Saturday, February 25, 2012

Corrections to Falcon Post

Here's correx on a couple mistakes in the last post on the Renegade Falcon and FK 12 Comet LSA biplane:
The gentleman who bought the Falcon at Sebring is from Switzerland, not Sweden.
The Comet with the Lycoming 233 LSA engine, which is rated for aerobatics unlike the Rotax-powered version, will be marketed by both Renegade and Hansen Air Group.
Mike Hansen told me not everyone who is interested in the Comet wants to do aerobatics in it.  Some folks just love bipes, so the Hansens will also continue to sell the Rotax-powered version.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Falcons On The Hunt

Just heard from “Doc” Bailey of the Renegade Light Sport gang, who have taken over U.S. production of the sleek, muscular Falcon S-LSA along with wrangling the new Lycoming 233 LSA series of engines.
Roomy, sexy, great's been awhile coming, but the Falcon is now in production.
In mid-May, Doc says they’ll be introducing their latest US version of the Falcon, including the tailwheel to tricycle version which uses the same airframe.
The entire plane is now made here in the US, and based on the constant attention and sales at Sebring, Renegade would seem to have a success on their hands.  I’ll be flying it in the next few weeks: have been looking forward to that for some time.
Manfred Wasser, happy new owner.
Packing up for Switzerland!
Meanwhile, Doc tells me, “We have just moved into our new 44,000 foot facility here at Lee’s Summit (MO).  Sometime I would like to give you a tour of our facility and then when and if you want to go to North Carolina I will take you to our new composite plant, (where) we hope to be making as many as six LSA airframes there soon for different 'want to be Made in the USA' vendors.”
He says the new version of the Falcon will knock my socks off.  That's a tall order, I wear SmartWool socks.
“We will be at Sebring doing demo rides a few days before Sun ‘n Fun (March 27-April 1)...we will have three aircraft in the works to be flying before the show…so busy, busy, busy.”
The airplane I shot at Sebring, which you see here, just went off to Switzerland, representing Renegade’s first sale abroad.
“TURN ABOUT’S FAIR PLAY!” crows Doc, speaking of reversing the flow of LSA back across the Big Pond.  
The lucky owner is Manfred Wasser of Sweden.  
“He flew every LSA made in Europe,” says Doc.  “When he climbed abroad our bird he wrote us a check on the spot.  He flew over here especially to test fly it and when he got out the big grin overcame him.  All pretenses of sales negotiations went out the window.  He said how much, we told him and his wife wrote the check.”
Get me a wife like that!
Looks like it'll do 150 knots easy, doesn't it?
Manfred, according to Doc, is retired and plans to land on “every grass strip and every paved runway, published or not, in the entire continent of Europe in the next two years.”
That sounds like a tall order and a whale of a good time...and a great way to sell airplanes, since he just became a dealer as well.
As if that wasn’t enough news for one day, Doc Bailey, ever the voluble entrepreneur, tacked on this tidbit: any day now he’ll be receiving two Funk FK-12 Comets from Germany, to have the new Lycoming 233, fully aerobatic light sport engines installed in them.  The Hansen Air Group sells that airplane here in the states and are having Doc mount the engines to allow the sexy little bipe to do aerobatics: they're prohibited for the Rotax engine, which it's also rigged for.  The Hansen booth was another constantly busy place at Sebring, that is one very cute airplane.
I was all set to fly the Comet at Sebring when it blew a tire after our air2air shoot and was out for the rest of the show.  That’s another one I’m going down early to Florida to fly before SnF, can't wait.  
Mark your calendars for that show!  The Air Force Thunderbirds will be there, along with a crackin’ good night fireworks air show.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Iceman the South Pole

