Windshear in an ultralight

WindshearThis one’s got it all – a scenically beautiful evening with little or no wind on the ground and severe turbulence, windshear (referred to by the pilot as a ‘microburst‘ in this clip), rain and an engine failure in the air. All in the space of a couple of minutes. It’s a good example of how superficially benign conditions – but note the storm clouds and rainbow – can lead very quickly into a potential disaster in any aircraft but particularly in a very light rag-and-tube ultralight. Ignore the weather at your peril!

Click on the photo to view the video – you can safely skip the first 2 minutes 30 seconds, it’s just the pilot pull-starting the engine and climbing aboard.

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 Aeroplanes – visit

e-Go Hillcoat & BougheyToday I went to the e-Go Centre in Cambridgeshire, UK – home of an ultra-modern single seat aircraft – the e-Go Aeroplane. Click here for information in a previous post: e-Go Aeroplanes.

I met CEO, Adrian Hillcoat and Sales & Marketing Manager, David Boughey, seen L-R in the photo here, with the currently dis-assembled e-Go prototype.

We spent 2-3 hours looking around their facility and discussing the technical aspects of their aircraft, testing schedules and production plans, as well as potential interest in Australia.

For testing purposes, the prototype has been fitted with a wonderful array of strain gauges and computerised data logging equipment. There’s nothing that’s not recorded – flight speeds, engine parameters, flight envelope, heights, airframe stresses under different flight conditions, even a complete GPS track of each and every flight. Every time an aspect of the design is changed, it’s checked and tested to ensure the desired improvement is delivered.

e-Go prototype

e-Go prototype

Although technically the aircraft fits into the UK ‘deregulated’ class – i.e. single seat with maximum weight, wing loading and stall speed limitations – the aircraft is being finalised to be capable of LSA compliance and maybe even full certification at a later date.

e-Go is aiming for production to be started during the first quarter of 2015 – much of the first year’s production has already been sold.

The aircraft will appeal primarily to the buyer looking to put some extra fun into their flying. Owners will include GA and LSA pilots who already own a more staid bigger aircraft; or perhaps owners of a fast car, motorcycle or boat, who want to add a third dimension to their fun; and even maybe glider pilots, who will find they can ‘thermal’ the aircraft and who will feel instantly at home in the glider-like cockpit.

Although the aircraft is not primarily intended for long cross-country flights, there will be space for an overnight bag behind the seat, as well as other stowage for water, maps and other items in the cockpit. Duration of the aircraft is projected to be around 3½ hours plus reserve, at 90-100 knots, so you could go places if you really want to. However, the primary purpose of the aircraft is to give the weekend flyer a big grin – the test pilot’s partner says his smile after each flight is enough to light up a sizeable town!

Towards the end of the meeting, Adrian, David and I considered for some time a variety of different purchasing options, to make ownership or part ownership a relatively easy and affordable process. There are some interesting possibilities to think about.

Personally, I believe this is one of the more exciting developments in very light aviation in a long while – the e-Go company is well funded, has a wealth of design and technological excellence, and the aircraft itself looks very good – and by all accounts, flies even better.

I think they will have no problem selling every one they can make…….watch this space!

Click here for the e-Go Aeroplane website

10 things to know about Light Sport Aircraft (LSAs)

ASTM home-logo21. LSAs were originally devised in the early 2000’s in the USA where they were intended to bridge the gap between unlicensed ultralights and fully certified GA aircraft. The objective was to make non-ultralight flying less expensive, through cheaper aircraft and reduced pilot license requirements. Instead of FAA certifying aircraft, the responsibility was shifted to the the manufacturer to confirm their aircraft were compliant with a number of quite rigorous ASTM standards (formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials).  These standards cover everything from original design through to manufacture and flying characteristics. FAA continues to police the manufacturers through full-blown inspections of their factories and processes to ensure ASTM standards are being met.

2. As of 15 April 2014 there are 134 different approved LSA aircraft available in USA. The number approved in Australia is unknown as neither CASA nor RA-Aus publishes this information.

3. The very first officially approved LSA aircraft in both USA and Australia was the Evektor SportStar Plus. Thus with some pride, Evektor claims to be the ‘Number One LSA’ company. In USA sales terms, they rate at No. 5.

4. The ASTM LSA standards were over-ridden by CASA in Australia in a number of areas. The reasons for this are unclear but rumour has it that some local manufacturers felt some of the standards could not be easily met by their products at the time. The main differences are:
– the USA straight & level, full power, maximum speed limit is 120 knots. There is no maximum speed in Australia
– the USA stall speed at maximum take-off weight (MTOW) must be under 45 knots ‘clean’ – ie no flaps. In Australia it is 45 knots in landing configuration – ie with as much flap as you need.
– the USA allows both glider and banner towing by LSAs. Australia only allows glider towing.

5. LSAs may be factory manufactured – in which case they are known as ‘Special’ or S-LSAs – or built from approved kits – in which case they are known as ‘Experimental’ or E-LSAs. In Australia, E-LSA aircraft registration numbers on RA-Aus aircraft (but not CASA VH- aircraft) are preceded with the letter ‘E’ – for example: E24-8460. Under E-LSA regulations, there is no ‘51%’ rule, so an aircraft can be almost complete, with only a few items for the builder/owner to finish.

