Being first is often good in marketing, sports, or life in general, for that matter. In the light-sport aircraft (LSA) certification race, one aircraft has already won: the Czech Republic-built Evektor SportStar. This all-metal, low-wing, bubble-canopy design was the first aircraft to win its airworthiness certificate as a special LSA (S-LSA), and no one can ever take that distinction away.
Evektor Aerotechnik appointed Sport Aircraft International of Kerrville, Texas, as its American distributor. That company is currently in the process of transitioning to Evektor America as its new trade name. At EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2005, it exhibited a beautifully finished SportStar SE alongside Evektor’s four-seat Cobra, which is aimed at the Cirrus market. In the LSA Mall, another SportStar presented itself to thousands of visitors.
I flew the first imported version of the SportStar, then called the EuroStar, a few years ago. The day after EAA AirVenture 2005 ended, I was delighted to join Evektor America President Jeff Conrad and rocket down Wittman Field’s runway in the newest SportStar SE (special edition).
Prepared for the American Market
Evektor and Evektor America prepared well for the LSA category. In the late 1990s, Evektor derived the eventual SportStar from its Harmony, a fully certificated aircraft under the VLA (Very Light Aircraft) regulations widely used throughout Europe. Reportedly, the Harmony was spun more than 400 times as part of achieving VLA certification. From the start, both the Harmony and the SportStar were designed for factory production line assembly. The Czech company has succeeded well in proliferating its production. Evektor says 470 airplanes in the SportStar family are flying, from the EV-97 to the Harmony to the EuroStar and SportStar. They are operating in 38 countries under a variety of regulations, a fact that helped the Czech company prepare for dealing with the new American rules. Jeff Conrad attended the ASTM meetings during which the LSA consensus standards were developed, buttressed by a factory engineer and a foot-thick stack of paperwork to prove the SportStar would meet the LSA regulations. Preparedness usually pays off, and Evektor quickly turned its documents into an airworthiness certificate for SportStar.
An Evolved Aircraft
Checking out the latest model, I noted some changes since I first flew the EuroStar. The new SportStars have a substantially larger clear canopy over the cockpit, which gets your attention quickly. Less obvious are the aircraft’s higher empty and gross weights and an added 2 feet of wingspan, to accommodate the increased weight. From the outside the larger bubble canopy looks large, to the point of appearing bulbous. From the inside, however, it feels quite normal and nicely spacious, even more than its 46.5-inch-wide cockpit suggests. Visibility toward the rear is good.
The SE badge on the nose of the SportStar we flew for this flight test stands for Special Edition. “It’s our premium décor package, including a leather interior as well as partial use of metallic colors on the paint trim,” Jeff explained.
The all-metal SportStar’s fuselage is a semi-monocoque design. The airframe is constructed using epoxy bonding backed with a riveted structure; a method Evektor believes will ensure a longer lasting aircraft. SportStar’s firewall is made of galvanized steel, not aluminum, and should provide greater safety and strength with a modest increase in weight. The entire empennage is also an all-metal construction.
The rectangular, single-spar wing is built with split flaps, ailerons, and fiberglass wingtips. The wings were designed with little dihedral, no taper, and no washout other than that which comes from the large, upturned fiberglass wingtips.
Most S-LSA designs employ some composite materials in their construction. The SportStar is no different, with cowlings made of Kevlar, carbon fiber, and fiberglass. Composite materials are also used in the landing gear. Evektor said the main gear withstood “enormous deflection” during European VLA certification drop tests. The nose wheel uses bungee cords for suspension.
The upper half of the engine cowl can be removed quickly using 9 Dzus fasteners. Like most Cessnas and Pipers, an inspection port allows access to the dipstick and oil fill point.
Jeff added, “Evektor SportStar is now available with increased fuel capacity with two (17-gallon) wing tanks for a total usable fuel capacity of 31.2 gallons. With the added tanks the aircraft’s new maximum range is 700 nm with eight hours of endurance.” This will cut into SportStar’s payload, but gives the two-seater a long range.
This new SportStar SE had been busy, logging 125 hours. “We’ve been flying the pants off of it, and it’s due for some minor maintenance,” said Jeff. Indeed the SE exhibited squeaky brakes and the left set of spark plugs didn’t run as smoothly as new ones. Some rigging adjustments will also remedy a little right turn in the SportStar. With the aileron surfaces lined up visually, the SportStar had a distinctive left turn. Onlookers at EAA AirVenture 2005 had bumped the tab on the right aileron, not an uncommon occurrence when hundreds or thousands of people examine an aircraft.
