Just Aircraft’s Excapade … certificated in England and ready for sport pilots!
Southwestern Idaho has long been a hub of aircraft activity. With ranches and towns settled in great distances, it’s not surprising that aviation, once an established mode of transportation, quickly became popular in that part of the west. It’s also not surprising, then, that the area has been a hub of aircraft building activity. Here’s the story of one aircraft that’s evolved from that heritage.
In 1983, a two-seat, steel tube and fabric aircraft called the Avid Flyer made its first appearance at EAA’s annual convention. Describing the new design in the October 1983 issue of EAA Sport Aviation, then editor Jack Cox wrote, “Dan Denney of Boise, Idaho, was the person with the idea from which sprang the Avid Flyer. He wanted ‘something between ultralights and homebuilts’|(and) Dan had a friend uniquely qualified to transform that (idea) into|an airplane, Dean Wilson.”
What Denney and Wilson demonstrated to the fly-in crowd that year might be called the forerunner of the pending light-sport aircraft category|even at a time when ultralights were still gaining their foothold.
Denney and Wilson eventually parted company. Dean Wilson continued on with the Avid Flyer while Denney transferred his attention to the new Kitfox, an airplane derived from the Avid Flyer. Both flying machines went on to win the hearts of thousands of pilots and spread their wings around the world. It’s unlikely either man ever imagined the cluster of light aviation companies that their aircraft might spawn. Today, SkyStar Aircraft Corp. of Caldwell, Idaho, which bought Denney Aerocraft, still produces three highly evolved Kitfox models-the Kitfox Series 7, Kitfox Classic, and Kitfox Lite. And after several changes of ownership, the Avid Flyer flies again.
But now, the southern Idaho aviation manufacturing community has enlarged to include several producers. One of these is Just Aircraft, builder of the new Escapade, the object of our attention this month.
A Continuing History Lesson
The second splinter from the Avid Flyer (Denney’s departure from Avid was the first) was Flying K Enterprises, which offered its Sky Raider. The little single-seater had much in common with the other airplanes in its heritage. In fact, when SkyStar first offered its Kitfox Lite single-seater, they contracted with Flying K to build the welded fuselages for them.
Not content to build a fleet of singleseaters, though, Flying K followed with the Sky Raider II, which featured a cozy back seat that could be used for an occasional ride. Without flight controls, it wasn’t envisioned for training. Just Aircraft got into the game in 2001 with its Summit, a variation on the Sky Raider II theme.
The path from Flying K to Just Aircraft is convoluted and not without some pain. In the close-knit Idaho kit airplane community, common leadership spread through several business names. After leaving Avid, Kenny Schrader started Flying K. About six months later, his brother, Stace, joined him, but eventually, they parted company as well, with Kenny staying with Flying K, and Stace founding Rocky Mountain Wings, which offers the Ridge Runner, a not-surprisingly similar design. Regretfully, Kenny Schrader was killed in the crash of a Sky Raider II in the spring of 2001. Some months later, former Flying K employees Kathi Jo Zehr and Troy Woodland, doing business as Just Aircraft, began developing a tube-and-rag design of their own, which they named the Summit.
Prior to Kenny’s death, Flying K had begun negotiations with Reality Aircraft of the United Kingdom (UK) to provide Sky Raiders in that country. Reality elected to purchase the design rights for the aircraft in the UK. Following Kenny’s death, as Reality modified the aircraft, which it calls the Easy Raider in the UK, to meet the stringent BCAR-S (British Civil Airworthiness Requirements- Section S) standards, it sought the assistance of Zehr and Woodland. Eventually, the two companies chose to work together on their similar designs. (Note: The original Sky Raider was purchased by Fred Parker, who sells that design under the company name of Sky Raider LLC.)
Certificated and Ready
Through the efforts of Reality Aircraft and Just Aircraft, the Easy Raider/Escapade achieved BCAR-S certification and was approved by the British Microlight Aircraft Association (BMAA). That should nicely position Just Aircraft for gaining a fast track to approval when the pending light-sport aircraft rule and the industry consensus standards are finalized.
