Legacy Brand Enters the LSA Market
The U.S. Sport Aviation Expo held in Sebring, Florida, every January has become the place where new flying machines and other aviation products for the light aviation crowd are unveiled to the public. It’s exciting to start the year off with a bang, and understandably this show has drawn increasing crowds. Yet like all events, it has evolved.
In the Expo’s formative years, media attendance was fairly light. When a company called a press conference, they generated only a handful of reporters and photographers. In many ways the 2010 event revealed a new media attention to the Sebring show. For proof, you had only to attend Piper Aircraft’s opening-day press conference.
This is all the more surprising as Piper never before exhibited at Sebring. All that changed with the introduction of the newly rebadged PiperSport. When they took the wrapping off their new models, a large crowd of media folks and the general public pressed close to get a gander and hear Piper leaders speak. Cameras clicked and recording devices captured every word.
Piper and LSA
Company officials referred to the 1940s-era Piper Cub as an original Light-Sport Aircraft, even if that phrase wasn’t around when their pretty little yellow tandem 2-seater made its first appearance 70 years ago. So, some could be forgiven for thinking the new Piper LSA might be a new version of the Cub.
Indeed, public support might have backed such a move. Of the top five best selling LSA in the fleet, two are Piper Cub-like replicas: one from American Legend and another from CubCrafters.
Yet, Piper showed it doesn’t operate in the past. The Vero Beach legacy brand offered a modern Special Light-Sport Aircraft. Under a veil of secrecy, they prepared a Piper-branded version of the Czech SportCruiser, which was one of the best sell-
Light Sport and Ultralight Flying Pilot’s Reporting SLSA even in the difficult year of 2009 and despite a major transformation in the Czech company’s leadership. Czech Sport Aircraft will continue to manufacture the PiperSport; Piper Aircraft is only acting as the U.S. distributor for the PiperSport.
Now with Piper’s support, you can reasonably expect this sweet flying model to take off in 2010.
At Expo 2010, Cessna showed its first SkyCatcher production model, owned by none other than the CEO’s wife, Rose Pelton. However, Cessna also announced a 6-to 10-month delay in further manufacturing as they retool the line for changes made after two spin incidents. This may provide Piper with a chance to jump toward the head of the line with the PiperSport.
Piper has also embraced the current dealer network that had been selling the SportCruiser. Combining Piper dealer outlets and those already working in the LSA field with a production line ready to send PiperSports to the USA should give a significant
boost to the long-time producer of more than 140,000 airplanes.
As recently as last summer no one forecast Piper’s entry, illustrating the dynamic and fast-developing nature of Light-Sport Aircraft.
“With the PiperSport,” company president and CEO Kevin Gould said at the press conference, “Piper is entering what is undeniably one of the most exciting market segments in general aviation. This burgeoning segment is becoming vital to our
industry and playing an ever-increasing role in developing general aviation’s next generation of pilots.”
Full Line Producer
The contrast may be interesting to many, what with Piper offering a wide range of general aviation airplanes from the PiperJet to the PiperSport. To better put this in perspective, check this chart:
Valued in knots per purchase price dollars, the PiperSport comes in at $1,000 per knot, where the top of the line PiperJet is $6,111 per knot and the Meridian is $7,775 per knot. In other comparisons – such as range for dollar or payload for dollar –
PiperSport remains the value leader. This is hardly surprising as the PiperSport is way less than half the cost of the nearest model, and it helps Piper to offer a very broad line of aircraft to suit buyers of all types.
Especially notable in fuel burn comparisons, the PiperSport smokes all the other models by a wide margin, and that’s before considering the cost advantage of using mogas when available, or the fuel and noise impact of flying Light-Sport Aircraft
compared to any other. It’s no stretch to say that in our modern, environmentally sensitive age,
Piper needed LSA
Into this tasty brew let’s add the solid brand of 72-year-old Piper Aircraft and what that means to potential buyers of a Light-Sport Aircraft. With 27 Piper dealers and 65 service centers, the company offers a network exceeded only by Cessna Aircraft (though several top LSA producers are closing on those numbers).
Flying the PiperSport
Before we begin with a flight review, please understand the following comes from an experience with the Czech Aircraft Works SportCruiser. Piper plans a few changes to “Piper-fy” the PiperSport so a follow-up flight review may be necessary, but for
now, officials and dealers alike say the current PiperSport flies identically to the SportCruiser. That disclaimer made, let’s go flying!
