“It’s still the best,” is a phrase I could use referring to Quicksilver’s most-popular-of-all ultralights in general, the Sport 2S. Indeed it remains a delightful aircraft and the strutted construction appeals to many pilots. Or, I could be referring to flying an ultralight on floats, that being one of the very best ways to enjoy an ultralight. Or, I could be talking about both. You’ll want to read on and see.
I might also be talking about the strutted version of the venerable Quicksilver model being the best of the design series. Or, I might be talking about the innovative company representing the Quicksilver 2S on floats in central Florida. Every one of these statements is accurate in one way or another.
It was my pleasure to fly the Sport 2S on Full Lotus floats and it surely was a dandy experience. Is it the best? Well, it might be for you.
Float Planes and Amphibs
Most of the time I am offered a plane to fly by the manufacturer of that plane. Indeed, during the week of Sun ‘n Fun ’04 I also flew an original Quicksilver Sprint, made available by Quicksilver Manufacturing.
However, this report comes due to the courtesy of a new enterprise in ultralight aviation. Float Planes and Amphibs – or just FP&A – is a Sebring, Florida-based outfit that sprung on the scene in 2004, and is making a big splash, if you’ll pardon the pun.
The new company is interesting. The face I associated with it immediately is Stuart Fuller, who has been around ultralight aviation since near the beginning and has had his hand in a number of interesting enterprises. Over the years, he’s proven himself by his prodigious building skills. In the story that follows you’ll see several innovations Fuller has added to FP&A airplanes. Fuller is also an experienced instructor that, along with his customer service knowledge, makes him an excellent front man for the organization.
FP&A principal, Shawn Okun, says he’s engaged in VoIP, short for Voice over Internet Protocol. This competition for telephone service is often sold to customers in other countries. Okun is also involved in a capital equipment leasing business (see “Lease or Finance?” sidebar) among other business ventures. His leasing business specializes in one-off or unusual equipment so the match-up with light aircraft may be a natural.
Okun honestly communicated that he doesn’t expect to make a lot of money in the aviation business, but he’s clearly passionate about it and is investing significantly.
As they enlarge the enterprise, Float Planes and Amphibs reports acquiring the North American distribution for Full Lotus floats, and Okun says he is working on a combined operation with Sebring, Florida, airport neighbor, Spectrum Aircraft. Through this relationship, Float Planes and Amphibs hopes to ink a deal for a major representation of Ukraine’s Aeroprakt aircraft company.
Besides Fuller and Okun, FP&A is populated with other talented folks. Attending company leaders at their event following a day’s flying on Lake Parker were Murray Halperin, representing their leasing arm, and Arron Long of Accordia Insurance.
Bolting On the Floats
One drawback buyers have mentioned to me over the years is that those wonderful Full Lotus inflatable floats don’t come with all the hardware needed to attach them to their aircraft. And it certainly has to be done right if the floats are going to work as expected.
For Float Planes and Amphibs and our evaluation aircraft this month, Fuller created the attachment hardware. His method of joining floats to airframe attracted Quicksilver’s interest.
Many float installations on Quicksilver models tend to sit the nose components up too high, pushing your knees up in your way, says Fuller. His idea was simply to cut the length of the lower nose support struts, which lowered the rudder pedal position yet maintaining an optimal 7.5° angle of incidence for the floats.
Fuller also uses 2-inch main cross supports for the floats and therefore needs only short inner sleeves. Most builders use slightly smaller outside diameter tubing necessitating longer inner sleeves that make the component parts heavier than they need to be. Larger diameter tubing is a more effective, lighter way to make structures strong as opposed to thicker wall tubing of smaller outside dimensions.
If you don’t have experience with floats, Full Lotus on a Sport 2S is one excellent way to start. The Quicksilver design survives brilliantly after almost 25 years of operation. The simple construction is still one of the best selling aircraft in all of aviation. And the design remains the most commonly used ultralight trainer in the world.
Before being turned loose to enjoy the floatplane solo, I flew with Okun. He explained that this aircraft was configured for a 5-foot-tall woman pilot and for her the floats were located correctly. This is also why the left-seat pedals had extenders on them. Fuller asked if I wanted them removed but they caused me no problems while flying. With two average-sized pilots on board and with full fuel (which is forward of center of gravity), the aircraft was a little heavier on the nose of the floats than might be optimal.
To compensate, Okun used full aft stick position as we started our water taxiing. Without full aft stick, the floats tended to plow a little bit.
As with all 2-place Quicksilver MX series ultralights, the test aircraft had a two-handed center joystick. It proves effective for training and makes for simpler linkage.
