develop. It worked so well the regulation has not been altered for decades. Even ultralight enthusiasts in America and other countries may not be fully aware how popular ultralights have become in recent years. When Light-Sport Aircraft came on the scene in 2004 they knocked out the ultralight two-seater training fleet. Many believe ultralights never recovered. How wrong they were, yet who can blame them because no one truly knows how many ultralights are being built and sold these days.
F2 Arrives in AmericaI got to see prototype and introductory show-model versions of F2 and F2e, the electric aircraft that somewhat ironically was the very first to fly in Flight Design's new F-series. My early glimpses were at Aero 2019 and I wrote up what I observed; see it here. Nearly every airshow was cancelled for 2020 amidst the global economic carnage driven by lockdowns and travel restrictions to contain Covid. Well, every show was scrubbed except the Midwest LSA Expo in Mt. Vernon, Illinois. Because that one and only event happened — with no negatives regarding the virus, so far as I know — I got to see and fly Flight Design's latest and greatest, the F2. Not only was the airshow a welcome change from the social barriers everyone had faced over the last few months, but Midwest 2020 provided a venue to see and fly the new model. "CTSW was a Porsche. CTLS was a Corvette. F2 is a Cadillac," said Tom Gutmann, Jr., the younger half of the father and son Airtime Aviation team that is the largest light aircraft dealership in the world. Tom explained that F2 may look similar to CT but is a nose-to-tail, tip-to-tip refreshed design. It has been some time in development because as Tom noted, "Flight Design engineers had to rework the whole airplane. It is significantly larger than CTLS yet final production models should weigh no more." That's some accomplishment! It is also built quite differently. All CTLS are essentially "hand made" with hand-layup molds that display the skill of factory workers yet makes each one unique. For F2, Tom said, Flight Design uses molds created on 5-axis CNC shaping tools so each one is fabricated to precise specifications. You may not be able to see the difference in construction but the new method is far better for serial production. "F2 is manufactured to close tolerances in pre-impregnated carbon fiber for great structural strength and light weight," said Flight Design in Germany. With prepreg carbon fiber from American company Hexcel, F2's honeycomb-core fuselage signifies a big step forward. Likewise, F2's new wing is a major redesign; the outboard sections feature aerodynamic cuffs (nearby photo). F2’s tail is all-new as well. CTLS's full-flying stabilator is replaced with a wider stabilizer that has a discrete two-piece elevator with a center section that remains stationary forming what's often called a duck tail. This aids in meeting the ASTM handling requirement. One result is that the airplane does not pitch up during a departure stall. The altered horizontal tail works cooperatively with the wing cuffs to make a highly stall-resistant airframe, a feature FAA admires so much they gave Icon Aircraft additional weight for the A5 seaplane because the California developer redesigned to add the shape to their wings. Cirrus's SR20 and SR22 also use this design, as do other flying machines …because it works. F2's tail looks notably different than CTLS with a high-aspect-ratio vertical tail and slimmer rudder although the volume is similar. These changes — with the wing cuffs — contribute to better slow-speed handling and genuine spin resistance while still allowing a generous slip and yielding plenty of rudder authority in crosswinds.
Flying F2 — Initial Impressions
Here is a newly-released video interview with U.S. importer, Tom Peghiny from Oshkosh 2019. It describes the aircraft and the entire F-series from Flight Design. https://youtu.be/DAs_ocUd77E
➡️ Update 11/3/20 — A new video interview with Flight Design USA importer Tom Peghiny appears at the bottom of this article. —DJ In the beginning — as Light-Sport Aircraft entered the skies for the first time — German producer Flight Design brought the CTSW to American pilots. It was embraced enthusiastically and the U.S. importer Flight Design USA sold many units to aviators that had waited years for FAA to finalize their no-medical-required LSA segment. CTSW was something of a sports car, agile, quick, high performing but surprisingly roomy. Then came the sophisticated CTLS, wholly redone for the American market. It enlarged the cabin and lengthened the fuselage becoming more deluxe throughout. Now, we come to F2 in what I’m calling the third generation of the iconic shape that still leads the LSA market after almost 17 years. The one and only example presently in America is currently based at Airtime Aviation in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The most popular article of this crazy year — when people have been visiting in record numbers — was about Aeromarine-LSA's Merlin Lite. Tens of thousands of you devoured this article within days of it being posted. The word sensational is vastly overused in modern American society but in this case the word fits the intense interest in Merlin Lite. For the back story, see the article in this link. Despite obvious enthusiasm for this new Part 103 entry, many of you were skeptical. No wonder. An all-metal, fully enclosed aircraft does not closely resemble many of the other Part 103 aircraft that are selling briskly over the last few years. If you were among the doubters this post — and the video below — may serve to allay one of your concerns.
Weighing Merlin LiteDeveloper Chip Erwin came to 2020's Midwest LSA Expo prepared to tackle the hesitation in pilot's acceptance of Merlin Lite as a legitimate Part 103. He brought six bathroom scales plus a fish scale to the show. On opening day, I jumped at the chance to prove to myself and readers that Merlin could actually make weight. To be thorough, weight is not the only consideration. Merlin must also make the speeds of Part 103: a 55 knot level flight maximum speed plus a maximum 24 knot stall. As you will hear in the video, Chip needs to tweak the configuration slightly to assure Merlin Lite does not fly nor stall above limits. He referenced 75 mph cruise speed and a slow speed of of 30 mph. Both are too fast, though just slightly. In a longer video interview to follow, Chip states that he sees no problem in meeting the speed. Not going too fast can be controlled by the right prop setup, especially since the design is already close; top speed can likely be governed by a two-blade, pitch-oriented prop or other alteration. Getting stall down to 24 knots (27.6 mph, where Chip saw "30") is tougher but with full flaps, it will be closer; he reported using deep but not full flaps ("32°" when 50° is available). However, a surer way to achieve the right speeds may be a longer wing that is already built and has flown; see the engineering drawings (below video). Weight from a longer wing may require that the pilot fly without the door, but Chip believes room still exists to lighten Merlin Lite enough for buyers to have it all — full enclosure including door, engine cowl, and most or all of the options seen in the photos and video. The video documents the weighing action conducted inside a hangar that Mt. Vernon airport manager, Chris Collins generously provided so Merlin Lite was not affected by wind. Although I witnessed this using bathroom scales, I checked these with my own weight to see they were within one pound or so of one another (about one-half of one percent deviation). However, Chip will shortly perform a formal weighing using certified scales and an official observer. He's confident Merlin Lite will still qualify and based on what I saw, I agree.
Flying Merlin LiteWithin a short time of returning to his base of operations, Chip took Merlin Lite aloft for its first flight. The video below captures this and shows the aircraft performing well with its Polini Thor 250 engine. Thor 250 outputs 36 horsepower from a single cylinder that Evolution Trikes boss Larry Mednick describes as a smooth running engine that rivals Rotax's 912. That's a big statement but it appears this Polini powerplant dominates the market for the lightest aircraft. Evolution's Rev uses this same engine. Powered paragliders embraced the engine years ago and the company sells thousands of engines every year. Here is a page of full specifications on the Polini line from Miami-based Aerolite. The video spells out some detail in the weighing exercise at Midwest 2020 and provides several clips of Chip's first flight in Merlin. Enjoy…!
New video recently posted on Ultralight News YouTube channel… https://youtu.be/AmnR8qOU_t0
UPDATE Oct 28, 2020 — Video interview with Chip Erwin appears at the bottom of the page, containing more information about Merlin Lite —DJ The most popular article of this crazy year — when people have been visiting in record numbers — was about Aeromarine-LSA‘s Merlin Lite. Tens of thousands of you devoured this article within days of it being posted. The word sensational is vastly overused in modern American society but in this case the word fits the intense interest in Merlin Lite. For the back story, see the article in this link. Despite obvious enthusiasm for this new Part 103 entry, many of you were skeptical. No wonder. An all-metal, fully enclosed aircraft does not closely resemble many of the other Part 103 aircraft that are selling briskly over the last few years. If you were among the doubters this post — and the video below — may serve to allay one of your concerns.
