AirBorne’s Outback trike has all the essentials
Light-sport aircraft (LSA) are on the minds of many would-be sport pilots, especially now that the proposed rule has advanced from the Depart-ment of Transportation (DOT) to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for its last review. But the big-picture view of these airplanes is complex. Yes, we’ll have sleek im-ported machines like the CT2K, G3 Mirage, SkyBoy, or SportStar, but we’ll also have much more. We will also still have popular American-made machines like Zenith’s CH 601, SkyStar’s Kitfox, Quicksilver’s MX or GT series, RANS’ Coyotes, Quad City Ultralight’s Challenger, and more. And we’ll have trikes, powered para-chutes, gliders, airships, gyros, and who-knows-what-else. The new LSA category actually represents a virtual zoo of different aerial animals. The fiberglass or metal versions that may enter our market from Europe are but the upper end of the spectrum, in both speed and price.
Trikes, in particular, may be one of the earlier qualifying entries. They enjoy worldwide acceptance, are eas-ily repaired, and cost less. Most importantly, some models are al-ready certificated in many countries. Those certification efforts may help those trikes win some of the first ap-provals under the new FAA rule.
AirBorne Australia’s Outback is one of those already certificated trikes that may be among the first to gain light-sport aircraft status. It’s a simple, economical machine. While AirBorne has built hundreds of trikes of varying complexity, including the AirBorne Edge XT, which shows it can design and build a big rig with excellent attention to detail, why wouldn’t you suppose AirBorne could build and certificate an equally re-fined simple trike? The lovely and exquisite XT model with its powerful four-stroke Rotax 912 engine defi-nitely looks like it should pass the LSA test, and you should feel simi-larly when you look at the Outback model from down under.
AirBorne is a company wanting to sell trikes, and more models fitting more customers is the way to do so.
Some pilots feel you can’t have too much power on an aircraft. Of course, any qualified designer will tell you otherwise. The airframe simply must be matched to the powerplant, and the overall design created around a certain power range. Much like a V-8 engine in a VW Beetle, a four-cylinder, four-stroke, liquid-cooled engine powering a trike seems like, well|too much.
Indeed, after my first launch in AirBorne’s XT 912, I never again took off with full power. It just isn’t neces-sary, and the use of full power demands greater attention. Then, of course, there’s the issue of money. A four-stroke-powered deluxe trike runs well more than $30,000-the Rotax 912S engine by itself, with its price fluctuating with the Euro, was about $13,000 when I last checked in early 2004.
Comparatively, the 65-hp, 582-powered AirBorne Outback was selling for a bit more than $18,000 in January. Given its level of quality construction, its Australian certifica-tion, the support of a respected manufacturer, and professional rep-resentation in the United States, the Outback represents a good value. Likewise, it should have no problem meeting the LSA standards.
Available for even less money- yet with the same government seal of approval-is the Redback, a simpler-yet version of the Outback using a Rotax 503 engine. It is 10 pounds lighter than the Outback and sells for less than $15,000 using the Wizard III wing.
Given the weakening dollar, Air-Borne Australia announced price increases in the new year. Before you commit your budget to any imported machine, you’ll want to check the latest exchange rates and prices.
Simpler by Design
Simpler doesn’t mean less capable. Nor does it mean there’s been any scrimping on hardware. It may mean there’s less of it, and that’s not neces-sarily bad. But, generally, it means a lower-cost, two-stroke engine.
AirBorne does not feel the lower price tag of the Outback means you’ll get any less value from your pur-chase. The company promotes Outback as “the most versatile trike on the market today.”
The Outback’s design is based on the certificated Edge X model. A 65-hp Rotax engine coupled with a lightweight instrument pod and few other adornments “allows the pilot to use the Outback in a range of dif-fering terrain depending on the options that are added,” says the company.
It believes the wide-tire tundra op-tion (not evaluated for this article) allows for landing in harsher-than-normal terrain (compared to the standard undercarriage). AirBorne re-ports that trike pilots in Alaska have been using the tundra option suc-cessfully for years. That option works equally well on sand or packed snow, although snow skis are also available to fit the Outback.
AirBorne’s also investigating floats as an option. It has experimented with the Outback on Krücker and Antares floats. Initially, the company has been happy with results. My own experience of flying a Wizard II wing on an AirBorne Edge trike atop Antares floats last spring in Alaska was positive. The Ukraine-made floats are imported into the United States by Antares trike designer Sergey Zozulya, who lives in Alaska.