Typical Quicksilver throttles were also fitted. With levers outside each seat the throttles tend to be a little stiff in motion yet flexible in action, making it harder to execute fluid changes.
Though I did not fly the Quicksilver with it installed, Fuller has developed an aerodynamic trim replacing the stick trim system standard from Quicksilver Manufacturing. He says it’s noticeably more effective than the conventional method. Indeed, when I flew an earlier Sport 2S, I felt the trim control needed to be enhanced for better response. Fortunately, the stick easily overpowered any control demand, and therefore use of trim on a Quicksilver MX series (the non-GT series, that is) is not vital.
Besides the trim and float attachment, Fuller also makes some custom instrument panels, custom battery boxes, and special rudder pedals to accommodate short pilots. He also makes a launch cart that can be used to take off on straight floats from dry land plus it helps move a nonamphib seaplane around an airport. Part of the innovation includes a release so the pilot can discard the cart after liftoff.
Proof Of the Pudding
Most pilots are interested in the nuts and bolts of aircraft. Wisely so, since you ought to know your aerial steed well before going aloft. But just as the real proof of the pudding is in the eating, in aeronautical terms, the proof of the design is in the flying.
I found the 65-hp Rotax 582 with clutch and 3-blade propeller on FP&A’s Quicksilver 2S accelerated quite briskly (for a floatplane; a land plane accelerates much faster, of course). Shortly after adding full power the nose of the floats tended to rise a bit, giving me confidence that lift-off would soon follow. To be sure of this, though, you start off with the center-mounted single joystick in the full aft position, which puts it aft of the seat back. You can’t even see your hand back that far.
Float Planes and Amphibs mounted 14-foot-long Full Louts floats to the Sport 2S. Such large floats alter the takeoff technique in that you do not pull the nose up to break free of the water. Instead, after adding full power, you merely keep backpressure on the joystick and let the power lift the plane off the water.
Similarly, on landings you don’t flare due to the long floats. A floatplane flare is less deep than a wheel landing flare but with these Full Lotus inflatables it’s better to do an attitude landing instead. An attitude landing is one where you set a nose position such that the aircraft may be slowing gently. Then you wait for touchdown. Navy pilots doing carrier landings perform attitude landings. Attitude landings work fine if you know the right angle to set but they don’t make for the smoothest of touchdowns.Were you to flare too deeply with long floats, you might stick the back of the floats in the water and this might plop you down on the main floats harder than desired.
Keeping this lesson in mind, all my landings went very well. But some credit goes to the Quicksilver 2S, which, like its older wire-braced siblings, is one of the easiest landing aircraft in ultralight aviation. No wonder Quicksilvers remain widely used as trainers. I’d also somewhat forgotten how Full Lotus floats are like big pillows underneath you. Naturally, it’s possible to make poor, even dangerous landings, but the Quick on Lotus floats is a great combination most folks will love.
Fuller prefers Full Lotus floats as they can be landed on land with little adverse effect. Metal or fiberglass floats would be less forgiving. If you fly with straight, nonamphibious floats, this difference could be significant. Even in a state like Florida with lakes scattered all over, a land touchdown might be necessary and it’s good to know how well the Full Lotus package works in this situation.
One clear benefit to the Quicksilver 2S struts is their more rigid support of the trailing edge that yields a crisper aileron response.
Tail response (both elevator and rudder) is also sharper. You may notice the Sport 2S to be more sensitive in pitch than older wire-braced Quicksilvers. Stouter tubing support of the tail is surely the primary factor in this response.
The entire aircraft possesses a tighter feel that may reassure pilots with a conventional aircraft background. Throughout the ultralight, parts are all new. “This isn’t just an MX with struts,” says Quicksilver sales manager, Todd Ellefson. Virtually every fastening bracket is now a custom-machined part, often shared identically with the FAA Primary Category-certified GT 500 design.
Finer roll feel from the ailerons may be due to more than the larger trailing edge spars and tubular bracing on the outside. Fuller notes that tubular bracing inside the wing versus wire bracing also contributes. Wire bracing boasts great tensile strength, but it does not provide the same rigidity as solid structure. The result of all these changes is better banking response.
The tall Quicksilver joystick mentioned earlier, with its two hand positions, gives you a lot of lever arm that makes control motions easier. I found it quite easy to do Dutch rolls in the Quicksilver 2S on floats despite the added weight of about 130 pounds down low on the airframe.
Employing full-span ailerons as it does, a high level of adverse yaw could be expected. Remarkably though, my probing for this characteristic found it unusually muted.
Some things don’t change, however, and the Quicksilver’s rudder remains a significantly powerful surface. Those ultralight pilots who have become used to faster aircraft may have forgotten how the Quicksilver steers as much from its rudder as its ailerons. Even though the new ailerons are far crisper, the plane still responds easily, quickly, and satisfyingly from rudder input.
