Reflections on flying…


Aeroprakt A22LS Foxbat

I have loved aeroplanes and flying as far back as I can remember and was lucky enough at the age of 17 to be taught to fly in the UK by the Royal Naval Fleet Air Arm under their cadet flying scholarship scheme.

Many years later, after a serious dalliance with hot air ballooning, I revitalised my fixed-wing license and came to live in Australia, where my life in the air has been transformed in many wonderful ways I could never have dreamed. Flying became my business and viewing Australia from the air became my pleasure.

The main vehicle for this transformation has been the Aeroprakt A22 – known fondly in Australia and several other countries as the Foxbat.

The Foxbat is one of a relatively new breed of simple yet hi-tech aircraft designed and manufactured using modern technology and materials. It fits the ‘Light Sport Aircraft’ (LSA) category developed in the USA nearly 15 years ago and enthusiastically adopted in Australia in 2006. In many ways, LSAs – including the Foxbat – represent the cutting edge of current light aviation and are well-suited to flying in Australia.

They often carry more weight, usually fly faster, stall slower and use far less fuel than most of their old General Aviation 2-seat counterparts. And into the bargain, they are more manoeuvrable, more fun to fly and are much much less expensive to maintain. Learning to fly in an LSA is a delight – and costs much less than you may think.

Glasair Sportsman

My logbook now shows that, apart from the Foxbat (and its various versions) I have flown almost 30 different aircraft types (excluding various sizes of hot air balloon). Probably my all-time favourite was a Glasair Sportsman, which I bought, as a ‘two weeks to taxi’ used aircraft, from the USA. Apart from its ‘desert’ camouflage paint scheme complete with ‘wild pig’ teeth at the front  (which you either loved or loathed – she who must be obeyed loathed it!) it was a real delight to fly. Fitted with oversize tyres, it would get you in and out of small strips, carry full fuel plus two good sized people and about 70kgs of luggage. And it cruised around 140 knots into the bargain. I had to sell it to give a bit of cash injection into my business but it was a sorry day when I flew it to its new owner.

Seabird Seeker

Perhaps the most disappointing was the Seabird Seeker. Since first seeing photos of one when I lived in the UK, I’d always wanted one but a new one was way way out of my budget. Until a used version – in fact the original factory demonstrator – came up for sale at less than the price of a new Foxbat. The Seeker looks a bit like a fixed wing helicopter, with a ‘bubble’ cabin in front and a pusher configuration propeller and engine up behind your head. The aircraft was designed and built, by the renowned Adams family in Queensland, as a surveillance aircraft. And this is where I should have listened to a few warning signals….the plane was amazingly stable in all modes of flight; whatever you did with the controls, it always wanted to return to straight and level – perfect for a surveillance role but not really much fun for the pilot! The mogas approved 160hp Lycoming engine was a bit under powered for a biggish plane in hot and high density altitude flying in Australia. And it was incredibly noisy. And very complex to maintain – I suppose it was primarily designed for civil/military use rather than private flying. But I held on to it for a couple of years before a buyer in the USA made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Interstate Cadet

I’ve also owned an Interstate Cadet, still the only one in Australia. A beautiful old thing, built in 1942, well refurbished in the mid-2000s as a bush plane, with a surprisingly nimble turn of speed and take-off. Apart from needing a degree in contortionism to get in and out of the front (pilot) seat, it was very comfortable and forgiving to fly. Over the years, the type has been made famous by Kent ‘Jelly Belly’ Pietsch who flies a couple of great routines – one with engine off aerobatics, including a dead stick landing, as well as a comedy routine where pieces of the aircraft ‘fall off’ – notably an aileron. In a testament to the airframe, the aircraft remains aerobatic even after the aileron is detached. Kent also lands his Interstate on top of a mobile home, albeit with a flat ‘runway’ top, which is quite something to see.

Vans RV7A

Then at completely at the opposite end of the scale there was a Vans RV7…I have always been very wary of buying, without a personal inspection, an amateur built aircraft but an engineer friend checked it out and pronounced it straight and well-built. Again, it was one of my dream planes and great to fly, particularly if you wanted to get somewhere fast! Up at 8,500 feet it would true out at around 170 knots. The downside to all this haste was a bit of a jittery ride in turbulence, which got a bit tiresome after a couple of hours in the saddle. In contrast, the Interstate just loped along at 80 or 90 knots with much of the turbulence absorbed by those big fabric covered wooden-sparred wings.

Other aircraft on the list include Piper Colts (in which I initially learned to fly), Piper Cherokee 140s, a Chipmunk, a couple of Super Cubs, many different Evektor SportStars, a Tecnam or two, a Cessna 152, a Thorp T211, a Slingsby T67, a Beagle Terrier (for flying training when spinning was on the syllabus and the Colt just couldn’t cut it), a Beagle Pup (which, although severely underpowered, was a delight to fly once you got off the ground…which took quite a while), a Dimona motor glider, and a Cubcrafters Carbon Cub. Also on the list is a Grumman AA-5 Cheetah which the instructor (only half-jokingly) told me that I wasn’t allowed to put the notoriously fragile castering nose wheel on the ground until the aircraft was parked.

Just lately, I have been doing quite a bit of flying in a new, Czech built LSA called a DirectFly Alto…but that’s another story.

I am very happy to have made Tyabb Airport my flying home and that of the Aeroprakt A22 Foxbat in Australia – come and visit us in Hangar 11 just south of the main Peninsula Aero Club House.

