Monday, November 30, 2009

Post-Turkey Day Update

"It's a bird! It's a plane! Actually, it's both...and edible!"

Fresh but larger in girth from the great American pastime of massive calorie infusions and days of leftovers (turkey sandwich/curried Turkey/cranberry yogurt surprise (don't ask) etc., let's see whassup around the old info-hangar.

Looking to e-gab with other light sport enthusiasts? There are some cool sites around with lots of hands-on topics such as training, maintenance, fun flying and more. Here are a couple I've come across that seem well-attended: Sport Pilot Talk and South Africa's AvCom with a look at Light Sport and GA flying in the southern Hemisphere

Lots of links here to tons of general LSA sites : Light Sport Aircraft HQ

Flight training resource guide: Pilot Journey

Experimental/homebuilt and light sport discussions (Jabiru and Rotax forums here): Wings Forum

BTW: Sebring's annual Light Sport Aviation Expo is kicking off Jan. 21-24, read all about this ever-growing LSA-exclusive show that kicks off the year's flying events.

Here's a nice general piece by Dan Pimentel, still timely, that looks at the Sport Pilot demographic on the Aircraft website.

A lively blog, Aviation Critic, has an interesting riff on our recent article on the ICON A5 plus lots of other cool topics.

The Big Daddy: Aviation Week has been around for longer than I can remember (I drew pictures from their photos in my teens in the '60s) and covers pretty much everything of global aviation import. For instance, here's a piece they just did on AVIC, the Chinese air defense monolith that includes Shenyang, the company that's making, you guessed it, Cessna's SkyCatcher!

Speaking of the C-162, the general press is catching on.

Stay tuned, there's more to come, flyfolk!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Super Drifter: New Tail for Oldie-but-Goodie

Lockwood Aircraft's Super Drifter open-cockpit kitbuilt plane, the resurrection of the Drifter design that was the basic concept for Phil Lockwood's AirCam twin-engine airplane, (a unique camera platform first created for National Geographic), is getting a new set of tailfeathers.
I first flew a Hummer ultralight, designed by Klaus Hill, back in the fall of 1980 at Crested Butte, CO. It belonged to hang gliding pal Gil Kinzie.
We were in CB for a soaring contest and he let several of us fly it, though most of us had no general aviation training. Ah, those wild and wooly days of free flight.
As such, the Drifter was one of the very first viable ultralights and presented a unique flying feel to its pilots: you sat out on the end of a long fuselage keel tube with everything - wings, motor, wheels - behind you!
Once you got over the initial floating-in-space challenges to your comfort zone, you fell in love with the incredibly open, free feeling.
But I digress.
Lockwood Aircraft has brought back the beloved design as the Super Drifter, with an 81hp Rotax 912UL - which gives the 495 lb. (empty wgt.) bird a real kick in the pants!
Specs and a blurb are here.
The tail mod, due next March, has two feet more horizontal span to augment pitch stability and elevator authority for float-equipped models. Lots of folks fly Super Drifters on floats.
Increasing the horsepower pops the Super Drifter off the water quickly and at low speeds, for shorter water takeoff runs. Low-power cruise makes for quiet flight, the power reserve is impressive and fuel efficiency is reputed to be super. The bird cruises between 55 and 75 mph.
The new horizontal stabilizers will be available as a retrofit kit for existing float-equipped Super Drifters and standard on new kits going on floats, according to Lockwood's go-to guy George Weber.
If you like to bolt things together and have a spare $45K or so laying around, the Super Drifter is one great way to go for purely fun flight.
---Super Drifter photo courtesy Lockwood Aircraft
---Gil Kinzie photo courtesy John Coe

Monday, November 23, 2009

Knockin' Around The Campus

With the holiday season about to land on our heads, who's got time to see who's doing what around the industry? Me, that's who.

Hit the links below to some recent news and events:

Chesapeake Sport Pilot hosted an event recently on its home turf, to celebrate opening a new 6,000 sq. ft. building for its light sport training ops. CSP claims 70 active LSA flight students and 300 LSA renters.

