Italy’s Sky Arrow makes its mark in the United States
Just as it is home to many fine sports cars, Italy is also home to some beautiful light aircraft-the Sky Arrow being one. The tandem two-seat airplane is designed and manufactured there by Iniziative Industriali Italiane S.p.A (III). Formerly known as Meteor, the company was started in 1947 and also manufactures gliders, airplanes, and remotely piloted vehicles.
Pacific Aerosystem Inc., of San Diego, California, is the United States importer of the Sky Arrow line. With more than 200 Sky Arrows flying worldwide and 25 in the United States, III is an experienced manufacturer and able to meet customer needs, reports Pacific Aerosystem, an important factor to consider when choosing an aircraft.
Currently, Pacific Aerosystem sells four ready-to-fly versions of the Sky Arrow. A kit version can be built under the experimental amateurbuilt rule. Powerplants and instrumentation delineate the models. An 80-hp Rotax 912 powers the 650 TCN and 560 T models. A 100-hp Rotax 912S powers the 650 TCNS and 560 TS models. Builders of the kit version, the 1450 L, can make their own engine choice.
The Sky Arrow TCNS earned European JAR-VLA (joint airworthiness requirements-very light aircraft) certification, and after careful review, FAA gave it certification approval under international reciprocity agreements. Because all the Sky Arrow models share the same airframe design, certification of the TCNS sets up the opportunity for the Sky Arrow 560 T and TS to be among the first aircraft to be approved by FAA when the proposed sport pilot/light-sport aircraft (SP/LSA) rule is finalized. The 560 T and TS are currently flying in Canada under that country’s advanced ultralight regulations.
Pacific Aerosystem had just sold its 100-hp 560 TS demonstrator when I visited the company last December, so I flew an 80-hp Sky Arrow 650 TCN on a beautiful San Diego day. I went aloft with the company’s marketing manager and chief pilot, Howard Hawkins.
Check It Out
The Sky Arrow fuselage is almost entirely carbon fiber sandwich construction, giving it a strong structure with a high strength-to-weight ratio. Kevlar adds strength to the cabin area, improving crashworthiness. Left- and right-side fuselage halves are formed and then bonded together along the airframe’s vertical plane. The wings and control surfaces are aluminum. Ailerons are actuated by aluminum control rod bell cranks. The fixed main tricycle gear is fiberglass, while the nose gear is constructed of steel and carbon fiber, with a “doughnut style” shock absorber. The nose wheel is free castering.
Currently, the maximum takeoff weight of the certificated 650 TCNS is limited to 1,433 pounds. The 560 T and 560 TS are listed at the proposed LSA maximum gross weight of 1,232 pounds, with useful loads of 488 and 491 pounds respectively. The final weight of these potential LSA will be established by the final SP/LSA rule. However, even at 1,232 pounds, the 560 T and TS maintain a good useful load and payload. Add the substantially more potent 100-hp Rotax 912S engine, and the lightened aircraft should be a lively performer.
During our preflight inspection, a few distinguishing characteristics of the Sky Arrow caught my attention. For example, a fuel strainer drain on the left side of the fuselage is hidden inside a small door that looks like an automotive gas tank door, showing the effort the Italian designers expended to achieve a sleek exterior. Sky Arrow’s fashionable, tall Ttail is also quite striking. To inspect it carefully, you simply pull the tail down for a closer look. This action takes little force because the Sky Arrow balances well on the main gear. A tailskid prevents rudder damage from tail inspections or overly deep landing flares.
Inside, the Sky Arrow has a removable instrument panel. Two thumbscrews hold it to the airframe. All the instrumentation is inserted on the front side of the panel via a series of nine electrical plugs. If avionics repair is necessary, you simply take the entire panel to the shop. The top of the panel also comes off. Ask a mechanic who has struggled to make repairs under the panel of a general aviation airplane, and he or she will tell you those removable panels will translate into repair dollar savings.
