Vintage looks. A few companies in aviation specialize in the look and feel of aircraft from yesteryear. These manufacturers offer aircraft that are reminiscent of days gone by in aviation. Visually and even in the way they fly, these machines can transport enthusiasts back to the so-called Golden Era when the nascent aviation industry offered simple, easy to fly aircraft like the Piper Cub and others. Today, most of these specialty aircraft are kit-built airplanes because the freedom of the Experimental 51% rule permits exploration that cannot be justified when making a fully FAA certified model. Some of these kit manufacturers hail from the ultralight community. Fisher Flying Products is one such company.
In two ways, North Dakota-based Fisher Flying Products is a second generation company. First, the company now owned by Darlene Jackson and husband Gene Hanson was purchased from Mike Fisher, who subsequently started another business using his name. Secondly, the Dakota Hawk is one of two Fisher Flying Products designs that did not come from Mike Fisher. (The other is their also-vintage Tiger Moth replica model.)
In this issue of the Experimenter, the subject is the Dakota Hawk, a handsome design that, while not as vintage as the Tiger Moth, is certainly a throwback to the days of Cubs, Luscombes, Taylorcraft, and others of that time period.
However, like so many of the replica models, the Dakota Hawk may look old, but it has new features that reflect the state-of-the-art in aviation design.
For example, the Dakota Hawk uses an 80-horsepower Rotax 912 engine that came on the scene strongly only a few years ago. This modern powerplant has won converts across the lines of light, sport aircraft. It has also begun appearing on certified aircraft like the Katana. Even a Cessna 150 has been fitted with the four-stroke Rotax engine.
This particular 912-powered aircraft was fairly loud as its builder elected to run it with no muffler, just straight pipes. In some ways this, too, is typical of the older aircraft the Dakota Hawk emulates. Beneficially, the noise level is noted from the ground, not the cockpit. And once aloft a few hundred feet, the low-rumble of the four cylinder engine can barely be heard, making the plane a good neighbor in today’s noise-conscious world.
Overflying Oshkosh in the ‘Hawk
My opportunity to fly the beautiful factory Dakota Hawk took place at the 1996 EAA Oshkosh convention. I flew with longtime Fisher dealer Mike Makepeace in the left seat. He gave me my choice of seats but after a couple thousand hours giving instruction, I’m at home in the right seat.
The cabin was comfortable for two 170 pound occupants as we were. We had plenty of room. The seats are simple but served the purpose without discomfort. A shoulder belt system was installed giving protection not afforded by mere lap belts (which most experts will tell you are totally insufficient in the event of any violent upset of the aircraft).
I can always find a few gripes and the Dakota Hawk’s cockpit has its imperfections just like any aircraft. The throttle had some creep necessitating a tight friction lock or a steady hand on the lever which can be distracting or tiring or both. Also, brakes were only installed on the left side. I never got a chance to experience them.
At the end of our flight, we put our headsets on the hat rack behind us. The space is useful for in-flight items although heavier luggage shouldn’t end up in this spot.
Takeoff roll in the Dakota Hawk seemed a bit log, although temperatures were warm and humidity was rather high. In addition, the ultralight area at Oshkosh has a short, rather bumpy grass runway (about 1,400 feet). On pavement, the model can leave the ground in about 350 feet, less than many two seaters.
Landing approach calls for significant power reduction as the plane slips through the air quite nicely at low speeds. You can use slips very effectively though you must stay alert to keep the nose down (it drifted upward on me as I tried to reduce landing speed). Makepeace emphasized the value of keeping the nose pointed at the ground until roundout, typical advice for pilots flying low-kinetic-energy ultralight-type aircraft. Commensurately, roundout felt a little sudden as the Dakota Hawk bled energy quickly like most ultralights.
On my first landing – among better than two dozen ultralights in the pattern – I’d taken the controls on short final and got slow on my first landing requiring a little assistance. By the second and third landings and while conducting the whole approach, I found the right “handle” and had smooth touchdowns, good enough to earn a compliment from my check pilot.
Kit-built aircraft often display characteristics that reflect the builder’s effort to personalize his or her airplane. This particular Dakota Hawk had a trim condition which caused it to lower its nose when I released the stick. However, the action was gentle and effortlessly overpowered by the joystick. A builder can suit his plane to his weight, and this mass is more of a factor on very light aircraft like the Dakota Hawk, which has a gross weight roughly equivalent to empty weight in a Cessna 150.
Climb under full power at just under 55 mph produced 600-700 fpm of climb with two of us aboard. Especially as we were more than 100 pounds under gross, I expected more climb from the Dakota Hawk with its four-stroke, 80 horse Rotax four banger despite the high density altitude on the day of our flight. Regardless, this amount is double that of your standard Cessna 150.
When I ran the throttle up to the stops, the ASI read right at 100 mph. Most of the time we flew at 4,800 rpm, which on this engine is not full power by a wide margin though neither is it a particularly low setting. At that power, we saw about 70 mph. This makes a delightful cruising speed for a sport aircraft, fast enough to cover some miles and yet slow enough to enjoy the scenery as it slides by underneath.
When I checked sink rate using the same 55 mph speed as I did for climb, I found it was a little under 600 fpm, which puts it about in the middle of the typical ultralight range of 400-800. This also compares well with other sportplanes but is better than the Cessna 150 that is often used for comparison.
