Things can change and yet stay the same. You can comprehend this paradox by considering the tandem 2-seat Drifter. Drifter production is under new management by someone many regard as a “rightful owner.” Yet the basic flying qualities of the Drifter design are basically unchanged. As 2007 started, Phil Lockwood again has all rights to the Drifter as part of a design, tooling, and inventory deal that rescued the Drifter and 2-seat twin-engine Air Cam from an uncertain future with investor Antonio Leza, who ran the operation for a few years. Lockwood is associated with the Drifter due to his many years of work with the design. He once worked for Maxair proprietor Denny Franklin who pioneered this enduring shape. In the rough and tumble days of early ultralights, Franklin lost control of Drifter ownership and for a time the design wandered. More correctly, the new owners failed to take the Drifter forward and instead merely exploited its popularity.
|Empty weight||495 pounds|
|Gross weight||1,000 pounds|
|Wing area||160 square feet|
|Wing loading||6.25 pounds per square foot|
|Kit type||Assembly kit|
|Build time||50-300 hours|
|Standard engine||Rotax 912|
|Power||81 hp at 5,500 rpm|
|Power loading||12.3 pounds per hp|
|Cruise speed||75 mph|
|Never exceed speed||85 mph|
|Rate of climb at gross||1,000 fpm|
|Takeoff distance at gross||200 feet|
|Landing distance at gross||200 feet|
|Standard Features||Rotax 912, electric starting, all stainless exhaust, flaps, ASI, altimeter, CHT, oil pressure, oil temp, Hobbs meter, tachometer, dual controls, nose fairing, dual 5-gallon fuel tanks, wide aluminum wheels, aircraft tires, hydraulic brakes, 3-blade Warp Drive propeller.|
|Options||Straight or amphibious floats, ballistic parachute system, other props and prop leading edge treatment.|
|Construction||Aluminum airframe, spring steel landing gear, presewn Dacron® wing coverings, fiberglass nose fairing. Made in the USA.|
Cosmetic appearance, structural integrity, achievement of design goals, effectiveness of aerodynamics, ergonomics.
Pros - Ownership of the Drifter is back in familiar hands (see article). In light sport aircraft (LSA) age, the Super Drifter 912 adds 4-stroke value without affecting the basics of this ultralight design. More than 1,000 Drifters reported flying. Design retained cable bracing; lighter weight and greater rigidity than struts.
Cons - Pilots interested in LSA may not like sitting on the end of a boom, though ultralight enthusiasts probably love it. Some pilots will regard the Drifter as a dated, older design. Must be assembled from a kit, which complicates resale and adds owner liability.
Subsystems available to pilot such as: Flaps; Fuel sources; Electric start; In-air restart; Brakes; Engine controls; Navigations; Radio; (items covered may be optional).
Pros - The Drifter has always offered effective flaps; easy to deploy with lever alongside pilot's thigh and comfortably reached. The Drifter 912 is well equipped (though 4-stroke engine adds considerably to cost). Stick-mounted, mini-hydraulic brake system is quite powerful. Engine access is excellent, no cowl.
Cons - Since the Drifter can fly two people with a 50-hp Rotax 503, the 912 seems much more engine than needed. No instruments installed for the rear-seat instructor, but you can carry any system you can afford; allowed when amateur building.
Instrumentation; Ergonomics of controls; Creature comforts; (items covered may be optional).
Pros - If you like wide-open visibility, the Drifter is a great choice. Four-point seat belts front and rear, especially appreciated in such a boom-and-floor pan construction. Adequate instrument panel with T-panel suffices for ultralight flying. Entry is reasonable, especially to the aft seat where other tandems are difficult.
Cons - Some pilots do not like the openness of a Drifter and when flown solo from the front, structure around you won't help acclimate. Entry to the front around the wider pod requires a technique. Rear-seat occupant is subject to considerable wind buffet. Seats do not adjust in flight.
Taxi visibility; Steering; Turn radius; Shock absorption; Stance/Stability; Braking.
Pros - Superb visibility from the front seat to spot traffic. Hydraulic brakes were quite powerful on land version. Spring steel gear offered good shock absorption even with the heavier 912 engine and two occupants. Good ground clearance. Prop well protected by floor pan.
Cons - Land version is a taildragger and therefore not for everyone. The tailwheel was rather small on Florida's sandy soil (though a larger tailwheel is optional). Suspension is limited to gear leg flex and tire inflation. No differential brakes, though they're hardly needed.
Qualities; Efficiency; Ease; Comparative values.
Pros - The Drifter visibility is unparalleled in aviation. Low landing approach speeds (40 mph) allows entry to small fields or lakes. Flaps are highly efficient and easily deployed. Slips proved surprisingly effective given the small side area. Short ground roll with the Rotax 912.
Cons - The Drifter 912 is ultralight like and can dissipate energy in ground effect; this requires better flare timing and technique (though the Drifter lands very short). No other negatives.
Quality and quantity for: Coordination; Authority; Pressures; Response; and Coupling.
Pros - While not fast, controls offer plenty of authority for crosswind operations. Response rate is about perfect for training flights. Controls were well rigged and had reasonable pressures. Steep turns went well as the Drifter holds the turn with little input. Precision turns are easy, too.
Cons - The Drifter 912 does not have a fast roll rate (though good authority); Dutch rolls worked well only to shallow angles. Full power on takeoff can cause you to run out of rudder range to counteract it. Lack of visual references in the front seat takes some acclimatization.
Climb; Glide; Sink; Cruise/stall/max speeds; Endurance; Range; Maneuverability.
Pros - More powerful Rotax 912 yields better fuel economy than the lower powered Rotax 582. Climb is breathtaking. Robust airframe has survived challenging duties in many locations. Design has long proven itself on floats. Low-over-the-field flying goes well with flaps deployed. Sink rate is excellent.
Cons - By design the Drifter is not a speedster (an open-cockpit wouldn't be very comfortable at fast speeds), so the big 912 engine only adds to climb and takeoff distance performance. Plus, powerful engines cost significantly more; a Rotax 912 costs three times as much as a Rotax 582.
Stall recovery and characteristics; Dampening; Spiral stability; Adverse yaw qualities.
Pros - Power-off stalls broke but very predictably with fast, almost automatic recovery. Power-on stalls only discernible by a tail buffet. Accelerated stalls often dropped the high wing and leveled out quickly. Longitudinal recovery from level flight was fast and straightforward, no doubt due partly to a long coupled tail with large area.
Cons - Drifters have long been fitted with emergency parachutes. Typical high thrust line response lowers nose pronouncedly on power addition (opposite of most certified aircraft). Deck angle gets extremely steep in full-power stall practice. No other negatives.
Addresses the questions: "Will a buyer get what he/she expects to buy, and did the designer/builder achieve the chosen goal?"
Pros - In a LSA world full of Rotax 912 engines, the Super Drifter 912 fits in well using this reliable 4-stroke Rotax 912 powerplant. Strong, durable airframe that has done heavy duty for years; several Drifters have thousands of hours and at least one more than 10,000. Highly recognized design; helps resale values.
Cons - The Drifter 912 is much more expensive than a 2-stroke-powered model (though those are still available). If you sell your Drifter it may take somewhat longer than a more conventional, enclosed aircraft (though a good following will help sell any well-maintained examples).