Lockdown handover

23-1685 Front LHWay back in late January 2020, Simon and Jane, who live near Cairns in north Queensland, ordered a new red Foxbat. Remember those days? We were dealing with summer temperatures, bushfires and had no inkling of what was to come.

The Aeroprakt factory made and shipped the aircraft and it arrived more-or-less on schedule at Melbourne docks in early June. With many thanks to the factory for keeping to their deadlines and the shipping companies for (almost) meeting theirs.

Australia Map

Australia Map

In late June all was looking good…
At that time, virus-wise, things were looking OK for Simon and Jane to pick up their aircraft from Melbourne and fly it the 1300 nautical miles (about 2500 kilometres) back home. The ‘first wave’ of COVID-19 seemed to be well under control right across Australia and we were all looking forward to a loosening of lock-down  restrictions. We got on with re-assembling the aircraft at Moorabbin, south of Melbourne, getting it signed off and all the many admin things you need to do to get a new aircraft registered and test-flown.

Then fate took a heavy hand and, due to rising cases of ‘community transmission’ COVID-19 cases in Victoria (where Melbourne is located), Queensland and New South Wales (which lies between Victoria and Queensland) closed their borders in early July to stop people travelling from Victoria. It looked like Simon and Jane would have to wait at least 6 weeks before they could fly their nice new shiny red aeroplane. However, as they say, ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’.

Willing a way
After some research, Simon and I agreed it might be possible for me to apply for a New South Wales border permit, to allow me to fly their aircraft just across the border from Victoria to a place called Albury –  a thriving country New South Wales town, with a sizeable airport. Which crucially had scheduled airline flights available back to Melbourne. Simon and Jane would fly scheduled flights to Albury, via Sydney, to meet me and take over their aeroplane at Albury.

So I checked with Victorian authorities – OK to travel for work which could not be done at home…delivering an aeroplane is not a desk job! I do not live in or near a Victorian ‘virus hot spot’ and I applied online for the New South Wales border exemption permit, which was granted immediately. Availability of a return flight was checked and booked, as was a motel in Albury for an overnight stay, as Simon and Jane could not arrive until after dark, meaning an early morning handover the next day. Finally, I called Albury Airport management to check what, if anything, I needed to do after landing – with regard to the permit, health checks and so on. They were very helpful and advised me to call them after arrival and they would direct me accordingly. So we were all set to go.

IMG_8472Off I go
The day of the flight from Moorabbin to Albury dawned clear and sunny, with even a light southerly tail wind to guide me on my way! But, as usual with a southerly at this time of year, the Kilmore Gap through the hills to the north was clouded in and I had to delay departure by a few hours to wait for the cloud base to lift. So eventually I set off for Yarrawonga, a rest and refuel stop on the way to Albury, to pick up a Foxbat cabin cover from Diane at Punkinhead Airsports and a Mr Funnel filter from Peter McLean at P&M Aviation, both ordered by Simon.

I landed at Albury around 4.00pm in the afternoon. The airport manager took all my details over the phone and cleared me to exit the airport and go to my motel. So far so good!

IMG_8489

Lockdown handover
The next morning, I met Simon and Jane – who stayed at the same motel (I think we may have been the only guests) – and we went to the airport in their hire car. Out of respect for them, I wore a mask in the car and later in the plane with Simon, while we did circuits – I’m pretty sure I am not infected but the last thing I wanted to do was to start a new ‘cluster’! The Foxbat was duly inspected and all the items on the handover checklist ticked off and then Simon and I went for a few circuits so he could familiarise himself with his version of the Foxbat – he’s flown several others as part of his prep for the trip.

Finally it was time for me to wish them bon voyage back to Cairns – probably a leisurely 2-3 day trip – and I proceeded to the passenger terminal to check in for my flight back to Melbourne.

Pandemic shocks
Now here’s where the pandemic really started to come home to me. I suppose, living on Melbourne’s beautiful Bayside has, to some extent, insulated me from the economic and social pandemonium going on. I have been able to continue to shop for groceries and other essentials, ride my bike for exercise along the Beach Road, continue to receive and send spare parts to Foxbat & Vixxen owners, and visit my GP if needed.