Superstol take-off

SuperstolJust Aircraft has recently installed a Titan XO-340 180-hp engine in their Super STOL (Short Take-Off & Landing) aircraft. The take-off results are spectacular – watch the on-board video clip and you’ll se what I mean! Remember – this is not a view from a helicopter, although it might ‘just’ as well be! Not only is the take-off distance short but the aircraft keeps on climbing.

Just Aircraft is not the first company to use this engine in an aircraft – Cubcrafters also use the Titan in their LSA-compliant Carbon Cub. But the Cub is a bigger, slightly heavier aircraft and does not utilise the retractable leading edge slats of the Superstol, so the Carbon Cub take-off, while still sensational is not quite in the same league.

There is a comparative video of the Carbon Cub and Superstol, although in this one, the Superstol uses a Rotax 115-hp turbo engine, not the Titan. As you can see, the two aircraft are very similar in performance, even though the Superstol is giving away 65-hp. I imagine the 180-hp Superstol would be quite a ride!

A few other key differences between the Carbon Cub and Superstol: tandem vs side-by-side seating, factory-built vs kit-built and, of course, price. However, another price you pay for such spectacularly short take-offs and landings is a relatively slow cruise speed. There’s no such thing as a free lunch!


Sun ‘n Fun & LSAs

Andrew’s Foxbat – photo courtesy Mick Worthington

The following ‘comment’ was submitted by Andrew Murray – Foxbat owner in Western Australia – in response to my recent blog post about ‘Light Sport Aircraft – which is best?’. I think it is of enough interest to publish it as an item in its own right – thank you Andrew!

I am just back from Sun ‘n Fun in the US where I had the opportunity to inspect almost all of the latest offerings in the LSA (and also light GA aircraft) arena. I was also tickled pink to meet and speak with Yuriy Yakovlyev, designer of my cherished Foxbat of course !

It was great fun to look at all the aircraft now available and dream of having a stable of them to suit every whim. It would be a “stable” because, as you point out, everything is a compromise and nothing does everything. Choosing an LSA is, I think, a matter of choosing the “right” compromise. By this I mean the one that suits one’s own flying profile but also one that makes a good balance between the fundamental qualities you mention.

I can honestly say I visited only one stand where, if the vendor had said “I will here and now swap this aeroplane for your Foxbat” I would have said “yes” (and even then it would require some sober thought). That was the Carbon Cub stand – I would LOVE one of those but sadly they are twice the price of the Foxbat (at least).

[Andrew, I agree. I share my Tyabb hangar with Stephen Buckle, the Australian Cubcrafters agent, and have been able to fly a Carbon Cub several times. It’s a wonderful aircraft to fly but as you say, quite expensive.]

In your post you refer to a lot of individual features such as range, speed, load carrying capacity (which I think is one of the critical things) and so-on which inform a buying decision. We all go through this dissection analysis when forking out money for a plane but I wonder how much of it just rationalisation. Most of us buy an LSA for FUN.

What makes it fun ? For me the key things are:
1. Good visibility – if I am going to enjoy the sky and the view of the ground I want to see as much of it as I can.
2. The ability to get up high quickly – it makes me feel safe and see point 1 for the view.
3. The ability to fly low and slow safely – a lot of what I want to see is on the ground. That means a reliable engine and good low speed handling qualities.
4. Control harmony – it needs to feel nice to fly.
5. It has to look nice. Sounds odd but we spend far more time looking at our aeroplane from the outside than we do looking out of it from the inside. I don’t want an ugly aeroplane…no fun in that.

I think Yuriy and his team got the balance just right. At some point I want to buy a fast cross-country aeroplane and preferably one capable of mild aerobatics. That means probably an RV-7 or something like that – as I have a PPL I can go out of the LSA realm while my medical holds. When that time comes thiough, I REALLY hope I don’t have to sell the Foxbat (or at least not sell all of it) in order to afford the RV. That aeroplane will go more than 50% faster than the Foxbat so the speed does make a difference – distances beween flying friends can be large in WA.

[Again Andrew, I agree with the RV-7. I owned an RV-7A for a short while before someone made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. As a great handling, fast cruising aircraft – over 175 knots true at 7,500 feet – it takes a lot of beating. Foxbat owner Bo Hannington at Serpentine, WA, has that ideal combination – a Foxbat for his weekend pleasure flying and a quick RV-6 for cross-continent travel. Takes some beating.]

Sun ‘n Fun was awesome by the way – well worth the long trip. Friendly and diverse and no problem getting up close and personal with all kinds of aeroplanes. Among my favourites in the formal show were the twin Beech aerobatic display and the Aeroshell formation aerobatic team flying Harvards. The latter did a close formation (very close !) aerobatic display down to a couple of hundred feet – awesome in itself but get this: they then repeated it (a) at night (b) in and out of thick clouds of their own smoke (c) while trailing fireworks. Spine tingling but also incredibly beautiful and all to the sound track of those six radial engines. Some pics and videos on their Facebook page here:

Oh..and did I mention the jet assisted radial biplane? Something weird happens in the brain when that goes over the top sounding like a jet fighter!

Happy Flying!

Bush flying

Backcountry PilotA good website for bush flying information is Back Country Pilot. They have just released an article and YouTube video about planning and executing safe short field take-offs in rough country. Although the two aircraft they focus on are the Carbon Cub and a heavily-modified Maule – both astonishing aircraft when it comes to short take-offs – nevertheless, the lessons for all bush fliers are relevant. The good thing about the Foxbat is that the tail is already in the air, so need to lift it before take-off like a tailwheel aircraft.

I’m working on some short field take-off and landing videos specifically covering the Foxbat and these should be available later in the year.