If you think Escapade is little more than a re-engineered version of the older Sky Raider II or Just Aircraft’s own similar-looking Summit, you’d be wrong. Flying K’s Sky Raider II crammed a second occupant into the baggage space aft of the pilot, something like Kolb does with its FireStar II. But with Escapade, Just Aircraft took this design to a side-by-side, two-seater, improving the configuration for training or just plain fun flying with a passenger.
Escapade uses a welded 4130 chromoly steel fuselage and features wings that fold in under two minutes, according to the factory. Just Aircraft developed a system that eliminates the need to “de-link” the wing controls during the folding process. Remove the turtledeck, pull the wing pins, and fold the wings back. All the while the wings remain supported by struts that are not disconnected. This system should virtually eliminate the possibility of unfolding the wings for flight but forgetting to connect control linkages.
Another interesting choice is that an Escapade can be constructed with either a taildragger or tricycle landing gear. Factory personnel say it’s an easy swap, and they proved this at Sun ‘n Fun 2003 when the left main nose wheel leg folded on a hard landing. In a short time, the prototype was back in the air as a taildragger. Lots of pilots were impressed!
The Escapade uses the well-known tubular spar and tubular rib wing construction popular with many light aircraft, and it demonstrates very fluid handling. It comes equipped with full dual controls with center sticks available at each seat. The cabin is 42 inches wide, which allows for adequate room for two good-sized occupants. Borrowing from a lesson learned early on by the Kitfox designers, Escapade’s windows curve outward to improve elbowroom and increase the feeling of space in the cockpit.
Engine choices always intrigue light aircraft pilots, and Just Aircraft appears to have addressed this in a convincing fashion. The factory says Escapade has been engineered for engines ranging from the 50-hp Rotax 503 to the 120-hp Jabiru 3300. One British kit builder has even fitted a BMW motorcycle engine.
My experience with other aircraft of this design shape confirms that Escapade could indeed use the R-503-though its power might be too low for some loading situations or departures from high-altitude strips. However, most owners/builders will likely opt for the increasingly popular (though considerably more expensive) Rotax 912. I found the 80-hp version to be about perfect.
Escapade shares various handling qualities with other Idaho-designed light aircraft. Several common themes are the basic shape, wing construction, fuselage weldments, and handling similarities. Many pilots feel the last is one of the most valuable.
Most of the similarly constructed light planes coming from the Boise area exhibit light handling, and Escapade is no different. However, it is noticeably easier to keep the ball centered in this aircraft. I suspect Just Aircraft’s tail is more effective and that the linkage may be set to give somewhat less action for a given amount of control input. And Escapade’s conventional ailerons and flaps, with differential aileron controls may make it more responsive.
The combination makes for more predictable handling, in my opinion. In contrast, during my first flight in the original Kitfox several years ago, I often had the ball out of the center. As I rolled to the left in Escapade, very little rudder was needed to keep the ball centered. Of course, P-factor is at work in this direction; entry to the right took more rudder. Adverse yaw, while still present, is subdued. If you avoid overuse of the rudders, you should easily keep turns coordinated.
Using a smaller wing might also be part of the improved handling equation. Escapade has a 28.5-foot wing with 108 square feet of area, while its older Summit model with the rear “buddy seat” had a 32.25-foot span with 121 square feet of area. A longer wing can result in greater adverse yaw, if control surfaces are similar and other attributes are the same.
Despite the smaller wing area, a Rotax 912 engine hauled me, solo, into the air vigorously. You could save thousands of dollars by choosing the Rotax 503 instead. For solo flying, this powerplant might provide plenty of power. But with that lower powered engine combined with Escapade’s smaller wing, you’d have longer takeoff runs, so I’ll bet most buyers will go with evermore popular four-stroke engines.
As I prepared to take the 912-powered Escapade on a test flight during Sun ‘n Fun 2003, Troy advised me that they had seen a 95 mph cruise at 5200 rpm in Idaho’s springtime temperatures. With a 100-hp 912S he felt cruise would increase to about 100 mph.