Antares floats are built from fiber-glass and marine plywood. A hydrodynamically efficient design al-lows them to quickly get up on the step for quick takeoffs. Flown dual or solo, I found little difference in water operations. A single rudder made for secure water taxiing.
“Our floats can be mounted on any trike in minutes. They come with stainless steel, titanium, and aluminum hardware for easy installa-tion,” says Sergey. “On the AirBorne Edge trike, or the Outback, Antares floats can be mounted in approxi-mately 20 minutes, and no modifications are required to the trike itself. The front yoke bushing mounts directly to the keel tube by using existing holes. The floats are at-tached to the mounting brackets with rubber bushings.”
The Outback coupled with the Wizard wing is great for floats or skis as it lifts the aircraft off the ground quicker. The large, single-surface wing is also an excellent choice for a hang glider tug according to Air-Borne factory representatives, and it’s been proven by towing the com-pany’s own hang gliders aloft. If this interests you, AirBorne can supply all the necessary hardware.
Want Even More?
For those who want greater cross-country speeds but like the simpler trike, an Outback S model has the same features as the basic Outback, but it comes with AirBorne’s new Streak II wing instead. However, the Outback S is not recommended for landing on rough terrain because of its higher landing speeds.
AirBorne’s trike wing line is now focused on the Streak II wing atop the XT and the Wizard III lifting the simpler and lighter Outback and Red-back models (though you can mix and match to some extent). These two wings are dramatic comparisons, with much different speed ranges.
Regardless of which AirBorne trike or wing interests you most, all are built to demanding standards and exhibit excellent quality.
Perhaps it was merely the noise-deadening Lynx headset and intercom system AirBorne lent me, but when I taxied the AirBorne trikes, they seemed exceptionally solid. Un-like some other light aircraft, nothing creaked or groaned as I maneuvered on lumpy terrain.
In its base form, the Outback is powered with the Rotax 582 produc-ing 65 hp mated to a Rotax C-type gearbox. AirBorne likes the Brolga four-blade prop and offers an exhaust with ceramic coating, which should prevent ugly discoloration after a few hours of heat flow through the pipe.
A black instrument pod, called a “binnacle” in Australia, can hold a variety of instruments, and AirBorne includes an airspeed indicator, al-timeter, hour meter, tachometer, and exhaust gas temp and water temp gauges. More instruments are avail-able under option. (For those curious about words, binnacle is a case that supports and protects a ship’s compass.)
The Outback comes with a front wheel drum brake that includes a parking brake feature plus an 11-gal-lon fuel tank. AirBorne advises that the R-582 on the Wizard burns 2.6 to 3.1 gallons per hour.
The cockpit of the Outback lacks a nose pod, but this affords you an even wider view. Given the slower Wizard wing, I enjoyed the openness of the Outback compared to the full-pod and blazing-fast XT 912 model. Seated astride the trike, an easily reached choke is to the left. One hand-operated throttle is located un-der the right knee of someone in the back seat, otherwise the forward-seat pilot uses the foot controls common to most trikes: throttle on the right, brake on the left.
hand-operated throttle is located un-der the right knee of someone in the back seat, otherwise the forward-seat pilot uses the foot controls common to most trikes: throttle on the right, brake on the left.
No Need to Streak
The Streak II wing has a trimmer and makes good use of one. The Wizard III wing does not have one nor is it needed. Its lighter pitch handling makes the extra weight, complexity, and cost of a trim system less worthwhile.
AirBorne’s Streak/XT uses a 60 mph approach speed to landing. If you pull the bar in as you do when landing many trikes, you’ll end up flying 80 mph. Not so on the Wizard III/Outback combination. Unless you’re determined to make some long trips in your AirBorne trike, the Wizard will provide plenty of speed. It’ll cruise at 45-50 mph and can carry you 200 miles if you have the time.
While AirBorne’s speedy XT/Streak combination floated well down the runway, the Wizard/Outback combi-nation showed less retained energy. Of course, this is partly because the Wizard/Outback trike approaches considerably slower in the first place. If you’re willing to give up some speed, you’ll be rewarded with light and pleasant handling.
AirBorne has done a masterful job of lightening control pressures on its Streak II wing, but it still can’t com-pare to the roll-in/roll-out ease and general lower pilot muscle require-ments of the well-refined Wizard, now in its third design iteration.
