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.
The good news: I can still write about them. So, here goes…
New, and Moving Up Smartly
We 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.
Ranger’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 & Interior
Ranger 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.