With our walk-around complete, Jeff and I pronounced the SportStar SE ready for flight.
Entry to and exit from the SportStar is made easy by the forward-hinged bubble canopy, a huge expanse of optically clear plastic. Step up onto the wing from the rear, as with most low-wing aircraft, and climb inside. Dual gas pistons hold the canopy in place and should prevent blow-open damage. The canopy also mates to a window area in the rear that makes for an airy cockpit.
The SportStar’s 46.5-inch cockpit is much wider than a familiar benchmark, the Cessna 150. The bubble canopy yields extra room at the shoulders, which seems even larger than it is as you can rest your arm on the interior structure of the canopy. The enormous canopy uses latches on each side to secure it for flight. A larger handle and latch at the top rear center of the canopy complete the locking operation. The canopy cannot be opened in flight.
The SportStar’s instrument panel benefits from clear identification labels. Circuit breakers are in a neat row at the lower edge of the panel in front of the left-seat pilot with a trim indicator at the upper left corner. All gauges, lights, or switches are well marked and positioned so that either occupant can read and access them. Map pockets are provided on both sides, and a baggage area aft of the seats will accommodate 33 pounds of baggage.
After securing the four-point shoulder/seat belts and getting our headsets ready, we fired up the 100-hp Rotax 912S, and started our taxi. Even on the day after EAA AirVenture 2005, we had to wait in line for takeoff. In bright sunshine with the canopy secured for flight, the SportStar’s cockpit warms quickly. Unlike some of its LSA competitors, the SportStar uses dual hydraulic toe brakes. The brakes are levers, not pedals, but they are effective. A parking brake lock is located just in front of the flap handle, which is positioned between the seats.
The SportStar’s choke lever has a turn-to-lock feature. The choke lock mechanism allows infinite location of the choke, not simply a maximum open and lock position. Similarly, a vernier throttle allows precise power settings with a push-button, free-movement release and a friction lock up against the control panel. The knob is large and convenient to use.
Taxiing along in line for takeoff, the rudder pedals felt firm on the ground. But, regardless of the feel, the SportStar SE was surprisingly agile. It can manage a full 360-degree turn in 25 feet or less, which is less than its 28-foot wingspan. The SportStar also has good prop clearance and stands fairly tall on its landing gear, giving me the feeling that off-field landings shouldn’t get too exciting.
Before takeoff and once aloft, most pilots will find the view massive. Of course, you have the usual downward obstruction of a low wing, but checking for traffic before takeoff is a breeze, and in flight you have a broad view.
Jeff recommended setting one notch of flaps for takeoff. Evektor’s engineers selected a split flap design, meaning a separate surface on the bottom of the wing pivots down to various angles. Therefore, you cannot see them from the cockpit and must rely on the flap indicator. A long lever with a padded grip makes the flaps easy to deploy. A push button helps you locate the proper flap notch tactilely.
Pushing the button on the throttle, I advanced it to full power and the SportStar SE quickly accelerated. Racing down the runway about 500 feet (we were somewhat under gross), we hit rotation speed, lifted the nose, and smoothly departed. Suggested rotation speed is about 40 knots. We climbed at about 70 knots.
Once aloft a safe distance, I dialed back the throttle slightly. We didn’t need full power, and the fuel flow drops sharply at any reduction from maximum throttle.
The SportStar SE is definitely an airplane you can fly with your fingertips. I liked it immediately. A new pilot might find it a bit lively right off the runway, though St. Charles Flying Service (St. Louis, Missouri) is using the aircraft for pilot training with great success. At press time one student had successfully earned his sport pilot certificate in a single week. (See “A Flight School Using SportStar.”) The SportStar’s need for control input turned out to be a ground level turbulence issue that disappeared once we got a thousand feet off the surface. Then the aircraft seemed smooth and well behaved in the more pleasant air, but the need for quick response is always less at altitude.
I witnessed a sustained climb rate of about 700 fpm while we flew with full fuel somewhat shy of the aircraft’s maximum gross weight. This solid rate of climb continued right to 3,000 feet MSL, where we leveled off to further explore the SportStar’s handling.
