Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Rainbow Cheetah XLS

One of the lesser-known S-LSA I caught up with at the Midwest EXPO was the Rainbow Aircraft Cheetah XLS.  It's an ultralight-style flivver -- tube and ripstop Trylam fabric envelopes that are pre-sewn, pulled over the airframe components and laced up for tightness -- with a rakish look and some very nice features.
For those of us challenged by aviation budget considerations, the price of $53,000 ready to fly is certainly a draw and makes it the least expensive 3-axis, traditional planform S-LSA out there, to my knowledge anyway.  There are trikes (modified hang gliders with tricycle undercarriages) for less greenbacks, but the Cheetah is the cheapest "flivver" on the U.S. market.
The company that imports the Cheetah, Midwest Sport Aviation, was founded by three brothers who grew up going to the nearby Oshkosh airshows with their dad, a commercial-rated pilot.
The jazzy looking airplane is an import -- from South Africa -- and has a lot to offer for pilots looking for an entry-level LSA with lots of nice features.
Although you might be tempted to think of the Cheetah as more of a local flyer, it's far from incapable of XC flights.  Cruise at 65% power is 95 to 105 mph depending on engine choice, which ranges from an 85hp Jabiru 2200 to two Rotax models (65hp and 100hp).
My flight impression of the Cheetah?  Pleasantly surprised.  It's responsive and lighter on the controls than I expected of a laced-envelope airplane.  It doesn't have the same solid "airplaney" control feel as the Rans S6-ELS but I thought it coordinated with less effort than the X-Air -- and it's priced several thousand dollars less than either.
The fuel storage of nearly 25 gallons is a bit of a throwback to the early ultralight days: it's all carried in one fuselage tank behind the seats.

Gross weight of 1245 lbs. still allows a 628 lb. useful load, or upwards of 477 lbs. with a full tank.  That's a payload a lot of heavier S-LSA would be happy to own.

My report on the Cheetah will run in Plane & Pilot soon.
I put it through some cranking and banking with company co-owner Jon Syvertson and here's the short tell: it's a well-built and cleverly outfitted airplane with good performance and nice handling.  
Visibility is very good (the low overhead skylight gives a good look ahead even in medium banked turns.  
It's comfortable, easy to fly, readily climbs out at up to 1200 fpm depending on engine size and is easy to ground handle thanks to the steerable nosewheel.
It also sports full dual controls and four-point harnesses.  
All told, Cheetah XLS is a feature-packed airplane that gives you a real price option.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Midwest Expo Wraps Up

The wonderfully run Midwest LSA Expo is history: Long Live Midwest.  The show was well supported by the industry, with many manufacturers and vendors attending to meet the public for the three day event.
All the industry and media reps I talked to, without fail, were universal in their praise for the enthusiastic, cheerful and unwavering commitment of the Midwest crew who bent over backwards to provide any and every service asked of them. 
Yet when the previous two days challenging weather (wind on Thursday, 95 degree heat and 25 mph + winds on Friday) finally gave way to a beautiful mid-70s, blue-sky day with light winds on Saturday, I'm sorry to report that the expected crowds failed to materialize.
All of the LSA dealers agreed that most of the folks who did turn out were more motivated and focused on LSA -- there were few nosewheel kickers in this crowd.
But hardworking Chris Collins, the point man in making this wonderful event happen, and the rest of us were disappointed in the turnout.
The consensus continues to support the belief that the aviation buying public just isn't ready to lay down the Grover Clevelands just yet, with the economy continuing to give mixed messages on the recovery.
That said, Chris is undaunted and plans to put this most excellent event on again next year.  He told me he'll recommend to the Mount Vernon Airport board of directors that the event run Friday through Sunday instead of Thurs-Sat as it did this year.
The airport is a fabulous venue.  The restaurant in the terminal served hearty buffet style breakfasts and lunches for $5 and $8.  More airshow-common fare such as bratwursts, burgers and corn dogs were for sale on the ramp.  The runways are long, in excellent shape, and there's ample smooth grass areas for taildragger operations.
iCub dealer Bill Canino, Prez of Sportair USA most agreeably gave me lots of grass time by treating me to landing practice for my upcoming pilot report on the lively bush critter with the Apple iPad on the panel.
Flying around the green and gold farm plains of southern Illinois is a treat in itself.  There are no shortage of emergency landing fields, so you can play around low or high and have a ball trying on the various designs.
More than 50 LSA were on display.  I had the pleasure to fly several of them, including the 3X Trim Navigator 600, an S-LSA I didn't know.  The unusual name is pronounced "three ex-treem" to denote the lovely, lively 3-axis handling.  I didn't know the Polish entry and was interested to learn it's a sister ship of sorts to the Remos GX, since the same designer created both original airplanes.  In handling, the two birds are certainly similar: light, responsive, harmonious, balanced.  The Navigator 600 was a real joy to fly.  Subjectively I find it less graceful in design than the Remos.  But inside it feels roomier, especially in headroom, and it occupies a much lower price bracket ($100K to $125K depending on equipment).  Those on a budget should give this all-composite fun flyer a close look -- as Dan Johnson noted, "it's a bit of a sleeper" that offers real value.
Another flivver I got some time in was the Rainbow Aircraft Cheetah, which at $53K is the lowest priced S-LSA I know of.  Report coming soon on that one too.
And I just head by email from Plane & Pilot Publisher Mike McMann, who is originally from the southern Illinois area.  He opined that there's just not enough population base around Mount Vernon.  Perhaps the organizers will find an airport next year closer to Chicago or St. Louis to draw from those huge population bases. 
Because in the end, like every other business, it always comes down to the numbers: the more you have to work with, the better your prospects.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Full-Blown Midwest Expo

