Bat out of heaven

G-YOLO owner John Mann (L) with UK Aeroprakt agent Ray Everett (R) - click picture for article

G-YOLO owner John Mann (L) with UK Aeroprakt agent Ray Everett (R) – click picture for article

Microlight Flying – the British Microlight Aircraft Association (BMAA) magazine – has recently published a flight test of what in the UK is called the ‘Foxbat A22 Super Sport’. This aircraft is the kit version of the current A22L2 model, with a 450 kilo gross weight on an empty weight of about 264 kilos.

I like the call sign of the test aircraft – G-YOLO – which owner John Mann says stands for ‘You Only Live Once’. The aircraft is painted in ‘mid-life crisis red’ he says. A man after my own heart!

It’s good to see UK Aeroprakt distributor Ray Everitt of Dragon Aviation appearing on camera – he played a large part in building my first A22 Foxbat all those years ago. That first (kit) Foxbat was originally registered G-XBAT and I brought it to Australia in early 2002. It subsequently became VH-VPH and then, when sold, 28-4163. As far as I know, it is still flying, somewhere in New South Wales and is the only original design, ‘long-wing’ A22 in Australia.

Imported Australian Foxbats after G-XBAT (which, by the way, was the first aircraft I ever owned) were initially the A22L model, which had a slightly shorter wing, slightly higher stall, and better cruise speed. (For reference, the stall on that first ‘long-wing’ A22 was just under 25 knots!) The 450 kilos gross A22L was effectively superseded in Australia by the very popular 600 kilo gross weight A22LS.

Don’t forget Ausfly!

Ausfly reminderA last minute reminder that the 2015 ‘Ausfly’ show at Narromine, NSW, is scheduled for Friday 4 and Saturday 5 September – only a week away!

Foxbat Australia will have on show at least one current A22LS Foxbat as well as the new A32 Vixxen – its first formal public outing since its first flight in Australia only a few weeks ago. We are also hoping to show the latest A22LS Foxbat from Moruyair, with controls modified so that disabled pilots can learn to fly it.

The show is jointly sponsored by the Sport Aircraft Association of Australia (SAAA), AOPA Australia, Australian Warbirds and last but not least, Recreational Aviation Australia (RA-Aus). As a result, there should be a wonderful gathering of all types of aircraft, from ultralights to heavy metal and all points in between.

There are air displays planned for both Friday and Saturday, with warbirds, solo aerobatics and the RAAF Roulettes strutting (or should that be winging?) their stuff.

The weather is looking hopeful at this stage – certainly for the Narromine area – but it’s still a long way off in weather forecaster’s terms, so my fingers are firmly crossed that the cloud will be high over the ranges.

If you manage to get to the show, come and say hello and have a look at the A32 Vixxen for yourself. The show site layout is still a bit flexible but Foxbat Australia will likely be on the apron between the indoor exhibits area (hangar 10) and hangar 17 – look for our black teardrop flags with the red & white Fox head logo.

Choosing a Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) – 1 – what about weight?

Baggage 2Want to buy an LSA (Light Sport Aircraft)? Well, here are a few ‘buyer bewares’ compiled from stories and experiences of other buyers – the first is weight, probably the single most abused factor when flying light sport (and ultralight) aircraft.

Flying over ‘gross weight’ (ie over the maximum 600 kilos on a landplane LSA) is potentially dangerous and certainly illegal – as you’ll find out if you are ramp-checked. As a result of flying illegally, your insurance will probably be invalid too. It’s no good claiming the seller of the aircraft says it is strong enough to handle higher weights – if you’re over the limit you’re setting yourself up for trouble.

Weight limits on aircraft are a fine balance between strength (stronger usually=heavier) and usable load. Manufacturers set weight limits for a reason – yes, maybe the plane will fly OK over-weight but repeat over-weight flying will weaken the structure much more rapidly. Heavy and/or crooked landings in particular can wreak havoc on the landing gear if the aircraft is over its landing weight limit. Flying too fast into unexpected turbulence can also weaken the wing structure over a period of time.

So, what will your preferred aircraft actually carry? As an example, the A22LS Foxbat factory-quoted empty weight is 295 kilos. That’s a standard spec aircraft with oil and coolant in the engine and the starter battery in place. Plus all the essential instruments for safe flight. In reality, the A22LS Foxbat typical empty weight is around 305-310 kilos or even as much as 325 kilos for one fitted with a ballistic parachute. This is because a whole variety of ‘essential’ extras and options are added by owners: different control systems, VHF radio, UHF radio, extra instruments, transponder, autopilot, fuel injection engine, heavier propeller, wing strut fairings, landing light, strobes, big wheels, wheel spats, cabin heater etc etc.

Deduct the actual empty weight of the aircraft from the maximum gross and you get the usable load. This is the bottom line weight you have available for people, baggage and fuel.

