Icon A5 accident

The Icon A5 is probably one of the most hyped aircraft of recent years – a stylish, amphibious  Light Sport Aircraft carrying over US$85 million in investment over the last 10 years or so.

It uses the ubiquitous Rotax 912ULS (100hp) engine in a 2-seat pusher configuration and sports a highly designed automotive style cabin. All in all, it appears to be a beautiful and unusual aircraft – although at US$389,000, there will be a limited number of people who have enough pennies to buy one.

The only problem is that out of a total of 22 delivered aircraft (so far), three have crashed, killing three people, including a couple of senior employees of the Icon company.

Here is a link to a YouTube video which, I think, fairly and in an unemotional way describes the aircraft and the three accidents very well. It also makes some suggestions as to what may be the factors which have contributed to this extraordinarily high accident rate in what is probably one of the most tested new aircraft on the planet.

Click on the photo above or here for the video: Icon A5 accidents

The man who got me started on Foxbats

Back in 2001, I went for my first demo flight in an Aeroprakt A22 Foxbat – piloted by Gordon Faulkner, the then UK agent for the aircraft. I ordered a Foxbat and, when soon after, I told him I was moving to live in Australia he encouraged me to ask the factory if I could represent them in Australia, and gave me good reference. Gordon had lived in Victoria for a few years and had many fond recollections of his flying in Australia.

The factory agreed to appoint me as their dealer in Australia and the rest, as they say, is history.

So I was interested to read this letter about Gordon in the latest issue of the UK’s ‘Microlight Flying’ magazine (click on the picture above – Gordon’s the one on the right – to download a readable copy of ‘The man’s a gent’). It fully matches my own experiences of Gordon, from his considerable help with building my first Foxbat, through to training me to fly it.

Over the years since then, I have lost contact with Gordon. But a big thank you to the man who set me on the road to what has been an exciting and rewarding journey representing the Aeroprakt factory in Australia.

Ballooning & floating?

Probably the most common comments I get from student pilots – and quite a few experienced pilots too – are about their perceived skills needed to land a light sport/recreational aircraft. In many cases, pilots make comments like: “I pulled back on the controls to flare and the aircraft just ballooned” or “it just seems to float and float along the runway; it just doesn’t want to land”.

Both of these events when landing an aircraft – ballooning and floating – have their own dangers for the pilot, which if not anticipated and handled correctly can result in a bent aeroplane…or worse.

So here are a few tips on how to get it right.

In simple terms, almost all balloons and floats during landing are caused by excess speed over the landing threshold. Unfortunately, many instructors have a habit of telling their students to add 5 or 10 knots to their approach speed ‘for safety’. In reality, in light sport aircraft in ‘normal’ conditions, they are often actually reducing the margin of landing safety by doing so. And this habit of adding speed to the book figure becomes instilled as a very hard-to-break habit. My own pilot training, now many many years ago, involved adding approach speed in certain circumstances and, even now, I have to fight the impulse to add speed when landing in the A22LS Foxbat and A32 Vixxen.

Let’s go ballooning
So, what’s wrong with more speed? There are two main reasons but first, remember light sport and recreational aircraft are very low weight (read: low inertia) aircraft. So, like a small car, these types of aircraft will change direction much more quickly than a limo, a ute or a truck. Not that I’m suggesting your average Cessna/Piper etc are trucks…. As a result, when landing, the controls are much more effective than bigger GA aircraft. At only slightly faster speeds the controls are even more powerful, so if you are too fast when you pull back to flare, the aircraft will not just flare, it will start to climb again, even with the engine at idle. This is called ‘ballooning’. When you go ballooning, the impulse is to push the nose down to reduce the sudden climb. Unless you are very quick (and/or experienced) you’re likely in for a bent nose leg and/or busted propeller. Another alternative, just holding back the controls during the balloon, can result in a stall from an ‘unsuitable’ height above the runway, leading to a (very) heavy landing, which could damage the landing gear or worse.

How about a bit of floating?
Next reason why too much speed is dangerous: even if you flare correctly without ballooning, the aircraft is still going too fast to land. Instructor: “Just try to skim the runway; don’t let the aircraft land; try to keep it flying as long as you can, slowly pulling back on the controls until the aircraft slows and the main wheels touch down”. This is all absolutely fine, unless you are carrying excess speed, in which case you’ll end up flying a long way down the runway before you touch down. And skimming along the tarmac (or grass) at relatively slow speed for a few hundred meters at just a few feet of height is tricky enough for an experienced pilot, let alone a novice. Throw in some cross wind, and/or a gust or two, and the risk of disaster rises exponentially! After a period of ‘skimming’ without landing, there is a huge temptation to let the nose drop a bit (or worse, push it down), just to get the wheels on the runway, and this can have two potential results: (a) because you’re still going too fast, the nose wheel touches down first and you’ll bounce/balloon, or (b) the impact will bend the nose leg and maybe bust the prop – if you’re lucky.

