They’re already lining up out front though the party isn’t sure to happen. I’m writing about the FAA’s Light-Sport Aircraft proposal and those aircraft that intend to cash in on the new opportunity if the proposal becomes the law of the land.
Should ultralight pilots embrace this proposal? Or is it merely another niche of aviation that won’t substantially change how many ultralight pilots operate their aircraft?
Many true-to-the-breed ultralight designs are already kit-built, N-numbered aircraft flown by pilots with an FAA certificate. Lots of others prefer the light-handed Part 103 rule.
Light-Sport Aircraft, while potentially more capable, are going to carry much higher price tags and more government involvement. However, the kit business isn’t going to disappear nor are genuine Part 103 ultralights. (The last statement is the beginning of another story but I can easily demonstrate how Part 103 aircraft will remain an important part of the market.)
Still, the Light-Sport Aircraft proposal has considerable energy and may become law during 2003. When and if it happens we’ll have several new flying machine choices presented to us. One of these is the EuroStar that has been rebadged as the SportStar for American consumption. New rule assumed, the SportStar deserves a closer look.
“Improved” Conventional Design
The SportStar is built using conventional riveted-aluminum construction… essentially an RV or Cessna, or many other aircraft flying in America. The wings have been designed with little dihedral, no taper, and no washout other than that which comes from the large upturned fiberglass wingtips. One advantage over conventional construction, however, is the use of epoxy bonding as well as riveted construction. While more time-consuming, this should ensure a longer-lasting aircraft. The SportStar’s firewall is made of galvanized steel that should provide greater safety and strength with a modest increase in weight.
The factory, Evektor Aerotechnik, describes their design with these words, “The fuselage is of semimonocoque structure. The rectangular single-spar whole-metal wing is provided with split wing flaps, ailerons and fiberglass wing tips.” The entire tail is also of all-metal construction.
Most aircraft these days are composite even if their fuselage and wings use no fiberglass. The SportStar is no different with cowlings made of Kevlar, carbon fiber, and fiberglass. Another place where composite is used is the landing gear. The main gear is said to have with
stood “enormous deflection during [European certification] drop tests.” The nosewheel uses bungee cords for suspension.
The upper half of the engine cowl can be removed quickly using nine Dzus fasteners. Like most Cessnas and Pipers, an inspection port allows access to the dipstick and oil fill point.
Evektor says, “The airplane is designedwith a limitation to nonaerobatic visual flight rules (VFR) operation,” although factory personnel sent photos of the model performing loops at an Italian airshow.
The SportStar comes with flaps and trim. I found the latter quite powerful, enough so that your first adjustments to it may have you overcontrolling. The trim lever is located between the seats.
The flap lever is just forward of the trim and this provides for some control conflict. However, each has a different tactile feel, which is excellent, and traditional, design work.
Evektor chose split flaps for the SportStar. These older, less aerodynamic but simpler devices are usually good at producing drag but don’t add any lift, even at lower settings. Conversely, they hide the hinge on the upper surface, which improves upper surface airflow.
“The SportStar is equipped for daylight flights according to VFR rules in Europe [similar to those in the USA].” Evektor says they will equip the SportStar with other instruments suitable for pilot training including engine instruments, airspeed indicator, variometer, turn-and-bank indicator, artificial horizon, and directional gyro. The latter equipment is rare on ultralights but may become more common if the proposed Light-Sport Aircraft becomes law. Evektor is even willing to install such navigation communication equipment as a Bendix/King KX 125, Bendix/King KT 76A transponder, or Bendix/King KLN 35 GPS for those with excess funds to invest.
Entry to and exit from the SportStar is made easy by a forward-hinged bubble canopy. You enter from the rear of the wing as with most low-wing aircraft. Dual gas pistons should prevent blow-open damage and the canopy mates up to a rear section that makes for a spacious cockpit but a manageable canopy size.