Here are a few things to check before committing your hard-earned dollars:
– what is the real empty weight of the aircraft with all the extra bits and pieces you want added?
– does the original quoted empty weight (before extras) include oil, coolant, battery and all essential instruments? Get a signed statement from the seller to confirm.
– how much does that leave you for:
– people, bags and fuel?
– headsets?
– tie-down kit?
– maps/ERSA/iPad/GPS?
– water to drink & food to eat?
– aircraft weather cover?
– a litre of fuel weighs around 0.72 kilos. After deducting the weight for yourself and a passenger, what weight is left for fuel?
– how many litres is that and how long/far could you fly on that amount?
– or, after filling full of fuel, what’s left for people, bags and all those bits and pieces?

As an example – full fuel (long range tanks) in the Foxbat weighs just on 80 kilos, so a starting rule of thumb for the A22LS model is that it will carry around 200 kilos of people and bags after filling with maximum fuel. Every litre less fuel gives you about 0.72 kilos more for people and bags – eg: 20 litres = about 14.5 kilos.

So in summary – flying over gross weight can cost you, in order: your life, your health, your license, your money. Not to mention grief for your loved ones when something breaks and you are injured or worse. In the eyes of the law, ignorance is no defence.

For those who want to learn more, here’s a link to an excellent article on PilotFriend website which gives a lot more information about the risks of flying overweight: Aircraft weight and balance

Check out your true empty weight, your load, and fly safe!

Aerolite 103 with 4-stroke engine

Aerolite 103

Aerolite 103 at Oshkosh 2014

Regular readers will know about my interest in cheap (or rather, ‘less expensive’ – nothing in aviation is cheap) single seat ultralight aircraft.

One of my favourites, the Aerolite 103 (Aerolite 120 in Europe) is now available with a 4-stroke Briggs & Stratton 22 hp engine. Although heavier and a bit less powerful than the 2-stroke alternatives, the B&S motor still gives the aircraft a climb rate around 600 fpm and a cruise speed in the same 60 mph range. And of course it does it more quietly, using less fuel and, dare I say it, more reliably.

These very light 1-seat ‘Part 103’ aircraft have been slow to catch on, even in the USA, where you can fly them legally without registration or even a pilot’s license. This, in spite of the low purchase and running costs and (optional) folding wing, which allows storage in a garage or in the corner of a hangar which can’t be used by conventional fixed-wing aircraft. However, Aerolite reports growing sales in USA – more than 40 in 2014 – and now there is a German type-certified version – the Aerolite 120 – it looks like sales are set to grow exponentially over the next few years.

Priced from under US$15,000 (factory built!) for a 2-stroke version and probably under US$16,000 for a 4-stroke version, the Aerolite represents a great starting point for impecunious aspiring young pilots.

Factory-built single seat aircraft which are accepted under FAA Part 103 still cannot be registered in Australia, you have to build from a kit to be legal. In spite of lobbying from several sources, CASA and RA-Aus have still not woken up to the potential of these low cost aircraft as entry points for the more expensive end of the market. I wonder when RA-Aus will stop moaning about declining membership numbers and do what they should be doing to open aviation at grass roots level and work with CASA to ‘de-regulate’ these single seat aircraft? USA has done it. UK has done it. The rest of Europe has, in its own way, done it. Australia is now well behind in this growing ultralight market – what a shame.

Foxbat and the Philippines – 4

MSFC 01It’s Monday morning on the first day of December 2014 and I am back in Melbourne after my week at the Mindanao Saga Flying Club, re-assembling a couple of A22LS Foxbats, ready for them to start flying training. I have commented elsewhere on the rest of the week and now here are a few last comments and reflections on my first-time stay in the Philippines.

First off – Mindanao Saga Flying Club (MSFC). This was founded at Mati National Airport by retired Philippine Army Colonel Sam Afdal – SAGA are his initials. There are currently two full time instructors – Rey, a Filipino who is the CFI, who also flies helicopters for the Colonel; and Capt Sam, an Aussie ex-Qantas pilot. There are others also involved with instruction, including Terry, an Englishman, who previously helped set up another flying club near Manila. As seen in a previous blog post, there are four trainee engineers, led by Archie, the senior engineer. They seem to know the Rotax engine (and an HKS for that matter) inside out, and are fully conversant with all the club light sport and ultralight aircraft, including the Foxbat.

MSFC Club RoomThe newly built club house, pilot lounge and accommodation is excellent and all are air-conditioned. The food while I visited was superb and varied – including some European dishes as well as Philippine delicacies. The beer was cold, and the wine red. MSFC hospitality is second to none and without reservation I can recommend a stay there. Aircraft dual and solo hire rates are much less than in Australia and there are some spectacular beaches nearby, which my packed itinerary unfortunately precluded me from visiting!

Mati Airport from FoxbatNext – the territory. The scenery is just magnificent! Very lush and green, as you’d expect in a tropical climate. In most places there are wall-to-wall trees, although the beaches offer potential landing places in the event of engine problems. However, all club aircraft are fitted with ballistic rescue systems, which I expect will remain unused, as the quality of maintenance is high. The climate is very warm, even early in the mornings and late in the evenings, so doors-off (in the Foxbat) or open cockpit flying (as in the Quicksilvers) is most enjoyable.