IMG_8495My return flight was with Rex, fully known as ‘Regional Express‘ airline. First shock – the Albury passenger terminal was completely empty. I went to the Rex check-in desk really expecting to be told the flight was cancelled. Then, second shock – it was running OK and I was the only passenger on the SAAB twin turbo-prop aircraft. It was very strange when the pilot, announcing our descent into IMG_8506Melbourne, addressed me by name! A nice touch – now I know what it feels like (well, almost) to have your own private airliner!

Arriving in Melbourne Airport was eerie. The Rex turbo-prop parked way out on the apron and I disembarked and boarded – still alone – a shuttle bus back to the terminal, passing row upon row of mothballed JetStar Airbus airliners, engines cocooned and landing gear covered in plastic protection. Very weird.

IMG_8509My partner Louise met me in the car park and we started our journey home in the car. I was stunned as we exited the multi-storey park to see a vista of completely empty long-term car parks, as far as the eye could see. The mothballed aircraft were shocking enough but somehow the hectares and hectares of empty long-term car parks really hit home. And this is just Melbourne airport – this picture is repeated many times over around the world.

This pandemic is something completely outside our experience, knowledge and understanding. The economic cost is astonishing. And for those whose loved ones have died or suffered long-term consequences from the disease, we can hardly imagine their devastation. Let’s hope for an effective vaccine and/or treatment soon, so we can begin to recover our health and sanity.

Buying a used Foxbat or Vixxen

For many pilots, owning their own aircraft is a dream – but to own a new one is often just plain beyond their financial reach. So they turn to the used market and start perusing the pages of the Australian Aviation Trader paper and other aeroplane sales websites. Buying a used aircraft – like any used vehicle – is potentially fraught with risk, so here are a few guidelines about buying a used Foxbat/Vixxen – or indeed any other used aircraft.

Overall, the first rule of buying a used aircraft is let the ‘Buyer Beware’. The purpose of these guidelines is not to stop you buying your dream (although there are a couple of red flags) but to ensure you go into the purchase with your eyes open and are fully aware of what you are taking on. You don’t want any nasty – expensive – surprises to ruin the joy of owning your first – or next – aeroplane!

Whatever else, get a completely independent, appropriately licensed engineer to inspect the aircraft and its documentation and give you both a verbal summary and a detailed written report. The engineer should not be associated in any way with the vendor or dealer selling the aircraft. Although a thorough inspection may cost you up to A$500, it could save you ‘000s.

Apart from all the usual things to look at on a used aircraft, be sure to ask the engineer to check for:
– complete service records and any accident damage history.
– all applicable airframe and Rotax engine (see below) service bulletins have been complied with.

In particular, for Foxbats & Vixxens:
– rudder cable bulletin (A22L & A22LS)
– nose leg hinge bracket bearing bulletin  (A22LS & A32)
– windscreen cracks  (A22LS & A32)
– flaperon cardan rings  (A22L & A22LS)
– seat belt correct installation (A22L & A22LS)
(all bulletins are on our website at https://www.foxbat.com.au/safety-bulletins.html)
– the flap lever detente plate (A22LS & A32), which holds the flaps at their chosen setting. This plate is a wear item replaced on condition and if too worn can allow the flaps to retract without warning.

Ask the vendor what the primary use of the aircraft has been – commercial flying training? Private and leisure? Farm work? Ask the vendor if there has been any incident/accident damage to the aircraft and if so, who carried out the repairs. Remember to write down responses, as the answers to all your questions will form part of your contract to buy, should you decide to go ahead. Be very wary of vendors who do not know answers to your questions or who try to give you vague non-specific answers with phrases like: ‘I think…’ or ‘I believe…’ or that catch-all ‘Come and have a look for yourself…’ If they don’t know an answer, OK – but they should offer to get back to you with a clear reply.