Speeds were pretty good considering the Quicksilver 2S is basically a slower design fitted with large, wide floats. I saw speeds of 60 mph on the Hall airspeed indicator, a reliable measuring device. It was more than I expected and plenty of speed to get you from lake to lake.
I was also able to fly around with ease at 40 mph and here’s where the Quicksilver line shows its charm. With a floatplane, speed isn’t the main goal. Lots of fun can be had flying low over the water and “jumping” over islands. The Sport 2S on Full Lotus floats does this kind of flying like it was born to do so.
In addition to its squeaky-clean flight characteristics, the Quicksilver MX series may be the most thoroughly tested ultralights ever, a combination of professional-grade engineering and thousands upon thousands of hours in the hands of all kinds of ultralight pilots. Sure, some have been involved in accidents; it couldn’t be otherwise with a popular model. But Quicksilver’s safety record over the decades of its existence has been overwhelmingly trouble-free. You can depend on it remaining that way.
A Quicksilver 2S comes with 4-point seat belts fitted. While I always advocate such restraint, in water operations many experts feel seat belts represent some jeopardy if you’re unable to undo these belts in the event of an upset. While it may not be an easy design solution, restraints that can be unfastened without challenges would be worthy for float flying.
The Full Lotus floats and their respective hardware, minus the weight of wheels and axles, add about 130 pounds to the base empty weight of the Quicksilver 2S. The model with straight floats weighs about 560 pounds empty, as the Quicksilver 2S is about 430 pounds empty. This compares to a wire-braced MXL II Sport at about 330 pounds.
However, I hasten to add that the heavier 2S model also comes with a gross weight increase to 1,000 pounds versus the MXL’s 720 pounds. At the lower weight, it may be difficult to add floats and other equipment and still stay within acceptable load limits.
By way of example for the leasing program (see “Lease or Finance” sidebar), FP&A suggests you can take home a Rotax 582-powered Quicksilver 2S on Full Lotus floats plus ultraviolet-protective paint for $27,550. Quicksilver Manufacturing sells a kit land version with similar equipment – not including the floats or special paint – for $17,475.
Floatplanes aren’t your lowest-cost option among light-sport aircraft, but they can deliver a fun flying experience hard to replicate with land planes. And you have to put it in perspective. Floats alone for a Cessna 172 would cost more than twice the value of this entire airplane. If the prices on the Quicksilver 2S still don’t meet your needs, contact FP&A. They also represent the Krucker floats that work excellently on trikes. A single-surface trike with a Rotax 503 – which should be enough for most pilots – will cost significantly less.
But you can’t have much more fun than a Quicksilver 2S on Full Lotus floats. I know I’m going back for more.
|Empty weight||430 pounds 1|
|Gross weight||1,000 pounds|
|Wing area||170 square feet|
|Kit type||Assembly kit|
|Build time||50 to 75 hours|
|Notes:||1 Normal empty weight; with Full Lotus floats, weight is 130 pounds additional for floats and all hardware, according to Float Planes and Amphibs.|
|Standard engine||Rotax 582|
|Power||65 hp at 6,500 rpm|
|Power loading||15.4 pounds per hp|
|Cruise speed||64 mph|
|Never exceed speed||80 mph|
|Rate of climb at gross||850 fpm|
|Takeoff distance at gross||325 feet|
|Landing distance at gross||125 feet|
|Standard Features||ASI, 65-hp Rotax 582 engine, full dual controls with dual rudder pedals and steerable nosewheel (flown with Full Lotus inflatable floats with nosewheel removed), dual throttles, mechanical brakes (not as tested), in-flight adjustable trim (see article), 4-point seat belts, double-surface presewn wings, 2-blade wood prop, and extensive manuals.|
|Options||Three-blade composite prop (as flown), ballistic parachute, Full Lotus floats (as flown), instruments, electric starting (as flown).|
|Construction||Aluminum airframe, 4130 steel pilot cage, presewn and full-color wing, Dacron coverings, all AN hardware.|
Cosmetic appearance, structural integrity, achievement of design goals, effectiveness of aerodynamics, ergonomics.
Pros – The most widely used ultralight trainer is now available with struts and Full Lotus floats. Manufacturer has a fully certified quality control systems and enormous in-house machining capability. Dealer support is good throughout the world. Float Planes and Amphibs is a well-organized dealer ready to help you in central Florida.
Cons – This strutted Quicksilver is significantly heavier than earlier models; changes flight characteristics somewhat (though still very pleasant). Open cockpit won’t be desirable in some climates. Some buyers who view the design as dated, even with the struts and other changes, which may affect resale.