Unlike many of the speedy LSA candidates I’ve flown, I experienced less difficulty keeping the ball centered in the SportStar. Though you can become accustomed to slipperier models, any aircraft that makes control easy is one fast learned and long appreciated.
One reason why the ball holds steady without much effort is the low rudder input needed. Most of the European-designed LSAs exhibit a similar quality. Many other aircraft require some rudder to make coordinated turns. Heavy-footed ultralight pilots may struggle with this, but at least they know how to use the rudder. General aviation (GA) pilots who fly with their feet on the floor will find their turns slinging the ball off to one side.
However, if you set the SportStar into a trimmed 45-degree bank turn, it will go round and round with little pilot input. You must learn a new coordination of stick to rudder, but the net result is a fine-handling machine that will never tire you. Contrarily, it may work you a bit more flying cross-country without an autopilot. You’ll be flying the plane most of the time, and physically easy or not, the constant need for small inputs demands your attention.
I estimated the SportStar’s roll rates at a bit over three seconds for the 45-to-45 degree roll reversal test. This places it in the middle-to-faster category. Ailerons retain most of their authority down to stall. Pitch control is stable and not overly sensitive.
On the whole, the SportStar’s stick forces are reasonably light, in about the middle of the range for this class of aircraft. Though the rudders felt a bit stiff on the ground, this feeling seemed to disappear in the air. Overall, I found a lot to like about the SportStar’s handling, and that’s my personal area of focus when flying a new plane.
In high-speed runs upwind and downwind using a GPS, I recorded 128 knots in one direction and 95 knots the other, which averages to 112 knots. The company’s brochure states a 75 percent power cruise yield of 106 knots or 121 mph, showing conservative figures in what the factory claims.
The descent rate using zero flaps and the airplane’s 57-knot best glide speed turned out to be slightly less than 500 fpm, a reasonably good sink rate for this size machine. The aircraft’s pilot operating handbook suggested a configuration of 52 knots with one notch of flaps, which produced a 600-650 fpm descent rate. However, the stated engine-out best glide speed of 57 knots seemed a better choice to achieve a slower-speed descent (even with the engine idling).
What Goes Up …
Eventually airplanes have to come back to roost, so we somewhat reluctantly left the stunningly beautiful Wisconsin sky for some experience with the tarmac.
The SportStar’s responsiveness made it easy to hold the nose high enough for a full-stall landing. I prefer this technique; I think it’s the best way to have an aircraft meet terra firma. Some airplanes make full-stall landings more difficult, and in my experience, this is more common with low-wing designs. Not the SportStar. All of my landings were good; good enough that Jeff complimented my technique, but the plane simply didn’t fight me.
Landings were definitely easier with one notch of flaps deployed. In one no-flap landing attempt, the SportStar’s nose got quite high and the plane floated considerably. A new pilot could achieve a landing in this situation, but the operation is much less challenging with some flaps.
Sideslips were not particularly authoritative, but they were hardly needed with good flap control of approach speeds and the SportStar’s willingness to fly slowly while retaining good control authority.
When we got back to more turbulent air at lower altitude, the SportStar showed a minor tendency to yaw, something like a V-tail Bonanza. Some observers have noted that the tail on the SportStar might be slightly undersized, perhaps contributing to this movement in rowdier air.
Perhaps in concert with the yaw movement, the SportStar does not exhibit a strong tendency to weathercock in crosswinds. I was fortunate and had winds from a favorable heading on the day I performed takeoffs and landings. Heat and humidity conspired to extend the takeoff roll; nonetheless, I believe the aircraft can depart the ground quite a bit faster than the 770 feet stated on factory literature.
A long lever arm between the seats operates the flaps. You can set the surfaces to 15, 30, and 50 degrees, which offers versatility to handle different landing fields. One SportStar owner reported that he landed with a passenger on an 800-foot grass strip and had room to spare.
Even without flaps, the SportStar’s ailerons guarantee a wide control range that allows you to perform efficient slips to a landing. Combining SportStar’s good slips and deep flaps, you can approach at speeds barely above 40 mph and remain in good control. This is even slower than possible on some ultralights. You can use one notch of flaps for takeoff, though it isn’t mandatory. Because they are split flaps, they produce more drag than wing-shaping lift.
See Your ‘Star?
Evektor America may eventually offer an experimental LSA (E-LSA) kit, but for the time being Jeff said his company would concentrate on ready-to-fly S-LSA.
