This month I wrote a pilot’s report about two widely different aircraft, both of which are imported by Rollison Airplane Company. Here’s how I handled it.
Every “Ultralight Flying! Pilot’s Report” has common elements: a main article, photos and photo legends, specifications, and our exclusive “Report Card.” Because the two subject flying machines are so different this month, I’ve prepared a “Report Card” for each aircraft. I did the same for specifications as the standard and optional features obviously differ too much for grouping.
In the main article, I take alternate looks at the two flying machines as a way to observe their differences, but further how they each have their benefits.
I also selected more photos – even though Ultralight Flying! reports regularly present many photos of ultralights being reviewed as readers often say that photos are a key informative element.
Because reviewing two different craft makes for a longer pilot report, I’ve somewhat abbreviated both the main article and the twin “Report Cards.”
Quite a few general aviation pilots recognize that ultralights offer a different way to fly| and that’s precisely what they like about them. I hope readers will see the same logic in this tale of two different flying machines.
Some pilots don’t have any trouble switching from a weight-shift trike to a stick-controlled fixed-wing. Major Allistair Wilson is one of them. I happen to be another. You could be, too (if you keep an open mind, at least). But certainly, many pilots prefer sticking with something they know. I can even see a strong safety argument for not experimenting too much.
I recently went flying in the top-of-the-line Pegasus Quantum 912 with Allistair Wilson. The Quantum isn’t just any trike. Its 80-hp Rotax 912 power, compliance with demanding English certification, and refined ways set the Quantum 912 apart from many other trikes. But even among Quantum 912s, this one was special. It was Number 100 off the Pegasus Aviation production line. A special label identifies the machine along with its customer, U.S. importer Rollison Airplane Company.
Wilson, a major with the Royal Irish Regiment in Northern Ireland, holds British certification as a microlight instructor and is an aircraft inspector plus a designated representative for FAI record attempts. He flew with me in the Quantum 912 trike and the fixed-wing Flight Design CT, which I first flew in southern France with Pascal Chanéau in May 1999 while attending the World of Aviation (Mondial de l’Aviation) airshow. What a spectacular place to experience the French-registered #F-JEIC fixed-wing CT. The surroundings are called les Hautes Alps, the High Alps. What fun! And what a flight.
When I again flew the CT in the summer of 2001, it was the first one imported to America. Rollison Airplane Company is the U.S. importer for both the Pegasus 912 and the Flight Design CT.
The two CTs weren’t identically equipped. For one example, Chanéau’s machine had a beautiful Becker-brand radio permanently installed. The approximately 2-inch face took up little panel real estate and worked wonderfully, though Chanéau admits it’s expensive at about 14,000 French francs (well over $2,000 at the time of the flight). A handheld for $500 looks pretty good in comparison.
One inquiry for a trike built with the 80-hp Rotax 912 led to another and turned into a product line with steady sales despite a price tag of $30,000. Even Pegasus was surprised. Now other trike brands have added the big 4-cylinder, 4-stroke engine to their lineups. Clearly, some pilots like the idea of a powerful 4-stroke engine to power their trike.
Wilson admitted that the 80-hp 912 is a complicated engine with many parts, far more so than the simpler and popular 50-hp Rotax 503. However, he thinks he won’t have to replace those parts very often. Wilson maintains that if you change the oil and change the spark plugs faithfully at 200-hour intervals, the Rotax 912 will run “pretty much forever.” Judging from the number of 912 installations popping up everywhere, his enthusiasm appears well supported.
You don’t have to spend $30,000 to get a Pegasus trike. Ultralight pilots should remember that Rollison Airplane Company commissioned Pegasus to make an “American-style trike.” The Quantum 503 Basic starts at only $13,495 while retaining the certified quality. Besides the lower cost engine, the Basic sheds the nose fairing and other appendages. In all, Pegasus makes seven different models of the Quantum, based mainly on engine differences but also with different appointments.
Using otherwise standard trike construction, Pegasus adds huge square tubing on the mast and keel (fore/aft tube joining nosewheel to mast). One distinguishing quality is the gas-strut-relieved lift-up system. By assisting your effort to raise the beefy wing above the trike carriage, a burdensome task is made more pleasant and you can do it without help.
