Considered by many to be a workhorse, the Super Drifter XL shows refinement and features that make it seem like a “luxury ultralight.” Leza AirCam, the newly renamed producer of this venerable ultralight, has equipped the top-of-the-line model with nearly every option in their price list. Conclusion: While it will cost you a bundle, you should be satisfied with this ultralight for many years. How is this Super Drifter XL different from the Super Drifter that I evaluated almost 3 years ago? According to Denny Franklin – yes, that same icon of the Maxair days when the Drifter was a youngster – the XL is a significant redesign of the original Super Drifter 912 flown in 1998.1 It has seen numerous changes to make the veteran design work better with the big 80-hp Rotax 912 situated at the rear of the wing. What’s New With the Super Drifter XL? The Super Drifter XL has an extended fuselage – meaning the boom tube and its fuselage “pan” – to position the front seat 5 inches further forward.
|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||125-225 hours|
|Standard engine||Rotax 912|
|Power||80 hp at 5,500 rpm|
|Power loading||12.5 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, 3-stripe color, ASI, altimeter, CHT, oil pressure, oil temp, Hobbs, and tachometer, dual controls, nose fairing, dual 5-gallon fuel tanks, wide aluminum wheels, hydraulic brakes, 3-blade prop.|
|Options||Floats, ballistic parachute system, nickel 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 - The XL version of the Super Drifter adds refinement and features without disturbing the basics of this popular design (see details in article). More than 1,000 Drifters are reported flying. Top-of-the-line model of four Drifters produced. Leza AirCam has (wisely, in my opinion) retained cable bracing; it's lighter and lower drag than struts. 80-hp Rotax 912 installation was well executed.
Cons - Not all pilots love the idea of sitting out on the end of a boom; if you don't like it, you'll know right away. Some pilots will regard the Drifter as a dated, older design. Makes Part 103 exemption weight by a single pound.
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 - Excellent flap system, both effective in use and easy to deploy. Lever is alongside pilot's thigh and comfortably reached like a center car emergency brake lever. The Super Drifter XL is superbly equipped (for a price, of course). Stick-mounted, mini-hydraulic brake system is surprisingly powerful. Open cockpit style eases refueling (and no interior fumes!). Engine access is excellent.
Cons - All the features add to the price and the big Rotax 912 4-stroke, 4-cylinder engine seems like overkill on an ultralight that flies well on a 50-hp Rotax 503. No instruments were installed for the rear seat instructor. But you can carry any system you can afford; no other negatives.
Instrumentation; Ergonomics of controls; Creature comforts; (items covered may be optional).
Pros - Four-point seat belts front and rear, especially appreciated in such a sit-on-the-end-of-a-pole cockpit. If you like wide-open visibility, the Drifter is king (excepting maybe only the AirCam, which is a grown-up Drifter at heart). Full instrument panel arranged in an efficient T-panel. Entry to both seats is reasonable, but the aft seat is especially easy for a tandem design. Seats are quite comfortable.
Cons - If you don't like the wide-open feel of ultralights, then you better stay in the back seat (though it solos from the front). Entry to the front seat might be improved with a step; a kit builder can add one. Rear seat occupant is subject to considerable wind buffet. Seats don't adjust in flight. No rear instruments as an instructor may want.
Taxi visibility; Steering; Turn radius; Shock absorption; Stance/Stability; Braking.
Pros - Mini-hydraulic system made for quite powerful brakes. Excellent visibility from the front seat to scan for traffic during takeoff| or any time. Spring steel gear offered good shock absorption even with the heavier Rotax 912 engine and two occupants. Ground clearance is generous. Prop quite well protected from runway debris.
Cons - Tailwheel action seemed a little sensitive at first though it caused no difficulties; a beginner may experience some challenges in crosswinds. Suspension is limited to gear leg flex and tire inflation. No differential brakes though they're hardly needed. A slight deck angle plus long coupling means the Drifter can be ground looped if you're slow on the rudder pedals.
Qualities; Efficiency; Ease; Comparative values.
Pros - Low landing approach speeds (40 mph) can be used with adequate margin. Slips proved surprisingly effective given the small side area. Flaps are highly efficient and easily deployed. Visibility is unparalleled in ultralight aviation. Good crosswind capability thanks to responsive controls. Climb is superb with the 80-horse Rotax 912. Short ground roll.
Cons - Though the Drifter XL exhibited very good sink rate - especially for a more heavily loaded wing - it seemed to run out of energy in ground effect; I had three landings that bounced more than I'd like. Some pilots will feel overly exposed on landings. Lack of lateral references in front seat is disconcerting to pilots used to enclosures.
Quality and quantity for: Coordination; Authority; Pressures; Response; and Coupling.
Pros - Controls offer enough authority to deal with fairly strong crosswinds. Medium-fast response help make the Drifter XL a good trainer. Controls showed little slop and had reasonable pressures. Steep turns proved very straightforward; the Drifter XL holds the turn easily. Precision turn skills are quickly acquired.
Cons - No one would call the roll rate fast (though authority makes up for this). My Dutch roll exercises worked well but only to shallower angles. If you use full power on takeoff you may run out of compensating rudder range (another sign to me that the Rotax 912 is too much engine for the Drifter). Lack of visual references in front seat may confound some pilots' effort to learn the handling.
Climb; Glide; Sink; Cruise/stall/max speeds; Endurance; Range; Maneuverability.
Pros - Despite significantly more power, the 80-hp Rotax 912 has better fuel economy than the lower powered 66-hp Rotax 582. Climb is breathtaking with the 80 horses pushing you. Robust airframe has survived challenging duties in many locations. Design has long proven itself on floats. Perhaps even aided by the big engine, the Super Drifter XL did very well at low-over-the-field flying; flies quite well with flaps deployed. Sink rate seemed excellent for a heavier ultralight.
Cons - Hard to fault the performance of this high-powered workhorse design, but the HKS 700E engine may prove a better choice (60 hp vs. 80 hp) for those who prefer 4-stroke operation. Not a particularly fast design, though the open cockpit wouldn't be very comfortable at fast speeds.
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 was fast and straightforward, no doubt due partly to a long coupled tail and generously sized tail feathers.
Cons - Typical high thrust line response lowers nose pronouncedly on power addition (opposite of certified aircraft). Nose gets extremely steep in full-power stall practice.
Addresses the questions: "Will a buyer get what he/she expects to buy, and did the designer/builder achieve the chosen goal?"
Pros - As luxury car makers might put it, the Super Drifter XL "has few options because all the right features come standard on this top-of-the-line model." Very tough airframe that has done heavy duty for years. Drifter models have been certified in several countries.
Cons - You'll pay a pretty penny to have the Super Drifter XL, which is so loaded with features that the options list is short; everything's already included. Lower priced/lower powered Drifter models are available and may be a better choice for many buyers. Company has been through ownership changes lately; more changes appear likely.