The tandem two-seater is well equipped to serve as a trainer. Rudder pedals in the front seat adjust fore or aft along a series of detents to accommodate pilots of varying height. Differential hand brakes on the right front armrest allow precise steering at slow speeds. You use them like throttle controls on a twin-engine aircraft.
The Sky Arrow’s side stick is distinctively different. It’s on the right cockpit rail and moves fore and aft for climb and descent but uses wrist action to effect roll control. The left and right cockpit rails are ergonomically positioned as a rest for your forearms as you work the stick, lefthand throttle, or other controls. A Tpanel between the pilot’s legs houses the intercom controls and a fuse panel. Most pilots will quickly become comfortable with the layout.
An engine shut-off is positioned to the left of the throttle on the left armrest. This control also breaks the electrical circuits. An engine baffle control is positioned on the right side in front of the emergency canopy release. You use it something like cowl flaps on a Cessna or Piper to adjust engine heat. The Rotax 912 or 912S, depending on the model, is neatly faired in a nacelle that can get warm in some conditions.
The back seat also has full controls including joystick, rudder pedals, brakes, throttle, choke, starter, and fuel shut-off lever.
The Sky Arrow’s fuel tank is behind the aft seat. The engine and fuel tank attachments have been tested to 18g’s.
A hatrack behind the rear seat is rated for 33 pounds. You can load another 66 pounds under the back seat. Also, wing root cavities are accessible in-flight from the aft seat, and my camera bag fit nicely there. In the front cockpit, a glove box is located just above the T-panel and another storage area, about a foot wide and 4 to 5 inches deep, is built into the floor.
Smaller cavities underneath the armrests will hold handheld radios or similarly sized items. On the extreme right side of the panel, there’s room for maps. The cockpit looks snug, but with its ergonomically placed levers and knobs, it evokes the feel of a fighter plane. I quickly fell in love with it and wanted to go flying!
Fly We Did!
Start-up was typical of the Rotax 912 engine, quick and assuring. After taxiing from Pacific Aerosystem’s hangars toward the active runway at San Diego’s Montgomery Field Airport, Howard talked me through a magneto check.
Once cleared for takeoff, I moved the throttle forward to the stops in one smooth motion. The Sky Arrow 650 TCN is almost 200 pounds heavier than the 560 T and TS so the takeoff with the 80-hp Rotax 912 was a bit underwhelming, even at full-throttle. The LSA models, with a 20-percent weight decrease and 20-percent more power should offer dramatically shorter takeoff rolls and a better climb rate. With the lower-powered, heavier Sky Arrow used for this report, the ground run was about 600-700 feet, and that was without using soft- or short-field techniques.
Liftoff required only slight backpressure on the stick. Normal takeoffs use 10 degrees of flaps, and rotation comes at around 45 knots (52 mph) depending on loading. Sky Arrow’s typical climb speed is 65 knots (75 mph), which is also its best glide speed. Of course, it’s always safest to maintain best glide speed in the event of engine failure. After stabilizing in climb, you shut off the auxiliary fuel pump and the cooling fan that helps in warm conditions.
Sky Arrow’s rudder is so powerful that Howard says he’s never run out of rudder, even in an enthusiastic slip to generate a 2,000-fpm descent rate. The flaps should prove enough for most situations, but being able to hold a controlled high-rate descent can be valuable in some tight field landing situations. Electric flaps can be positioned at 0, 10, 20, and 30 degrees. If the LSA Sky Arrow uses manual flaps rather than electrical ones, that would be fine with me, though cockpit space might be a problem.
Typical cruise in Sky Arrow is about 85 knots (98 mph). You can fly as much as 15-20 knots faster, but you’ll start using a lot of fuel, Howard says. The manual trim control is useful but a little quick. The gauge that shows trim position has a lot of lag, so you must set a position and wait a short time to see if you get the desired results.