To Americans, the CT’s cantilevered, all fiberglass (and carbon fiber) structure is somewhat foreign. More correctly, it isn’t a common building medium among ultralighters though fiberglass and carbon are widely used on higher-end American homebuilt kits like the Lancair, Pulsar, and Velocity.
The CT is the tip of an iceberg, in my opinion. At a German airshow last April, I saw literally dozens of aircraft as beautiful as the CT. None would qualify as ultralights in the U.S., though that’s what they’re commonly known as in Europe. In truth, I’d say the European designers have bridged a gap between American homebuilts and ultralights. Many of those Euro-ultralights (microlights) have already passed some level of certification and are being built ready-to-fly. Some American companies can compete, but most are some steps behind the Europeans.
Resisting this possible onslaught of European “ultralights” are established American ultralight manufacturers. Given the wide differences of price – $50,000 and more for European models to $12,000 to $25,000 for Yankee ultralights – the future for beautiful machines like the CT succeeding in America is hard to predict.
My general flight experience with both CTs gave the impression of a very stout aircraft, even when one strong thermal threw me against the shoulder straps. That’s only intuitive information, but with about 180 CTs flying worldwide, the safety record appears good.
Before flight in the Quantum 912, Wilson likes to wait until oil temperature is up to 120° at which time the oil pressure will drop, a normal action, he reports. By comparison (in a 912-equipped CT), Chanéau did likewise, waiting for a 50° temp before takeoff. Since this is 122° F, they must both be reading the same manual.
Trim on the Quantum 912 was a very effective device that did not require much movement of the knob. Wilson observes that if you push the control bar where you want it first and then move the trim wheel, less muscular effort is required for the adjustment. The result is similar to any general aviation trim as it relieves control pressures. The trim system moved quite quickly when I twisted the knob; few twists were needed from end to end.
Kill switches and mag switches go forward for “off” and backward for “on,” somewhat counterintuitively. More often, switches are wired forward for “go” and backward for “off.” However, like everything on the highly polished Quantum 912, all switches are clearly labeled. You just have to read them.
The Quantum’s choke is on the underside of the throttle and moves forward for full activation (so at least the counterintuitive nature of the controls is consistently applied). Wilson’s starting sequence was: master switch on, ignition on, followed by a push of a starter button to the left of the master switch.
Of course, the fixed-wing CT is a different flying animal with different systems.
Flaps have positions of reflex as well as positions of flaps down. Reflex, rare though not unheard of on American designs, can allow improved performance at cruise speeds. Rob Rollison of Rollison Airplane Company observes the CT has flaps settings from -120 to +40°.
Located in a center console, the CT has multiple levers: from right to left, hand brake with parking brake lock, throttle, a starter lever, and trim.
At the back of the console at the rear cabin bulkhead, you find the ballistic parachute handle often supplied on CTs. In fact, the CT is distinguished in BRS history from the documented use of a BRS as save number 100. This high-speed (nearly 190 mph) deployment occurred when a test pilot did his job of pushing the limits.
Up front in the instrument panel the CT comes with a nice array: airspeed indicator, altimeter, vertical speed indicator, slip indicator, FlyDat engine panel, and round intercom unit (the last two optional). Above, on the spar carry-through in the cabin was mounted a compass. Fuel quantity could be seen through curved clear tubing at the wing root.
Trike looks don’t differ greatly but among trike cockpits, Pegasus certainly has gone the extra mile to provide for a cross-country environment.
Nonetheless, that doesn’t change the out-in-the-open feel that nearly all trikes offer. If you like that – as I do – you’ll love the Quantum.
The Flight Design CT has very easy entry. The doors swing up out of your way and clasp on a secure fitting fastened to the bottom of the wing. Facilitating entry, the door sill is level and sturdy enough to use during entry and exit.
The doors hold open with the same steel latch mechanism as holds the door closed in flight. You reach out to the back corner of the door to release the latch, though I couldn’t do so while strapped in place.
Once those big doors are closed, the very wide cabin becomes obvious, offering 49 inches of lateral room. Three to 4 inches separated a lean Chanéau and me in France though less room remained between a hefty Wilson and me.