Many years ago I built an experimental Kitfox (s.n. #124 - last I heard it's still flying, 22 years later!) The company has been through several iterations and owner changes since then but it's back to the future and running strong as Kitfox Aircraft LLC, run by John McBean of Homedale, ID. Now they've got an SLSA version of the lovely taildragger, base price around $83K, also available in tricycle gear. Check it out.

CubCrafters has jumped into the +100 sales club this fall, according to industry watchdog Dan Johnson and in this economy that's no mean feat. Only Flight Design, American Legend, Tecnam and Remos had broken the century mark before. Congrats folks!

Popular flight instrument maker Dynon has set prices for the new SkyView 10" and 7" PFD and Engine Monitor EFIS displays.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Keeping Up With Flight Design

My former rock-and-rollin' Sport Pilot flight instructor and flying buddy John Lampson and I took advantage of the gorgeous New England fall weather yesterday to sharpen up with a Flight Design CTSW thanks to another old flying pal, Flight Design USA prez Tom Peghiny.
John and I revisited the spirited handling of the SW by jumping up to 3,000 feet and cruising through glass-smooth air over the lovely Connecticut and Massachusetts countryside, cloaked now in the gray wiskers of leafless trees.
I also caught up with some of the latest developments for the company, including the new postage stamp released in China featuring the CTLS.
The CT is the only LSA in the aviation stamp series, which also included GA aircraft from Cessna, Cirrus and Diamond.
I wonder if President Obama is being made aware that private aviation is beginning to happen in China, as airstrips and infrastructure are being built all over the country for a burgeoning middle class that wants to fly.
India is also growing a private aviation sector. The first two CTLS were just registered in India and will be used for flight training.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Flight Design USA added three new flight schools to its Flight Design Pilot Center (FDPC) network. The company now numbers 19 flight schools using its LSA, and 38 flight instructors specifically trained to teach in the CT line.
The latest additions are LSA New England, Hampton, NH, Copper City Aviation Services, Brisbee, AZ and Pilot's Choice Aviation, Georgetown, Texas.
Flight Design believes they've set up the largest LSA flight center program in the U.S.
Finally, to counter those naysayers you come across now and then who suggest LSA are not up to the rigors of regular flight training, Flight Design offers this interesting rebuttal: a German-registered CT2K, the long-wing, first-gen model of the best-selling CT line, just logged its 13,268th landing!
The milestone event went down at Jesenwang (say that three times fast) airfield in Germany, where it's been in service as a flight school basic trainer since 2003. The plane has racked up almost 3,000 hours of flight time, is on its second Rotax engine and still operates daily at the 1,300-foot strip.
In consideration of the global economic crisis, Tom P. notes in a recent release that "We have quite a few airplanes in daily revenue generating operations...It only takes about five active students to make this plane completely self funding."
FD Germany adds that the general word from the field is CTs spend very little time in the shop. That's good news for any flight operation.
Bringing it all home, I learned to fly in the CTLS but, as John L. and I rediscovered yesterday whilst hopping in and out of Rob Albright's grass strip at Crow Island, MA, the CTSW remains one sweet, fun, fast, sporty LSA that really is fun to fly.
---photos courtesy Flight Design. CTSW photo shot by John Dunham

Monday, November 16, 2009

FAA Recommendation: Ground All Zodiacs!