Matevž Lenarcic, a Slovenian pilot I met briefly when I was at the Pipistrel factory last fall, has raised the bar to ridiculous heights from his previous long distance exploits (including his around-the-worlder in a Pipistrel Sinus motorglider in 2004), by landing in Antarctica!  
He’s making another globe-circling, solo marathon - that’s right, the entire trip, east to west - all my himself, in a  modified Pipistrel Virus SW 914 Turbo.  The engine has an Intercooler unit but at least for Antarctica as well as some high-altitude reaches he has planned, engine cooling will be the lesser of his challenges.
The epic flight in the SW (for Short Wing) began last January from Ljubljana, Slovenia where Pipistrel has its state-of-the-art sustainable energy factory (it actually sells surplus energy back to the Slovenian grid.)
The route Matevž mapped out is by no means intended to be a short haul either, even by globe-circling standards.
Down and safe in in the Pipistrel Virus SW in Antartica.
-- photo courtesy Matevž Lenarcic   
By the time he lands back in Slovenia, his route will have crossed the equator six times, ranged more than 48,000 miles (!), overflown seven continents, nearly 60 countries, 120 National Parks, three oceans and will also have topped five world-beater mountain peaks, including Mt. Everest!  Yeah, that deserves an exclamation point alright, it's going to be hard to keep them to a minimum in this piece. 
His landing in Antarctica last Thursday (16 Feb) makes the distance covered so far about 15,000 miles.  That’s enough to whip most of us...and he’s got no company and no ground or ocean support for the trip...which adds emphasis to the term “solo” for sure, doesn’t it?  
Wow, what a flight.
Matevž's Antartica landing was made at the Base Presidente Eduardo Frei Montalva, Chile's primary  base on the continent.  It's located on the Fildes Peninsula, an ice-free area adjacent to Fildes Bay, west of King George Island.
Monte Fitz Roy, a spectacular mountain in the Southern Patagonian Ice Field
-- photo courtesy
Matevž Lenarcic   
To handle the extremes of cold and altitude, the SW is specially modified to handle temperatures as low as 60 degrees Fahrenheit, which he could face above Mt. Everest.  He's also of course carrying supplemental oxygen.
As a stock plane, the short wing Virus SW (I wrote about the LSA version with longer wings in the Jan/Feb issue of P&P) cruises at 145 knots at 75% power, which puts it outside the LSA max speed of 120 knots.  Essentially though this little speedster is the same airplane only with shorter span.
Once he launches from the Antarctic, the intrepid pilot will face some mighty long legs indeed over the Pacific Ocean, including one of more than 2,400 miles!  Yikes, is he nuts?
The airplane has been tanked to carry more fuel but let’s contemplate for a moment flying at 145 knots over the open ocean for more than 16 hours!  I’m getting a cold sweat just thinking about it.
BIO: Matevž Lenarcic is no stranger to accomplishment.  He has a biology degree and is an alpine climber, paraglider pilot, environmentalist and photographer.  He’s climbed all over the world and summited 26414' Broad Peak in the Himalayas as well as many challenging peaks and routes in Patagonia.
Ivo Boscarol, left, about to give Matevž Lenarcic his
endoff from Slovenia -- photo courtesy Pipistrel
He’s written 11 books on nature, photography, climbing and flying, many of which have won awards.  He enjoys flying in Europe both for pleasure and his aerial photography business, but as noted above, Iron Man-style flights seem to float his boat...or lift his wings. 
His warm ups for the current flight include:
<> a 16,000 mile flight across Siberia in 2002
<> the 2004 globe-circler in 2004 (nearly 23,000 miles and 23 countries)
<> Africa - Valley of Life 2005 (10,200 miles and 13 countries)
<>The Alps - A Bird's Eye View 2006 - 2009: (36,000 miles all over the Alps)
Part of his motivation is to show how lightweight, light sport aircraft like the Virus SW can take pilots on great adventures with low fuel burn at decent speeds.  The Virus that I flew has a near-41-foot wingspan and is an excellent cruiser as well as a respectable motorglider, not to mention, thanks to the superbly clean aerodynamics, a real fuel-sipper (around 2.5-3 gph at 75% cruise and 115 knots.)
Bon Voyage,  Matevž Lenarcic!  

Friday, February 17, 2012

End-'O-Year Registration Numbers

The much-anticipated LSA Market Share numbers as compiled by LAMA Europe's head dude Jan Fridrich are up on Dan Johnson's blog this week.  They expand on some anticipated, surprising and overall encouraging themes.  Sales were up at Sebring and many companies are posting strong numbers.