The CT can carry 25 kg (55 pounds) of baggage on each side behind the pilot and passenger. Dual doors access the area. No cargo tie-downs are factory installed but you could add them. An interior floor compartment on each side offers a small but handy area for stuff you may want in flight – but don’t want flying around the cockpit otherwise. Flight Design claims you can carry 300 kg (660 pounds) inside the plane. I didn’t get to examine weight-and-balance documents to prove that claim, but no doubt exists that the CT is a very spacious aircraft.
The CT has in-flight adjustable seats for the fore and aft. You pull a wire to allow repositioning within a several inch range. The seat back also adjusts via a webbing strap but this you’d want to do on the ground.
Whew! The CT had no swivel air ports like many American kits, but it did have a knob for cabin ventilation. Europe isn’t as hot as the U.S., so ventilation of this kind will have to come with Rollison’s input, I believe.
Fairly small skylights appeared in between the nicely finished spar carry-through. Despite their smaller size – owing to the cantilevered construction – the skylights aided steeply banked turns.
As on most trikes, the Quantum 912’s hand throttle overrides the foot throttle. A nosewheel brake has a parking brake feature; many so-equipped trike pilots use theirs during the wing setup process.
The Quantum’s fully wrapped cockpit and full floor prevented Florida sand from being blown up into my face on takeoff, a pleasant change from some ultralight designs. However, the Quantum uses no nosewheel damper, and consequently, felt almost too fast or responsive for my preference. However, I touched down rather crosswind once and the tri-gear stabilizing feature works just as it is supposed to do.
The CT has a very high ground clearance, which is valued by many pilots, though usually the reason is better bush operations.
Chanéau recommended an 80 km/h (50 mph) approach speed which actually puts the speedy CT right there with many ultralights. The phrase “Fifty is Nifty” for landing speeds works well for the CT.
Controlling and Controls
Besides the open versus closed cockpit, the obvious big difference between our two flying machines reviewed this month is their control systems.
Handling qualities have been well documented for trikes. The Pegasus Quantum remains in the category of wings intended for cross-country flying over maneuvering; handling seems stiff to my muscles. However, it is consequently easier to fly around the world as Brian Milton did in a Quantum in 1998 (see “Milton and Microlight Meet the Challenge,” December ’98 and January ’99, Ultralight Flying! magazine).
Wilson reported experimenting with loosening the inner rib tensions and tightening the outer ones on the Quantum 912 wing. He believed this enhanced handling within the range of what British certification permits.
Chanéau and I got the CT down to 60 km/h indicated (37 mph) in slow flight, at which times the controls were sluggish but still workable. The Quantum was much more comfortable at this speed, showing the flight mission differences of the two aircraft.
The French CT I flew in 1999 proved to very light in pitch, enough that it took familiarization. The CT I flew this summer (after collaboration and changes involving Dr. Billy Brooks of Pegasus Aviation) seemed to have lost this edge. In fact, I believe handling is somewhat tamer than the earlier model I flew.
Indeed, on initiation of turns in the French-registered CT, I had to use a little high side rudder pedal movement to coordinate the turn entry. Once in the turn it self-coordinated nicely. Again, the CT model I flew this summer seemed to show better in-turn behavior.
Other changes were made between my first and second CT flights. In the French aircraft, flaps were manual and had five detent positions (-4°, -8°, +15°, +20°, and +26°). The CT I flew this summer in America has electric flaps with an indicator light showing -12°, +15°, +30°, and +40°. Because they are electric, no detents keep you from setting an infinite adjustment to your liking.
Flying the Quantum trike, you can cruise in the 60s comfortably or dial in trim and pull in on the bar to hold better than an indicated 80 mph. Glide angle also seemed to be quite strong based on a casual evaluation.
Slow speeds got down in to the high 30s (mph). The Quantum 912 could sustain altitude at 4,200 rpm at close to gross weight. As big trikes go, this number sounds low, though remember we are discussing a 4-stroke 912.
The Quantum 912 has a 13-gallon fuel tank on it allowing about 3 hours of operation with two aboard. You’ll get significantly more endurance when flying solo, Wilson says.
In the CT, the top speed I saw was about 230 km/h (144 mph) but this was on an engine that did not rev up as high as it should, according to Chanéau. It has more speed potential, he said, but the prop choice is critical.
After installing a 3-blade IvoProp propeller, “It just hit a wall at around 130 mph,” Rollison says. The 2-blade Neuform prop that is popular in Europe will allow about 140 mph according to tests in England after a static port was fitted.