The hubbub continues to brew around airworthiness concerns for the AMD Zodiac 601 and it's sibling 650 model. Scroll down this page for background on the story.
Spicing up worries over Zodiac airworthiness comes news of a potential conflict between NTSB and FAA regarding what level of action the fedgov should have taken - months ago.
For the first time ever, FAA ordered no new airworthiness certificates will be issued for the entire fleet of Zodiac CH-601XL series aircraft until safety mods are installed.
Friday: NTSB, in an advisory news release, reported yet another Zodiac in-flight break-up - and fatality. The Board took the opportunity to remind us that it had urgently recommended to FAA - back in April 2009 - that it ground the design, after numerous crashes and fatalities, until the problem was effectively addressed by the manufacturers (AMD for SLSA, Zenith for kits).
FAA had already implemented, last week in its Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin (SAIB CE-10-08 - see blog entry below) a de facto grounding of those aircraft not in compliance with modifications put out by AMD, to resolve aerodynamic flutter and other related concerns.
But: FAA’s action only addressed manufactured versions not in compliance with the mods. It did not include experimentally-built versions, of which there are hundreds out there flying or being built. Only voluntary grounding of homebuilts was advised by FAA and Zenith.
The Kicker: this latest Zodiac crash was indeed a homebuilt version of the troubled design. NTSB in its release seems to be saying, “Told you so - now please do something about it!”
FAA’s position in April was that there was insufficient justification to ground the entire fleet.
Another Zodiac pilot is dead. The obvious question: Could that life have been saved by sterner FAA intervention last Spring?
Meanwhile, Zenith , FAA and EAA now recommend - but still do not require - that all Zodiac CH-650 and CH-601XL aircraft remain grounded until mods are effected.
If no stronger directive is forthcoming, "It can't happen to me" types might not make the mods, keep flying, and pay the ultimate price.
If ever there was a time for mandatory grounding, wouldn't this be that time?
Again I ask the question - what precisely is the rationale for not installing parachutes in every LSA - or GA aircraft for that matter - when available?
How many of the dozen or so Zodiac deaths around the world this last year might have been prevented if ballistic 'chutes had been aboard?
No way to know.
But when it comes time for you to make that call, picture this equation:
the grieving faces of your loved ones vs. whatever small gain in performance you get by not carrying a chute.
I rest my case.
---photo of Zodiac courtesy of Zenith

Friday, November 13, 2009

Cessna's "First Lady" gets SKYCATCHER #1

For those who missed the announcement back in 2007 when the Cessna C-162 SkyCatcher was first announced, the planned delivery of the very first production airplane will stay in the Cessna family, as the happy owner is none other than Rose Pelton of Wichita, Kan.
In case that name sounds familiar, it should: hubbie Jack Pelton is Cessna's CEO.
“When I first saw the Skycatcher mockup at Oshkosh in 2007, I knew that was the aircraft I wanted to learn to fly in,” said Mrs. P. “I couldn’t be more excited...”
More than 1,000 of the new, all-metal, Continental O-200D-powered SLSA have been ordered.
Also in the next issue of Plane&Pilot, you'll want to check out the story of King Schools' new Web-based training system for sport and private pilot certificates. It'll be available through the Cessna Pilot Center network of flight schools.
Side-Note Dept: Here's an interesting back-and-forth between the John and Martha King and Evektor VP Jim Lee on the King's blog about the spin testing on the C-162, which led to two separate crashes. As Lee attests, the SkyCatcher isn't the only spin-tested LSA - the Evektor SportStar had 400 spin tests!
Makes me want to know how many other SLSA have had spin testing, though ASTM doesn't require it for the LSA certificate. More on that as I do some digging...
Meanwhile, we wish Mrs. Pelton many happy hours in her new Skycatcher. That airplane should be highly valuable one of these days for its place in Light Sport history.
---photos courtesy Cessna Aircraft

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

ZAP! Goes An Electric Record

More haps on the electric flight front: At Yuneec Aircraft's new 250K sq. foot factory airfield in Shanghai, China, Gerard Thevenot, the pioneering French hang glider designer and pilot who blazed foot-launched trails starting in the 1970s, set an electric-flight endurance record in a Yuneec-powered hang glider.
Flying his own trike design, the go-juice came from a new "longer version" of Yuneec's Power Drive 10Kw motor system. The flight lasted 1 hour 16 minutes.
The news here for LSA followers is the ongoing commitment Yuneec has to powering all types of light sport aircraft, from hang gliders, paragliders and trikes like Thevenot's to the ongoing development of the e-430 two-seat LSA we've talked about this year in Plane & Pilot.
According to Yuneec's website, Thevenot reportedly made just a couple test flights, then jumped up and set the record. He's hoping to increase the duration to 1 1/2 hours any day now.
I don't know about you, but the thought of plugging in my airplane overnight, then flying around for an hour or so without all that mess and bother with fossil fuels has me counting battery sheep at night.