While Florida’s higher heat and humidity conditions affected performance, my indicated airspeeds (subject to instrument errors) generally confirmed the factory claims. Of course, because I was flying solo during this evaluation flight, I was well under gross weight.
Troy asked me to stay under 240 degrees on the EGT (exhaust gas temperature) with this prototype Escapade, and I did see 239 degrees at one point, but I was able to get it down to 210 degrees by reducing throttle and lowering the nose. During all cruise speed operations, temperatures stayed in the very low 200s and high 190s, well within the comfort zone. Later, Troy said he feels he can modify the cowling shape to increase the outflow of warm air, which should solve the heating problem.
Power-off stalls in the Escapade were quite mild with a modest break coming at about 29-30 mph according to the installed ASI (again, remember that I was flying well under gross weight). However, Escapade’s genetic heritage remains, with it dropping the left wing regularly on stalls. The more aggravated the stall, the more sudden the wing drop; an extremely aggressive stall might produce a bank suggesting a spin entry. Fortunately, more moderate handling won’t get close to this point, and the airplane gives you adequate warning that a stall is imminent.
The flap detent system worked well, and flap settings were secure and functional. The throttle is conventionally placed and works as you’d expect with a good friction lock but no hand rest. Both seats were fitted with toe-actuated hydraulic brakes, a $650 option. Heel brakes are standard.
You can open Escapade’s windows in flight, and they won’t slap the bottom of the wing, making warm weather flying much more comfortable. In addition, visibility is wonderful. If you’re flying in Idaho- or anywhere for that matter in a light-sport aircraft-part of the experience is enjoying the scenery around you. To that end, Escapade’s near wraparound skylight and windshield will be appreciated by nearly everyone. My head was comfortably up inside the skylight area with no cramped feeling.
One rare feature among ultralights that the Escapade sports are seats that adjust while sitting on them, assuming you maintain lubrication on the slide rails. You pull up on a small T-handle on a center rail to move the seat location to any one of six settings about 1 inch apart. The Escapade’s interior was carpeted throughout, which imparted a professional look while also deadening noise.
The nosewheel version of the Escapade makes this Just Aircraft model more desirable to those without tailwheel experience. Since this covers most pilots, the company is identifying that landing-gear style as meeting the needs of the majority of its potential customers. Instructors also prefer trigear for their students. But for purists who disdain “nosedraggers,” Just Aircraft’s quick-swap tailwheel conversion will fit the bill. In fact, the taildragger configuration is standard, with the nosewheel conversion an option that sells for $950.
Just Your Aircraft?
Like the Avid Flyer, its longtime predecessor, the Escapade’s folding wing system makes it easily transportable by trailer-another requirement the original designers felt was important. That makes the aircraft easy to move to and from the airport on a road-legal trailer. Otherwise, with its wings folded, the Escapade will courteously share hangar space with other aircraft. Or, with the wings in flight-ready condition, it’ll easily fit within a standard-size hangar.
Escapade is priced at $14,500 that, as the factory states, “includes everything to build a complete airframe ready for engine installation and painting.” For that you get all wing parts, all hardware, the 4130 welded structure, the fiberglass engine cowl, instrument panel, wingtips, doors and windows, streamlined struts, aluminum trailing edges for wings, flaps, ailerons, fiberglass leading edges for flaps and ailerons, two 9.5-gallon wing fuel tanks, seat harnesses, Lexan turtledeck, control linkages, fabric, and adhesives.
Engine choices include the Jabiru 2200 (80 hp) for just more than $9,000 or the Jabiru 3300 (120 hp) for $13,000. If you want a Rotax engine, the price is currently an additional $12,000 for the 80-hp 912 or $13,000 for the 100-hp 912S model, but you should check with the company before deciding as the euro/dollar exchange rates have recently been boosting prices from European-sourced components. My personal selection would be an 80-hp R-912 Escapade as I found it plenty powerful, but lots of pilots will be happy to shell out another thousand or so for even more horsepower.