“But it’s a 120-mph cruiser,” confirms Rollison. Indeed it slips through the air easily it feels, with lower power settings and lower noise. Wheel fairings are included which help keep the CT clean. On approach to landing with the engine at idle thrust, I was very impressed with the glide angle.
Stall never resulted in the Quantum 912 trike; we merely entered a mush even with the bar full out to the forward support tube. Considering this quality, Wilson described his special technique should you lose the engine. He trains students to push the bar out all the way feeling this is the best sink position or best glide to get you to an emergency field. Once you have your field made, you can pull in, regain some speed, and handle the landing as ordinary. I tried it and it appeared to produce a sustainable attitude as he promised.
I can complain that the deluxe Quantum was not fitted with an emergency parachute, though Rollison is a big supporter and seller of the devices. Certified or not, I can make mistakes and like having the option. The CT was so equipped, but the pull handle was not in an optimal location in my mind (and I am employed by BRS, so I have some idea). The problem relates to the ease with which you can twist and reach far enough to grab a handle located on the back cabin bulkhead. Still, I was pleased it had been fitted.
Flex or Fixed for You?
If you’re like me you can’t afford all the toys you’d like. If I won the lottery, I’d buy several fine choices. Ah, but most of us have to settle.
The beauty of the choices presented in this combination flight report is that you are unlikely to want them both. (I would, but many ultralight pilots are focused on either 3-axis or weight-shift.)
Both models represent high-end purchases that require a fair chunk of your buying cash. But what machines you’ll have if you take the leap.
The Quantum 912 sells for around $30,000, slightly less if you take it without the few options left to buy. Add all the goodies including a Pegasus factory-approved BRS parachute installation and you’ll push toward $33,000. When grappling with the price, you must factor in the fully-built status of the Quantum 912 and assign value to its certification. Since it has a highly finished look and special features like the lift-strut, your money may be well spent. It should last many years with good maintenance, and you can replace the sail after a few years to give the machine a new life.
Equipped like it is, the Quantum 912 is a cross-country cruiser. It has amply demonstrated this by being the first microlight to be flown around the world in 1998. It also won the trike world championships in 1996 and 1999.
For those with a few less dollars, Pegasus and importer Rollison Airplane Company have several other choices for you, stepping down in increments to as little as $16,500 and $13,500 for those who don’t need or want the big engine and fancy features.
It won’t be so easy to sharply cut the cost of the CT, but that aircraft is not aimed at the ultralight market unless producer Flight Design aggressively pursues the idea of selling it as a kit. In European and other markets it can be sold ready-to-fly so a kit is not presently available. Deliveries will be slow the first year as the East European factory gears up.
The “deluxe” version of the CT, as flown, comes with droop tips, the FlyDat digital instrument, gear leg fairings, cabin heater, parking brake, door locks, leather seats, strobe and position lights, and a Rotax 912 clutch. Our test model had a ballistic parachute, leather seats, and a special IvoProp propeller. To have all of this, plan to spend about $63,000.
Fortunately for those not in the $60,000+ price range, the “standard” model CT is no slouch, and most ultralight enthusiasts would love its equipment list. You can lower your investment by about $10,000 for the standard CT still equipped with a parachute.
These are two delicious choices and I wish you luck trying to decide which you might like better.
|Empty weight||580 pounds|
|Gross weight||1,232 pounds|
|Wing area||116 square feet|
|Wing loading||10.6 pounds per square foot|
|Fuel Capacity||34 gallons|
|Kit type||Fully assembled|
|Build time||None, or assembly from shipping only|
|Standard engine||Rotax 912|
|Power||80 hp at 5,500 rpm|
|Power loading||15.4 pounds per hp|
|Cruise speed||132 mph|
|Economy Cruise||4.5 gph|
|Never exceed speed||192 mph|
|Rate of climb at gross||1,000 fpm|
|Takeoff distance at gross||300 feet|
|Landing distance at gross||450 feet|
|Notes:||*Wing loading with the 912S (100 hp) engine is 12.3 pounds/square foot.|
|Standard Features||80-hp Rotax 912, quickly removed wings, 4-point belts, 3-color paint scheme, 2 baggage compartments, ASI, altimeter, tach, oil gauges, CHT, and numerous amenities and appointments suiting a $60,000 aircraft.|
|Options||100-hp Rotax 912S, leather seats, additional instruments and avionics, BRS emergency parachute system, skis, Full Lotus floats, special paint and graphics.|
|Construction||Fiberglass airframe reinforced with carbon fiber. Manufactured in Eastern Europe for a German-owned company; distributed by U.S.-owned Rollison Airplane Company.|
Cosmetic appearance, structural integrity, achievement of design goals, effectiveness of aerodynamics, ergonomics.