Get It Now / Afford It NowLook, I'm well aware that what is considered "affordable" differs for every single pilot and may change daily depending on other aspects of life. A big, unexpected repair bill or any medical care bill can ruin your plan to buy a new sportplane. However, when a brand-new airplane stays or slips below the $100,000 mark, lots more pilots can think about affording it. If six figures is still way too high, please read all kinds of articles on this website for highly-affordable aircraft (I covered 10 in April 2020 alone; go here) or pick from a growing number of good second-hand aircraft. Ranger was created a few years ago by Abid Farooqui. He once sold weight shift trikes and did a stint helping represent the ApolloFox Avid-like fixed wing entry. Both those were imported. Abid saw the future, however, and turned his considerable engineering talent toward designing and then producing his own modern gyroplane. Since mid-decade he has expanded the line to include a removable full enclosure for the tandem AR-1. He offered a Rotax 912 100 horsepower model and the turbocharged Rotax 914 with up to 115 horsepower. More recently, he turned his attention to the 141-horsepower Rotax 915. This would make AR-1 an awesome performer truly only needed by someone who lives at a high elevation, anticipates fitting floats one day, or if you simply want the most potent gyroplane available. As you might expect an AR-1 powered by the 915 and with full enclosure is not your most affordable variation. Fortunately, SilverLight has aircraft in stock with low hours that can bring the acquisition cost down substantially. To learn which of these may still be available, contact SilverLight directly. Learn more about Rotax 915 in AR-1 in this article from June 2020 or check out this video for a detailed review of the work Abid did to make the 915 fit his AR-1.
Kit-Built (for Now)While gyroplanes are among the most likely additions to fully-built LSA in FAA's coming new regulation, today you must assemble AR-1 from a kit. SilverLight offers a build-assist center at their Zephyrhills airport base near Tampa, Florida. Yet the kit is not a particularly daunting task. For one, you need do no fabric work or painting, two skills that are fairly demanding of a kit builder. The good news… a kit can save money so if affordability is important to you, assembling a kit may be an opportunity, not a deterrent. As a benefit, you will know your aircraft better than someone who buys a ready-to-fly aircraft. The AR-1 kit stats at $39,500 without engine. A 100 horsepower Rotax 912 will add $22,500, or a fuel-injected 912iS adds $28,000. The 115-horsepower Rotax 914 adds $31,500 and the super-sized 915iS adds $42,000. Those price sum to $62,000 to $67,500 to $71,000 to $81,500. You'll also need a wiring harness (about $2,500), and painting of the fuselage parts adds $3,500, and avionics add a few hundred dollars to a few thousand with too many choices to list here. A few other options may tempt you, for example, the removable full enclosure for $8,500. Builder assistance — including the space and tools needed — will add $6,500 to $8,500 depending on options you choose. So you could possibly spend north of $100,000 but you'd have a fully-loaded and very powerful aircraft. Conversely, if you want to keep the cost to a minimum, you could get airborne for perhaps $75,000-80,000 and at that price, you are still in the affordable realm for a brand-new state-of-the-gyroplane-art. Factory-represented used models with low hours may save even more.
Video Flight Lesson in SilverLight Ranger AR-1I've written about my experience flying Ranger AR-1 with instructor Greg Spicola. In the second video below, I took the front seat and received a proper lesson, which I relate in some detail. The first video below, from 2016, attracted a large audience despite being one of my early solo YouTube entries. Most of the 1,000 videos in which I've appeared are done by Videoman Dave, who edited the second video and hosts it on his Ultralight News YouTube channel. I hope you'll enjoy both.
After thousands of articles, I’ve have heard over and over about two common ingredients sought by pilots who visit this website: Affordability and Availability. Once you make a decision about what to buy, you want to be able to get it quickly and you want it to fit your budget. The first requirement is understandable. It’s all fine and good to wish you could buy something but if it’s way out of your price range or if you simply cannot commit to a large purchase right now, it isn’t likely to happen… and after all, who doesn’t love a good price? The second requirement addresses human nature. Once you’ve made your decision you want it as fast as you can get it. Most of us feel that way about most products we research. Get It Now / Afford It Now Look, I’m well aware that what is considered “affordable” differs for every single pilot and may change daily depending on other aspects of life.
Evolving "Rev"First, Evolution Trikes introduced their super-deluxe Revo. Later came the Part 103 Rev, followed by a more potent RevX. Then came their Revolt, an open cockpit two seater. All the Revs carry a lower price tag than the sophisticated Revo. This surely accounts for some of the volume but clearly, as mentioned in the video below, it appears weight shift aircraft are enjoying some kind of revival. In recent years, boss Larry Mednick observed that their "tube-trike" line has been growing in strength. In the video below you will hear him say, "We have officially built more Rev, RevX, and Revolts than we have ever built Revo (models)." The Ferrari of their line, Revo, has been out for 11 years, debuting in 2009. Rev was introduced only four years ago and Revolt only two years. For these "tube-trikes" to have eclipsed Revo in sales numbers is quite remarkable. Why is that? Lots of reasons explain purchase decisions even disregarding the lower purchase price of simpler aircraft: Single seaters are doing well. Evolution is selling many aircraft. And lots of younger participants have emerged. "I don't know what's in the water… I don't know what's going on this year, but the phone has not stopped ringing about these [aircraft] and we are certainly having a record-breaking year," Larry said. He added, "We have three times as many orders this year compared to last year and double our best year since we started in business." Of particular note: "We are seeing a lot of younger buyers. I've never seen so many buyers under 50 [years old] getting involved. We're seeing a lot of buyers in their 30s and 40s; it's very encouraging," Larry enthused. Maybe you don't care about weight shift or other alternative aircraft like powered parachutes, gyroplanes, and motorgliders, but these all bring new pilots into aviation and new pilots often eventually upgrade to faster aircraft so the one you just bought might sell to one of these pilots in the future. I urge you to watch the video below and hear from Larry yourself. Thanks to great work by Videoman Dave of the Light Sport and Ultralight Flyer YouTube channel.
New Model Coming: RevXSI will let Larry tell you himself about this newest entry in his "tube-trike" line. However, I remind you that you read and heard it here first.
You can see market numbers for the last quarter in this article — or review all LSA and Sport Pilot kit market info in this dedicated area. Get results for every American light aircraft on Tableau Public. If you read the recent article closely, you saw that not only are single seat aircraft enjoying good sales but Part 103 ultralights may be going stronger than in many years …possibly the best ever. I wish we could report 103 ultralight market shares but as they do not have to register with (and get an N-number from) FAA, we have no third-party way to evaluate the numbers accurately. Add the U.S. experience of the last year or three to overseas sales activity and I think most aviators around the world might be amazed at the strength of this market. Certainly, this is an under-reported category.
Light-Sport AircraftBefore I launch into an analysis, I must extend grateful thanks to Datastician Extraordinaire, Steve Beste, who does such a comprehensive job compiling and demystifying data from FAA's aircraft registration database. I've told you before how much sorting and sifting must be done to take this publicly-available information and make it into the charts and graphs you see on Tableau Public (where you can drill down through all the data right to the individual airplanes being counted). It bears repeating. You can go poke around FAA's database yourself …but while you access the same information you won't get the same details as we have here without a lot of work. What you see here is thanks to Steve's noteworthy skills at organizing data and solving the puzzles made by aircraft with varying registration information. To better understand Steve's marvelous work, read this early article after we began working together. Data hounds (you know who you are) may also want to read how Steve does his work. Steve summarized, "Some [producers] are doing stupendously better than last year. Others, not so much." Some, like "Most Improved" Texas Aircraft, which more recently arrived on the market with their Colt, registered their first SLSA in 2019 so a very small increase in registrations makes for a big percentage increase." See the nearby chart to see which companies are soaring high in 2020 along with those matching last year's pre-Covid results. As you can see, quite a few companies are surviving this economic punishment quite well. On the downside, Pipistrel and Icon have dropped sharply in registrations during 2020.
Sport Pilot Kit Aircraft"Sport Pilot kits" is a term I invented to designate those kit-built designs that can be flown by someone with a Sport Pilot certificate or a pilot using those privileges, for example, not needing a medical nor having to qualify for BasicMed. Using the term Sport Pilot kits omits aircraft that are too fast, too heavy, or too complex. Contrarily, Sport Pilot kit models compare fairly to and can be correctly associated with Light-Sport Aircraft.