---photos courtesy Yuneec Aircraft

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

FAA Recommends Safety Mod for Zodiac CH601XL

AMD, makers of the Chris Heinz-designed Zodiac CH601XL and CH650 light sport/experimental built aircraft, just got some bad news from the FAA.
In its Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin CE-10-08, FAA urged pilots and current builders not to fly either model until they make structural modifications to the aircraft.
Yet another accident involving a CH601XL brings the number to five in the U.S. and several overseas, with numerous fatalities reported. Consistent reports of control surface flutter and in-flight structural failure have plagued descriptions of the accidents.
FAA directed its recommendation at: "all serial numbers, including special light-sport category aircraft (S-LSA), experimental light-sport aircraft (E-LSA), and experimental amateur-built aircraft" of the two models, citing "several areas of concern regarding the CH601XL...that may impact the overall safety of the design. Those causing the greatest concern are as follows:
Wing structure: ...the basic static strength of the CH601XL/CH650 does not appear to meet the intent of the ASTM standards...
Structural Stability: ...buckling in the wing structure, including in the center section.
Flutter: ...The FAA believes flutter may either be a first order root cause of in-flight structural failure or a secondary cause after some initial wing structural deformation or twisting.
Airspeed calibration: Calibration procedures do not appear to adequately account for basic static pressure source error due to the location of the static port...The situation could lead to the potential of operating the airplane above the maneuver speed and/or the design cruise speed, potentially leading to structural failure.
Stick force characteristics: Flight test data from foreign authorities indicates at aft center of gravity the stick forces become very light."
A Safety Directive/Safety Alert from AMD is expected soon. Recommendations will reportedly include structural changes to the airframe.
---photo courtesy AMD

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Electric UL Getting Ready for Prime Time

Hungry for something new about electric flight, I swapped emails with Tom Peghiny yesterday. Tom's the majordomo of Flight Design USA (top-selling CTLS LSA) and Flightstar (longtime maker of 3-axis control ultralights.)
e-Spyder, the electric-powered single-seat ultralight he's developing in congress with Yuneec, the powerhouse electric aircraft manufacturer that recently opened a 250,000 sq. ft. plant in China.
Tom filled me in on the evolution of the production prototype. Denny Franklin, the Gyro Gearloose (i.e. intuitively brilliant) engineer and designer behind venerable designs such as the Drifter ultralight, is working up a longer wing with a sheared tip.
Equally legendary hang glider sailmaker Steve Pearson of Wills Wing (top hang glider mfg.) is making a pattern for the new wing that will use a higher-camber airfoil than the first prototype.
Wills will make the
envelopes for the e-Spyder from a laminate covering material that's 35% lighter than the 4 oz. Dacron sailcloth traditionally used for tube-and-fabric ultralights and hang gliders.
Weight is the key
in these early days of production electric flight, so lighter 7075-T6 aluminum tubing will be used for the wing frame.
Cured Composites is tooling up to build a new, more aerodynamic front fairing and a carbon fiber motor mount and battery box. The Yuneec electric motor will be streamlined as well.
Can't wait to see this next iteration. 2009 should be a great year for electrics.
To whit: Yuneec has ordered two prototypes
and a two-seater airframe from Tom to train with in China. Could a two-seat electric ultralight be just over the horizon as well?
Stay tuned...

---photos courtesy Flightstar

Thursday, November 5, 2009

AOPA Picks LSA for Sweepstakes Giveaway

AOPA kicked off its annual Aviation Summit, in Tampa, FL this year, with a pretty cool announcement: it's annual Sweepstakes Giveaway aircraft will be an LSA: the Remos GX.
The news here is this is the very first time the pilot's membership organization has made their big prize a Light Sport airplane.
Remos is serious about becoming top dog in the LSA sales race as it continues to heavily promote its aircraft and support services far and wide. Although still #4 in overall U.S. LSA sales, Remos aircraft have been selling at a faster clip than any other manufacturer the last year or so.
Meanwhile, AOPA Prez Craig Fuller, Remos Mng. Dir. Corvin Huber, and our pal, LAMA Pres. Dan Johnson led the unveiling of the Remos before the attendees at Tampa's Convention Center this morning.
“Fun to Fly” is the theme of the sweepstakes. The winner will be announced at next year's summit in Long Beach, CA and should be a happy puppy: the Remos GX will include a ballistic parachute and air bags, Dynon MFD and autopilot, a panel-mount Garmin 496, leather seats and other upgrades to be announced down the road.
---photo courtesy Remos

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

$50/hour Flight Training?

