Single seat ultralights – Aerolite 120 launches in UK

Aerolite 120 Kiwi GreenAs regular readers will know, I believe there is a yawning gap at the less expensive end of the new light aircraft market, which other countries (USA, UK, Germany and France to name a few) have already moved to fill. Their aviation authorities have done this by either ‘de-regulating’ (UK) or reducing compliance requirements (USA, Germany, France) for single-seat factory-built aircraft.

Unfortunately, Australia has been very slow (in fact has not moved at all) in adopting similar arrangements. I firmly believe that a sub A$30,000 single seat aircraft would sell well in Australia, if only the authorities here (where are you Recreational Aviation Australia??) would move to allow these aircraft to be factory built, rather than insisting they be amateur built. There are at least 5 or 6 aircraft types on the market overseas which would suit us very nicely.

One of my favourites is the Aerolite 120 (European) or Aerolite 103 (USA) which I have covered before. Basically, the aircraft are almost identical, with minor changes to suit the requirements in each country. The Aerolite 120 is factory-manufactured by Vierwerk GmbH in Germany to stringent standards and as a result has now been approved by the authorities in the UK, alongside a bevy of other single seat aircraft including the Belite.

First UK owner is Stephen Oliver, who writes in the UK’s Light Aviation Magazine of an entertaining first circuit and subsequent cross-country flight home in his new Aerolite 120. There’s also a short video of Stephen’s first take off and landing – in a 10 knot crosswind – released by Kairos Aviation the UK distributor for the Aerolite 120.

There’s an interesting and candid conclusion to the article, which is a reminder to all of us that getting out of a relatively high-powered Rotax 100hp engine LSA and into a 28hp very low inertia ultralight certainly requires care. In the old days, I think it used to be called ‘difference training’ – maybe still is. Aircraft are not all the same and speed management in high-drag, low-inertia aircraft is a skill to be ignored at your peril.

Nevertheless, I think the Aerolite would make a great weekend (or summer evenings/mornings) aircraft. For someone on a limited budget (aren’t we all?) or who wants to feel the thrill of open cockpit flying (which is very addictive), the ability to take off and land on unmade strips and even to thermal a little is an attractive proposition.

My top 10 aeroplanes – part 1

I’m sometimes asked: ‘If money was no object, what aeroplane would you buy?’ Realistically and unfortunately, money is an obstacle to both buying and running an aeroplane, so I’d have to rule out things like the impressive 4-seat Cirrus and lovely old warbirds like P51 Mustangs and Harvards. And anyway, even if I could afford them, I likely wouldn’t be buying one because there are plenty of other aeroplanes which tick my boxes, get my blood flowing and cost considerably less. Mostly.

The following list (part 1) is in no particular preference order and if you asked me a year ago or in a year’s time, I’d probably give a different answer.

Vans RV-7

Vans RV-7

Two-seater with a high cruise speed – Vans RV-7
The Vans range of kit aircraft is now almost legendary – not only for its sheer production numbers but also for the delightful handling characteristics of every single aircraft in the range. For me, the RV-7 is the pick of the bunch, with two comfortable, side-by-side seats and a true cruise speed in the 160-180 knots range. In standard configuration, it will carry a reasonable amount of fuel and, if fitted with an auto-pilot and auxiliary fuel tanks, it really is possible to cross Australia in a day. The only drawback is that you either have to build it yourself or wait for someone to sell you a ready-built one. If you’re buying ready-built, look out for shonky metal work, which may be evidence of haste and cost-cutting in areas hidden from view.

 

Aerolite 103

Aerolite 103

Open air single seater – Aerolite 103
Right at the other end of the scale is this nice little single seat ultralight/Part 103 aircraft from Aerolite – now also available in Europe as the Aerolite 120 (a reference to the kilos empty weight limit of the aircraft). I have always been a fan of open air ultralights, in spite of an early nasty experience with an infamous UK-built aircraft called the Southern Aero Sports Scorpion, which gained the dubious honour of becoming the first ever ultralight to be grounded by the UK CAA due to a series of unexplained in-flight structural failures. In complete contrast, the Aerolite design is tried and trusted and many of them have been sold world-wide. Unfortunately these factory built aircraft cannot legally be registered in Australia or I would probably get one. They are inexpensive, great fun (on a calm day) and can be folded to fit in your garage or hangar.

 

J-3 Cub

J-3 Cub

Antique – Piper J3 Cub
This is a perennial favourite, with many thousands built in the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s. Although flown from the back seat, the J3 set the standard for easy-to-fly taildraggers and many a (bush) pilot learned to fly in one. A nicely restored version can fetch several tens of thousands of dollars but a good honest aircraft with plenty of engine time remaining can be found for under $30,000. One of my favourite videos is Lainey’s First Flight of a youngster of about the same age as my grandchildren enjoying a flight with her Dad in a J3. Click here for the excellent Wikipedia entry for the Cub.

