What on Earth is going on in Airplane DesignerLand? Are we headed for a bifurcation, a parting of the ways among those engineering the next generation of aircraft? Perhaps. Will this affect you? How do you feel about non-fixed-wing aircraft? I am searching for a term to generically describe these emerging flying machines; “drones” doesn’t quite do the job. More of these seemingly-weird-looking machines seem to pop up every day. Prior experience suggests that most will never make it to market. Ones that do succeed in the eVTOL or electric-powered aircraft market may not even exist today. For that matter, it is far from certain that this will ever turn into a market, though given the huge amounts of money pouring into research projects, it seems nearly inevitable (to me) that some will survive and perhaps have a major impact on flying, both for transportation and for sport or recreation. Along this vein, before and at Sun ‘n Fun 2018, I spoke to officials from BRS parachutes.
Vickers Aircraft Company, Ltd. Wave
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org-- - New Zealand
LSA are getting more power, to wit, Rotax’s new 915iS with 135-horsepower and the Continental Titan line with 180 horsepower. I do not think this is the end of the horsepower boosts …plus LSA speed and/or weight changes could conceivably follow in the USA but are currently not limitations in other countries that accept the ASTM standards as a basis for approval or certification.
I'd like to talk about power. With LSA restricted to 120 KIAS, it seems unlikely we'll get much engine development to increase power unless regulations change to either allow an increase in speed or gross weight.
What would be the point of more powerful engines on LSA?
Well, that topic could take us down quite a lengthy path. Let me offer a somewhat shorter reply. You are right about many tech developments — and on that I point you to an article published recently in General Aviation News' "The Pulse of Aviation." Two thoughts: (1) I believe the LSA sector has reached an interesting level of maturity. The pace of major innovations may have slowed but the most important developments are now common on most LSA (and light kits). This situation is not so different than smartphones that totally upended mobile a decade ago with the introduction of the iPhone. In a similar time period, that industry has also matured and development has lost its torrid pace. (2) The funny thing about innovation is you often don’t know how or when it might emerge. Electric propulsion is one possibility and then we are seeing the first glimmer of a new class of aircraft with a collection of spinning blades or rotating wings. Who can guess where precisely that is headed? Whatever the coming changes, they will work first on lighter aircraft. My article referenced above tries to speculate a bit.
There's already a lot of technology in LSA thanks to the need to save weight, which has me wondering where the sector is going. Can you provide me with some thoughts?
One definition of composite is "made of various materials." In the past "composite" implied fiberglass. LSA already rely on fiberglass, aluminum, and steel but add high-tech materials such as Kevlar, carbon fiber, and titanium. Today, the most advanced designs have significantly carbon fiber airframes, partly for weight but also strength as well as aerodynamic efficiency and design beauty.
Composite versus metal. Is there something else? What type of composites are in common use and what types are under development? What drives composite development? Does metal still have a future in LSA? Is mix-and-match of both the way to go?
That's one beauty of fiberglass and carbon. You can have beautiful shapes and strength with weigh savings. Assembly ease is a factor, too. Those materials will surely persist for those reasons and for future production efficiencies. However, since nearly all airplanes are low-production — essentially hand-built with modest use of robotics, even at the Boeing or Airbus level — prospects for genuine mass production seem distant.
What are the major construction methods? Is there room for the construction method to contribute to the aircraft performance in terms of weight saving? Aircraft like the Ekolot Topaz have fuselages formed in two halves then adhered together like a Revell P-51 model. Is this the way of the future? Is there room for mass production?
Avionics development has seen technology cascade down from GA, but there is some that has been designed from scratch for the LSA sector, such as AoA Indicators. Which way will the technology flow in the future? Is EFIS going to become standard for LSAs or do the traditional clocks still have a place? Have we reached a pinnacle in LSA simply because the sector can operate without technology such as HUDs?
Perhaps we are pushing some boundaries if new ideas and materials are not forthcoming. However, they are forthcoming. I’m not too worried about it. For example, crush zone technology in cars did not add weight — in fact removed it compared to other methods — and this greatly added to safety.
Weight-saving is always an issue for manufacturers. In Australia a land-based LSA can lift no more than 600 kg (1,320 pounds), so what can manufacturers do to increase their useful load? Are we reaching a dangerous situation where the aircraft are getting too light or are too heavy to include some desirable safety features, such as parachutes?