When entering the SportStar, U.S. dealer James Peeler told me I could put weight anywhere, a change from many fiberglass-faired ultralights where you must be more careful.
The canopy latches to the rear of the pilot’s head and I noticed little air leaking around the seal. While I’m of average height, I had enough extra headroom to suggest tall pilots won’t have to crouch inside.
The cockpit is not as wide as some other East European-built aircraft, but it’s slightly wider than a familiar benchmark, the Cessna 150. It measures nearly 40 inches laterally but this seems slightly larger as you can rest part of your arm on the interior structure of the canopy.
Instrumentation and electrical switches are positioned so that either occupant can read and access them. Map pockets with elastic are provided on both
sides and you are allowed 33 pounds of baggage aft of the seats.
Rudder pedals feel firm on the ground (though they seem somewhat lighter in the air). Hydraulic toe brakes are available on the left side only but they come standard with differential actuation. Their operation is typical with toe action working the brakes and pedal bases turning the nosewheel and rudder. I never noticed any problem in hitting the brakes when I meant to turn.
Surprisingly agile on the ground, the SportStar can manage a full 360° turn in 25 feet or less, less than its
wingspan. The design also reveals a good deal of prop clearance and stands fairly tall on its landing gear, giving me the feeling that off-field landings shouldn’t get too exciting.
Before takeoff and once aloft, most pilots will find the view massive. Of course, you have the usual downward obstruction of the wing – and for some potential buyers this will be damning – but checking for traffic before takeoff is a breeze and in flight, you have an extremely wide field of view.
Flying Stars and Stripes
In crosswinds, the SportStar does not exhibit a strong tendency to weathercock. Ultralights that show this quality can be a handful when the wind isn’t straight down the runway. Of course, the SportStar’s higher weight also provides a sensation of stability on rowdier days.
I was fortunate and had favorable winds on the day I flew the SportStar. Heat and humidity surely conspired to offset this help, nonetheless, I believe the aircraft can depart the ground quite a bit faster than the 630 feet stated on the factory’s Website (also see Sidebar).
Rotation in the SportStar comes at 45 mph indicated, which is lower than most general aviation planes and comparable to many lighter ultralights. I was able to climb comfortably at 55-60 mph, which produced close to an indicated 1,000 fpm.
A handbrake-type lever easily operates flaps. You can set the surfaces to 15°, 30°, and 50° giving greater versatility to handle different fields into which you might fly.
Ultralight pilots used to high-wing designs – which most are – may find the SportStar offers different results in ground effect. As with Piper/Cessna comparisons, a low wing generally provides more cushion close to the surface. Some pilots like this, and some don’t. I fall into the latter group, preferring a more defined stall-to-landing quality rather than a less distinct experience like SportStar offers.
A wide control range allows you to perform very efficient slips to a landing. Given the SportStar’s good slips and deep flaps, you can approach at speeds barely above 40 and remain in good control. This is slower than advised on many ultralights. You can use one notch of flaps for takeoff, though it isn’t mandatory.
I also experienced little difficulty keeping the ball centered. Though you get used to the slipperier models, any flying machine that makes control easy is one fast learned and long-appreciated. Peeler says the factory has carefully mounted the engine and that this probably helps the good roll feel the SportStar gives.
One reason why the ball holds steady without much effort is the low rudder input needed. Slower ultralights tend to be rudder dominated but faster Light-Sport Aircraft may not display this characteristic.
I estimated roll rates at a bit over 3 seconds for the 45°-to-45° roll reversal test. This places the SportStar in the middle-to-faster category but slower – and therefore more controllable – than some aircraft in its class.
Ailerons retained most of their authority down to stall. Pitch control is also stable and not overly sensitive.
On whole, the SportStar stick forces are quite light though about middle of the road for this class of aircraft. Though the rudder felt a bit stiff on the ground, this feeling seemed to disappear in the air. Harmony between stick and rudder was very good, among the best experiences I’ve had in light aircraft.