That title is a bit tongue-in-cheek, since the first day of the Midwest LSA Expo here in Mount Vernon, IL was what you'd pretty much call a in winnnnnndy!
The big storm front grounded our flight of two Evektor SportStar MAXs two hours east of here Wednesday.  That was after our long, headwind-bashing flight from Art Tarola's Allentown, PA AB Flight center that added two extra hours to the journey (glad it was a MAX - super comfortable airplane to fly and spend time in).
The heat and humidity (95 degrees) at least had 25 knot winds to help keep it bearable all day, but there was no flying to speak of until the last hour of the day when the wind died down.
I took the opportunity to jump up and shoot a few landings with Bill Canino in his iCub, which was a hoot.  Super tight, fun ship which I'll be writing up for an issue of P&P soon.
Some cogent highlights from the day's events:
David Kruger reprised his worthy Aircraft Partnership Assoc. crusade with a thorough overview of all the ins and outs of buying an aircraft with other people.  I did a column on his exhaustive work last year, and his website, which includes free membership, deserves a look if you're thinking of buying an LSA but can't pony up the full cash Monty on your own.
Several other seminars going on too, including edifying talks by industry gurus like Roy Beisswenger, Jim Sweeney and Dan Johnson.
On the flight line, dozens of top notch LSA are here, including the Falcon LS, two Evektors (full IFR package on the one I flew out on), Darin Hart and his Legend Cub, Rob Rollison's Aerotrek A220 and A240, at least two beautiful Rans S-19 Venterras, Jon Hansen's stable of lovely airplanes including an FK9 Mk IV and Mike Zidziunias with two Breezers flown up from Plant City, FL.
The photos show Mike with his two pretty blue and white Breezers and Jon with his FK models.  Jon also brought an Italian Sky Arrow, which he's reacquired for distribution in the States, and he's also talking about the FK-12 Comet aerobatic biplane LSA which he'll import from Europe to join his Hansen Air Group operation by mid-next year.
Jon filled me in on some tantalizing details:
"The Comet will be a 'Limited Edition', with larger tailfeathers than the Euro version, a longer nose, and it will handle more like a Decathlon or J3 Cub...but it's a fully acrobatic airplane."
Powerplant will be a new fuel injected Lycoming 233 with electronic ignition or a non-acrobatic-rated Rotax powered version.  Jon thinks it'll price out between $110,000 and $120,000 depending on which engine.
Both Jon and Mike Z talked about their current LSA training and rental operations.
"Rentals are helping us get through the economic crunch big time," says Mike.  "We're renting the Breezers out for about five hours per week.
Jon Hansen cites similar numbers.
Whatever it takes, right?
Here's hoping the expected good weather for the Midwest shows on the last day, Saturday, and brings out the crowds.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Beautiful 80 degree weather held off the looming spectre of fall and winter chills in the Northeast: perfect timing for the 25th Annual Simsbury, CT Fly-In and Car Show.
Around 10,000 folks wound their way through the low green hills east of Hartford to attend, along with some local notables, including the original Terrafugia Transition flying car prototype (the flight test version with the canard, removed for v.2), Evektor's SportStar Max, a Cessna SkyCatcher, EA-100 Eagle and dozens of GA airplanes and homebuilts.
I flew a J3 Cub over the day before, then caught a hop for the show on Sunday with friends from Great Barrington Airport (GBR) in nearby Massahoosetts.
One of the owners of GBR's Berkshire Aviation Services, Rick Solan, (that's his future pilot son Joe in the EA-100 Eagle, right) put snow skis on the Cub.  Check out the cotton-ball "snow" in the pic above!
Rick's a veteran American Airlines pilot who learned to fly - in a Cub - at Great Barrington back in the '70s!  He's offering ski flying training in the Cub this winter.  I just got my taildragger transition checkoff from Rick in one of the school's Cubs so you know I'll be there, learning to skip in and out of the myriad snowbound farmer's fields this winter, because I've had it with not flying when the snow falls!
Simsbury is a fun show, with airshow food stalls and vendors hawking everything from aviation-themed clothing to flight sim programs, local church groups, a rock band playing 60s surf and car culture music of all things (did a good job too) and even the local Congressman who gave a brief speech to the crowd in the runup to the Nov. elections.
And I saw more Shelby Cobras there -- one of the great production cars ever built -- than I've ever seen in one place.   
Art Tarola, head honcho of Allentown, PA's Abflight Sport Aviation training operation, the Evektor dealer for the Northeast, and an avid car enthusiast, remarked on all the '60s and '70s "muscle cars" that showed up on display: all told, I'd guess more than 300 cars showed up, from 1912 antiques to new Ferraris.
By the way, the Cessna Skycatcher on display was the same one Alan Horowitch of Yuma, AZ won in Sporty's Pilot Shop 2010 Sweepstakes.
The new bird already has an interesting life, mere months after it was built (number 5 off the production line). 
As The Sun, a Yuma newspaper, reported, Horowitch didn't even know he'd been entered in the contest -- when you buy anything from Sporty's, you're automatically entered.
He flew up to Cincinnati to take possession but it had an alternator problem so he returned home without the airplane.
Soon after, he got a call from a New York doctor who offered to buy it.  They made the deal and there it was at Simsbury, on display as part of a local flight training operation.  Wonder where that rolling stone airplane will be in 20 years.
Simsbury also boasted several aviation-themed talks by New England notable Lou Mancuso, who's Mid Island Air Service on nearby Long Island, NY has two flight training operations (and several LSA).
Doug Stewart, 2004's CFI of the year and Terrafugia's Richard Gersh also gave presentations.
Lou is deeply committed to Sport Pilot training. His topic was Light Sport flying and buying tips.  He's also taking delivery soon on a beautiful amphib SeaMax, which I'm hoping to do a flight report on after trying for 18 months! 
For all you gal pilot wannabes in the region, Mid Island Air is also hosting a Females in Aviation day Oct. 2 for 8th to 10th grade girls interested in a variety of aviation careers.  For information, call 631 399-0785.  Women interested in presenting at the event can contact:

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Breezin' the Bahamas

Just heard from Mike Zidziunas of Breezer Aircraft USA who gave me a touch of the end-of-summer blues with his chronicle of a trip he just made with two Breezers to those magical isles in the Caribbean.
"I was probably the most excited person at Airventure this year," Mike writes, "when I heard the government of the Bahamas would allow sport pilots to fly there from the States using a driver's license instead of a medical."
Mike knows the Sport Pilot turf well: he was one of the first to get the ticket and has been a Sport Pilot CFI since 2005.  His flight school is strictly Sport Aviation and he's flown LSA on hundreds of hours of cross country trips all over the US.
"And now I can fly to my favorite place on earth!"
Before the trek, there was of course the paperwork, including securing radio station licenses for the planes, radio telephone operators licenses for the pilots, customs user decals, and registration with eAPIS for customs manifest filing.
Then both airplanes were rigorously inspected -- "We were flying a long way over water."
Along with copilot Chris Parker of the Caribbean Weather Service and his pals Roger Sherrod and wife Chady in a second Breezer, the four Bahama-Bound Breezerfolk made the initial 55nm hop to Bimini, then continued on down to what Mike calls "the prettiest place on earth, the Exumas."
Mike reports: "The government of the Bahamas works with gateway FBOs to help pilots navigate the formalities at both ends of the trip. We used Banyan Air at Ft Lauderdale Executive (KFXE) which was very helpful making sure we had our paperwork right and answering last minute questions. We traveled as a flight of two and used flight following. Nassau Approach separated us for traffic separation."
Once they touched down at Nassau, the controllers showed a lot of interest in the LSA, "which happened everywhere we went."
The final leg to Staniel Cay, Exuma delivered them to three days of snorkling, kayaking, bike riding, and some aerial sightseeing.  "We captured amazing pictures and video."
The entire trip from Florida took 6 1/2 hours from Mike's home base, Plant City (KPCM), including fuel stops and customs.
Fuel burn was less than 25 gallons per Breezer.  "I love LSA," says Mike.  "And our trip home featured a nice tailwind and took even less time and fuel."
He cites some initial frustration with eAPIS.  "But once you're set up, oh boy does it speed up clearing back into the US!  The US customs and Imigration folks were really nice."