Even before Piper entered the picture, the SportCruiser benefited from the freedoms implicit in ASTM standards. Changes can be
made quickly, much more than for type-certificated aircraft. Within its first year, the SportCruiser entered its second generation, highlighting a lower, smoother line to the canopy (the first one bubbled quite a bit higher) with a new composite canopy frame structure. Seats were also lowered a small amount. Cabin width grew from 41 to almost 46 inches from early models to the present.
Instrument panel space was also increased.
A broad cabin must also accommodate a tall pilot and PiperSport does so with adjustable rudder pedals rather than adjustable seats. “We can fit a 6-foot-6 pilot weighing 280 pounds,” reported a company official, stressing the legroom as one of the
PiperSport’s great qualities.
The roomy cabin includes an ample baggage area plus hat rack, and the new model has an excellent useful load of 600 pounds, though the standard parachute will cut modestly into payload.With full fuel of 30 gallons, the PiperSport can still hold two
190-pound pilots and baggage. If weight and balance permit, wing lockers add to baggage capacity.
In my review of the SportCruiser I found easy and forgiving manners with stalls so docile as to be uneventful. The design is basically stall-resistant due to the wing tip design, said factory reps. With a fairly thick wing, the PiperSport flies
somewhat slower, which makes it more appropriate for lower-time pilots. You can land the SportCruiser in a short space, given its very low operating speed of 30-40 mph. Slow speeds also dramatically reduce energy in the event of an upset.
Piper plans a few design improvements. These include modifications to make it less sensitive in pitch, reinforcement to the nose gear, and enhancing cabin heat and ventilation. Company officials forecast these changes when the aircraft begins to
ship in volume in April ’10.
Powered by the ubiquitous 100-hp Rotax 912 ULS engine now boasting a 2,000-hour time between overhauls, the mostly metal PiperSport gains a measurable weight advantage over the SkyCatcher and its heavier Continental powerplant.
I consistently witnessed lower-altitude climb rates greater than 1,000 fpm at about 65 knots, the listed best rate of climb speed. Right off the deck, I saw a 1,200-fpm climb rate.
As desired, electric flaps can be fully deployed in 5 seconds as long as you take care to remain below the 75-knot maximum flap speed. With a little headwind on my first landing, I rolled to a stop in about 300 feet.
During their press conference, factory officials said the PiperSport will ship in three versions, all of which include a Dynon D100 primary flight display, Garmin GPS 496, a single Garmin SL40 radio, GTX 328 transponder and a BRS parachute. Base price is $119,900, only a shade more than the SkyCatcher, though the parachute alone represents around $5,000 installed. For $129,900, you can have a PiperSport LT delivered with a second Dynon display for engine monitoring. At $139,900, the PiperSport LTD includes a Dynon autopilot to help hold heading, navigation, and altitude.
Admittedly, adding the parachute system consumes a bit of payload capacity, resulting in a 560-pound useful load figure
that permits 380 pounds of passengers but no baggage, assuming a full fuel load of 30 gallons.
After the Expo, I communicated with another pilot who had a few suggestions for Piper’s engineers. Finbar Sheehy wrote,
“The seat position is too low and too reclined,” which he says affected his forward visibility. “In addition, the pilot’s eye line is pretty far aft over the wing, severely limiting downward visibility. If the pilot sat more upright/higher, the view over the nose and in front of the wing (downward) could be much improved.”
Regarding handling qualities, Sheehy thought lightening the roll a bit and slightly increasing pitch pressures could
improve control harmony.
For normal takeoffs, set one notch of flaps; an electric motor deploys the surface 10°. Lesser flap angle deployments
are possible because of the efficient Fowler flap system. Landings call for two notches or 20° of flaps and a maximum
deployment of 30° is available. When you deploy flaps, the nose drops enough to improve landing visibility. I tried
one landing without any flaps and found the round-out to be somewhat more abrupt. In my experience, using flaps made
for smoother touchdowns at various settings, but no additional power was needed, indicating good controllability in
the event of an engine-out landing.
If you want to make even steeper approaches, a deep slip can be comfortably achieved. SportCruiser experts indicated
slipping with full flaps creates no control problem, and that was my experience.
I discovered turns could be done to shallow angles with no use of rudder and without strong feelings of slipping or skidding.
Adverse yaw is very modest and you generally won’t need much rudder to fly the plane.
Most experts would call the SportCruiser a medium-performance aircraft. However, in one common measure of an airplane design,
the PiperSport will manage the esteemed 4:1 ratio of slowest to fastest speeds. To me, the real magic is that this airplane can fly slowly so well.