Light-Sport Aircraft Speeds
The SportStar speeds are reasonably inside the limits allowed under FAA’s proposed Light-Sport Aircraft rule. Other candidate models I’ve evaluated push the upper end of the speed envelope and will have to be carefully configured by their factories to remain within the definition.
James Peeler reports, “My plane burned 4 gph flying to Oshkosh at gross at 100 knots (115 mph) average speed.” Going north from his southern home base, he had 425 pounds of occupants on board plus baggage. Coming back he says he only burned 3.5 gph at the same 100-knot average but with 100 pounds less payload.
In my evaluation flying, sink rate measured at a little over 600 fpm, which should translate to a glide angle of close to 10:1. Certainly this isn’t bad compared to all ultralights but neither was it good enough to set the SportStar apart from the others.
When performing longitudinal stability checks, I found the SportStar responded conventionally to power changes, that is, she lowers the nose on power reduction and raises it on powering up.
In turns, the SportStar will tend to stay where you establish bank with the joystick, that is, it is dynamically neutral in roll. This accounts for its light handling but could cause some instability in high bank angles. Get experience with the machine before trying very steep turns and remember Evektor does not recommend aerobatics.
The SportStar shows little adverse yaw tendency despite its responsive controls, a nice treat I didn’t really expect. This seems even more surprising as I could not tell any differential in the surface; usually, designers have ailerons go down further than they go up. According to Evektor, the SportStar has been thoroughly spin-tested.
Stalls with no power came below 40 mph indicated; though any instrument error was not determined. With power, the stall dropped into the low 30s and became rather indistinct. Yet it was not the experience of ultralights where a stall can hardly be identified when power is full.
In flight and with a good view of the top of the wing, you can notice some flexing and hear a bit of oil-canning. This comes from using very thin aluminum skins but mimics experience I’ve had with other similar constructions. Despite the obvious movement, Evektor rates the SportStar at +6/–3 G, which qualifies it for aerobatic use in its home country of the Czech Republic.
Red, White and Blue for You?
According to some proponents, the SportStar is the Czech Republic’s most successful and popular microlight aircraft. Nearly 200 examples have reportedly taken to the air above Europe since the plane was introduced in 1997 (which also explains the original name of EV-97).
Several European builders have commented that the kit was quite easy to assemble. Nigel Beale, an old friend of mine and the British importer of the design, says that someone with previous building experience might only require 300 hours to complete the SportStar. However, this quote comes from England where the governing body – the Popular Flying Association (PFA) – requires that builders create no structural work. To PFA builders, Evektor sends the aircraft with the wings and fuselage fully built.
Peeler says the SportStar can meet the U.S. 51% rule, even in the quick-build form. You’ll want to contact him for additional information in this area, but it shows – as with some other 2-seat ultralights or Light-Sport Aircraft candidates – that you can buy these aircraft today and operate them legally if it’s on FAA’s approved 51% list. Of course, the main attraction of the proposed Sport Pilot/Light-Sport Aircraft is an easier-to-obtain FAA pilot’s certificate (with self-certified medical) and the chance to buy a fully-built aircraft (if you’re willing to spend double to triple current ultralight prices).
A kit-builder’s share of pop riveting has been limited and all pilot holes are CNC drilled and deburred. Though I did not examine the building manuals, they are purported to be “clear and well illustrated with over 100 photos” (a figure I wouldn’t consider to be particularly large as I’ve seen manuals for simpler aircraft that have several hundred photos).
As is the case with many Eastern European suppliers, an entire team of engineers has participated in the design and testing of the SportStar. Once employed by large aircraft producer, Let Aircraft Company, Evektor has put no less than a dozen engineers on the task of creating the SportStar.
One option frequently favored by Yankee buyers is folding wings. Evektor offers such an option, which is said to add only a couple pounds to the design (permitted under the more generous Light-Sport Aircraft proposal). Those who don’t fold all the time may be satisfied with a wing removal that takes a couple of persons about an hour.