Though he's taken his boat to the Bahamas many times over the years, Mike calls this his favorite trip ever.   "The out islands of the Bahamas are some of the most beautiful places, inhabited by the friendliest people in the world, but they're difficult to reach by commercial transportation.  
"Now with my LSA and a little pre-planning, they've never been so close."
There's an LSA fly-in down there on the 10th of December.  "I hope it will be well attended, because flying to the Bahamas is now a Breeze(r)".
Thanks for the great report, Mike!
   ---image courtesy Breezer Aircraft USA

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Envelope Pushers

Two aircraft are getting lots of buzz lately for their advancement of aviation technology.
First up is the electrified Cri-Cri, which looks like a toy but is in fact an important joint electric R&D project of EADS InnovationAero Composites Saintonge and the Green Cri-Cri Association.
The four-engine Cri-Cri originally debuted as a gas-engine powered, homebuilt acrobatic stunt plane many years ago.  EADS modified the Hobbit-sized twin to serve as testbed project for developing electrical propulsion systems on helicopters, drones and other aviation platforms for the future.
The original stunt plane had two piston mills, maxing out around 30 total horsepower.  The all-electric Cri-Cri replaces those with four brushless electric motors.  
The "go-gas" comes from LiPo, or Lithium polymer, batteries, all the rage in RC modeling circles for years for their comparatively high energy density.
Brushless motors boast 80% or better efficiency, compared to the 20% or less of average internal combustion engines.  The technology challenge for electric flight lies in getting the "fuel" -- batteries in this case -- to deliver even close to what gasoline produces per equivalent weight.  Once that Holy Grail is developed, electric transportation will transform all our lives.
Back to the Cri-Cri, which just posted its maiden flight in France.  Current endurance is 20 to 30 minutes -- a little putt-putt of an airplane with a 16-foot span can only carry so much in battery weight -- but the ultimate goal is to develop hybrid propulsion applications anyway, not find electric-only solutions.  Still, there will be positive fallout for all electric flight projects worldwide.
The other consistent newsmaker is Terrafugia's Transition LSA.  The Massachusetts company is gearing up for low-volume production of the car/bird, to start no sooner than late 2011 in a new 19,000 sq. ft. factory in Woburn.
The big changes from the original flying prototype, which made a total of 28 short test hops and demonstrated the need for major mods, include:
<>  single stabilator at the rear rather than the canard, which reportedly did not provide adequate pitch authority
<>  larger, 3-blade pusher prop between the tail booms
<> 100hp Rotax 912S engine is now linked to rear wheels rather than the fronts.
Two prototypes are under construction: one for drive testing, the other for ASTM flight certification.
The price, which has steadily crept up during the R&D phase, is now projected at $200K to $250K. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Big View Flying

The folks at a popular CT owners forum (there are two I know of, here's the other one which describes itself as the "Official" CT forum) kick off their 4th Annual CT Fly-in this coming Oct. 14-17 and it sounds like a blast...unless the sight of the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Lake Powell, Bryce Canyon and Zion Canyon aren't enough eye candy to get your mojo working.
Rooms are available at a $49 rate and around 40 aircraft have already signed up so don't delay, scenic flight fans.  
My understanding is any LSA is welcome, but mostly Flight Design CTLS and CTSW owners will be there since it's a CT forum.
There will also be ground excursions to various places like Hoover Dam and Antelope Canyon, cookouts and such: should be a lot of fun.
If you go, bring your own tie-downs just in case, and call now to get lodging and let them know you're coming.
Page Airport - KPGA - is the jumping off place.
It would be cool to have a shot of 40 CTs on the ground at one time...then again, think of all those LSA in the air!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Turbo Evektor MAX