There are remedies for both ballooning and floating after they start but the easiest solution is not to let them happen at all!

Calculating the correct threshold speed
Which is where we get back to speed. There’s a GA rule of thumb about landing speed over the threshold. This says you should aim for about 1.3 times stall speed in landing configuration. As an example, with a stall speed of 45 knots the aim is (technically) 58.5 knots over the threshold – which is usually rounded to 60 knots. With low-inertia light sport aircraft, which have lower landing speeds, it’s probably safer to go for about 1.75 times stall speed, as wind gusts can be a much higher proportion of approach speed. So, for a stall speed of 28 knots (A22LS Foxbat) the threshold speed should be about 49 knots – which is exactly what the pilot manual gives. Note – this is 20 KNOTS above the stall speed!! If you come in at 55-60 knots over the threshold, you are flying about twice as fast as the stall speed – no wonder the aircraft is difficult to land!

What a drag
There are big differences in drag between aircraft. And drag affects how quickly the aircraft slows down when you throttle back for landing. The more the drag, the quicker the aircraft will slow down and vice-versa. To some extent, high-drag aircraft are easier to land than their more slippery siblings. As you cut power and round out to land, they will slow down more quickly, so if you are a few knots over the correct speed, they will help you out by slowing quickly. However, the more slippery the aircraft, the more accurate you need to be with the threshold speed; this is because if you are faster than you should be, the speed will not wash off quickly and ballooning and floating become much more likely.

As a comparison, our A22LS Foxbat is much much draggier than the A32 Vixxen. This is clearly evidenced in the fuel economy and cruise speeds. While the book figures for landing threshold speeds are much the same at 49 knots, coming in at 55 knots in the Foxbat will still allow you a reasonably easy landing. Try it in the Vixxen and because of its low-drag airframe, you’ll probably do a lot more floating. Add yet another 5 knots ‘for safety’ and even the Foxbat will take a while to land and the Vixxen will take you all the way down the runway into the fence at the end.

Landing weight
There’s an important additional piece of information needed here – the landing weight of the aircraft. All manufacturers quote stall speeds at maximum gross weight – for light sport aircraft, this is 600 kgs. If the stall speed is 28 knots at 600 kgs, it will be noticeably slower at (eg) 450 kgs actual weight, which in an A22LS Foxbat equates to the aircraft with one pilot and 50 kgs (70 litres) of fuel. In fact, it could be as much as 3-4 knots slower. Re-calculating the approach speed for this weight: (eg) 25 kts x 1.75 = 44 kts.

Hopefully, instructors  teach their students properly about the difference weight can make to stall – and thus landing – speeds. This is particularly important for light sport aircraft, where the pilot, passengers, fuel and baggage make up a much bigger proportion of the weight and therefore have a much more significant effect on speeds than heavier GA aircraft.

Wind
Finally, a point about wind. I’ve often heard it said you should add 5-10 knots to your approach speed if the wind is across the runway and/or gusty. The idea being that if the wind suddenly drops during your approach, the aircraft is still going fast enough to keep flying above stall speed. In heavier GA aircraft, this may well be valid, as using the throttle to regain speed to arrest the momentum of a sudden descent takes time. However, modern light sport aircraft are much more responsive to throttle than their older GA counterparts, so I would never add more than 5 knots to the ‘book’ approach speed in a cross or gusty wind and use the throttle to stop descent quickly if a sudden drop occurs due to a gust.

In summary – read the pilot manual for your aircraft to check the threshold speed for that specific type – do not rely on rules of thumb, like “all aircraft are OK at 60 knots” down final and over the threshold. If the manual gives 49 knots at gross weight stick to it and – if it’s a light sport aircraft – even a bit slower if you do not have a passenger and/or lots of fuel. If you don’t stick to the book speeds, you are looking for trouble and for sure, you’ll end up ballooning or floating and sooner or later you’ll bend something. Hopefully, not yourself or your passenger!

AeroTV and Aeroprakt A22LS

dennis-at-delandAero-News Network Inc has published a short review of the A22LS (Foxbat) on their YouTube channel AeroTV. Headlined ‘Versatile AND Practical – The All-Seeing Aeroprakt A-22 LSA’  AeroTV’s Tom Patton interviews Dennis Long, Aeroprakt’s USA dealer at the recent Deland Sport Aviation Showcase, held in Florida each year.