I explored the SportStar kit a couple years ago and found it to be a fairly fast-build airframe kit that requires no riveting. Evektor describes the kit as a “bolt-together” one that should take about 200 hours for assembly. That kit did not include the engine, prop, instruments, or paint. Perhaps after initial sales success with the factory-built S-LSA SportStar, Evektor America may choose to sell an E-LSA kit.
For now, though, the ready-to-fly SportStars-and the Evektor’s emerging four-seat aircraft, the Cobra-are the mainstays of Evektor America. As of EAA AirVenture 2005, its biggest focus was on the deluxe SportStar SE model.
Standard SportStar instrumentation includes the basic engine and flight instruments. Radios and added flight instruments are by customer request, and that remains true on the SE model. The base price of the SportStar without the SE trim and additional panel items is about $85,000, depending on the dollar/euro exchange rate. The non-SE model has cloth seats and non-metallic paint.
The SportStar SE equipped as flown for this article included a Garmin 296 GPS, transponder, electric trim, landing lights, position lights, leather interior, and accenting metallic colors on the paint trim. This model sells for $96,500. Among those aircraft turned over to customers as of press time, the average was $92,000-$93,000.
For those who can’t or don’t want to write an almost-six-figure check, financing is available for certificated S-LSA from companies like AirFleet Capital (www.airfleetcapital.com). The LSA market represents a new aviation segment, though, so finance companies will look closely at specific aircraft until they gain more experience. Assuming you qualify, you could cut SportStar’s sale price to about an $18,000 down payment and about $900 a month for 10 years at just over 8 percent interest. (This information is subject to change and will be evaluated for each purchase. The preceding figures are merely an example.)
At these finance figures, your payments are not dramatically higher than many sport utility vehicles. So, if a SportStar puts flights of fancy in your head, you can make fantasy into reality.
|Empty weight||606 pounds|
|Gross weight||1,232 pounds 1|
|Wingspan||26 feet 5 inches|
|Wing area||106 square feet|
|Wing loading||11.6 pounds per square foot|
|Length||19 feet 7 inches|
|Height||7 feet 8 inches|
|Kit type||Kit or Fully Assembled 2|
|Build time||300-400 hours|
|Notes:||1 Factory states MTOW (Maximum Takeoff Weight) as 1,058 pounds in accordance with current European rules, however, U.S. representative reports the design easily qualifies for the proposed higher Light-Sport Aircraft maximum weight.
2 Full assembly under proposed Light-Sport Aircraft rule.
|Standard engine||Rotax 912S|
|Power||100 hp at 5,500 rpm|
|Power loading||12.3 pounds per hp|
|Cruise speed||115 mph|
|Economy Cruise||100 mph|
|Never exceed speed||168 mph|
|Rate of climb at gross||1,200 fmp|
|Takeoff distance at gross||630 feet|
|Landing distance at gross||650 feet|
|Standard Features||100-hp Rotax 912S with electric starter, ASI, altimeter, water temp, tachometer and fuel gauge, fully enclosed cabin with large bubble canopy, 4-point seat belts, in-flight trim, shock-cord nose gear suspension, steerable nosewheel, differential hydraulic brakes (left side only), all-metal wings and fuselage.|
|Options||81-hp Rotax 912, Jabiru 2200, or BMW engine (in development), “high performance” prop, additional instruments including navigation and comm radios and attitude instruments, adjustable rudder pedals, quick-build option, fully-assembled option (allowed under Light-Sport Aircraft if passed), ballistic parachute under development with BRS.|
|Construction||Aluminum airframe, fiberglass cowling, composite gear, steel firewall. Made in the Czech Republic; distributed by U.S.-owned company.|
Cosmetic appearance, structural integrity, achievement of design goals, effectiveness of aerodynamics, ergonomics.
Pros – A 1997 design repositioned for Light-Sport Aircraft, the SportStar is nearly a perfect fit to the proposed rule. More conventional than most ultralights; should appeal to general aviation pilots and others. Design by a Czech Republic team of engineers with long experience.
Cons – Not ultralight-like in the U.S. tradition; and accordingly priced considerably higher than most ultralights. Fully enclosed conventional aircraft, which won’t appeal to all ultralight buyers. Unproved design for U.S. consumption (though no design problems are noted). All pilots don’t prefer low-wing designs.
