Meet the top model from FK Lightplanes.
The frenzy over the FAA’s light-sport aircraft (LSA) and sport pilot proposal continues. Pilots from ultralight to general aviation are discussing it, and the new rule may be released soon, according to those aware of FAA deliberations. We may be about to witness the birth of a new aviation segment. But unlike its predecessors, this one may come with aircraft ready to meet the need. An interesting twist on this American story is that European designs may dominate the first aircraft to fly under the rule, providing they comply with the consensus standards currently being drafted by the community.
This month, let’s meet one of the sleekest, FK Lightplanes’ Polaris FK-14 from Germany.
A Family Business
Peter and Otto Funk are the family members behind the Polaris and its siblings, the high-wing FK-9 (which has gone through three distinct versions) and the folding-wing biplane FK-12. All three may enter the U.S. in the new LSA category.
Peter formed B&F Technik with a fellow university student as his partner. Peter assumed full control in 1995, moving the company’s headquarters to the Speyer airport in central Germany.
After the move and reorganization, Peter and Otto first produced and sold their FK-9 model. Since its introduction, this plane has become one of the most widely sold light aircraft in Germany and Europe. In 1997, the FK- 12 was added to the line, and in 1999, the FK-14 model was finished.
Construction of the Polaris began in 1998 with the goal of rounding out the FK Lightplanes product line with a high-performance cruiser. The main wing structure with its special Fowler flap system was developed by Peter’s father, Otto Funk, in cooperation with the University of Stuttgart and its laminar-flow wind tunnel. Peter designed the rest of the airframe. He stayed with the standard parts of the FK-9 Mk3 as far as possible. For example, the entire tail unit including the horizontal stabilizer is identical.
A true composite design, Polaris’ exterior is made of fiberglass sandwich with a steel tubular frame around the cockpit. The tailplane and ailerons are made of aluminum. The wingspar is built of carbon fiber with aluminum sheet over a honeycomb-ribbed structure. Otto’s Fowler flaps are also aluminum with an electrical spindle drive. FK Lightplanes indicates safety is another key focus. For example, the Polaris fuel tank system is located outside the crumple zones, following the design of modern automobiles. And a crash-resilient tubular steel frame cockpit section protects the occupants, according to the company.
The German builder uses an airframe manufacturing plant in Poland that employs a staff of 45. Production at the end of 2002 could complete four or five machines per month. Eastern European countries offer a wealth of highly skilled, experienced, low-cost labor. Both plant and staff in Poland are certified and profit from their long years of experience in the maintenance and production of motorized aircraft and gliders, the company says. All materials used in production are purchased in Germany and shipped to Poland.
In Speyer, Germany, seven members of FK Lightplanes’ staff take care of final assembly, fittings and quality assurance plus delivery and customer services. “All our products are also developed in these headquarters,” adds Peter Funk.
Castles from the Air
Flying aircraft for review is almost always joyful, but it is especially pleasant over the gorgeous French countryside in late summer. Our test Polaris with a 100-hp Rotax 912S zipped us along at up to 152 mph, determined by averaging GPS results upwind and downwind.
Indeed, FK-14 Polaris was designed to be “the fast cruiser without compromise,” according to Christophe Briand, distributor for France and other countries including the U.S.
For American use under the proposed LSA rule, FK Lightplanes will use the 80-hp Rotax 912 which, with the right prop, can hold speeds down to the legal LSA speed limit.
In Europe, where avgas costs $8-10 a gallon, low fuel consumption is a must, and this in turn allows more range. Polaris comes with a 12-gallon fuel tank that should carry it nearly 500 miles.
In addition to its shapely, modern design, Polaris offers an outstanding panoramic view. The large bubble canopy opens easily with the help of gas pistons and permits easy boarding. Adjustable molded seats are designed to permit relaxing 4-hour trips. Large pilots will appreciate the 44.5-inch shoulder width. Built for touring, Polaris provides four luggage compartments, one of which has external access.
Polaris uses joystick-and-rudder control that I found delightfully light and responsive. Another American ultralight pilot who flew in a different FK-14 said the controls were too sensitive for his taste. Pitch demands a light touch, but I believe any experienced pilot would acclimatize in an hour or two.
An efficient, electrically operated Fowler flap system extends down to 20°. This makes possible cruising speeds of up to 150 mph with the 100-hp Rotax version, Peter Funk says, yet the flaps allow starting from very short runways. The FK-14’s winglets help optimize control efficiency, especially at slow approach speeds.
Ready for Americans?
FK Lightplanes’ Polaris prototype flew in May 1999 with German ultralight certification coming in October 2000. As of late 2002, 29 Polaris FK-14s had been sold. The company’s business is thriving with more than 50 of its FK-12 biplane models now flying and about 200 FK-9s.
A kit version of the FK-9 is available, and this may be an even better LSA candidate. The Polaris FK-14 should also go to kit production, but under the FAA’s proposed new rule, aircraft may be factory built once they are certified by rules that are still in development. A propeller change should keep Polaris within light-sport aircraft’s proposed 132-mph speed limit.
Prices haven’t been established in the U.S., but I expect $60-65,000 for a fully-built, well-equipped Polaris.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, contact the French-based distributor, FK Planes, Christophe Briand, Toulouse, France; call 011-33-5-61-23-11-65; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Or contact the factory, FK Lightplanes, Am Neuen Rheinhafen 10, 67346 Speyer, Germany; call 011-49-6232-72076; fax 011-49-6232-72078; e-mail email@example.com; web www.fk-lightplanes.com.
To review all “Light Stuff” columns that have appeared in KITPLANES®, visit www.ByDanJohnson.com, which links to the KITPLANES® web site with articles of interest.