Are regulations stifling LSAs? Should LSAs be able to fly at up to 750 kg MTOW (1,650 pounds gross) to give manufacturers more design freedom? Is there anything that has to change to enable more technology to be used in LSA, and if so, what is it?
You are right that LSA is leading the innovation charge in many ways. Where can the industry go from here? We (LAMA) have spoken to FAA a lot in the last three years as we seek new opportunities within the present regulatory framework. It is perfectly clear that LSA were a significant reason why FAA went ahead with the Part 23 rewrite and use of industry consensus standards. To answer the future question, I again refer you to this recent article. The freshest new tech in aviation may come from outside aviation but I would never discount the passionate, imaginative, and motivated designers and developers operating in light aviation today.
There's a lot there, but there's also a lot to think about. Until the rewrite of FAR23, the LSA sector led general aviation in technology, especially in the use of composites. The new FAR23 is sort of like catch-up regulation for GA, but where does the technology leader, LSA, go to from here?
Recently I had an exchange with Australian Flying magazine editor, Steve Hitchen. He asked some great questions and after giving my responses I realized some of his question were common ones I hear being discussed. So why not share our give-and-take? Steve’s questions are in blue. I’d like to talk about power. With LSA restricted to 120 KIAS, it seems unlikely we’ll get much engine development to increase power unless regulations change to either allow an increase in speed or gross weight. LSA are getting more power, to wit, Rotax’s new 915iS with 135-horsepower and the Continental Titan line with 180 horsepower. I do not think this is the end of the horsepower boosts …plus LSA speed and/or weight changes could conceivably follow in the USA but are currently not limitations in other countries that accept the ASTM standards as a basis for approval or certification.
Want to know more?The many who have expressed an interest in Vickers Wave have a golden opportunity to find out more… soon. You can hear the latest on this impressive design directly from the source. "We received confirmation from EAA on the time slot for our forum and meet & greet at AirVenture 2017 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin," said Paul. Vickers Aircraft will be at Forum Stage 2 at the Forums Plaza (Knapp St.) from 1:00-2:15 pm on Tuesday, July 25th. Here's a show grounds map to guide you. "Although the aircraft will not be present, we will be giving a short presentation about Vickers Aircraft and the Wave," said Paul. This provides an excellent time to meet with a few of Vickers' key people, including Founder and CEO, Paul Vickers.
Now that we are in the middle of winter, activity is brisk. Middle of winter!? Down under in New Zealand, residents are presently in the colder months of the year. Pilots in U.S. states currently sweating through summer may need a moment to ponder that. New Zealand may be a long ways away but the Vickers Aircraft team building Wave are bringing their fascinating aircraft ever closer. As they work, they are gaining experience with new equipment used to build Wave LSA seaplanes. “Our tooling is all in place now,” said CEO Paul Vickers. “Initial parts are coming out of molds and they are matching the CAD files perfectly.” Modern design, even of more affordable aircraft, are often fully created on computer work stations. The days of hand making a prototype are passed and the older way is nearly extinct. “We’ve also recently doubled the size of our facilities,” added Paul.
Among all Light-Sport Aircraft, some of the most intriguing new design qualities are emerging from LSA seaplanes. Icon’s A5 has gained a ton of attention but here’s a new entry from Vickers Aircraft of New Zealand. This aircraft is -not- yet flying (as of late 2016) but is such an innovative engineering exercise that we wanted to interview designer Paul Vickers when he was in the USA arranging aspects of Wave’s debut in America. Stay tuned; we’re sure to have more!
Unless you’ve had your mind on other pursuits — oh, for example, preparing to head to Sun ‘n Fun 2016 next week (the show runs April 5-10) — you could hardly miss the growing buzz surrounding Icon. A soft whistle of air escaping the cabin turned into a deafening roar as Aero-News.Net (always fast with news), AOPA online, AVweb and others piled on to a story about Icon’s 40-page A5 purchase contract. Credible journalistic work was done by Jim Campbell, Jim Moore, and Paul Bertorelli (respectively of each of the publications mentioned above) in documenting the behemoth contract. I have an opinion too — one part respectful of the California company’s wish to protect their brand and their investment and and one part saying, “What the…?” I see no reason to delve into further than the lengthy stories my fellow writers already posted. Instead, I like following what’s new in Light-Sport Aircraft, light kit aircraft, and ultralights.