Here is something important to check for all used Light Sport Aircraft (LSA).
LSA regulations mandate that any change to the aircraft from its original delivered specification must be explicitly agreed by the aircraft manufacturer. Changes include virtually everything to do with the aircraft – for example: tyre sizes, propeller, instruments, avionics, damage repairs, type of coolant, GoPro and other camera mounts, lighting changes, addition or removal of a parachute, etc etc. Some manufacturers – including Aeroprakt – give blanket approvals for aircraft damage repairs ‘carried out by suitably licensed engineers’ but any other changes must have factory approval first. If not, the aircraft automatically reverts to ‘Experimental’ status until either approval is given or the modification is reversed. LOAs can only be issued by the manufacturer – there is no other authority approved to do this.
Therefore, get a written statement from the vendor either that the aircraft has not been modified after original new delivery or that if it has, specific Letter(s) of Approval (LOAs) have been issued – and are attached with the statement.
If they are not willing to do this – walk away! Any problems will become yours if you buy the aircraft.

For the Rotax engine check the following:
All applicable Rotax service bulletins have been completed. To check the bulletins, enter the engine number on the Rotax Owner website – https://www.rotax-owner.com/en/(click on ‘Does your engine comply with all required bulletins?’ in the page header), enter your engine type (all our aircraft use 912ULS engines), and then the engine serial number. The site will list the bulletins you need to check.

The total running time for the engine is recorded correctly. For example, the original engine may have been time-expired and changed for another engine – which was new? Or used? Get a confirmation that the time quoted is engine running time, not flight time as Rotax warranties and service requirements are all based on engine running time.

When the next 5-year rubber replacement is due. This costs in the region of A$2,500-A$3,000 to complete, with parts and labour, and covers all oil, fuel and coolant hoses, carburettor rubbers, fuel pump etc on the aircraft.

Has the engine been run primarily on Avgas or Mogas? If Avgas, there should be a clear record of oil and filter changes at least every 25 hours, as per Rotax maintenance recommendations. If not, there is no certainty the engine will reach its 2,000 hour expiry time.

When was the last time the gearbox slipper clutch tension was checked? Is there a clear maintenance record of this?

Has there ever been a prop strike? If so, the gearbox slipper clutch should have protected the engine. However a power-on prop strike has been known to twist the crankshaft. Any prop strike, however apparently minor, mandatorily requires the gearbox to be checked and overhauled by a qualified Rotax engineer.

Finally, here are a few general guidelines:
Has the aircraft been parked outside or kept in a hangar? Ultralight and Light Sport Aircraft are necessarily built more lightly to enable compliance with strict weight limits. They do not thus fare well when left outside in the elements, even when properly tied down and the controls correctly secured. Look for water damage inside the aircraft. Do the controls feel ‘sloppy’ because the wind has slowly but surely worn away at the control bearings? Think of the aircraft rocking in the wind for a couple of years…

Has the aircraft been used in a school or club? Remember, a school aircraft will have probably completed at least 5 times as many take-offs and landings for the same hours as a privately owned aircraft. Depending on the quality of the instructor(s) this might mean anything from not much at all, right through to dozens of (very) hard landings at the hands of poorly managed students.

Get a written statement from the vendor that the weight and balance information shown in the aircraft documentation – particularly the empty weight – is correct. If the vendor is not prepared to give this statement, walk away!
This is important for your load calculations and your insurance validity.

The asking price of the aircraft should reflect all the factors above. A single private-owner hangared aeroplane with no damage history, a few hundred hours on the clock and a complete maintenance record, with all the original manuals and documentation, will command a significantly higher price than an aircraft with all the opposite characteristics. Foxbats and Vixxens have an enviable reputation for holding their prices but do not let this general reputation sway your careful examination of the aircraft. Hour-for-hour, the difference in price between a good one and a bad one could be as much as 50%.

Don’t forget the saying: ‘buying cheap can be the most expensive thing you ever do’.

Foxbat 2020 updates for Australia

For 2020 we are introducing some updates to the A22LS Foxbat/Kelpie and A32 Vixxen aircraft available in Australia while keeping prices at the same levels as for 2019.