Holy Economics 101, Batman!
just sent out a release that caught my eye.
X-Air is the Bend, Oregon-based LSA manufacturer that makes an ultralight-style flivver directly targeted at those recreational flyers and wingabees (flight-dreaming wannabes, get it?) on a tuna sandwich budget.
The tube-and-fabric, fun-flying X-Air LS has a lot to offer for those less concerned with high-bucks style and more motivated by low-cost substance, in this case saving the Benjamins during flight training.
A new X-Air LS goes for around $60,000 and burns 4 gal/hr! That translates into low-cost flight training, as well as dirt-cheap recreational-flight renting or club/shared ownership flying.
The basic Sport Pilot license, with the minimum 20 in-flight training hour requirement, is already affordable when compared with a Private Pilot's license.
Now, students could find themselves spending 50 clams per hour instead of 200 in a Skyhawk. Cutting flight costs only increases the likelihood that students will fly more, or more often, making for better, safer pilots in the long run.
I flew the X-Air a year ago but we haven't run the pilot report in the mag yet...too many airplanes, too few pages. I'll hope to hop a ride in the LS at Sebring in Jan. 2010 and bring you the report.
The short tell is the X-Air does just fine working a good part of the LSA performance envelope, with a max cruise speed of 104 mph, 39 mph stall speed and a 574 lb. useful load.
---photo courtesy X-Air

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Super SportCub Rocking Out

Just talked with CubCrafter's PR head Jon Bliss to check out the haps on the left coast - Yakima, WA to be exact - with the company's Super SportCub and other Cubalike models.
"We're doing as well as we've done in a long time," says Jon. "We've even got a backlog of orders."
As I said some months ago:
Bad economy - bah!
CubCrafters expects to move 50 LSA total out the door next year (2010), with the ASTM-certified (spring of '09) Super garnering most of the orders.
If you've got a Cub in your dreams, it's worth checking out the Super, especially if eye-popping takeoff/climb performance is on your wish list.
The airplane sports the company's own CC340, high-compression, electronic-ignition engine. News here is, and it's allowed for in the ASTM spec, that the engine can be run at 180hp for as long as five minutes, then must be throttled back to 80 hp for cruise (around 5 gal/hr fuel burn) to keep it in the LSA-legal performance envelope.
The real-world effect of 180 ponies in a 1320-lb. gross weight LSA? Liftoff from a standing start in four to five fuselage lengths, and around 2,100 feet per minute climb!
Time to get me a ride on this rocket...
---photos courtesy CubCrafters

Monday, November 2, 2009

"Win-Win" Used LSA Sales Program

SportairUSA, North American distributor for Sting and Sirius LSA models, just launched an interesting sales/service program for "pre-owned" LSA that should prove attractive for buyers and sellers alike.
Here's the pitch:
SportairUSA will sell
every pre-owned LSA that's certified for the program with a six month, 50 hour warranty.
Bonus: five hours of ground training and five hours of transition flight orientation will be included in the sale, including a biannual flight review.
Bennies for the buyer:
The flight training, and confidence that the bird has been "thoroughly inspected and maintained by experienced technicians." That includes any repairs needed for certification in the program, using OEM parts.
Bennies for the seller:
market exposure to potential buyers, SportairUSA's reputation and resources behind the sale, and free hangaring, maintainence and any needed repairs along the way - only with the seller's approval, and at no cost until the airplane is sold.
What I really like about the program: The inclusion of the
flight training, a major concern of LSA insurers due to the high accident rate during first flights by new owners, including experienced GA pilots who tend to minimize the importance of thoroughly learning the LSA flight regime. By insisting on a standard for flight training at all stages of aircraft acquisition, SportairUSA is adding its vote for safer LSA flight, which portends lower costs for all in the long run.
Programs like this also promise a
maturing LSA infrastructure that will help the industry grow and gain respectability as we climb out of the economic doldrums.
Contact for info on the program:
---photo courtesy SportairUSA