"Kit aircraft have a long delay between sale and registration, so for them, we're looking at a very lagging indicator here," Steve wrote. As a proxy for sales, registration data in any given year is more timely for factory-built makes.Among kit builders, Sonex, Just, Zenith, Kitfox, Quad City, Progressive Aerodyne, Van's, and Rans are holding their dominant positions. Among what I call "Alternative Aircraft," Magni gyroplanes, Powerachute powered parachutes, and weight shift manufacturer Evolution Trikes are all having a solid year. Evolution's Larry Mednick was particularly upbeat in an interview I recorded with him at Midwest LSA Expo (watch for that video soon). His biggest success? Single place trike models, many of which don't show up in the nearby chart as they are Part 103 vehicles. Conversely, CubCrafters and American Legend are not as strong as in recent years, a problem shared by gyroplane producers AutoGyro and SilverLight. For pilots, this indicates you won't need to wait as long to get a new aircraft. On the other hand, one busy kit manufacturer recently quoted 18 months for delivery. That customer doesn't want to wait a year and half to start building and will look elsewhere, he said.
Regretfully, No Part 103I have long loved Part 103 machines as they enjoy far less restrictions. One non-requirement is to register your ultralight vehicle with FAA. As a result we have no data on these aircraft — a terrible shame because they appear to be one of the most active aircraft segments in recent years. In 2020, I might guess, based on interviews with several producers, that Part 103 is a leading element in this strange year's achievements. However, we can compare registrations of the major GA single-engine piston aircraft with those of our LSA-like aircraft. Another term, "LSA-like," groups fully-built SLSA with kit version ELSA with 51%-rule kits to form a unique segment. It is this bunch, along with ultralights, that keeps my complete focus. "We see that overall, registrations of LSA-like aircraft account for more than half of the single-engine piston aircraft registered so far this year," wrote Steve after analyzing data for all single-engine piston aircraft registrations in the United States. "Comparing charts — with-GA and without — I see 506 registrations of LSA-type aircraft in 2020 and 358 registrations of GA aircraft in 2020," Steve noted. "Thus, registrations of LSA-type aircraft account for more than half of the single-engine piston aircraft registered in 2020, 59% from data analyzed for this report." He further observed that he ignored single-engine kit aircraft that cannot be flown by a Sport Pilot (for example, Lancair and Van's Aircraft's faster models). Cirrus (161 registrations in nine months of 2020) and Cessna (92) still register more airplanes than any single LSA make. Piper (27) , Aviat (15), Champion (10), and Beechcraft Bonanza (6) are much smaller and after that it tapers off sharply. Singling out Piper, the low-wing aircraft builder has seen their single engine piston sales plummet from 172 last year to a projected 36 this year, a drop of almost 80%. In all, however, the light aircraft industry appears to be surviving the Covid mess better than I might have expected. That means better health for industry and more smiles for pilots. 😁
By any measure 2020 has been an unusual year. While millions were thrown out of work by lockdowns to prevent the virus from spreading, we all read or hear that plenty of other workers can work from home or have businesses that cannot be restricted by government decrees. In this context, how might the aviation industry be holding up? We read — and some brave travelers have experienced first-hand — how the airline industry is in a deep hole, prompting large layoffs. In this third quarter report for the calendar year, I’ll look at some numbers for general aviation manufacturers as well as the light aviation industry that has my full focus. The short answer: some are doing surprisingly well. Light-Sport Aircraft Before I launch into an analysis, I must extend grateful thanks to Datastician Extraordinaire, Steve Beste, who does such a comprehensive job compiling and demystifying data from FAA’s aircraft registration database.
New, and Moving Up SmartlyWe have fresh LSA and SP kit aircraft market statistics and after some research, I will report more fully on the 3Q20 numbers. However, we know one thing already: it appears Vashon's Ranger will be the best seller among Special, fully-built Light-Sport Aircraft for this unusual year. Covid complications be damned, Vashon is putting out about two aircraft a month and it appears momentum is building. Named for a small island in the Puget Sound region of Washington state near Seattle, Vashon Aircraft is a new producer in what seemed a crowded Special LSA space. Boss John Torode, also the founder of Dynon Avionics, felt Light-Sport Aircraft were more expensive than they needed to be. To help aviation grow, John employed his experience and funds to start a new airframe company. He made most of his fortune from a semiconductor company once headquartered in the same building in Woodinville, Washington that has been reconfigured into Vashon’s home base. John grew up flying light airplanes and after doing well in semiconductors, he turned his attention to bringing modern, affordable avionics into aviation. He started in LSA where onerous certification was not required. Since the successful D-10 EFIS in 2003 Dynon Avionics has greatly expanded their line and has more recently offered products for conventionally-certified aircraft. Today, more than 20,000 aircraft have Dynon avionics gear in their panels. While Vashon is colocated with Dynon in a Woodinville industrial park, Vashon maintains a separate corporate structure. Company employees of each defend the co-owned businesses as distinct from one another. Vashon produces structural components and puts fuselages and wings together in Woodinville but these sub-assemblies are then transported to a hangar at the Paine Field Airport (KPAE) in Everett. This is the same airfield where final assembly takes place at Boeing’s massive facility.
Flying RangerRanger's doors swing open wide. Its cantilevered wings offer no lift strut obstruction to entry. The cabin is spacious like most LSA. Put it all together and this large, squarish cockpit can accommodate some good-sized occupants. To accommodate pilots of different height, Ranger's rudders adjust, but this must be done before takeoff as it employs a pin-lock system (nearby photo). Ranger has a listed empty weight of 875 pounds before adding options. That leaves a useful load of 445 pounds. With fuel tanks full of 28.1 gallons or 169 pounds, payload drops to 276 pounds. Fortunately lots of flying is done locally so half tanks are still plenty and would provide a payload of 361 pounds or a couple occupants at 180 pounds each. (Of course, this may change when FAA issues its new regulation in 2023.) With half tanks and no baggage, demo pilot Kurt Robertson and I probably flew below the gross weight limit. We could have flown for better than three hours. Vashon chose the 100 horsepower Continental O-200 engine that Americans know so well. It burns 5.5 gallons an hour in economy cruise, which is where most pilot may fly unless going cross country. Topped off full, a solo pilot could fly for better than five hours. In our flight, I saw speeds above 110 knots at a low altitude of 2,500-3,500 feet above ground. At cross country altitude, it was clear, Ranger will run close to the LSA speed limit of 120 knots so a lone pilot could travel as much as 600 nautical miles non-stop. Taxiing Ranger uses a castoring nosewheel. This means steering with brakes at low speeds, so both seat are fitted with directional foot pedals, which allow for very tight turns. Castor steering takes a bit of familiarization but ramp maneuverability is unparalleled. Flight controls involve dual joysticks and a center-mounted throttle. Takeoff was simple and straightforward. After liftoff, Ranger's rate of climb varied between 600-800 fpm to 3,500 where we practiced some stalls. Fuel burn during best rate of climb appears to be north of seven gallons an hour, about the same as a Rotax 912iS. Kurt reported he routinely sees 118 knots at altitude and burns 6-6.5 gallons an hour at this higher cruise speed. Flaps are electrically actuated with a button — one push for 20 degrees; another push deploys flaps to 40 degrees. We used one notch for takeoff and either one, both, or none for landing. Immediately, Ranger felt somewhat different from many LSA. First, the Continental emits a familiar growl to the Rotax 9-series' whine. Secondly, the heft of Ranger gives it a heavier feel, actually surprisingly like a Cessna 172. In flight, Ranger is very well behaved, no wonder as this model shares some designer heritage with the Van's series that are highly revered for great flight qualities. You need only minimal rudder entering and exiting turns. Joystick pressures are fingertip-light (photo). In stalls, the LSA can be called docile with no evil bones I could uncover despite fairly steep stall entries. Recovering from a full-stick-aft stall showed no steep break or wing drop. Ranger exhibits very modest pitch change when flaps are deployed up or down. In slow flight or on approach to landing, Ranger was very stable and my landing was quite good even for a first-ever effort. At Kurt's advice I held 65 knots down low, then slowing slightly.