First, in the No Brainer Dept: Cessna and CubCrafters won the year hands down.
Cessna Skycatcher

Big Cessna, as the charts Dan and Jan compile clearly show, had the largest number of registrations in 2011 with 134, a record for the LSA industry and fully 48% of all listings for the year.  The numbers reflect Cessna playing catchup on its 1,000 order glut back at the beginning of the LSA movement.
As Dan is always quick to clarify and I like to remind you, these are not sales numbers, but actual registrations and thus will lag sales numbers somewhat or, in Cessna's case with their long initial production delays, quite a bit.  
The salient point here is that sales numbers can reflect a lot of "The buyer is just about to sign!" enthusiasm from dealers, whereas registrations are hard numbers and that's why Dan prefers to shoot that way, i.e., straight.
Randy Lervold and the Carbon Cub SS
One success story I know of gives a good example of just how to regard these registration numbers: Jim Lee of Phoenix Air USA has racked up 15 sales of his fab Phoenix motorglider in a little over a year, but initially slow production means he's only been able to deliver a handful so far, although the factory is hustling to catch up.
2011 FAA registrations
Click to enlarge
If the beautiful motorglider's sales numbers were factored in, Phoenix Air would be number five on the Calendar Year 2011 list's top 10.  
Another case in point: CubCrafters, which holds number 2 position on both the Total Market Share list and the Calendar Year 2011 final tally, notched 34 aircraft registered through the end of the year, and 184  all time total.
Meanwhile, Randy Lervold, Cubcrafter's General Manager (see our next issue of Plane & Pilot, which features my story on the Carbon Cub SS) announced just before Sebring that the company expected to deliver its 200th aircraft by this month, along with sales continuing at a strong enough pace to justify the new production facility the company built recently.  
Some other notes, and check out Dan's Splog for more of his industry-savvy insights:
Overall market share
Click to enlarge
<>  SportCruiser: US Sport Aircraft is doing well filling the gap left by Piper's sudden departure from the LSA world with 20 registrations last year.
<> Flight Design USA with its sophisticated aircraft models and ever-expanding sales/service centers across the country, continues to hold sway over the U.S. market with 341 total registrations.  FD came in third for 2011 with 21, just edging out U.S. Sport Aircraft.  
The company continues to find innovative ways of generating enthusiasm for their top-quality CT line of aircraft.  Two additions this year drew the limelight: the CTLE Law Enforcement aircraft (see my Sebring post in January) that's catching on with officialdom, and the CT4 four-seat General Aviation entry in development.
Arion LS-1 Lightning   - photo courtesy Arion
<> Jabiru USA and Arion: Both companies, producers of the J230 

and LS-1 Lightning respectively, tied for 2011 registrations with 7 each.   Arion has pushed up into the 20th all time position with 18 total registrations for its sleek and lovely low-winger.  Jabiru has registered 104 U.S. aircraft (and many more overseas for the Australian parent company) and continues to be a solid contender with its large cargo space and stable, long-distance-cruising personality.
Aerotrek A240 - photo courtesy Aerotrek Aircraft
<> Aerotrek: Here's another company that's hung in there through the tough economy by virtue of the enduring popularity of its tube 'n fabric, tricycle/taildragger option, folding-wing mainstay models (A220 and A240).  
Attractive pricing and quality fun-flying airplanes are the secret recipe.  Company head Rob Rollison told me at Sebring he'd sold two aircraft at the show and two the previous two weeks, and production is booked for the next several months.  2011 was a good year too, with eight registrations but even more sales.
Thanks again to Dan Johnson and Jan Fridrich for their excellent work in bringing to light trends in the LSA industry.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Icon Back on the Radar Screen

The splash heard 'round the LSA world continues to send out ripples, though it's been years now since startup LSA maker ICON Aircraft first announced, with considerable marketing fanfare, its light sport amphibious project, the A5.