Options you may want to consider include powder coating of the welded airframe ($700); quick-build wings, flaps, and ailerons ($750); electric elevator trim ($250); carpeting interior kit ($500); spinner ($250); hydraulic toe brakes ($650); and the nosewheel package ($950).
The sweet-handling Escapade will find a good following, I think, for genuine two-seat operations, whether for instruction or flying with a passenger. Most pilots or instructors I know prefer to be able to see their passenger or student, and tandem seating makes this all but impossible. In addition, your fellow occupant will like the much easier entry. Doors fold all the way forward to the nose cowl, so you need only turn around and sit down.
First time builders can expect to spend 500-600 hours completing the airplane, say some experts. Of course, that will depend on options, finish quality, and one’s comfort level with tools.
Just Aircraft’s United Kingdom partner Reality Aircraft has sold several Escapades-or Easy Raiders, as they’re named there-under the BCAR-S certification, and Just Aircraft seems pleased by American customer response to its newest model.
The best way to know if this model is right for you is to call Just Aircraft and arrange a demo flight of your own. The Sun ‘n Fun fly-in judges liked it this spring, naming Gary Schmitt’s Escapade, which was on display there, an outstanding new aircraft for 2003. Not a bad testimonial!
|Empty weight||530 pounds|
|Gross weight||1,232 pounds 1|
|Wingspan||28 feet 6 inches|
|Wing area||108 square feet|
|Wing loading||11.4 pounds per square foot|
|Length||19 feet (wings folded)|
|Width||8 feet (wings folded)|
|Cabin Interior||42 inches|
|Height||7 feet 2 inches|
|Fuel Capacity||19 gallons|
|Kit type||Construction kit with Quick-Build options|
|Build time||300-450 hours|
|Notes:||1 Weight listed in anticipation of light-sport aircraft.|
|Standard engine||Rotax 912 (81 hp)|
|Power loading||15.4 pounds per hp|
|Cruise speed||75-95 mph|
|Never exceed speed||130 mph|
|Rate of climb at gross||900 fpm|
|Takeoff distance at gross||300 feet|
|Landing distance at gross||300 feet|
|Range (powered)||400 miles (4.5 hours)|
|Fuel Consumption||4.0 gph|
|Standard Features||Two side-by-side seats, full enclosure with doors and windows that open separately, skylight, folding wings, push-button flaps, steerable tailwheel, 19-gallon fuel tank, fiberglass used on cowling, instrument panel, wing tips and on leading edges of flaps and ailerons, folding wings, seat harnesses, fabric and glue, large tires, trim, bungee-suspended gear.|
|Options||Powder-coated fuselage weldment, quick-build wings, flaps and ailerons, hydraulic toe brakes, electric trim, tinted Lexan for windows and skylight, lighting kit, interior finish kits, spinner, extra-large tires and wheels, skis, nosewheel conversion kit.|
|Construction||Factory-welded steel fuselage, wood wing ribs, fiberglass fairing, dope-and-fabric wing coverings. Made in the USA.|
Cosmetic appearance, structural integrity, achievement of design goals, effectiveness of aerodynamics, ergonomics.
Pros – Side-by-side Escapade useful for training or, if N-numbered, passengers. Laden with features many buyers want. Proven configuration and construction with good handling and performance. Welded steel structure and folding wings.
Cons – Too heavy, as tested, to qualify for Part 103 training exemption. New competitor in a field of several that look similar (though the Escapade isn’t identical to others). With fiberglass airplanes coming from Europe, some may feel the design looks dated.
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 – The Escapade as tested was well-equipped, featuring electric starting, 3-notch button-detent flap handle, directional toe brakes, and dual center sticks. Trim knob located between seats at base of flap handle. Panel-mounted primer. Plenty of panel room for radios or extra gauges.
Cons – Big 19-gallon fuel capacity not permitted for Part 103 trainers. Four-stroke engine may produce higher maintenance bills (though less frequently). Fueling is on top of wing; get a ladder. No other negatives.