Ultralight pilots who have wanted to operate more like general aviation airplanes should give extra attention to the SportStar. It has been designed and built by a crew experienced in conventional design and will provide great preparation for those who one day might fly Pipers or Cessnas. In reverse, general aviation pilots wanting to explore the lighter side of aviation will feel at home in this beautiful aircraft.
Contrarily, pilots used to American ultralights who like their slower speeds, extremely short takeoffs, easy reparability, low purchase cost, and familiar flight qualities may not care for the SportStar. However, those pilots may not consider the Evektor aircraft anyway. I believe it will appeal to those with more conventional instincts.
Offering low operational costs, excellent cabin comfort, conventional and well-balanced controls, with performance suited almost perfectly to the proposed Light-Sport Aircraft category, some pilots may find true happiness with a SportStar.
|Empty weight||606 pounds|
|Gross weight||1,232 pounds 1|
|Wingspan||26 feet 5 inches|
|Wing area||106 square feet|
|Wing loading||11.6 pounds per square foot|
|Length||19 feet 7 inches|
|Height||7 feet 8 inches|
|Kit type||Kit or Fully Assembled 2|
|Build time||300-400 hours|
|Notes:||1 Factory states MTOW (Maximum Takeoff Weight) as 1,058 pounds in accordance with current European rules, however, U.S. representative reports the design easily qualifies for the proposed higher Light-Sport Aircraft maximum weight.
2 Full assembly under proposed Light-Sport Aircraft rule.
|Standard engine||Rotax 912S|
|Power||100 hp at 5,500 rpm|
|Power loading||12.3 pounds per hp|
|Cruise speed||115 mph|
|Economy Cruise||100 mph|
|Never exceed speed||168 mph|
|Rate of climb at gross||1,200 fmp|
|Takeoff distance at gross||630 feet|
|Landing distance at gross||650 feet|
|Standard Features||100-hp Rotax 912S with electric starter, ASI, altimeter, water temp, tachometer and fuel gauge, fully enclosed cabin with large bubble canopy, 4-point seat belts, in-flight trim, shock-cord nose gear suspension, steerable nosewheel, differential hydraulic brakes (left side only), all-metal wings and fuselage.|
|Options||81-hp Rotax 912, Jabiru 2200, or BMW engine (in development), “high performance” prop, additional instruments including navigation and comm radios and attitude instruments, adjustable rudder pedals, quick-build option, fully-assembled option (allowed under Light-Sport Aircraft if passed), ballistic parachute under development with BRS.|
|Construction||Aluminum airframe, fiberglass cowling, composite gear, steel firewall. Made in the Czech Republic; distributed by U.S.-owned company.|
Cosmetic appearance, structural integrity, achievement of design goals, effectiveness of aerodynamics, ergonomics.
Pros – A 1997 design repositioned for Light-Sport Aircraft, the SportStar is nearly a perfect fit to the proposed rule. More conventional than most ultralights; should appeal to general aviation pilots and others. Design by a Czech Republic team of engineers with long experience.
Cons – Not ultralight-like in the U.S. tradition; and accordingly priced considerably higher than most ultralights. Fully enclosed conventional aircraft, which won’t appeal to all ultralight buyers. Unproved design for U.S. consumption (though no design problems are noted). All pilots don’t prefer low-wing designs.
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 – Fully loaded aircraft with electric start, flaps, trim. Exterior filling of fuel. Easily reached access for engine repairs. Multifunction instrument display in evaluation SportStar offered lots of information (at optional cost). Four-point seat belts are standard. Map pockets on both sides.
Cons – Trim is rather sensitive. When you get all the goodies (from an ultralight pilot’s perspective) you should expect to pay for it. Accessing engine means removing a cowling with 9 Dzus fasteners. Greater system features mean longer build time for kits.
Instrumentation; Ergonomics of controls; Creature comforts; (items covered may be optional).