Construction & InteriorRanger is built with all-metal construction although the main landing gear is a composite structure. Its cantilevered high wing with no lift-strut combines with a broad windscreen to offer an expansive view. Cockpit width is stated as 47 inches, broad compared to most GA aircraft but about standard for LSA; it was roomy for Kurt and me. One neat trick: remove the seat cushions and you can fold both seats nearly flat allowing you to camp overnight in Ranger. It measures a generous 78 inches from the aft bulkhead to the joysticks. The large space aft of the seats can hold up to 100 pounds. While most loading won't tolerate that much baggage weight, the space is large enough for sleeping bags, tents, fishing poles, and other (lighter weight) outdoor gear. Buy All-American? — The western U.S. company boasts that its Special LSA is fully American. "Ranger R7 is designed, engineered, tested, and manufactured at the Vashon Aircraft factory headquarters near Seattle, Washington, and is assembled at its Paine Field assembly and delivery center (on the same airfield as Boeing's wide body airliner factory)," said Vashon. Avionics are made by Dynon Avionics in Woodinville, Washington and the powerplant is built by Continental Aerospace Technology in Mobile, Alabama. The fully loaded demo Ranger Kurt and I flew had autopilot and two SkyView HDX screens. The introductory pricing has risen slightly but those on a budget can be well served by the base Glacier model that lists for $119,500 and includes a Dynon 10-inch SkyView HDX EFIS with two-axis autopilot, 2020-compliant ADS-B Out, and all the standard features you'd expect. Ranger also comes with a three-year warranty. Unfortunately, the under-$100,000 price tag of three years ago has disappeared. Exterior Treatment — The "Founders Design" with the Washington state scene (photos) adds $9,500 to the base price. A version with the back half looking similar and the front fuselage in white is only $2,500. A treatment on just the top half of the vertical stabilizer is included in the price. If six figures aren't in your checkbook the company observed, "Vashon Aircraft is proud to collaborate with AOPA Finance to offer our customers competitive financing options for their Ranger purchase." Check all Vashon Ranger's specifications on this dedicated page.
Thank goodness for the Midwest LSA Expo. As the one and only airshow (other than some small local gatherings) since Copperstate/Buckeye back in February, Midwest 2020 was a breath of fresh air… literally for those of us who attended (quite a few did). From my view — and to some extent for all the readers of this website — the single most valuable aspect of Midwest LSA Expo is the great ease with which one can take one or more demo flights. For me in particular, this is a unmatched opportunity to go aloft in an aircraft so I can write about it. Regretfully, my video partner Videoman Dave was not allowed by U.S. authorities to enter the country from Canada, so we did not get to capture Video Pilot Reports where several aircraft get fitted with Dave’s collection of seven Garmin VIRB cameras. Instead, my flight experience in Flight Design’s F2 and Vashon’s Ranger lack some of the wonderful video Dave assembles into the popular video on his YouTube channel.
HyBIRD, not HybridAs those who know him realize, Chip does not just go out and find components for his airplanes and then adapt them to his designs. He actively works the project. He's done that with Hybird V-Twin, too. For example, this engine has a custom-designed prop made expressly for his Merlin. No, not Merlin Lite as debuted at Midwest 2020. That Part 103 entry uses the Polini Thor two stroke but for the larger sibling simply called Merlin, the more powerful, four-stroke entry is a perfect replacement for HKS. "Aeromarine-LSA's new Hybird V-Twin is a 60-horsepower, liquid-cooled, four-cycle, 800-CC, 80-degree Vee, fuel-injected, electronic engine, with electric start," said Chip. "This engine incorporates state-of-the-art technology with decades of reliable history and thousands in service." "Our matching reduction drive, custom CAD-designed and matched propeller results in the perfect power system for the Merlin aircraft at an excellent price," stated Chip. He quoted an introductory price of $7,500 for Hybird used on Merlin, the somewhat bigger brother to Merlin Lite. Hybird for Merlin includes an engine mount, custom cowl for Merlin, the freshly-developed Aeromarine carbon propeller and spinner, radiator, and all fittings. "There is no TBO (Time Between Overhaul)," Chip bragged! "Our engine replacement price is lower than the cost of most overhauls, so it is cheaper to buy a new engine." A run-out Hybird could still be overhauled, of course, but if that costs close to as much as a new engine, the decision to skip the overhaul time and expense sounds easy. "We adapted a proven belt reduction drive to this engine and designed a custom engine mount, exhaust, and wiring harness," Chip explained. "We even arranged with a PhD-qualified prop designer to create a custom carbon propeller made to match this engine’s torque and power curve."
An Airplane Engine?Although companies like Viking, Aeromomentum, Corvair, and AeroVee have converted automobile-based engines very successfully for aircraft, some pilots question if this type of conversion is satisfactory for airplane engines. It's a reasonable concern for pilots accustomed to very reliable engines such as Rotax's ubiquitous 9-series. I see two aspects to this inquiry. The first is about dependability of the engine, specifically it is up to the task of operation the way most pilots will use it? The second refers to alternative ways to use the engine. Regarding dependability… Hybird V-twin is what Chip describes as "red-neck proven." Hundreds of thousands of this engine have been manufactured and put to the test in ATVs. "These four-wheel vehicles are run hard in extreme off-road conditions. They have proven themselves to be very durable and reliable," Chip said. "Plus, this engine is very modern, with electronic ignition and fuel injection." He added that V-Twin was expressly designed to be run at high power settings. Regarding alternative uses… the Hybird hybrid is not merely using a gasoline engine to charge up a bank of batteries. Instead, Chip is springboarding from an earlier project between Rotax and Flight Design where a 912 was joined to an electric motor for takeoff boost or emergency power …although the older project was not intended for electric-only propulsion. Here is a similar but different project I wrote about in 2015. As the nearby image shows, Chip is planning with colleagues to provide an electric motor for added power, with juice supplied by the engine rather than a series of heavy batteries. This is a most engaging idea. I was excited by the Rotax development but that got shelved. One idea is that an electric motor, in combination with a minimum battery set could provide a short-term boost of power to get you to a landing site without combustion engine thrust. The same arrangement could add power to get you out of a short runway. Additional uses might be forged but simply these two make the idea interesting to me. Hear directly from the developer, Chip Erwin, about his plans for Hybird V-Twin engine.
A new engine was debuted at Midwest LSA Expo 2020 for light aircraft from Aeromarine-LSA. Paired as it is with a new engine-specific prop, this is a refreshing bit of news for ultralight enthusiasts and other single seat light aircraft lovers. It’s called Hybird… and, no, I did not spell that incorrectly. As you’ll hear, the new powerplant has some possibility to be a form of hybrid (this time spelled as you expect) but it is different in that respect, too. Since HKS decided to exit airplane engines — although our favorite datastician, Steve Beste reports he can still get parts for his HKS — the light aircraft industry has had an ear to the ground for a new four stroke replacement. It appears Chip Erwin has what many are seeking. HyBIRD, not Hybrid As those who know him realize, Chip does not just go out and find components for his airplanes and then adapt them to his designs.
Summarizing Midwest 2020In a typical year, Midwest attracts 1,500 or more pilots for the three days of event. My casual estimate is that 2020 was at least as strong as before and perhaps it was even up a bit. No one knows more. Midwest does not charge a fee to enter and more than one entry gate would make any effort to count heads futile. So, admittedly, I am guessing but having been to 11 of the 12 events (I missed one due to a hurricane in Florida where I live), I think it was at least the same and possibly better than earlier years. That estimate is despite a crippled economy and a substantial share of the population that is so nervous about Covid that they will not venture out to an event like Midwest. Countering that were many who either braved the risk of exposure — while taking normal precautions, I hasten to add… I saw no one acting irresponsibly — or those who believe the country is emerging from isolation and fear. Yet it wasn't only attendees who could not or did not make the show. Six or seven committed vendors failed to appear. The reasons were varied. Some were told by their home state authorities that if they left they might not be allowed back in the state (presumably without some caution like mandatory quarantine). While this may seem like government overreach to many, employees who would not be traveling also stated concerns about getting exposed by those who did travel. Hit with both worries, some companies backed out. At least two vendors who wanted to attend could not get an FAA inspection in time. This was not them dragging their feet on the requirements; instead it is because FAA staffers are mostly hunkered down at home and agency personnel are not permitted to go out and do inspections. U.S. Customs inspectors were under similar constraints and so import processes have been greatly hampered. At least two more companies experienced serious weather between home and the show although Midwest 2020 enjoyed nearly perfect conditions. Plenty of demo flights attest to this. Several vendors filled their demo schedules. Add those vendors who had promised to attend to those that did and Midwest 2020 might have been a big year. Even without them, it was healthier than I first feared. As the photos illustrate Midwest 2020 was a normal year even considering the drama this country has faced in recent months. However, one category of light aviation appears stronger than ever.