The video includes some rather old flying footage of an early Australian A22L, plus some newer video of a glider tug A22LS at Benalla in Victoria.  The report gives Dennis a great opportunity to describe the aircraft and its capabilities – which he does excellently! I must remember some of the phrases he uses to use myself at the upcoming Avalon Airshow. Particularly coming to mind are: “…just the best handling light sport on the field.” And: “…taking off on gravel or sand, it does a very fine job of that because the nose comes up right away and you’re balancing just like a taildragger.”

God job, Dennis!

A22LS Foxbat – ‘long leg’ option

long-leg-panel-01Aeroprakt Limited has recently announced the availability of a factory-installed option of a revised instrument panel with cut-outs along the bottom edge to help accommodate those pilots and passengers with long legs – see photos.

Although I am 1.88 metres (6′ 2″ in imperial) tall, I have never found a problem with the leg room in either the A22 Foxbat or A32 Vixxen aircraft. However, a friend, who is exactly the same height as me, has often complained about the lack of knee room for him in the A22 Foxbat. Apparently, I have a longer body and shorter legs; he has a shorter body and longer legs – one reason I advise all potential aircraft buyers to actually sit in the aircraft on their shortlist, to check knee/leg room and head clearance. A particular height or body weight does not guarantee a comfortable fit even if an apparently identical size friend fits perfectly!

long-leg-panel-03Many thanks to Aeroprakt, therefore, for introducing this ‘long leg’ option on the A22 Foxbat. The pictures clearly show the panel cut-out modification, which is only available on stick control versions of the aircraft. As yet, this option is not available for the A32 Vixxen, neither is it easy or inexpensive to retro-fit to existing aircraft as there is a significant change to the instrument panel support structure.

AVweb flies the Aeroprakt A22LS

avweb-dennisOur very own Dennis Long of Aeroprakt USA takes AVweb’s Geoff Rapoport for a flight in the A22LS at Sebring, Florida during the recent Sport Aircraft Expo.

Great video Dennis – not too sure about the colour scheme…

AVweb describes itself – rather modestly – as ‘the world’s premiere independent aviation news resource’ and they certainly have a wealth of interesting content and aircraft reviews. Have a browse.

One of my personal favourites is Paul Bertorelli’s rather sarcastic comment on the huge patterns – ‘circuits’ to us non-USA pilots – which instructors use when training. It’s one of my personal gripes at my home airfield, where sometimes club aircraft doing circuits seem to set out on scenic flights along the bay during the downwind leg. I was taught, admittedly by military instructors, to take-off, climb to 500 feet AGL, then make a turn and climb cross-wind to 1,000 feet AGL, then turn downwind. I fully accept that a Foxbat or Vixxen will get to these heights much quicker than a C150 or C172. However, even when I’m doing circuits in my relatively leisurely Interstate Cadet, the club Cessnas are usually way outside of me. It makes circuits a real chore as it’s very bad manners to cut inside. And, as Paul comments, it tends to train pilots to do long, straight in approaches, using engine to ‘drag’ the plane in to the threshold, which is not always possible in ‘real’ life.

As usual, either click the picture to take you to the A22LS video, or click here: AVweb flies the Aeroprakt A22LS

Aeroprakt A32 1,000 nm ferry flight

ido-shaun-at-emeraldMy colleague Ido Segev and his friend Shaun just got home from an almost 1,000 nautical mile ferry flight of a new shiny Ferrari red Aeroprakt A32 Vixxen, registered VH-ACL, to its new owner Will Graham.

The aircraft is fitted with a Dynon SkyView system, including a 2-axis autopilot, transponder and fuel computer. In addition to the standard dual-watch VHF radio, the aircraft also has an 80-channel UHF radio, operating through the headsets.

ido-shaun-ferry-02Their flight took them from Moorabbin Airport, near Melbourne, via Temora and Parkes in New South Wales, to an overnight stop at St George in southern Queensland. Most of the flight was made at 8,500-9,500 feet AGL, which at times translated into a density altitude of over 11,000 feet. Said Ido: “Even at 7,500 feet were were still climbing in excess of 500 feet a minute – not bad with two of us, full fuel, luggage and some spare parts on board.” The next day, the weather wasn’t so kind, with strong headwinds and a 2,000 foot cloud base. Nevertheless they made good time and arrived at Emerald, Queensland, before lunch, after a short wait at Roma while some weather passed through.

Total flight distance was about 950 nautical miles with and average ground speed of slightly over 95 knots. Average fuel burn was a shade under 17 litres an hour. In metric fuel economy terms, that’s about 10.3 litres per 100 kilometres – not bad for an average speed of over 175 kilometres an hour! Ferrari and co, eat your hearts out!