 

Cessna 180

Cessna 180

Load carrier – Cessna 180/185
The Cessna 180/185 truly has become a legend in its own time. Legendary for its ability to lift heavy loads out of short airstrips and cruise at a reasonable speed. Although still subject to all the potentially expensive SIDS requirements, the 180/185 series are amazingly rugged aircraft and have accumulated a vast range of TSO’d options and modifications from STOL wing kits (which change the wing aero profile and add ‘fences’) to strengthened landing gear and brakes. Recently a customer arrived at Tyabb in his 185 to collect some parts to repair a Foxbat – click here to see a photo of what he fitted inside the aircraft.

 

Boeing Stearman

Boeing Stearman

Biplane – Boeing Stearman
A few years ago, my father-in-law gave me a book called ‘The Cannibal Queen’. This is a non-fictional story, by thriller writer Stephen Coonts, recounting his 1991 exploits in the yellow Boeing Stearman of the title. He set off to land the aircraft at least once in every one of the 48 mainland states of America. He tells of FBOs (Fixed Base Operators) in the middle of nowhere providing him with a pick-up truck to get into town, in exchange for buying a tank full of fuel. He describes each and every one of his landings, some of which were ‘not so good’ and some of which were ‘terrible’. He says the Stearman always had control and it was down to a whim whether she (the Cannibal Queen) was in a good mood and would let him down gently. I love the look of the Stearman – when you get up to it, it is a big aircraft. In lower horse-power models, it was used as a primary trainer for the military. The higher power versions – 450 hp and up – make excellent aerobatic aircraft, although they are somewhat more difficult to fly. Some people (I think wrongly) compare the Stearman much more favourably with the UK Tiger Moth which, they allege, was not a good trainer. Whatever, I love the sound of those big lazy radial engines, even if they do gulp the fuel.

More favourites in Part 2

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.

e-Go aeroplane

e-Go prototype

e-Go prototype

Now here’s one of my favourite up and coming single seat ultralights – the e-Go aeroplane.

Contrary to the suggestion in its name, the e-Go is not battery powered (yet). In fact propulsion unit is a 30 hp rotary (Wankel) engine adapted for the aircraft from its original use in large drones.

Performance figures for the single seat, very light weight (115 kgs empty) aircraft are quite amazing – cruise around 100 knots, slowest flight speed (canards don’t stall as such) around 35 knots, take-off and landing distances around 150 metres. Typical fuel burn is around 6.5 – 7.0 litres/hour, giving about a 3 hour duration with reserve.

The aircraft is not yet in production and is still undergoing extensive testing in its home country – the UK. First customer deliveries are expected to be in early 2015. However, at an asking price from about UK£50,000 (that’s about A$90,000 plus shipping and taxes at today’s rates) I can’t see high volume sales in Australia. And there’s also the problem of registration in Australia – currently (unlike USA and Europe/UK) there is no category under which this factory-built midget speedster can be registered. That’s a shame, as even given the high price, there are undoubtedly well heeled buyers out there who would have one…

Here’s a link to the e-GO website: e-Go aeroplane

Let me know your thoughts. Are you interested? Reactions to price? Lack of Australian movement towards ‘deregulation’ of single seat ultralights as per USA and Europe?

And here are some links to earlier blog posts I made about single seat light aircraft:

Single seat ultralights – the Sirocco NG

More single seat ultralights – the Aerolite 103

More single seat ultralights

aerolite_103_7The second single seat ultralight Rob writes about is the Aerolite 103 – so named after the Part 103 regulations in the USA under which it’s built and flown. In Germany it’s known as the Aerolite 120, reflecting the maximum empty weight allowed in Europe.

This aircraft is a more traditional ultralight than the Sirocco NG (see an earlier post) in that it’s constructed from aluminium tube and dacron fabric covering. It uses a range of 2-stroke engines with electric and maybe 4-stroke propulsion in the pipeline. Favourite engine is the Hirth F33, a 28hp 2-stroke with electric start. With this engine, the aircraft sells in the USA ready to fly for under US$17,000, making it a very affordable way to get in the air. Main options include a ballistic rescue system, wheel spats and lift strut fairings. A range of dacron colours and patterns are available.

The Aerolite 103 will carry 140 kgs including 20 litres of fuel. Cruise is a gentle 50 knots maximum, take off and landing are in the 30-50 metres range.

There’s more information about this amazing little aircraft on byDanJohnson – a major USA website/blog covering a vast range of light sport and ultralight aircraft. His posts are quite frequent, particularly at this time of the year, with not only Aero Friedrichshafen but also Sun ‘n Fun in Florida. So have a look now while the Aerolite post is current.

What a pity CASA and RA-Aus do not permit these beautiful and relatively inexpensive factory built aircraft to be registered in Australia.