Part 103 and Single SeatersIf you've been following this website, you know I've already documented many examples of Part 103 ultralight aircraft ('er, vehicles) doing better than I can remember for many years. Several producers of Part 103 flying machines are chock full of orders and seeking ways to deliver more without overburdening their enterprises. This is most encouraging to fans of affordable aviation. We have also seen a growth in interest in single seat aircraft… (example: VX1 gyro) or maybe a better way to state it is: pilots see the economy of single seaters that are significantly more affordable than sophisticated LSA. However, this does not mean these are flimsy, throw-away aircraft. Indeed, most producers today make highly airworthy aircraft that have enjoyed steady evolution and development that has made these entries very desirable. No longer are these the bare-bones, no-frills, underperforming aircraft of decades past. Our biggest story of the year, by far (and we've had several good successes), featured the Aeromarine LSA Merlin Lite. This story positively electrified our readers and speaks to the emergence of Part 103 into a new league. This all-metal, fully-enclosed, full-featured Part 103 aircraft provided more interest at Midwest 2020. Developer Chip Erwin brought not only his fascinating aircraft but six sets of bathroom scales. Although these are not certified scales — an effort with such scales will happen shortly when the aircraft is fully complete — we checked them for consistency and we used all six scales in rotating positions. Four complete weighings produced numbers from 271.6 to 274.1 pounds. Using the allowed calculation for a whole-airframe parachute system, a Part 103 can weigh 278 pounds, suggesting Merlin Lite should comfortably qualify. Of course, speeds will also have to conform but Chip is very confident about the airplane staying Part 103 compliant. The weighed aircraft was not a stripped-down version but had most of the equipment on board that everyone will want. I'll make a video of these steps as soon as possible, given very strong interest. The first attendance at Midwest by Tri-State Kites was a splash with seven different aircraft on display. This regional company, with several Part 103-capable Smithsilver aircraft, is likely to increase its footprint in American aviation. We also saw Part 103 weight shift — Rev from Evolution Trikes (also having their best-year ever) — and powered parachutes from Infinity including their single place Challenger. Among three-axis LSA, I was able to do interviews with Tom Gutmann, Jr., of Airtime Aviation about his reaction to the new F2 model from Flight Design. Tom is a pilot with extensive experience in all Flight Design models. Short answer: he loves the new model. I also interviewed Daniela Knoll of Aerosport about numerous changes to the affordably-priced Bushcat from SkyReach, available as a fully-built LSA or kit-built version — on tricycle or taildragger gear and with a float option. Although a late arrival to this year's event, I finally got a flight in the Vashon Ranger that has sold well since it was introduced just three years ago. It was great to see the DirectFly Alto returning to America thanks to a display at Midwest 2020 (photo). We interviewed another operation making the CGS Hawk. Additionally, Airborne trikes made a return thanks to U.S. importer Mike Hudetz; it has been some time since we saw Mike and Airborne at Midwest LSA Expo. I have more to report on all these aircraft; those articles and videos will follow in the weeks ahead.
Road Trip ExperienceI have always flown to Midwest, either in an LSA or by airline. This year my wife, Randee, and I chose to drive, given numerous travel uncertainties. It allowed us to change plans right up until departure time. This method also made for an intriguing study in how America is coping with Covid. Near the freeways, at gas stops or hotels where tourists and travelers were present, masking was nearly universal. Few appeared to ignore store signs demanding a face covering. However, instead of racing up to Mt. Vernon, Illinois, we chose to wander through small towns along the way, for example, taking a tour of the Muscle Shoals, Alabama recording studio that produced dozens of Platinum Records such as Wilson Picket's "Mustang Sally" and hosted music stars from The Rolling Stones to The Allman Brothers to Aretha Franklin. A Tale of Two Countries… as soon as we got a few miles away from the tourist-oriented freeway stops, almost no one wore a mask. Unlike the strangers on the freeway, these people largely know each other. Before someone criticizes, I'm not saying they ignored caution but relied on common sense rules rather than political dictates. You may have a different opinion.
Next Up: 2021 ShowsNext up is the DeLand Showcase, now happening January 28-29-30, 2021. After that, we hope we can return to a full schedule. We plan to attend them all and hope you can, too. Meanwhile, keep returning here for the latest and greatest. Finally, let me offer a personal word of thanks for your faithful visits to this website. Even with the weirdness around the world, 2020 is a record year for ByDanJohnson.com — and September, barely past the half way point, is already our most-visited month ever! I appreciate your loyalty and will do my best to keep you informed and smiling.
Lots of doubters expressed their opinions in the weeks and days before Mt. Vernon’s 12th running of this sector-specific event. Did it work? Were the naysayers right or wrong? I will express one person’s opinion but reflect a number of comments I heard: “Thank goodness for Mt. Vernon airport manager Chris Collins and his contingent of orange-shirted volunteers who hosted this event,” making it another success. To me, “success” means no accidents (none happened) and a decent turn-out that got pilots in new aircraft and vendors the sales that sustain them (both happened). Summarizing Midwest 2020 In a typical year, Midwest attracts 1,500 or more pilots for the three days of event. My casual estimate is that 2020 was at least as strong as before and perhaps it was even up a bit. No one knows more. Midwest does not charge a fee to enter and more than one entry gate would make any effort to count heads futile.
Gyro Technic's VX1"Artistic?" Yes, sir! Look closely at black VX1 or blue VX2 and its aluminum parts. With an active business doing robotics and custom automation, VX1 designer and company boss, Denis Shoemaker is attuned to a fine grade of finish quality. He explained that he anodized the parts seen in the photos but then returned the parts to the shop to machine chamfer edges to give them a gleam that contrasted beautifully with the blue or black anodizing. "Yeah, it really pops, doesn't it," agreed Denis when I admired the look. We spent some time talking in a video interview (to follow) about the close proximity of the tailplane and how VX1 differs from most modern gyroplanes. Denis observed that most modern gyroplanes use an extended tail with multiple vertical surfaces. How can his design function with a much different design? It has to do with the pod or cabin that most modern gyroplanes use. VX1 is an open cockpit design. All that fuselage area forward of CG needs more tail in the rear to offset the aerodynamic effects. Since VX1 has a fully open cockpit, it does not need the same tail displacement. Clearly, Gyro Technic's VX1 is no mere copy of some other gyro. In addition to making all their own parts (check this page for a visual treat of finely-machined components), the southern Minnesota producer also makes their own rotor blades, branded as "Razor Blades." It is not common for a gyroplane carriage producer to make their own rotor blades similar to weight shift carriage builders buying wings from a company that specializes in such work. With few exceptions, nearly all of VX1 is fabricated in house; this includes the rotor blades. I asked about rotor blades that also looked different from those on many gyroplanes — most use a wider chord than Razor Blades. Because most designs are two seaters where VX1 is single place, Denis' aircraft doesn't have to carry as much load and is a much leaner construction.