Pros – Only a single latch required to secure cockpit. Aft cabin also enclosed in plastic for huge visibility. Entry is very easy; factory says you can step anywhere when climbing in from the wing. Forward-opening canopy restrained by gas pistons. Full dual controls for flight operations.
Cons – Though a forward-opening bubble canopy cannot open in flight (other than in a violent upset, perhaps), some pilots might prefer more secure latching. Right seat has rudder pedals but no brakes. Some other Light-Sport Aircraft cabins are wider and even more feature-laden.
Taxi visibility; Steering; Turn radius; Shock absorption; Stance/Stability; Braking.
Pros – Checking for traffic in the SportStar is very easy; it offers wide-open visibility. The SportStar can turn a 360 on the ground within its own 25-foot wingspan. Standard hydraulic differential brakes make for precise and tight ramp maneuvering.
Cons – With just clear plastic above, the canopy can be hot in intense sunshine. No brakes on the right side means no differential help in tight situations. Low-wing design can mean some taxi obstacles may be obscured from view. No other negatives.
Qualities; Efficiency; Ease; Comparative values.
Pros – Rotax 912S provides for strong acceleration and powerful takeoffs in the SportStar; printed factory literature distributed in the U.S. states takeoff roll is 330 feet (though it seemed longer to me and is listed longer on Evektor’s Website). Climb is strong, 1,000 fpm or more off the runway.
Cons – Takeoff roll is relatively long for most ultralight pilots. Factory Website states a 670-foot landing roll, long by genuine ultralight standards and something you need to keep in mind. Low-wing cushion in ground effect may not be familiar to ultralight pilots used to high wings.
Quality and quantity for: Coordination; Authority; Pressures; Response; and Coupling.
Pros – Very gracious handling that most pilots will like. Harmony between control surfaces is very good. Precision control is certain and adverse yaw is low. Crosswind capability seems very good (though not evaluated in strong cross conditions). Pitch is nicely dampened.
Cons – With more conventional general aviation handling, you may find more need for trim than on many ultralights. Though controls are good, the SportStar can’t mimic the feel and response of super-light designs intended for slow flight. No other negatives.
Climb; Glide; Sink; Cruise/stall/max speeds; Endurance; Range; Maneuverability.
Pros – A 17-gallon tank with 81-hp Rotax 912 can go 4+ hours and 500+ miles. Standard wheel pants help performance. Climb is close to 1,000 fpm even on warm, humid days. Solid 115-mph cruise speed. Good cross-country capability with excellent cabin comforts for longer voyages.
Cons – Does not provide genuine ultralight slow flying ways; you may not feel comfortable wandering low over fields like you do in an open- cockpit ultralight. Weighing 1,200 pounds or more, the SportStar has considerably more mass and kinetic energy than genuine U.S. ultralights.
Stall recovery and characteristics; Dampening; Spiral stability; Adverse yaw qualities.
Pros – Stalls in all modes – power-off, power-on, accelerated – were benign in their characteristics. Stall recovery was fast and a warning received. Good longitudinal stability, returned to level flight quickly. Power applications brought conventional response (i.e., nose-up on power-up).
Cons – No wing twist or taper and very little dihedral makes for easy roll pressures but can allow some lateral quickening of bank in very steep turns. No other negatives.
Addresses the questions: “Will a buyer get what he/she expects to buy, and did the designer/builder achieve the chosen goal?”
Pros – Pilots who prefer general aviation qualities will probably like the SportStar immediately. Available in kit, quick-build kit, or ready-to-fly (when and if the Light-Sport Aircraft rule becomes law). Beautiful exterior lines, nicely finished with curved tips and a splashy, patriotic paint job. Engineered by a large experienced team.
Cons – Pilots who prefer genuine, U.S.-style ultralights may not care for the SportStar for the same reason Piper drivers will love it. Thin skin could be subject to hangar damage; extra caution advised. Functional but unimpressive interior finish (though a kit-builder could change this). Little U.S. market presence at this time.