In reality, the Rotax 582-powered Outback chassis with a Wizard sin-gle-surface wing felt nearly as powerful as the awesomely powerful XT 912 with Streak II wing. This may have been because Outback’s chassis weight is much less on this simpler model and the wing is a higher lift design. Outback tips the scales a full 90 pounds less than the XT.
Contrary to popular opinion, Air-Borne reports the Rotax 582 on the Outback/Wizard gets slightly better fuel economy than the XT’s 912S (roughly 3 gph versus 4 gph). Of course, it depends on how you use the engine. A lightweight trike might use lots of power zooming up, down, and around the local area, whereas an XT 912 would of-ten be used for straight and level cross-country flying.
Proper and Professional
AirBorne is a company that has earned a reputation for quality hardware and well-built trikes. It has also earned approvals from the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Au-thority (CASA) for all its trike models. CASA administers a strict program, and buyers can be assured AirBorne aircraft have met a tough standard. The company proudly proclaims, “The Outback is Aus-tralian Civil Aviation Safety Authority Approved and tested to 6g positive and 3g negative under strict government control.”
Part of CASA’s certification pro-gram includes issuing airworthiness directives (ADs) when needed.
AirBorne’s Rob Hibberd says the company puts any airworthiness di-rective up on its website and sends copies to dealers. He continues, “I would like to educate our customers to keep an eye on the website for di-rectives. It is the most efficient notice board since everyone knows someone with a computer. We were thinking about a database solution for people to update change of own-ership; however, this is less reliable as aircraft change hands and we don’t get notified, especially with older planes.” Rob asked that I sug-gest in pilot reviews that it is recommended to regularly keep an eye on the AirBorne website for this reason.
The company plans to reinforce this communication effort in future advertising. All products can have problems from time to time. In avi-ation, ADs affect aircraft from NASA and Boeing designs to hang gliders and ultralights. I find it most en-couraging that AirBorne (among other good companies) makes such an effort to inform its customers.
The far-away company also has an excellent representative in the United States in Wayne Bezner-Kerr, with whom I flew in the company’s aircraft during Sun ‘n Fun 2003. He works with dealers and assists the factory with its contact with them.
His job involves qualifying dealers for the distant company and assur-ing adequate spare parts in this country, but he also finds time to run a flight school.
AirBorne has steadily approached marketing and sales to the U.S. mar-ket, many thousands of miles from its factory. Virtually every year, rep-resentatives of the company endure long hours on airliners to attend the Sun ‘n Fun and EAA AirVenture Oshkosh fly-ins, while their dealers represent them at other shows. All this effort is paying off.
The company isn’t focused only on the United States either. Air-Borne sells actively into other markets around the world; for ex-ample, a good number of the company’s trikes are flying in China. Another fact you may not know is that AirBorne is a world leader in the manufacture of hang gliders, like its Climax. Hang glider pilots are notoriously demanding of top performance and workman-ship.
AirBorne leaders Russ and Rick Duncan and Rob Hibberd have every reason to feel proud of their global sales success.
Priced well below the average price of a new car in America, cer-tificated to a tough Aussie standard, supplied by a company with a glow-ing reputation, and with fun flight characteristics and good handling, Outback makes an excellent choice for the recreational pilot in 2004. A choice of wings allows potential buyers to find the performance range that meets their needs. How-ever, unlike nearly all three-axis machines, you could opt for two wings and essentially have two air-craft for the cost of an extra wing.
You can choose from a long list of options, load up a friend, and head to your own outback in an Outback. I’m betting you’ll return with tall tales and a pleased expres-sion on your face.
|Empty weight||370 pounds|
|Gross weight||948 pounds|
|Wing area||180 square feet|
|Wing loading||5.2 pounds/square foot|
|Fuel Capacity||11 gallons 1|
|Notes:||1 Calculated; tank is measured in liters.|
|Standard engine||Rotax 582|
|Power loading||14.5 pounds/hp|
|Cruise speed||35-50 mph|
|Stall Speed||30 mph|
|Never exceed speed||62 mph|
|Rate of climb at gross||750 fpm|
|Takeoff distance at gross||250 feet|
|Landing distance at gross||400 feet|
|Range (powered)||about 200 miles (3.5 hours)|
|Fuel Consumption||about 3.0 gph|