One of Czech Republic's leading LSA makers, Evektor-Aerotechnic, has upped the ante with its Turbo-powered SportStar MAX, a lovely LSA that I flew with the standard powerplant recently and will have a report in Plane & Pilot coming up soon.
The new muscle comes courtesy a turbocharged Rotax 914 UL, which takes the MAX way higher than sport pilots can legally fly: all the way up to 28,850 ft.!  Can you say pressure suit?  Climb rate, already pretty peppy, jumps to 1,320 ft/min, and of course it jumps off the ground a lot quicker too.
Thinking about mountain flying in the U.S.: you could legally fly this wee beastie at 16,000 feet over the Rockies.  Now there's a thought.
The first Turbo MAX went to a Canadian customer.  I'll hope to get an update hop at the Midwest Expo in 3 weeks.
In a side note for our pilot friends of the Euro persuasion, the MAX just earned its EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) Permit to Fly, which gives Europilots the right to fly the MAX with a PPL licence, at 600 kg MTOW and with non-commercial pilot training.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

iCub, Meet Smart Cub

Those hard-working stalwarts at Legend, the number one US producer of LSA, keep finding interesting things for folks like me to write about. 
<> Trish Jackson is an Ohio native who flies Airbus freight carriers all over Europe.  She learned flying from her mother at age 13 and still remembers a memorable quote mom made on a flight:   "Look at these rivers. It's like God carved them out with his finger.”
Trish owned a vintage Cub at one point in her career, but a couple years ago felt the urge to own one again - a brand new one.  She kicked some tires and lit some fires for a year or two, then took a Legend Cub demo flight.
Last April she joined the annual Legend rite of spring gaggle -- a trip I had the distinct pleasure of making in 2008 -- to fly  formation with a bunch of Legend Cubs from Sulphur Springs, TX to Lakeland, FL for the annual Sun 'n Fun spring flyin.
That sold her.
“It was the attention to detail," she says of her decision, "and its open cockpit flying."
Imagine climbing out of a heavy and into a Cub on the same day...what could keep you sharper than that?
<> Sass and class: the Legend Cub can be ordered with Garmin G3X displays, a telling meld of classic flying and ultra-modern digital situational awareness that extols the marvelous opportunities we have in LSA flight.
All those functions -- real-time weather, terrain, METARs, NOTAMs, PIREPs, traffic and more -- can come in real handy whether you're tooling around in open class G airspace country or joining the pattern at a major commercial airport.
The Garmin G3X glass cockpit packs a ton of info into its displays, including attitude/directional guidance, electronic engine monitoring, moving-map GPS, airport diagrams, synthetic vision and more.
<> Looking ahead to the 75th anniversary of the Piper Cub J3 in 2012, what a hoot it would be to fly a Legend Classic J3 into Oshkosh or any other airshow.
Legend's new Classic is an updated-but-faithful version of the J3, at a $94K price.
Updates include sliding left window, electric start, disc brakes (careful with those!) and other modernizings to enhance safety while staying true to the original, immortal J3.
Must. Save. More. Money and get my own...I say that a lot about new LSA I get to fly, but since I'm building some skills in a 1946 J3 these days at my local airfield, I'm currently all swooney over the wonderful Cub...all density-altitude-struggling 65 horsepower of her.
Next time you're at an airshow, stop by and say hello to owners Darin Hart and Kurt Sehnert and stalwart crewfolk like Pat Bowers: they're part of what makes covering the LSA scene such a pleasure.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Powerhouse digital instrument maker Dynon Avionics just came out with software version 5.4 for its EFIS-D10A, EFIS-D100 and FlightDEK-D180 units which are in widespread use in LSA and homebuilts.
The upgrade addresses refined pitch control, including some new user-adjustable parameters that optimize autopilot performance for each individual aircraft.
(image: rt to lft is the EFIS-D100, AP74 Autopilot control module and a typical servo used to link into flight control system)
The idea, sez Dynon, is to improve passenger comfort by custom-tuning the response to turbulence. 
Support is expanded to a wider range of airframes too.
Ian Jordan, Chief Systems Engineer for Dynon, had this to say about the upgrade: “The autopilot now flies just as an experienced pilot would, with crisp, appropriate inputs that really seem to understand the airplane.”
        ---image courtesy Dynon Avionics