Flying VX1Denis wrote, "[When] using a Rotax 582, [VX1] will burn about 6 gallons per hour — thirsty little buggers!" He explains what gyro enthusiasts know, "Gyros move air upward through a rotor disk with a positive angle of attack and are therefore 'plowing' through the air." "A comfortable cruise speed is about 60 mph. Full fuel tanks (7.5 gallons) will then give you a range of 50+ miles with a safe fuel reserve. "This would be a straight-line course to your destination. In reality though, you will be having too much fun, and your flight path will not be a straight line, but rather resembling something closer to a bowl of spaghetti!" Ha! Good description of the flight path of a pilot just enjoying the experience and not intent on getting from here to a destination as the only reason to fly. Visibility from a gyro like VX1 is about as open as it gets. At Midwest LSA Expo 2020, Denis displayed the first VX2 (seen in blue), so designated because it uses the Rotax 912 engine. Since all Gyro Technic's aircraft today are single seaters — a two seater is in the concept phase at this time — one of these light aircraft powered by a Rotax 912 should perform awesomely. Kits for the Rotax 582 model start at $23,850, which seems like a fair price for a finely-achieved aircraft. Their website shows kits ready for delivery. Contact Gyro Technic for more price details and exact delivery details. Look for a complete video interview with Denis on Videoman Dave's Ultralight News YouTube channel.
On the last day of the last airshow of the year — unbelievable as that sounds — I examined a superbly-finished gyroplane that Powered Sport Flying‘s Vickie Betts saw at the Mentone PRA fly-in earlier this year. She was impressed. She was not alone. Another designer of very striking hardware is Larry Mednick of Evolution Trikes. (An interview with him revealed that in this very strange year, his company is having their best year ever.) Larry encouraged me to go check out Gyro Technic as he enthusiastically described parts and components on the gyroplane that he found “exceptional.” If the guy behind the elegant Revo weight shift trike thinks an airplane from a competitor is worth a look, I was certainly going to take his advice. He was correct. The components of this gyro are highly CAD engineered but also exhibit an artistic flare.
Legendary Tri-State Kites*To a large network headquartered in Mt. Vernon, Indiana, Mark Smith is something of a legend. Known for continually improving his airplanes, he was always inventing and innovating. One proof among many, Mark Smith created an aftermarket steerable nose wheel system for Quicksilver aircraft before the factory developed their own. Multiple component changes purported to improve handling, performance, and durability. Tri-State Kites’ selling of Quicksilver brand aircraft went on for many years; Mark was once one of Quicksilver Aircraft's top dealers. Throughout, he was improving, tweaking. Perhaps it was inevitable that this would evolve into the manufacture of whole Quicksilver-like airplanes built of the numerous changes Mark had engineered over the years. Smith wrote, "There were nearly 10,000 MX [Quicksilver models] sold over the years, with most of the models sharing many of the design features of the MX. There are many changes that make the plane fly better, handle better, steer better, handle wind and gusts better, and so on." Directly from their matter-of-fact website, "Modifications to this sturdily-built ultralight abound (they refer to those thousands of Quicksilvers sold). Most are not terribly expensive and create a much more flyable plane. Recommended changes would be lower tail tubes and the tapered stabilizer. They also sell dihedral-reducing cablesets for wire-braced Quicksilvers; earlier models used a large amount of dihedral to enhance the rudder-and-elevator-only controls. Tri-State Kites said, "These install without major modifications." Those parts are but a few of many alterations the Mark Smith enterprise has created over many years of serving the Quicksilver market. Created to make the airplanes fly faster, handle better and last longer, they also streamline the aircraft, give it distinctive looks, and enhance strength in ways big and small. Today Tri-State Kites is actively building and selling entire aircraft. Call them a "Quick" or a "Smithsilver" — this is now its own brand of aircraft. Some are Part 103 eligible. Andy assured me single seat models can qualify. Tri-State Kites reported a active and complete business with sales, training, and maintenance. They even offer on on-site "hotel" for customers to use. Contact Andy Alldredge by email or email Tom Smith.
They Do It AllExcept for engine, tires, wheels, and brakes, Tri-State makes every component that goes on the Smithsilvers. They even sew their own wing coverings, assembled from sturdy Dacron sailcloth. Sewing of wings (or sails) is a specialized craft. I have experience with hang glider wings (more complex than you think) and I was quite impressed with the detail and precision shown on their wings displayed at Midwest LSA Expo 2020. I did interviews with Andy Alldredge about Tri-States' business and his Falcon 503 project plus Tom Smith. Look for them later this year.
* Why “Kites” in Tri-State Kites?When hang gliders were a lot simpler than today’s sophisticated models, they were often called “kites,” a term that followed even earlier boat-towed rigs that literally had to be tethered like a kite to stay aloft. Even the earliest hang gliders were more than mere kites but the name was quick and easy, and it stuck. Mark Smith started in this business so long ago that "Kites" still worked as a snappy reference, even if it may sound odd for an airplane company in the age of LSA. For an interesting view of the early days of ultralight aircraft in the USA, read Tri-State Kites' website. It's full of folksy tales such that even though Mark Smith is no longer with us, you get a sense of the man from reading his words.
If you know light, recreational aviation, you simply must know the Quicksilver brand. The Southern California company made a fantastic splash in the early 1980s, outselling in one year more total units than Cessna, Piper, and Beech combined! I’m guessing a good percentage of readers have taken a flight in one of their models. More than 15,000 were sold. They are still available and Air-Tech Inc offers full support plus new kits. This story isn’t about that famous brand. To most who glance at the nearby photos your first instinct is see a Quicksilver. A closer inspection shows otherwise. I spoke with leaders of Tri-State Kites — Andy Alldredge and Tom Smith, representing the second generation of Mark Smith’s operation. Mark Smith passed away in 2015. Legendary Tri-State Kites* To a large network headquartered in Mt. Vernon, Indiana, Mark Smith is something of a legend. Known for continually improving his airplanes, he was always inventing and innovating.
Hawk Family ExpandsUnless you've been off-planet for the last few decades, you should know CGS Hawk. With more than 2,000 aircraft flying, this simple yet highly effective design ranks as one of aviation's true success stories. The initials CGS date back into the 1970s when Chuck Slusarczyk — later, the designer of Hawk and its several variations — manufactured hang gliders under the business name, Chuck's Glider Supplies, later shortened to CGS. At Midwest 2020, I interviewed Joseph Shirley, boss of Hawk Manufacturing, the newest member of the Hawk-building family. Joseph runs an active prototyping and machining operation in southwest Ohio, but he is working closely with the man most associate with the Hawk brand these days, Terry Short. The video below identifies another father and son team, which bought rights to build the single place Hawk 103 and Hawk Ultra. Terry will continue with the two place Hawks and the Hawk Special LSA. Now comes Joseph, who went for a week visit to learn from Terry and reported staying a month. He will assist Terry in building airplane. He said that Terry will continue building the primary elements but he will fill an increasing role in keeping this very popular airplane in the sky. Joseph reported that his team has transferred all drawings, including some engineering drawings and other simple hand drawings from the old days, turning them into SolidWorks CAD drawings. This will help assure a higher state of quality to all parts and components but it also helps kit builders by providing major improvements to the build manual, a task most talented designers find to be one of the hardest parts of creating a kit aircraft. Chuck Slusarczyk and I share a history in hang gliding days, back when we were both young and handsome. Regretfully, Chuck is in failing health these days but I believe he would be proud how well his design continues to do and he'd be impressed with how far people like Terry and Joseph have taken his once-modest but always-beloved Hawk. Watch for more on Joseph Shirley's operation in an upcoming video.
Hawk TundraThe nearly completed aircraft we saw at Midwest 2020 was an eye-catcher indeed. What distinguished it for me was the landing gear ending in 27-inch tundra tires. This lifts Hawk up to a "big boy" level for its new owner, who also wanted the 80-horsepower Rotax 912 that so many love as a nearly "bullet proof" engine. He is also getting a Dynon avionics panel centered around their top-of-the-line SkyView HDX. I never thought of Hawk as a bush aircraft. It's history as a simple ultralight from the early 1980s suggested it was a more fair weather flyer …not that there's anything wrong with that, of course. The Hawk being created why Joseph and his troops gave a completely different vibe. If it was flying, I would have been sorely tempted to take this beefy-looking aircraft out to a creek bed to see how it handles an unimproved surface. Given its modest flight handling qualities, sturdy and proven construction, and its slow speed capabilities, I'm guessing Hawk Tundra would do especially well.