Pigeonholing the PiperSport as a “medium performer” understates this relatively modestly priced aircraft.
Piper advertises the PiperSport as a 138-mph airplane, but that has to represent a near-max power setting.A more realistic sustained cruise speed might be 130 mph (113 knots), only 2 knots below the listed speed of a Piper Warrior, which costs $290,000. The never exceed speed is a generous 160 mph, almost 30% beyond normal cruise, yielding wider, safer margins for over-speed situations.
The SportCruiser was known for having a “huge weight and balance envelope,” according to its developers in the Czech Aircraft Works days. They added that its sensitivity to aft center of gravity is very low.Weight-and-balance planning is always wise, of course, but the SportCruiser appears easy to keep in the acceptable range.
In all the evaluations I performed, I found the SportCruiser to be a well-behaved aircraft that showed no bad traits. Even when stalls were done fairly aggressively, the wings didn’t tend to drop except slightly in significantly accelerated stalls. I have no reason to believe Piper Aircraft will lose these qualities, even as they make a few tweaks of their own.
Piper LSA For You?
If you are in the market for a higher-end airplane – north of the $100,000 divide in the vast range of Light-Sport Aircraft – Piper Aircraft offers an attractive alternative to two other choices: Cessna, and its also-legacy brand; or the rest of the industry, largely composed of companies not known 5 years ago.
Many readers have now become accustomed to European brands like Flight Design, Tecnam, and Remos, along with a few familiar
American names like RANS and CubCrafters. Some readers will be candidates for far-less costly “alternative” Light-Sport Aircraft (weight shift, powered parachutes, or fixedwing models selling for less then $100,000.)
But if you have been waiting for a major American brand to offer an LSA, the PiperSport may be The One, backed up with a
5-year, 500-hour warranty that Piper Aircraft calls “best in the class.” Customers may feel a heightened sense of security in spending $120,000 to $140,000 for an already proven airframe that has established itself firmly in the top 10.
|Empty weight||720 pounds 1|
|Gross weight||1,320 pounds|
|Wingspan||28 feet 11 inches|
|Wing area||131.3 square feet|
|Wing loading||10.1 pounds per square foot|
|Useful Load||600 pounds 1|
|Length||23 feet 4 inches|
|Payload (with full fuel)||420 pounds 1|
|Cabin Interior||45-plus inches wide|
|Height||6 feet 10 inches|
|Fuel Capacity||30 gallons|
|Baggage area||10.6 cubic feet, 40 pounds 2|
|Notes:||1 Figures do not take into account the standard airframe
2 Can accommodate more weight with careful weight & balance calculation,
according to factory. If weight and balance will accommodate, 40 lbs. can
be placed in each wing locker for a total of 120 pounds.
|Standard engine||Rotax 912ULS|
|Prop Diameter||Woodcomp 3-blade|
|Power loading||13.2 pounds/hp|
|Cruise speed||113 kts/130 mph|
|Stall Speed (Flaps)||34 kts/39 mph|
|Stall Speed||42 kts/48 mph|
|Never exceed speed||139 kts/160 mph|
|Rate of climb at gross||980 fpm|
|Takeoff distance at gross||420 feet|
|Landing distance at gross||480 feet|
|Range (powered)||6.7 hours/800 miles (No Reserve)|
|Fuel Consumption||4.5 gph|
|Standard Features||Avionics: Dynon D100 primary flight
display, Garmin GPS 496, a single Garmin SL40 radio, and GTX 328 transponder; BRS parachute; 3-blade Woodcomp ground-adjustable propeller with spinner; ELT; intercom; leather seats; 30- gallon wing fuel tanks; trim and radio transmit
controls on pilot control stick; electric aileron and pitch trim with position indicators; electric flaps with position indicator; 4-point seatbelt harnesses ; cabin heat; wheel pants; 2-tone paint with accent trim stripes and matching upholstery
|Options||Second Dynon display; Dynon three-element autopilot; Garmin 695; paint options. Contact Piper for additional items added as deliveries begin.|
|Construction||Aluminum airframe, hydroformed aluminum wing ribs, all-aluminum wings and tail; composite cowling and other components. Made in the Czech Republic by a Czech-owned company; distributed by Piper Aircraft in the USA (Piper is majority owned by Singapore-based company).|
Cosmetic appearance, structural integrity, achievement of design goals, effectiveness of aerodynamics, ergonomics.
Pros – Proven LSA design now represented by a legacy general aviation company. Certified in March 2006 (#18), the SportCruiser – now PiperSport – enjoyed success in flight schools. Since its introduction, numerous improvements have been made. Factory has pursued a third-party audit by LAMA.