PAL TailTravel – I flew by Philippine Airways (PAL) from Melbourne direct to Manila and caught a PAL connection to Davao City, Capt Sam was kind enough to meet me there – the place is a huge hustle-bustle of arriving and departing passengers – and drive me down to Mati Airport, where the club is based. PAL is a reasonably priced, middle of the road airline, which I picked because of its convenient flights from Melbourne and big Philippines domestic network. The flights were all more-or-less on time and I didn’t miss any connections. Cabin service was very acceptable.

Finally, there is a selection of pictures on Foxbat Pilot Flickr here which gives some idea of the rich and varied mixture of experiences to be enjoyed.


Foxbat and the Philippines – 3

L-R: Archie, Chris, Club Chairman Sam, Peter, JR, Jay R, Wouendel

L-R: Archie, Chris, Club Chairman Sam, Peter, JR, Jay R, Wouendel

It’s Friday  afternoon and four days of preparation and re-assembly work is now complete and both Foxbats for the Mindanao Saga Flying Club (MSFC) have been test flown satisfactorily. All is very well with both aircraft performing to or better than specification.

A team of young trainees led by Archie, the senior engineer, helped put both aircraft together efficiently and quickly. I have been so impressed with their eagerness to get involved and learn all the quirks and foibles of putting the aircraft together. In fact, this same team recently built a Kitfox (from a kit…) for the club and their work is impeccable. The paint, in particular, is near perfect, which, considering the heat and humidity, is a huge credit to their attention to detail. I only had to explain something once and the job was done quickly and cleanly.

We spent a fair bit of time on the first Foxbat (serial #222) to make sure the entire reassembly process was clear. I was also able to offer a few useful tips on the order of installing some items to make life easier. As a result, the second Foxbat (serial #223) went together much more quickly. #222 has now completed almost 5 hours of flying and #223 nearly 3 hours – everybody wants to fly them!

In addition to test flying the two Foxbats, I have also signed off two instructors – Capt Sam and Terry – who have subsequently set about enabling some of the other pilots to get close to a clearance to fly the Foxbats solo. Some of the young engineers have also been taken for a flight.

Finally, as well as the Foxbats, I have been lucky enough to be taken for flights in several other club aircraft alongside an instructor. First was the aforementioned Kitfox – did someone say they can be a bit skittish on landing? Don’t believe it! We had a great flight down the peninsula, round the light house and back – about 35 minutes.

Then a Quicksilver MX-2 Sport, a true open framework old-style ultralight with a pusher configuration engine, this one with a 912 series 100hp Rotax, which was bags of fun – sitting out there in the open with just an airspeed indicator and a wool thread for a slip ball really gets you down to basics!

Third, I went flying in the club chairman’s Kolb Mk-III Xtra, another pusher configuration aircraft with a 912 100hp Rotax, but with a tailwheel. The Kolb is very pretty to look at but does not have the pleasantest of flying characteristics, particularly in the roll axis. For once, the old saying: ‘if it looks right, it will fly right’ was confounded.

Finally this morning I went for a flight away from the coast and up into the hills in what has until now been the mainstay of the club training fleet – a Quicksilver GT500-912. Yet another pusher configuration but with a nose wheel and tandem seating. We flew with the doors zipped off and it is a most enjoyable aircraft to fly – I can see why it has hitherto been used as a basic trainer.

On Saturday morning, I’ll be packing my bags and starting the long journey back to Melbourne. I will write a short note on other aspects of my visit as well as some more pictures when I get home. But meanwhile, if you want a break from your local flying, I can’t recommend a better place to come for a week or so than here at Mati Airport with the Mindanao Saga Flying Club. The aircraft are great – I can particularly recommend the Foxbat! – the overnight accommodation is very comfortable and the food is good. You couldn’t wish to meet more hospitable people.

Thank you to everyone at Mindanao Saga for a magical week!

AAAA Victoria Christmas Toy Drop

Lethbridge toy runEvery year, the Antique Aeroplane Association of Australia (AAAA) carries out a number of ‘Toy Runs’ to collect Christmas toys for underprivileged children.

This year’s Victoria Toy Drop is on Sunday 23 November at Lethbridge Airpark starting at 10.30 am. It’s in support of the Bethany Giving Tree Appeal.

The NSW Toy Run is on Saturday 6 December at ‘The Missions on the Hawkesbury‘ private airstrip, Wisemans Ferry, starting at 10.30am

The SA Toy Run, in conjunction with the Barossa Birdmen, is on Sunday 30 November at Truro Flats, starting at 12.00 noon.

Weather willing, there should be a nice collection of aircraft at all these locations, including ultralights, GA and, of course, antique aeroplanes. Food and soft drinks will be available.

Even if you can’t fly in, come by road and see the heap of toys and all the aircraft on display.

If you are bringing a toy – and you will, won’t you? – please bring it unwrapped.