Technical Specifications for Hawk Arrow II:
- Empty Weight — 550 pounds
- Gross Weight — 1,100 pounds
- Wing Span — 31 feet 6 inches
- Wing Area — 147 square feet
- Engine Size — 65-80 horsepower
- Rate of Climb — 600-1200 feet per minute
- Cruise Speed — 55-80 mph / 48-70 knots
- Stall Speed — 35-40 mph / 30-35 knots
- Never-Exceed Speed — 110 mph / 96 knots
- Assembly Time for First time Builder — about 300 hrs
* Those with good memories may recall that several years ago, back in February 2020, the Copperstate/Buckeye Fly-in and Air Fair happened, but that was before Covid slammed into everyone's lives so most can be forgiven for forgetting that we did have another airshow in 2020 …but it was the year's only other one of any size.
The Hawk family continues to expand. While we wait for CGS Aviation in Ohio to fully enter the market, here's a video interview with the father and son team building the single seat Hawks. https://youtu.be/eLcn7n-XOBg
I saw a lot of smiles at Midwest LSA Expo 2020. A common phrase was, “This is the biggest” — by which they meant only* — “airshow of the year. It’s even bigger than Oshkosh 2020.” 😂 As I’ve often repeated, Midwest has been social distancing since long before you heard of that phrase. I believe it to be a reasonably safe environment. However, a warning for those concerned about exposure: some hand shaking occurred (between consenting parties) and not everyone wore masks outside as they viewed the aircraft on display. I heard of two companies and one group specifically prevented from attending due to government mandates and other concerns at home. Similarly, my video-creating colleague, Videoman Dave, a Canadian national, was forbidden by U.S. border authorities from attending. His aviation business, which feeds his family, was judged non-essential. Longtime journalist Tim Kern — of 121five.com, an aviation news outlet — dug into why Rans Aircraft was unable to attend.
Merlin Lite DelightAmong affordable aircraft, Part 103 ultralights have a solid position, both as fixed wing aircraft or alternatives like weight shift, powered parachutes, and gyroplanes. However, such "alternative aircraft" may not be what you had in mind. Many are open cockpit and pilots trained in a Cessna or Piper can feel uneasy being out in the open (even if behind a pod and windscreen). Also, weight shift trikes, powered parachutes, or gyroplanes handle differently from stick (or yoke) and rudder. Other pilots may want an aircraft that can cope with the elements better. Metal can offer better endurance. Aeromarine LSA boss Chip Erwin is offering a full enclosure on his newest and Merlin Lite can make Part 103 numbers, if you use an emergency airframe parachute and make other appropriate equipment choices. Chip believes his new Part 103 "magic" ultralight is truly revolutionary. “This is not your 1980s ultralight," claimed designer Chip. “I know, I was there. Our new Merlin Lite has real aircraft features and appeal: seven windows, a cockpit door, decent baggage capacity and space, an instrument panel with an EFIS and GPS. And the list goes on.” Merlin Lite is available with either tricycle gear or taildragger, Chip reported, and features all-aluminum construction, dual independent hydraulic brakes, tundra tires, five-position flaps, pushrod controls with bearings, and substantial aft cabin area with the CG envelope to use it. "Deep deploying 50-degree Fowler flaps and tundra tires with independent dual brakes make the Merlin Lite an ultralight bush plane," he added. "Based on Merlin PSA, a popular single seat personal sport aircraft that costs less than $40,000 and cruises at 120 mph, Merlin Lite's cockpit is almost as large as the Merlin's, but the powerplant is scaled down and the 3-D tapered wing aspect ratio is increased," said Chip. Merlin Lite is available completed and ready to fly away, or can also be built as an Experimental and flown with a Sport Pilot ticket, or even a glider certificate, flying Merlin Lite as a motorglider. "Its cantilevered high wing means no lift strut," explained Chip, "making Merlin Lite quite easy to get in and out, a feature with increasing importance. Plus, the large baggage area can carry a full-size airline roll-on bag, camping gear, or even your favorite pet." In addition to the enclosed cockpit with a proper door, air vents, and multiple windows, other "magic" features included in this true Part 103 ultralight are electric trim, an EFIS with artificial horizon and GPS, a dual-ignition, liquid-cooled, and electric-start engine with an EMS. The 12VDC system also includes a USB charger outlet for a phone or iPad. Options include cabin heat and defroster, Temperfoam seats, and long range fuel tanks (when building an Experimental Amateur Built version). "We are offering an introductory price of $35,500 for a ready-to-fly Merlin Lite that includes a BRS-500 emergency airframe parachute system. The order book is now open and current waiting time (depending on configuration and options) is five months. When configured as an ultralight, Merlin Lite meets the FAA's Part 103 rules, which means no license, medical, registration or certification is required. The first public display will be at the Midwest Light Aircraft Expo in Mt. Vernon, Illinois beginning September 10, 2020. For further information Aeromarine LSA or e-mail Chip.
Is Merlin Lite Affordable for You?Merlin Lite finished and ready-to-fly — $31,000 equipped with electric-starting Polini 250DS two-stroke engine, carbon propeller, tundra tires, airspeed indicator, electric trim, hydraulic brakes, 12-volt power supply, engine instruments, fuel gauge, air vents, EarthX lightweight battery, and 4.15-gallon wing tank that “still gives 3.5 hours endurance, “ said Chip. To qualify for Part 103 a BRS-500 is required (FAA allows additional weight when so equipped), priced at $4,500 If you don't care about Part 103 privileges and want some options, here is what is available:
- 3.125-inch EFIS with GPS — $950
- Second wing tank — $600
- Painting — $2,500
- Cabin heat and defroster — $450
- Temperform seats — $350
- Tricycle gear — No additional charge
- Speed wing — No additional charge
- Freight to USA — $2,000
- Packing / crating — $500
- Merlin Lite Quick-Build EAB airframe kit — $22,000
- Polini 250DS engine and firewall-forward package — $7,000
- Freight to USA — $2,000
- Packing / crating — $500
* More About Search To find truly affordable aircraft, for one example, search for "vintage ultralights" you will be lead to our April 2020 series on ten super-affordable airplanes, all of which are available second hand for less than $10,000. You may not know that Search can be more specific. After you use Search, a page shows you whatever is found but you can drill down further — click "Try our advanced search option." After your initial search, you will see, "Not finding exactly what you expected? Try our advanced search option." Click on the "Try our advanced search option" link and you can narrow the search to: 1️⃣ specific brands of aircraft manufacturers, 2️⃣ specific aircraft models, or 3️⃣ FI.R.M. List companies, meaning products and services that do not make airframes or engines. This Advanced Search is quite powerful to sift through more than two million words or hundreds of different aircraft reported on ByDanJohnson.com.
See Merlin Lite for the first time anywhere at Midwest LSA Expo 2020 in just a few days. Until then (or for those who cannot attend), here's a video review of the Merlin PSA. https://youtu.be/qCUtoxh5UUg
Are you looking for an affordably-priced airplane? On this website, you can find many choices of aircraft that qualify, with something to fit the budget of almost any pilot. Using the Search bar at the top of the page, you can look for any text anywhere on this website. Have you tried it? More on this below…* In this article, let me introduce a new aircraft to you …and, no, this is not Merlin PSA. Merlin Lite Delight Among affordable aircraft, Part 103 ultralights have a solid position, both as fixed wing aircraft or alternatives like weight shift, powered parachutes, and gyroplanes. However, such “alternative aircraft” may not be what you had in mind. Many are open cockpit and pilots trained in a Cessna or Piper can feel uneasy being out in the open (even if behind a pod and windscreen). Also, weight shift trikes, powered parachutes, or gyroplanes handle differently from stick (or yoke) and rudder.