Power-on and power-off stalls were modest affairs, occurring at about 40 knots indicated. In all cases the right wing tended to drop with some suddenness, but rudder power was substantial to easily control the action.
When the engine is at idle thrust, Sky Arrow can achieve a reported 12-to-1 glide, better than most general aviation (GA) planes and significantly better than many ultralight designs.
I performed landings with 20 and 30 degrees of flaps. The airplane is easy to land as long as you get down low and then hold off.
An Arrow for Your Quiver?
The side stick was an easy adaptation for me, as I have flown a number of aircraft with this configuration. However, I can imagine the average GA pilot might find it odd at first. But, I believe familiarization time will be measured in seconds not hours of flight.
Overall, the Sky Arrow was a well-behaved airplane. Precise turns were easy to execute, making maneuvering and cross-country flying a joy. The aircraft is sufficiently stable for long-distance flights, yet it maneuvers well enough to add the “sport” in light-sport aircraft. GA and ultralight pilots will discover they must lower the nose more than some pilots may feel comfortable doing. Combined with the “out front” seating in the front cockpit, some GA pilots accustomed to more airframe references may need time to acclimate. However, the view from Sky Arrow’s front seat is simply spectacular, just what any sport pilot prefers.
|Empty weight||840 pounds|
|Gross weight||1,320 pounds|
|Wingspan||31 feet, 8 inches|
|Wing area||145 square feet|
|Wing loading||6.1 pounds per square foot|
|Useful Load||488 pounds 1|
|Length||24 feet, 9 inches|
|Payload (with full fuel)||380 pounds 1|
|Cabin Interior||28 inches|
|Height||8 feet, 6 inches|
|Fuel Capacity||26.4 gallons|
|Baggage area||Hatrack and under seat, 99 pounds total|
|Standard engine||Rotax 912S|
|Power||100 hp @ 5,500 rpm|
|Power loading||15.2 pounds/hp|
|Max Speed||139 mph|
|Cruise speed||95 knots / 109 mph|
|Never exceed speed||132 knots / 152 mph|
|Rate of climb at gross||1,100 fpm|
|Takeoff distance at gross||470 feet|
|Landing distance at gross||360 feet|
|Standard Features||Rotax 912S with electric start, 3-blade prop, ASI, altimeter, VSI, oil temp and pressure, tach, wrap-around canopy, in-flight trim, convenient full shutoff at both seats, mechanical brakes, intercom, hourmeter, stall-warning system, removable aft windows, various aircraft tools, weather-resistant white finish.|
|Options||Full avionics choices, radio options, cabin heat, additional instruments, disabled pilot kit, and numerous other options.|
|Construction||Carbon fiber sandwich construction, fiberglass landing gear, steel components. Made in Italy, distributed by U.S.-owned company with East and West Coast representation.|
Cosmetic appearance, structural integrity, achievement of design goals, effectiveness of aerodynamics, ergonomics.
Pros – Sleek, composite design in tandem seating configuration. Able to meet Part 23 certification, SLSA was relatively easily achieved. Established company with decades of experience. Sweet, medium-range flying machine with many finished qualities. Fully enclosed Rotax 912 pusher engine.
Cons – The Sky Arrow isn’t one of the very lightest LSA available (though it’s not the heaviest either). Tandem seating just won’t cut it for some buyers. Cruise speeds and climb rates are competitive but unimpressive. Refined to fit LSA; predecessor models have higher gross weight ratings.
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 – As with many SLSA, the Sky Arrow is well equipped with systems: electrically actuated flaps, electric start, differential brakes, choke and fuel shutoff, trim, and avionics systems. Add to that a heat control for the tightly cowled Rotax 912, if used in warm conditions.
Cons – Trim control was a little sudden, yet cabin space dictates electrical actuation; a slower control would be superior. A trim gauge shows position but lags in reporting. Engine repair access is challenging, fully cowled and up high as it is.
Instrumentation; Ergonomics of controls; Creature comforts; (items covered may be optional).