Cons – Company manufacturing the PiperSport
(Czech Sport Aircraft) went through a difficult transition in 2009 and some owners still have questions. Piper Aircraft is not manufacturing the PiperSport; they are only a distributor.
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 – Standard model well equipped by Piper; commonly optional systems (e.g., parachute) make a good value for base price. Electric trim and flaps. Dual wing tanks with 30-gallon capacity. Garmin 496 GPS is standard along with Garmin radio and transponder.
Cons – Cowling must be removed for major engine access. Wing fuel tanks, while often thought safer, require more effort during fueling than single tank.
Electric flaps not as fast or certain as a mechanical lever.
Instrumentation; Ergonomics of controls; Creature comforts; (items covered may be optional).
Pros – During evolution, cockpit widened to spacious 45+ inches. Standard leather seats appreciated by most buyers, positively affecting resale. Pedal distance adjusts; can fit good range of occupant sizes. Assuming weight and balance, baggage area is unusually generous with additional wing lockers. Four-point seat restraint.
Cons – Entry to (any) low-wing airplane can present challenges for some potential buyers. Bubble canopies can get hot in warmer climates, less easily ventilated during taxi. No separate seat adjustment. Seat angles may not please everyone.
Taxi visibility; Steering; Turn radius; Shock absorption; Stance/Stability; Braking.
Pros – Differential braking augments castoring
nosewheel for good ramp maneuverability. Excellent traffic visibility through quality bubble canopy. Gear has proven up to the duty of flight training. Good ground clearance.
Cons – Not all pilots like castoring nosewheel
steering, possibly affecting resale. Ventilation during ground operations may require leaving canopy party open. Bubble canopy opening must be handled carefully in strong winds.
Qualities; Efficiency; Ease; Comparative values.
Pros – Fast takeoff with short ground roll and enthusiastic climb rates (more than 1,200 fpm off the runway observed) make for a great short- or soft-field performer. Visibility is excellent during all takeoff and landing operations. Can approach quite slowly. Flaps easily deployed; slips work effectively.
Cons – Electric flaps take somewhat longer to deploy than mechanical. Though previously flown on
floats, low wings aren’t preferred for such operations. Cannot observe main gear during touchdown.
Quality and quantity for: Coordination; Authority; Pressures; Response; and Coupling.
Pros – Excellent handling qualities, even at very slow flying speeds where ailerons remain quite effective.
Dutch rolls went well, quickly attesting to easily learned handling. Adverse yaw is low; not much rudder is needed.
Cons – Some pilots have observed mild disharmony between controls; pitch is on light side of average
while aileron inputs are slightly higher. Steeply banked turns tighten up without modest high-siding.
Climb; Glide; Sink; Cruise/stall/max speeds; Endurance; Range; Maneuverability.
Pros – Spirited climb rate right off runway and well sustained to medium altitudes evaluated. Good
cruise speed, competitive with others in Piper’s line. Great range on 30 gallons of fuel; lower fuel burn than any other Piper aircraft. Superb low-speed flight (with responsive handling).
Cons – A handful of other SLSA may be faster; the PiperSport uses a thicker wing section (which helps it fly slowly very well, even if it may take a few knots off
the top). Glide also not as strong as a few other brands (though most folks will find glide more than adequate).
Stall recovery and characteristics; Dampening; Spiral stability; Adverse yaw qualities.
Pros – Very benign stall characteristics in all regimes. Very slow stall speeds; can aid short- or offfield landings. Longitudinal stability is excellent. Response to power change is as expected. Piper elected
to provide airframe parachute as standard in all models (a substantial added benefit buyers often appreciate).
Cons – Test aircraft exhibited a slight pull to left at cruise (probably an adjustment on this one aircraft).
Roll-out forces from steep turns required firmer stick movement. No other stability negatives.
Addresses the questions: “Will a buyer get what he/she expects to buy, and did the esigner/builder achieve the chosen goal?”
Pros – Manufactured in Czech Republic, design was originated by American ownership. Even in new field of LSA, the SportCruiser/PiperSport has established itself with a good record and generally satisfied customers. Earlier SportCruiser dealers are welcomed into Piper’s distribution plans; some offer good expertise in make and model.
Cons – Price increased with new representation compared to many sold by former manufacturer/distributor. Some uncertainties remain among prior customers regarding new Czech ownership (though Piper
should help put these to rest). Piper will have to manage a long-distance supplier relationship.