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 – Fully loaded aircraft with electric start, flaps, trim. Exterior filling of fuel. Easily reached access for engine repairs. Multifunction instrument display in evaluation SportStar offered lots of information (at optional cost). Four-point seat belts are standard. Map pockets on both sides.
Cons – Trim is rather sensitive. When you get all the goodies (from an ultralight pilot’s perspective) you should expect to pay for it. Accessing engine means removing a cowling with 9 Dzus fasteners. Greater system features mean longer build time for kits.
Instrumentation; Ergonomics of controls; Creature comforts; (items covered may be optional).
Pros – Only a single latch required to secure cockpit. Aft cabin also enclosed in plastic for huge visibility. Entry is very easy; factory says you can step anywhere when climbing in from the wing. Forward-opening canopy restrained by gas pistons. Full dual controls for flight operations.
Cons – Though a forward-opening bubble canopy cannot open in flight (other than in a violent upset, perhaps), some pilots might prefer more secure latching. Right seat has rudder pedals but no brakes. Some other Light-Sport Aircraft cabins are wider and even more feature-laden.
Taxi visibility; Steering; Turn radius; Shock absorption; Stance/Stability; Braking.
Pros – Checking for traffic in the SportStar is very easy; it offers wide-open visibility. The SportStar can turn a 360 on the ground within its own 25-foot wingspan. Standard hydraulic differential brakes make for precise and tight ramp maneuvering.
Cons – With just clear plastic above, the canopy can be hot in intense sunshine. No brakes on the right side means no differential help in tight situations. Low-wing design can mean some taxi obstacles may be obscured from view. No other negatives.
Qualities; Efficiency; Ease; Comparative values.
Pros – Rotax 912S provides for strong acceleration and powerful takeoffs in the SportStar; printed factory literature distributed in the U.S. states takeoff roll is 330 feet (though it seemed longer to me and is listed longer on Evektor’s Website). Climb is strong, 1,000 fpm or more off the runway.
Cons – Takeoff roll is relatively long for most ultralight pilots. Factory Website states a 670-foot landing roll, long by genuine ultralight standards and something you need to keep in mind. Low-wing cushion in ground effect may not be familiar to ultralight pilots used to high wings.
Quality and quantity for: Coordination; Authority; Pressures; Response; and Coupling.
Pros – Very gracious handling that most pilots will like. Harmony between control surfaces is very good. Precision control is certain and adverse yaw is low. Crosswind capability seems very good (though not evaluated in strong cross conditions). Pitch is nicely dampened.
Cons – With more conventional general aviation handling, you may find more need for trim than on many ultralights. Though controls are good, the SportStar can’t mimic the feel and response of super-light designs intended for slow flight. No other negatives.
Climb; Glide; Sink; Cruise/stall/max speeds; Endurance; Range; Maneuverability.
Pros – A 17-gallon tank with 81-hp Rotax 912 can go 4+ hours and 500+ miles. Standard wheel pants help performance. Climb is close to 1,000 fpm even on warm, humid days. Solid 115-mph cruise speed. Good cross-country capability with excellent cabin comforts for longer voyages.
Cons – Does not provide genuine ultralight slow flying ways; you may not feel comfortable wandering low over fields like you do in an open- cockpit ultralight. Weighing 1,200 pounds or more, the SportStar has considerably more mass and kinetic energy than genuine U.S. ultralights.
Stall recovery and characteristics; Dampening; Spiral stability; Adverse yaw qualities.
Pros – Stalls in all modes – power-off, power-on, accelerated – were benign in their characteristics. Stall recovery was fast and a warning received. Good longitudinal stability, returned to level flight quickly. Power applications brought conventional response (i.e., nose-up on power-up).
Cons – No wing twist or taper and very little dihedral makes for easy roll pressures but can allow some lateral quickening of bank in very steep turns. 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 – Pilots who prefer general aviation qualities will probably like the SportStar immediately. Available in kit, quick-build kit, or ready-to-fly (when and if the Light-Sport Aircraft rule becomes law). Beautiful exterior lines, nicely finished with curved tips and a splashy, patriotic paint job. Engineered by a large experienced team.
Cons – Pilots who prefer genuine, U.S.-style ultralights may not care for the SportStar for the same reason Piper drivers will love it. Thin skin could be subject to hangar damage; extra caution advised. Functional but unimpressive interior finish (though a kit-builder could change this). Little U.S. market presence at this time.