Big power is not just for LSA taildraggers anymore. A few years back, CubCrafters surprised the LSA world with its installation of the most powerful engine in the LSA space. The western U.S. company mounted a Titan engine from ECi making the modest Cub-like airframe perform far better than the old versions from the Piper company. At the time, this potent powerplant raised eyebrows for two reasons. First, it seemed an excess of power for the then-new lightweight class of airplanes FAA had just regulated into existence. Most had been using one of the 9-series engines from Rotax, which in some cases was itself a move up from a two-stroke Rotax 582 providing 65 horsepower. CubCrafters limited power after takeoff to maneuver within the regs, though, honestly, who would continue using so much power in cruise or while sight seeing? Secondly, the Cub-style airframe is already near the upper LSA empty weight calculation so CubCrafters’ engineers had to add many costly carbon fiber elements to keep the empty weight low enough to fit in the class.
As I’ve written a few times, I see a dichotomy in LSA designs. Landplanes appear to have entered a “mature” phase, where changes are incremental, evolutionary rather than revolutionary, if you will. I see nothing wrong with that. To the contrary, it speaks to an industry that knows where it is going and how to achieve design goals. Electric propulsion is still stirring things considerably (witness several recent articles here and elsewhere) but electric motors can work on landplanes or seaplanes. To my view, it appears the lead in the most innovative design is being done in LSA seaplanes. Perhaps this was triggered by Icon and their A5. The California entry is handsome and well enough marketed to collect many orders. While finally coming to market A5 has been a decade in preparation. This left the door open for more highly innovative entries Meanwhile existing designs such as Searey and Super Petrel have been much refined and have demonstrated meeting ASTM standards with Searey also achieving Chinese Type Design Approval.
After a rush of interest owing to earlier reports (see here and here), the team at Vickers Aircraft went head down and began pushing even harder on their fascinating new amphibious LSA seaplane entry called Wave. As you can see by the photos, they’ve now unveiled the overall appearance though additional details of this rather distinctive creation will be released as components are fitted and evaluated. Meanwhile, for those who want more, principal designer Paul Vickers added, “I am pleased to inform that our Vickers Aircraft website is now live. We invite pilots around the world to come have a closer look and to observe which companies we are engaging as partners. “We have achieved our production weights on completed assemblies,” noted Paul, including wings, tail stabilizers, controls, and composites structures such as the cockpit and sponsons.” Vickers says they achieved this by strategically combining aluminum and carbon fiber.
Following our initial unveil of a new amphibian called “Wave” by Vickers Aircraft Company, more details were offered in their programmed slow-motion rollout of a new amphibian LSA candidate. In this update we hear about who will supply the prop and see some of the hardware components. I was informed that response was brisk after the last article suggesting the tempting way facts are released developed a sense of intrigue. One thing not said earlier is that principal Paul Vickers spent years in marine hull design and fabrication, addressing that aspect of engineering competency. As to the aerodynamic side, Paul wrote, “We are confident in achieving our performance figures as we have spent the pat three years producing and studying the hydrodynamics and aerodynamics needed for our particular flight envelope.” Vickers provided performance info to Catto props who developed and delivered a specific propeller to maximize to the airflow produced by Wave’s pusher configuration.
I’ve written a number of articles about LSA seaplanes … about the several we already have in the fleet (Aventura news), and about new designs to come (quick tour of many new LSA and Ultralight seaplanes). One of new ones is called Wave from Vickers Aircraft Company and the new entry is starting to peek from behind the dark curtain. Along with other designs in development, the Vickers project merits close attention as it offers genuine out-of-the-box thinking. Previously I agreed not to say more, governed by a non-disclosure agreement. However, at AirVenture 2013 I ran into Director and principal designer Paul Vickers. After talking about his sponsorship of EAA’s Young Eagles program Paul told me he was finally ready to make some announcements about his project. Following are a couple glimpses. Another man with inside knowledge said, “This is the coolest, sexiest aircraft coming to market.