Pros – Sleek, cantilevered design not seen in ultralight circles (more similar to U.S. homebuilts). Excellent combination of features and attributes: roomy, speedy, well appointed for American market. Built around 80-hp Rotax 912 engine.
Cons – Fiberglass and carbon repairs are said to be not difficult, but experience is needed with these materials. At present, the test CT is the only one operating in America.
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 – Test CT was loaded with extras. Flaps have usual down positions but also up or reflex positions which can be used to enhance cruise performance. Electric start standard with Rotax 912s. Fuel capacity is large. Hydraulic brakes are via lever; work well.
Cons – The CT isn’t missing any systems you probably want, but all more complex aircraft require more familiarity to handle competently. Engine accessible only after cowl removal. Brakes don’t assist ground steering.
Instrumentation; Ergonomics of controls; Creature comforts; (items covered may be optional).
Pros – Huge roomy cabin 49 inches wide. Interior compartments accessible in flight. Wide doors for easy entry/exit. Comfortable, supportive seats with 4-point belts. Seats adjust both bottom and back rest. Panel easily reached.
Cons – I struggled to unlatch the gull-wing door for closing when securely belted. Seemed somewhat noisier than another European 912-powered CT I flew in France. No other negatives to this wonderful cabin.
Taxi visibility; Steering; Turn radius; Shock absorption; Stance/Stability; Braking.
Pros – Very straightforward handling for anyone used to conventional tri-gear operation. Brakes were quite effective. Visibility was very broad (except upward). Large ground clearance. Quite precise to taxi.
Cons – Rather stiff suspension (mostly noticed on turf runway). No aft window or visibility.
Qualities; Efficiency; Ease; Comparative values.
Pros – Responsive controls allow normal crosswind operation. Glide seemed quite strong, an asset in an engine-loss situation. Flaps help control glide path and slips are reasonably effective. Large ground clearance will help if you must land off-field.
Cons – In France my landing was good. At shorter airstrips you’ll need practice to handle the the CT’s long glide; you must plan approaches well. Takeoff roll is long (compared to ultralights), thanks to smaller wing and higher weight.
Quality and quantity for: Coordination; Authority; Pressures; Response; and Coupling.
Pros – Very light and responsive handling. Dutch roll coordination exercises went well almost immediately (though always keeping the ball centered will take some experience). Well balanced controls. Precision turns to heading were easy.
Cons – Pitch is light enough that some pilots may not feel comfortable. Coordination will take some time to optimize. Adverse yaw is significant.
Climb; Glide; Sink; Cruise/stall/max speeds; Endurance; Range; Maneuverability.
Pros – Very speedy design. Even with an incorrect prop, I saw speeds of more than 140 mph (though for U.S. market, the CT will be propped down). U.S. model with IvoProp propeller didn’t exceed 132 mph, per GPS runs. Slows down under 40 mph.
Cons – Climb not as strong as expected, perhaps optimized for European high-cruise speed desires.
Stall recovery and characteristics; Dampening; Spiral stability; Adverse yaw qualities.
Pros – Fitting both German and English certification systems, the CT has normal stall response, longitudinal response, and throttle response – a benefit of such programs. Four-point seat belts are standard.
Cons – Slippery airplane that may be more than some pilots want. Fitted with a parachute, though with the activating handle awkwardly located in case of emergency (see article).
Addresses the questions: “Will a buyer get what he/she expects to buy, and did the designer/builder achieve the chosen goal?”
Pros – The CT has German certification, and thanks to Pegasus, approval under the tough English system. Though $60,000 is a lot of money, the CT is a well equipped model for far less than a certified general aviation aircraft or many homebuilts.
Cons – CT kits are currently unavailable (European sales allow fully built models). Company and plane are not well known in the U.S., which could affect resale ability.