First among these is a new windscreen design, using moulded 3mm acrylic instead of the flex-to-shape 2mm flat polycarbonate sheet. The acrylic windscreen is more rigid than the original design, which has served us well for over 20 years. The main benefit is noise reduction in the cabin, particularly noticeable in the A32 Vixxen, which is already a relatively quiet aircraft. There are a couple of minor downsides – the acrylic screen needs special jigs both for original installation and when a replacement screen is fitted; it’s also more expensive than the original, flat sheet design. All new A22LS Foxbats/Kelpies and A32 Vixxens built for Australia after 01 January 2020 will be fitted as standard with the new type of screen.

Although replacement polycarbonate screens will continue to be available, a retro-fit acrylic screen kit will also be available for owners wishing (optionally) to replace their existing polycarbonate screen, should it become damaged. For a returnable deposit, Foxbat Australia will be able to loan your qualified engineer a set of jigs to enable the replacement. We are also making a short video to cover installation of the new screen.

Next, the A22LS Foxbat will now have as standard the so-called ‘Kelpie’ metal luggage bay with side door. We have sold 20 of the Kelpie variant since we introduced it around 2 years ago and in addition, most Foxbat buyers have opted for the Kelpie bay over the previously ‘standard’ canvas luggage container. The main reason for this is probably that the metal luggage bay is rated at 30 kgs maximum as opposed to the canvas container at 20 kgs. The contents of the container remain accessible in flight and a hard cover is included if in-flight access is not required. There is a small basic weight penalty but as the A22LS is already one of the lightest (and strongest) LSAs on the Australian market, you will still be able to carry over 200 kgs of people and bags, even after filling full with fuel.

We have offered a variety of VHF radios over the years, including the popular German Filser/Funkwerk OLED radio. However, after extensive experience with TRIG – a UK (well, Scotland actually) manufacturer – we have decided to include the TRIG TY91 VHF radio as standard on all A22LS and A32 aircraft in Australia. Where optionally requested, the TRIG TT21 mode S transponder will visually match the TY91 radio. Dynon SkyView equipped aircraft will continue with the Dynon VHF radio.

For 2020, all A22LS Foxbats with the Y-stick control configuration will now standardise on the ‘long leg’ raised instrument panel. This panel has curved cut-outs along the bottom edges on pilot and co-pilot side, facilitating comfort for those owners with longer than average legs.

The ‘long-leg’ option isn’t available with twin-yoke configuration controls as the yokes support structure occupies some of the space taken by the cut-outs in the panel bottom. Also, for the A22LS Kelpie, the UHF radio is normally fitted under the panel on the co-pilot side. If you require the long-leg cut out on a Kelpie, there will be a small additional charge to cover installation of a remote head for the UHF radio. The A32 already has legroom equivalent to the A22LS ‘long-leg’ panel.

We are working with the factory to offer a number of additional options on A22LS and A32 aircraft. Among these are a visor-style tinted sun screen in the top of the windscreen, larger capacity fuel tanks for the A32 and a glider tow-hook for the A32. We are also hoping for a supplement to allow doors off flying in the A32 to match that of the A22LS.

As an aside, although we are sometimes asked by customers if they can fit bigger tyres to the A32, it is unlikely these will be formally approved by the factory any time soon. From experience with flying school owners who have removed the wheel spats and leg fairings, we are aware that this can reduce the cruise speed by as much as 9-10 knots, effectively pulling the straight and level cruise of the A32 down towards to that of the A22LS. The A32 is fitted standard with aviation grade AirTrac 15×6.00×6 tyres and landowner experience has shown that these are more than sufficient for use on paddock and gravel strips with the spats remaining in place.

SPECIAL OFFER – for a limited number of aircraft we will include a Garmin Aera 660 GPS with a panel mount of your choice at no extra cost. First come, first served!

For more information on any of these items, please see our website at www.foxbat.com.au  or call Ido Segev on 0431 454 676 or Peter Harlow on 0413 900 892.

AirVenture 2019 – a bit of a disaster

My friend Mike and I flew from Tyabb to Parkes on Thursday 19 September, full of anticipation for the upcoming AirVenture 2019 show. A couple of owners/friends were bringing an A22LS Foxbat and an A32 Vixxen to complete our static display along with the DirectFly Alto we were flying.