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 – A benefit to Quicksilver’s MX series is simplicity; few systems to manage. FP&A’s Stuart Fuller has created an aerodynamic trim. Easy repair access. Brake lever is on front of stick where each occupant can use it. Test Sport 2S was equipped with electric starting. Test aircraft also had effective water rudders.
Cons – Those looking for bells and whistles must look elsewhere. Center stick won’t please all pilots (though dual throttles will). Pull starting from seat has been challenging in earlier tests. Brake lever demands a broad grip for best stopping power (no brakes on float aircraft, of course).
Instrumentation; Ergonomics of controls; Creature comforts; (items covered may be optional).
Pros – Completely unenclosed cockpit is perfect for warm weather float flying. Entry/exit doesn’t get any easier. Side-by-side seating is often considered optimal for training. Test aircraft was equipped with 4-point belts. Instruments mounted out of the way but very visibly near leading edge.
Cons – Land version sits on its tail until occupied; some pilots don’t care for this. Quicksilver’s charm is also its vulnerability; many modern buyers don’t seek open cockpit designs. Control stick and throttle have no arm rest points. Seats don’t adjust easily. No cargo area.
Taxi visibility; Steering; Turn radius; Shock absorption; Stance/Stability; Braking.
Pros – Water rudders proved quite effective for water taxiing. Visibility is open in all directions except overhead. Full Lotus floats provide great absorption. Fourteen-foot-long floats had excess buoyancy. Quicksilver’s powerful rudder helps in speedier water taxi operations.
Cons – Floats as fitted were actually large for the plane and required some technique on landing. Taxiing any floatplane downwind is an interesting and potentially challenging operation. No oar was provided for a possible stalled engine situation.
Qualities; Efficiency; Ease; Comparative values.
Pros – Very straightforward takeoff; just add throttle and hold the stick full aft until the plane lifts off the water, then neutralizing. Water run and landing distances are very short. Improved roll control helps in crosswinds (though that is rarely a problem in float flying). Slow approach speed allows landing in smaller lakes.
Cons – With such long floats, I was advised not to flare to a landing (requiring me to not follow established habit). No flaps to help approach control (though hardly needed). Modest splashing occurred during one touchdown. No other takeoff or landing negatives.
Quality and quantity for: Coordination; Authority; Pressures; Response; and Coupling.
Pros – Quite responsive roll control thanks to changed airframe on Quicksilver 2S. Pitch is quite light. Full-span ailerons work well without excessive adverse yaw. Rudder is as powerful as ever. Handling remains very respectable even with weight of Full Lotus straight floats and hardware.
Cons – Pitch is light enough that new pilots could over-control. Rudder remains a significant control on Quicksilvers, which experienced ultralight pilots may actually prefer but conventionally trained pilots might not. Stick pressure is heavier in roll than pitch, causing some reduction in harmony (though my Dutch rolls went well immediately).
Climb; Glide; Sink; Cruise/stall/max speeds; Endurance; Range; Maneuverability.
Pros – Climb is robust with Rotax 582: factory states 850 fpm for the land plane. Cruise speed was a respectable 60+ mph. Quicksilver 2S remains very tolerant of flying techniques, part of what makes it a good trainer and starter aircraft. Short water runs is a performance attribute.
Cons – Engine endurance is not good because the shape is fairly high drag, especially with large Full Lotus floats. Glide is weaker than many cleaner, faster designs. Unable to measure climb during evaluation flight. No other negatives; this popular design does what many buyers want.
Stall recovery and characteristics; Dampening; Spiral stability; Adverse yaw qualities.
Pros – Stall recovery is nearly immediate and a nonevent; minimal altitude loss. Prior experience says stalls are even more docile with two on board. Good spiral dampening. Push/pull-release test produced excellent results. Adverse yaw surprisingly low for a full-span aileron.
Cons – Pitch is fairly responsive due to short coupling of wing to tail; some beginners may prefer less (though training would answer this easily). The Quicksilver design is one of the best-engineered, most reliable designs in ultralight aviation. 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 – Priced fairly for a durable floatplane that will answer most recreational pilots’ needs. Good choice for instructors. Structure is one of the most proven in ultralight aviation. Superior support; many dealers stock parts and offer full services in nations around the world. Company’s assembly, flight, and maintenance manuals are among the best available.
Cons – Priced well above $20,000 (though this isn’t bad for a floatplane). Design appears dated to some buyers, even with the strut fittings and cleaner upper surface. Though open-cockpit float flying is superb in warm climates, may not meet the need in some locales. Glide and sink rate performances are modest.