Pros – Comfortable for average-sized occupants. Features supportive arm rails because you use controls on either side. Entry is easy, very much so to front seat and not bad to rear. Tilt seat forward to access baggage area. Panel is very readable and easily accessed from front seat. Aft seat elevated above front for better aft visibility.
Cons – As with most tandem designs, the aft seat has little access to panel controls (though a couple controls are duplicated for the aft seat). Seat belt is normally shoulder belt and crotch belt; no lap belt, which some will find inadequate. Big swing-away canopy could be a handful in some wind conditions.
Taxi visibility; Steering; Turn radius; Shock absorption; Stance/Stability; Braking.
Pros – Excellent ground control through nosewheel steering, differential braking, and superb visibility. Precise nosewheel control. Adequate ground clearance for out-landings; also tough gear construction. Brakes were effective to slow and stop the Sky Arrow.
Cons – Aft seat visibility is less (though still pretty open compared to many tandem designs). Hand differential brakes on tested Sky Arrow may seem foreign to some (though foot brakes are now available). Turn radius not particularly tight.
Qualities; Efficiency; Ease; Comparative values.
Pros – Visibility is enormous during all takeoff and landing operations; even back seat is said to be good. Rotation comes quickly at 45 knots (52 mph). Side or forward slips can be done very deeply, creating a fast descent when needed; flaps also very effective. Rudder protected by skid from damage due to deep flares.
Cons – Aft seat not optimal for operations partly because visibility is somewhat less, but also because you don’t have full access to or view of instrument panel. Crosswind capability not verified. No other negatives.
Quality and quantity for: Coordination; Authority; Pressures; Response; and Coupling.
Pros – Beautiful light control feel with no sudden behaviors. Dutch rolls went well immediately to steep angles. Good coordination between wing and tail surfaces. All controls were predictable in speed and rate of response. Excellent slow-flight characteristics.
Cons – While light in feel, roll rate is only average (though that may be perfect for flight training operations). Large side area might limit crosswind operations for less experienced pilots. No other negatives.
Climb; Glide; Sink; Cruise/stall/max speeds; Endurance; Range; Maneuverability.
Pros – For ultralight pilots, the Sky Arrow will seem a perfect combination of fast enough speed for regional cross-country flight, yet slow enough for local sightseeing flights (and you can see everything from the front seat). Glide measured by factory at 12:1. Engine well isolated from cabin; low noise and vibration experienced.
Cons – Pilots seeking aerial speedsters will probably keep on looking past the Sky Arrow; max speed is 110 knots (127 mph) and more typical flying speed will be 95 knots (109 mph), well under the speediest LSA. Ultralight pilots may not be inclined to fly this closed-cockpit airplane low over the terrain.
Stall recovery and characteristics; Dampening; Spiral stability; Adverse yaw qualities.
Pros – Excellent longitudinal stability. Very stable in slow flight (good for training applications). Adverse yaw was reasonably low, further proving good control qualities. Normal throttle response despite high relative thrust line (though full power initially lowers the nose).
Cons – The Sky Arrow fell rather quickly to the right wing on all stalls that I performed; easily recovered with strong rudder, but action required. No parachute installed (one is available). Greater nose-over tendency on high-power applications than most LSA (though within acceptable range).
Addresses the questions: “Will a buyer get what he/she expects to buy, and did the designer/builder achieve the chosen goal?”
Pros – The Sky Arrow is a good value in a robust, well-proven, fully certified LSA, especially at its modest price tag (about $66,600, ready to fly). Company in business for many decades; broad aviation experience. Currently available (2006) in reasonable time compared for LSA industry.
Cons – Import has been slow in the past, which could delay delivery if sales increase. Italian brand adds effort when some repairs are needed. Dealerships, while serving each U.S. coast, are widely distributed (though the Sky Arrow attends many shows). Fairly small number flying in the USA (though sales reportedly growing). o