We set out nice and early (well, it was for us!) leaving the ground at about 07:45. Tracking north for Wangaratta, we immediately hit some strong headwinds coming over the ranges. And so this was the story pretty well all the way to Parkes, where we arrived at about 15:00 after stopping at Wangaratta and Temora – where, by the way, we briefly ran into Ian McDonell, A32 Vixxen syndicate manager, flying down from Caboolture to Tocumwal in the opposite direction.

At that stage, the weather forecast for Parkes didn’t look too bad; breezy but clear on Friday, with strengthening winds and a late possibly showery change on Saturday, and light (head!) winds on Sunday and Monday for our trip home.

In the event, the ‘strengthening winds’ on Saturday turned out to be 30+ knot northerlies gusting 45-50 knots (YES!) raising an almost impenetrable cloud of dust in the air. The seminar and main indoor exhibitor tents were rated to about 75 km/h (that’s about 40 knots) so the whole site was evacuated at about 10:30 and did not re-open until 15:00 that afternoon. Even after that, there were intermittent and heavy rain showers, so the day was pretty well a wipe-out. However, thanks to Bob (you know who you are!) for braving the weather to come and order a new Foxbat on Saturday afternoon!

Our three planes were all pointed into wind and well tied down so we suffered no damage. They were all covered with a thick layer of dust – made to look much worse by the developing rain showers – although the insides remained mercifully clean.

As forecast, Sunday dawned beautifully clear with almost no wind…it was almost as if the previous day had just been a very bad dream.

We flew home in the Alto on Monday 23 September, again with headwinds most of the way and a dessert helping of showers as we approached the Kilmore Gap through the ranges, plus one final, very big shower overhead Tyabb – we circled out to the west for about 30 minutes, waiting for it to pass through.

The Alto performed faultlessly. Mike even commented that it was probably the most comfortable Light Sport Aircraft he’d flown in – which is high praise indeed, considering his rear end is noted for its predisposition to numbness in less accommodating aircraft! Overall, the return trip was 9.6 hours’ flying, using a whisker under 165 litres of fuel. True airspeed lingered between 105 and 115 knots but average ground speed on the two trips was just under 75 knots – which included take-offs and landings.

It was a shame that the main exhibition day was such a disaster. I hope the organisers had insurance cover (if such a thing is available) because total visitor entries must have been a fraction of what they were hoping. One of our competitors commented that there were ‘more exhibitors than visitors’, even on Sunday, when the weather couldn’t have been more perfect.

I hope the organisers survive to fight another day and run the show again next year.

AirVenture 2019

This year’s AirVenture fly-in and airshow seems to have come round all very quickly! Last year the show visited Cessnock, near Newcastle in New South Wales.

This year we are at Parkes in central west New South Wales – famous for the nearby ‘Dish’ radio telescope which was involved in communications for the first human landing on the moon.

The show runs from Friday 20 September to Sunday 22 September inclusive, with an airshow planned for Sunday, 10.00-14.00. We’re told there will be hundreds of fly-in and drive-in visitors this year – so why not join them and come and see all manner of light and very light aircraft, warbirds and aerobatic displays. Plus a huge range of aviation related merchandise ranging from nice little toys, all the way up through avionics and beyond.

As usual, Foxbat Australia and our sister company, AeroEdge, will have Foxbat, Vixxen and Alto aircraft on static display. A couple of schools/clubs using Foxbats for training will also be giving ‘TIFs’ – trial instruction flights – so you can find out just how much fun it is to fly a Foxbat.

Come and say hello! We’d love to see you there!

Dan Johnson tests the A32 Vixxen

Light aviation’s guru blogger Dan Johnson grabbed the opportunity to test fly the newest FAA LSA-approved aircraft, the Aeroprakt A32 Vixxen.

Click the photo above or here to see the article and accompanying video: Dan flies the A32

You can read more – much much more – about all manner of light sport, recreational and ultralight aircraft on Dan’s blog: ByDanJohnson.

A32 Vixxen door latches – safety bulletin

Aeroprakt has issued a safety bulletin covering the door latches on A32 Vixxen aircraft, serial numbers 02-28. Compliance with this bulletin is required before the next flight of the aircraft.

Click here or on the drawing above for a copy of the bulletin: SA-A32-03 Door Latches