Rare and/or New AircraftMC-01 by Montaer — We almost didn't see it. Insurance has been getting harder to find and more costly. That's true for all aircraft but the situation is especially challenging for a new design (even if it significantly resembles an earlier design). However, Gregg Ellsworth and AIR (Aviation Insurance Resources) came to the rescue so now importer Ed Ricks of Montaer USA has a good chance to get this all-new design to Midwest 2020. When you look at the image of MC-01, some of us see the Paradise P1NG. No surprise, as the designer once worked with Paradise. While the new model bears a close resemblance to the earlier SLSA, that one has largely disappeared from the U.S. market, so Montaer is filling a void. Paradise, and now Montaer, have long offered a yoke control with a voluminous three-door cabin. It makes people think Cessna 150 but larger (and it performs substantially better). The first U.S. delivery will also have hand controls, a choice available to offer assistance to some pilots. Merlin Lite by Aeromarine LSA — If you know Merlin, you should be asking, "…Lite?" Wasn't it already light? Ah, that is Merlin PSA. This is Merlin Lite …and yes, it is lighter, if you can believe that. Proprietor Chip Erwin of Aeromarine LSA is one of those can't-sit-still people and he's taking his early success with Merlin PSA even further with a lighter-yet, lower-cost-yet model powered by the Polini Thor engine that tens of thousands of powered paragliders use. The good news is you don't have to run this one off the ground. I'll have more on this, possibly before Midwest 2020 because this model is literally hot off the factory floor. Put this in perspective. Merlin PSA, also a single seater, is an all-metal, fully enclosed, well-equipped aircraft that you can assemble for around $35,000. Options and choice of engine can increase the base but it is easily one of the great bargains in aviation. A 60-horsepower four-stroke V-Twin engine will make the "bigger" Merlin soar into the sky, but just for fun, come see Merlin Lite at Midwest 2020. SmithSilver by Tri-State Kite — Owner Mark Smith's enterprise is "the nation's leading source of quality aftermarket parts for the complete line of the Quicksilver ultralight aircraft, and has been in business more than 33 years" he expressed. Mark has become a guru of the Quicksilver type, has made numerous components for them, and will have something called SmithSilver at Midwest 2020. I'm as curious as you and look forward to checking it out. BTW, are you puzzled by Mark's business name …specifically "Kites?" When hang gliders were a lot simpler than today's sophisticated models, they were often called "kites," a term that followed even earlier boat-towed rigs that literally had to be tethered like a kite. Even the first hang gliders were more than a mere kite but the name was quick and easy, and it stuck. Mark's time in the business goes back far enough that his business name could reflect that …even if today it sounds a bit odd for an aircraft company. Read for yourself Mark Smith's history of design ideas for the Quicksilver aircraft. Sparrow by Carlson — This oldie but goodie has not been seen for some time but thanks to the people behind the MiniMax series of affordable aircraft, the Sparrow is returning to the market. Lots of readers remember this once-popular model. Following the death of Ernie Carlson a few years back, the brand fell out of sight for most buyers even though Ernie's wife, Mary, kept the business running. Now with help from David Cooper of Team MiniMax (and some partners), the single place Carlson Sparrow will be returning to the market, with plans for the two-place in their mind but still on a back burner. This project is still new but come to Midwest 2020 and ask questions. F2 by Flight Design — I have reported this impressive new top-end Special LSA before but for most Americans, this will be their first viewing. I saw it in Aero 2019 but it had not flown then. It's all wrung out and approved now and I look forward to a flight in the bigger, better model. After Midwest 2020, F2 will go home with Tom and Tom Gutmann of Airtime Aviation, the world's largest dealer/distributor for Flight Design aircraft. As winter follows in a few months, Airtime's base in Oklahoma makes sense versus Flight Design USA in Connecticut. This is the first F2 in America so they're sharing the treasure. Vashon Ranger — While it's not brand new, Ranger R7 is new enough that many LSA enthusiasts have yet to see one and Vashon Aircraft has never displayed at Midwest before. The brand has done respectably well as our industry reports, as seen on Tableau Public, demonstrate. After their first deliveries in 2017, Washington-based Vashon has grown rapidly, thanks to a familiar construction at a good price (starts just below $100,000 fully built and reasonably well equipped). Through the first half of 2020, the company had already almost matched all of 2019, so despite the virus, more Rangers are taking to the sky. You should check this one out in person, but I'll be angling for a flight in the new design so we expect to report more and capture video. SD-1 (kit) By SD Planes —Readers of this website like affordable aircraft and the SD Planes single place kit is surely a great value in light aircraft. Construction is significantly wood. If you don't already know, building from wood is achievable by most, much less challenging that kits that involve welding or composite work. Check this video for more about building the airplane and for a look at the two seat model from the same designer. SD-1 is a modest project, not only from the build effort but you can keep the base price below $20,000, an amount the importer said includes the engine. If you simply can't see yourself building a single seater — no matter how much fun it might be — U.S. rep John Vining has the SD-2 Sportmaster. Both share the same ease of construction. VL3 by JMB Aircraft — This spring, we had a contest going on between three speedy European aircraft: Sweden's striking Blackwing, Switzerland's super-sleek Risen, and JMB Aircraft's VL3. Of these, only one will be at Midwest 2020: VL3. You already know this airplane under the marketing name Gobosh. It was sold as a fixed gear, fixed pitch prop Special LSA. In Europe, where no speed limit applies to what they then and still call "microlights" or European ultralights, companies like those mentioned above seek the highest speed they can achieve. All use the Rotax engine, so it becomes about airframe smoothness, wing efficiency, and getting as lean as possible, hence retractable gear. For now in the U.S., such aircraft must be built as kits but in 2023, such models will become LSA (or maybe Light Personal Aircraft, depending on what FAA eventually decides about a possible new category). Fusion 212 by Magnus — Did you wonder if this handsome aircraft disappeared? That's understandable because we haven't seen it for a short time (and, of course, not this unusual year). I did a flight in Fusion and you can check it out in this video. What could be better? You could attend Midwest 2020 and fly it yourself. At minimum, you can talk to the representatives, ask questions, and closely examine the all-composite aircraft built in Hungary but represented by Magnus USA. This list is not inclusive of all players but you can check the Midwest 2020 program to see all expected exhibitors.
Who Won't Be Present?I understand a few cannot be present and while I certainly respect their decision not to take chances, well… darn it! I'll miss these folks. Rob Rollison the proprietor of the very successful Aerotrek line has elected not to go. He cited concerns about the virus and how that can affect a show that is already modestly attended. Such things matter to vendors swayed by high traffic at shows like Sun 'n Fun or Oshkosh, but an individual pilot actually benefits from a smaller number of attendees. Although the company appears on the site layout, apparently Rans has elected not to attend after many years of doing so. This is just that kind of year, I guess. Two other aircraft are not quite ready yet. These include two entries from Deon Lombard's Aeropilot USA distributorship. He is expecting the first M-8 Eagle, rebadged as L600 Eagle to provide continuity for the earlier Aeropilot Legend/L600 Deon formerly represented (he still owns the dealership for several more months but will then switch to the L600 Eagle; I will report more on that later). In addition, Deon is bringing in from South Africa the sleek composite RV-like Whisper kit-built aircraft. Perhaps at DeLand in January or certainly by Sun 'n Fun 2021, both aircraft should be available for your inspection. Deon will have the InnovAviation FX1 we saw at Midwest 2019 (here's our video on that model). He'll also have a very special opportunity for one buyer of the same aircraft I flew. Come and see for yourself. However, while we regret missing a couple regulars, I'm pleased those who show should (fingers crossed) have plenty to look at and I expect to make several reports from the event — the last of the year since DeLand Showcase has pushed into 2021 (January 28-29-30). Travel safely and I hope to see you in Mt. Vernon!
To help you psych' up for Midwest 2020, here's a few videos assembled by Videoman Dave. He's putting up lots before this event — go to his YouTube channel to see many more. https://youtu.be/oSpq6vZ4skQ https://youtu.be/mMV824eEbRk https://youtu.be/eq0FfmDvNtE https://youtu.be/P25dFK_RCY8
I hope you can attend 2020’s Midwest LSA Expo — the last airshow in 2020. If you cannot attend, rest assured your trusty reporter will be onsite and gathering all the info on the coolest aircraft I can find. What will be available? Well, if I am honest, we will have to see when we arrive to be certain. In these virus-impacted times, things have a lousy way of changing at the last minute, however… Those who attend should see a few aircraft that few Americans have seen before. Here’s a quick take, not forgetting the statement about how arrivals can be altered beyond the wishes of any particular vendor. Rare and/or New Aircraft MC-01 by Montaer — We almost didn’t see it. Insurance has been getting harder to find and more costly. That’s true for all aircraft but the situation is especially challenging for a new design (even if it significantly resembles an earlier design).