Hand on the Stick
For my liking, the joystick was a bit on the heavy side, asking for somewhat higher muscular forces than I prefer. It was also too straight for me; I’d angle it back strictly for comfort so as to use my leg as an armrest.
Contrarily, many pilots enjoy more feedback from the stick to guide the application of controls, and most pilots have longer arms than I do, so the stick position might be perfect for you. In addition, the benefit of a kit-built aircraft is that you can construct the joystick so it fits your body perfectly.
Dakota Hawk’s rudder pedals were very light to the touch. Yet you must use them more heavily than the ailerons. Good technique says you lead with rudder and follow with aileron, the opposite of most GA planes but typical of ultralights. (This is actually easier as you can relax your hands and fly laterally with the rudders doing an adequate job.)
Roll in was very straightforward; I quickly acquired the right touch. Roll out was more challenging and of course, Dutch rolls call for closely linked reversals of these inputs. As a result my first Dutch rolls were pretty sloppy but they improved with a little practice.
I also tended to raise the nose a bit when rolling out unless I paid additional attention to this result. Getting familiar with any airplane is essential to understand its peculiarities.
Performing 720° steep turns at 45° bank angles or greater worked out very well. I hit my wake quite solidly in both directions earning points with Makepeace, who watched all my evaluation maneuvering with the cool, relaxed eye of a highly experienced pilot. The Dakota Hawk has more than adequate back stick even without adding power in steep turns.
You can’t design a plane with which some aviation writer won’t find some minor complaints. My precision turns to headings weren’t as precise as in some aircraft. And the throttle also suffered the usual GA problem of offering no palm rest. You might think this is nitpicking and you’re right, but these reports must balance the good with the not as good. It wasn’t easy to find negatives to point out on the Dakota Hawk.
After the control, performance, and takeoff and landing examinations, I looked into the stability profile of the Fisher plane.
Throttle response felt basically neutral. It didn’t move either direction much on increase or decrease of power. While a plane should raise its nose on power up and drop when reducing the throttle, a neutral response is acceptable.
Adverse yaw was very little, better than average among sport planes or manufactured aircraft.
Stalls were extremely uneventful. Power off stalls nodded gently nose forward and down. While these stalls were not at all threatening, we did lose more altitude than I expected.
Doing full power stalls brought a drunken wobble with the nose held very high. So long as the stick was held full aft, the Dakota Hawk neither ceased the wobble nor did it drop its nose. You can look at this characteristic and say, “Well, that’s a clear warning.” You’d have to be asleep to avoid noticing the stall, however, given the extreme deck angle.
Dakota Hawk was placarded against spins so we didn’t do any. Makepeace says he’s done them commenting, “It’s hard to get into spins and as soon as you release the back pressure, you’re out of them.” Given the very mild stalls, a claim of good spin behavior is easy to believe.
Getting Your Own
The Dakota is modestly priced at only $8,250 without the cost of that four-stroke engine. Adding the powerplant, you’ll rise to $15,000 or so, and paint plus instruments will add more.
However, this still puts you aloft at under $20,000 for a brand-new airplane. In days when you can buy a 150 or used Cherokee for $15,000, the price may seem high but you simply must recall the Cessna or Piper products will be old, maybe 30 years old. New is nice.
In addition the manufactured airplanes must be FAA mechanic maintained and in the long run this is an aspect that will bump the total cost of ownership by a factor of nearly two, according to one detailed study comparing kits to factory-built planes.
Balancing the above is the effort of building your kitplane. Fisher claims about 500 hours and these are such honest people that I think you can take that number very seriously. Further, the EAA has a whole system for providing assistance and counsel while you build.
Beyond that, most kitplane manufacturers say the experience will be one of the most gratifying in your life. If you think you don’t have those skills, consider this thought: some factory worker put that Cessna or Piper together. Did that worker have a bad day when your airplane arrived at his or her work station? Contrarily, if you build your plane, you’ll know just how well you did.
For the money, the Dakota Hawk is a delightful plane that can provided hours and years of enjoyment. The experience starts with building, but the pride of ownership takes on a whole new meaning once that lovingly assembled plane takes you and a friend into the air.
Call the good folks at Fisher and ask for their literature package. If you buy, you’ll find them very high quality people with which to deal. In today’s sometimes impersonal world, that can be a satisfying aspect of the kit-built airplane market.
|Empty weight||600 lbs|
|Gross weight||1,150 lbs|
|Wing area||128 sq. ft|
|Wing loading||9.3 lbs/sq. ft|
|Useful Load||550 pounds|
|Length||19 feet 9 inches|
|Cabin Interior||38 inches|
|Height||6 feet 1 innch|
|Load Limit||+5.7, -2.28 g|
|Fuel Capacity||12 gallons 1|
|Baggage area||hat rack|
|Notes:||1 Optional wing tanks available at 7 gallons each.|
|Standard engine||Rotax 912, 80 hp|
|Power loading||14.3 lbs/hp|
|Max Speed||120 mph|
|Cruise speed||90-100 mph|
|Economy Cruise||Duration-3 hrs, Range-250 miles, Fuel Consumption (Economical)-about 3.0gph|
|Stall Speed||35 mph|
|Never exceed speed||120 mph|
|Rate of climb at gross||800 fpm|
|Takeoff distance at gross||350 ft|
|Landing distance at gross||400 ft|
|Notes:||Service Ceiling (est.)-10,000 ft.|