6. An LSA aircraft may only be modified from its delivered configuration with the manufacturer’s written approval. This includes adding to or changing instrument types on the panel (including changing the radio type), changing any of the installed equipment, even installing bigger (or smaller) tyres. Contrary to popular belief, a CASR Part 21 engineer (previously known as a CAR 35 engineer) cannot legally approve modifications to an LSA.

7. In Australia, LSAs can be either be VH-registered with CASA or 24-registered with RA-Aus – the aircraft are identical, only the paperwork and pilot license requirements are different.

8. CASA-registered LSAs (but not RA-Aus registered LSAs) can be flown in Night VFR conditions, provided they are fitted with the required Night VFR equipment and the pilot has a night rating or higher.

9. Retractable (‘re-positionable’) landing gear is only permitted for amphibious LSAs . Landplanes must have fixed landing gear.

10. The Aeroprakt A22LS Foxbat is an approved LSA aircraft both in USA and Australia. Customer aircraft are registered both with CASA and RA-Aus. Among them in Australia, there are both amphibious and Night VFR rated aircraft.

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.

Single seat ultralights

I have an interest in single-seat ultralights – I think in many ways, today’s recreational and light sport aircraft have moved a long way from the origins of light, simple and (relatively) cheap aircraft. As a result, there is a vibrant and growing number of companies moving into this gap in the market, primarily in the USA and Europe. These countries (including the UK) either have already, or are planning to, ‘deregulate’ these types of aircraft – ie you don’t need to register them or have a pilot’s license to fly them. However, there are some restrictions, for example in the USA the maximum empty weight is 254 pounds – that’s 115 kgs. Maximum speed at full power straight & level is limited to 55 kts and maximum fuel is 5 US gallons or 19 litres. Rules in Europe are a little more liberal, with empty weights at around 120 kgs or maximum take off weights of 300 kgs. Using modern state-of-the-art materials, this enables designers to come up with some sturdy and capable single seat aircraft.

Sadly for Australian readers, the main problem in bringing these types of aircraft to Australia is that, as fly-away aircraft, they would currently be un-registerable because CASA/RA-Aus do not (yet) have the same liberal attitude to small single seat aircraft as the rest of the world. Maybe if you went the kit route…it might be possible. Personally I’d rather fly ’em than build ’em!

My reporter from Europe – actually Rob Hatswell, Foxbat sales contact for South Australia – has been wandering round the Friedrichshafen Aero Expo in Germany. This is certainly the biggest aircraft expo outside the USA and now runs annually every April; it used to be a bi-annual show, like our own Avalon airshow. Rob reports that on display among the exhibits are a good clutch of new, or relatively new, designs of single seat ultralights.

P1070826 Sirocco

Rob sent me information on some of these types at Aero Expo. I’ll cover others in future posts but first up is the Dutch Sirocco NG made by the ACLA company. This is a tricycle gear composite and kevlar high-wing pusher with a maximum take-off weight of 250 kgs on an empty weight of 120 kgs, including a rescue parachute system. It’s powered by a 33 hp 4-stroke engine and has a maximum cruise of 65 kts. Take-off and landing rolls are in the 50-60 metre range. A full tank will run you for 4 hours. In standard form, there is just a small windshield to keep off the wind but there is an optional fully enclosed bubble canopy. European price works out around A$35,000 ready to fly.

 

Belite aircraft

James & BeliteJames Weibe is a busy man. His background, experience and creativity in electronics has enabled him to develop and market the most innovative and amazing range of incredibly light weight panel instruments for experimental and recreational aircraft. Here’s a link to those instruments: Belite Aviation Electronics

However, it’s the other side of his life that I’m more interested in – the development of a range of extremely light and strong single-seat ultralight aircraft. Starting a few short years ago, from the humble beginnings of the Kitfox Lite, James has re-designed and now builds ‘state-of’-the-art’ very light aircraft.

The regulations in USA around these types of aircraft appear at first sight to be very relaxed – no registration required, no pilot license needed to fly them – but in fact, the few rules there are can prove to be very difficult to match. In summary, these rules boil down to: an empty weight limit of no more than 254 pounds (that’s around 115 kilograms for us metric people), carry no more than 5 US gallons of fuel (that’s just 19 litres), have a flat-out maximum power, straight & level speed of 55 knots and a stall speed under 24 knots at maximum weight.

James manufactures these little wonders at his factory near Wichita in Kansas. One of the great things about James is that he always seems to be looking for ways to improve his product.

These small aircraft are perfect for the cash-strapped owner – you can buy ready finished or as a kit; the wings are a one-person fold, so you can store the aircraft in the corner of a shed or hangar; and best of all, they are very easy to fly. There’s a selection of engines, from 28 hp to 50 hp 2-strokes (not my personal favourites) to a 45 hp 4-stroke. I think James has some further exciting announcements coming up in the next few weeks, so link yourself to his website: Belite Aircraft or to his excellent blog: James Wiebe’s Blog, where he tells it all, warts & all. Happy reading!

STOP PRESS! Here’s a link to Belite’s latest aircraft first flight – the ProCub Lite  What a magic little aeroplane!