Now comes word today from the company that's it's just completed a "demanding regimen of spin-resistance test flights.  This milestone will make the A5 the first production aircraft in history to be designed to and completely comply with the Federal Aviation Administration’s full-envelope Part 23 spin-resistance standards developed from NASA’s work on the topic."
The lengthy release goes on to enumerate the general cost in lives and hardware to civilian flying from stall/spin accidents, and cites its intentions to "design the A5 to the more difficult to achieve but safer standard of 'spin resistant,'" as opposed to spin recoverable.
ICON also conformed its testing regimen to the FAA Part 23 standard for certified aircraft.
More than 360 "test cases" included varying control positions, power settings and centers of gravity.
Said ICON Aircraft VP of Engineering Matthew Gionta, “We’re excited to announce that after many months of exhaustive design and flight testing, the A5 has achieved this standard.”
This is interesting: citing NASA design work in the '70s and '80s, the company says it mined results from that study to create "a cuffed wing design that employs multiple proprietary airfoils across the span of the wing.  Additionally, these specialized airfoils used for spin resistance were not suited to the no-flap wing design ICON had previously planned to use on the A5, so ICON engineers chose to reintroduce wing flaps to preserve takeoff  performance on the water."
The flaps represent a return to an earlier prototype version, which I photographed above Lake Winnebago at Oshkosh a few years back, which also had flaps.  The rumor then was flaps were abandoned perhaps due to beyond-LSA spec max airframe weight.  The good news is if true, those earlier challenges would also appear to have been met.
The release cites the Ercoupe, Jetcruzer, Cirrus SR20/22 and Cessna Corvalis as having some spin-resistant characteristics, while stating that canard aircraft in general have an easier time of it but no production conventional production aircraft has in fact ever achieved the classification of "spin-resistant", which is interesting to know.
That would indeed make the ICON A5 unique in aviation history, as the company claims.
Former USAF jet fighter pilot and ICON CEO Kirk Hawkins weighed in: “I’m incredibly proud of our engineering and fabrication team.  While creating a full-envelope spin-resistant airplane was extraordinarily difficult and took longer than we expected, it was absolutely the right thing to do for safety and is a game-changing innovation."
"Delivering an aircraft that provides excellent control throughout the stall while being resistant to entering a spin dramatically raises the bar for light aircraft safety by decreasing the likelihood of inadvertent stall/spin loss of control by the pilot. This is especially important at low altitude where the majority of sport flying will occur."
Readers may remember that the Cessna Skycatcher had it's problems and considerable production delays when it performed Part 23-rigorous spin training and suffered two prototype losses (in which the pilots were saved by onboard ballistic parachutes both times).
The A5 also will carry an onboard ballistic chute.
No mention is made of when the production A5 will at last be delivered.  ICON does however refer to its aggressive production preparation work, including tooling, materials selection and factory setup.
Sounds like it's going to be awhile  - probably end of 2012 at the earliest - but regardless we salute the company for hanging in there for more than six years now, and applaud its determination to deliver an amphib S-LSA that promises to be a dramatic step forward in safety when it does finally arrive.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Post-Sebring Ketchup

After an arduous shooting/flying schedule at Sebring and several more days in country shooting and flying around Florida, I wung my way home to bang out some stories and pix for the mag.
And now for the rest of the Sebring story:
I made my way through the big exhibitor tent at show central and ran into Adam Valencic of Light Sport Group, who cued me in on their latest product.  They're the folks who market the cool wide-angle A/V-ator HD camcorder that mounts in the cockpit and also stores data for later GPS tracking on computer.
The new unit is called Dr. Rotech. The palm-sized device is an engine electronics diagnostic tool  for Rotax four-stroke engines which tests everything electrical:
  • Generator coil (on stator)
  • Charging coil (on stator)
  • Trigger coil (A&B)
  • Primary ignition coil (A&B)
  • Secondary ignition coil
  • Spark plug connector
  • Ignition switch
  • Engine ground
  • Verifying or tracking down problems in electrical systems such as cracked wires, loose connections and failed components can take a lot of time.  With Dr. Rotech, Adam says electrical troubleshooting now runs from  30 seconds to five minutes!
    The device plugs into the ignition module on the engine and the LED readouts shine red if there's a problem or  green if it's all good, to coin a highly overworked phrase from our modern lexicon.

    Dr. Rotech can also connect to computer via USB for actual readout values.  If there's an intermittent problem, such as a loose connection, the device will count the number of failures for easier problem trackdown.
    "It sure beats having to mess with an ohm meter while checking each individual wire," says Adam.  "It saves a lot of time and is really simple to use."
    The unit works on both certificated and ASTM versions of Rotax 912 and 914 engines.  The engine certification requires that Dr. Rotech be calibrated annually.
    "There's a possibility we may offer it in a version for two stroke Rotax engines in the future also," says David  Kotick, the whizbang electrical and software engineer who designed and built the patent pending tool.
    Everything needed is included for $499.