Instrumentation; Ergonomics of controls; Creature comforts; (items covered may be optional).
Pros – Earlier Summit model was a tight tandem fit; the Escapade is a roomy side-by-side with outward curved windows. Seats adjust fore and aft even while occupied (if kept lubricated). Entry to either seat is simple; much better than earlier tandem model. Nicely finished interior; good cargo area. Doors-open flight works well; windows float upward and stay put.
Cons – Clear doors and windows may not reassure those who like structure surrounding them. Throttle offers no arm/wrist rest. A couple of wide or big fellows may feel cramped in the Escapade. Prototype’s door/window latches need improvement to allow access (work is already planned).
Taxi visibility; Steering; Turn radius; Shock absorption; Stance/Stability; Braking.
Pros – Nosewheel steering is responsive through use of directional toe brakes. Brakes worked quite effectively and are mounted to both sets of rudder pedals. Secure footing with wide stance and good shock absorption with bungee suspension. Generous ground clearance.
Cons – Steering less responsive than full-swiveling tailwheels (though directional brakes and castoring nosewheel help). Visibility over the nose was not as clean as expected for a nosedragger.
Qualities; Efficiency; Ease; Comparative values.
Pros – Climb is most enthusiastic with 81-hp Rotax 912 engine; solo ground roll was less than 200 feet. Excellent visibility around you at all times and to front during landings. Flaps were quite effective at controlling approach path steepness. Strong aileron response helps in crosswinds.
Cons – Shorter wingspan than earlier Summit tandem model, so ground roll is longer and speeds somewhat higher. Higher weight with larger engine choices. Rotax 912S or Jabiru 4- or 6-cylinder engines mean faster speeds during takeoff and landing (though some may welcome this compromise).
Quality and quantity for: Coordination; Authority; Pressures; Response; and Coupling.
Pros – Noticeably improved handling qualities over others in this design configuration. Light, reasonably fast, authoritative. Controls system displays a good balance between ailerons and rudder. Coordination exercises and precision turns went well from the start.
Cons – What’s good for some pilots may not be for others; the Escapade’s quicker handling may be too fast for some newer pilots. Heavier engine up front (like Rotax 912 or Jabiru 2200/3300) may demand greater use of trim system.
Climb; Glide; Sink; Cruise/stall/max speeds; Endurance; Range; Maneuverability.
Pros – Fuel consumption plus noise and vibration are good with the Rotax 912 4-stroke engine. As with similar designs, performance is very good for such a small wing (108 square feet). Very strong climb with Rotax 912. Cruise is nearly 100 mph without straining engine.
Cons – Side-by-side suffers extra frontal drag compared to earlier tandem model, the Summit. Sink rate without flaps didn’t impress me (understandable with higher-loaded small wing). Engine tended to run rather hot, requiring management; factory plans changes in the cowling to remedy this.
Stall recovery and characteristics; Dampening; Spiral stability; Adverse yaw qualities.
Pros – Lower adverse yaw than experienced on other similar designs. Stall speeds were admirably slow for small-area wing; down close to 30 mph when solo. Stalls broke cleanly. Longitudinal power response was positive (though a bit slow). Four-point belts for both seats.
Cons – Stall break may be sudden for pilots with less experience. Disturb the joystick at trim and the Escapade returns to level somewhat slowly. Stick range seemed less generous than some prefer, noticed most in steep turn maneuvers with only cruise power.
Addresses the questions: “Will a buyer get what he/she expects to buy, and did the designer/builder achieve the chosen goal?”
Pros – The Escapade is what a lot of pilots are seeking; Kitfox-like looks, performance, and handling without a higher price and complexity. Options can quicken your building and personalize your Escapade. Folding wings do not require control disconnect (possibly saving improper reassembly).
Cons – Base price of $14,500 (after intro $12,500 offer) is higher than some alternatives; costly 4-stroke engine not included. Painting and finishing can add significantly to price – especially if you want your plane to look like the factory Escapade.