Sport Pilot/Light-Sport Aircraft has been called the most sweeping FAA regulation since the 1950s, holding the promise of a “revival” of aviation. Others refer to it as the biggest event in 50 years, pointing to the GI bill after World War II, which helped so many returning soldiers become pilots.
But some still may shy away from Sport Pilot, worried about the construction of “those ultralights.” But did you know that numerous GA aircraft, such as Piper J-3 Cubs, many Aeronca models, some Ercoupes, lots of Taylorcraft, earlier Luscombes and other designs also fit into the new Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) category? These airplanes have “Standard Category” type certificates earned under the same regulatory program as a Cessna 172 or Piper Cherokee.
One of these is the long forgotten but never disappeared Thorp T-211, once envisioned as competition for the Cessna 152. All it lacked was the right business behind it. Maybe its day has finally come.
Meet Ram Pattisipu (sounds like “participate”), a surgeon born in India who’s been living in the U.S. for 35 years. He’s an aviation nut who decided to hang up his stethoscope and pursue his interest in aviation. Pattisipu bought the design rights to the Thorp T-211 along with its FAA certificate — T-211 was recertified in 1990 — and a large inventory of parts.
More widely known as the Thorp T-211, the all-metal airplane will be called the Sport E when it makes its debut as an LSA. It can be flown now as a Standard Category (the original classification remains even if used as an LSA by a Sport Pilot), but a new model based on the same airframe will be offered under the new LSA certification system.
Famed designer John Thorp is better known for his work leading to the Piper Cherokee series and the T-18 homebuilt. When the T-211 was first created in the 1940s— as the T-11 Skooter and later the T-111 — it was intended to become competition for the Cessna 150. The T-211 is a light plane, tipping the scales hundreds of pounds less than Cessna’s smallest model and so was expected to perform better.
The Sport E variation will be significantly transformed by a new powerplant and further reduced weight. The result could be a plane that appeals to legions of Sport Pilots, yet one that can find acceptance from GA pilots looking harder at sport flying now that FAA’s new rule has been released.
Pattisipu formed IndUS Aviation in 1994 to pursue the Thorp projects. Through his Indian contacts, he formed a partnership with Taneja Aerospace and Aviation, Limited (TAAL), of Bangalore, India. TAAL is a leading Indian aircraft manufacturer, building the six-seat, twin-engined, Partenavia-based P68C, an 11-seat twin turbo prop called Viator, and an all-composite UAV. It also builds numerous components for other aircraft manufacturers, so building T-211 airframes appears to be well within its capabilities.
For markets outside India, final assembly — including engine fitting, avionics, painting, interiors and flight-testing — will be accomplished at IndUS’s 11,000-square-foot facility at Dallas Executive Airport in Texas. Many components are sourced in the U.S.
A BIT OF HISTORY
The T-211 is no Johnny-come-lately. The model dates back to design studies in the early 1940s that led to the Lockheed Little Dipper, a single-place light aircraft. That led to a two-seat pusher called the Big Dipper. By 1945, this plane had evolved to the Sky Skooter, a 75-horsepower Lycoming O-145-powered aircraft that earned CAA CAR 3 certification.
By the early 1950s, the Sky Skooter acquired a 90-horsepower Continental C-90 engine. This work led in 1956 to the 180 horsepower preliminary design for the Piper Cherokee. Eventually Piper built the PA-28 Cherokee with 150 horsepower.
Thorp’s work led to the T-18, which became popular among homebuilders. In 1960, one of the all-metal, two-place, high-performance models built by Don Taylor became the first homebuilt to fly around the world.
Finally, in 1963, the Sky Skooter, now with a 100-horsepower Continental O-200, won its FAA Type Certificate. This was design designation T-211 for John Thorp.
Now IndUS takes the venerable T-211 and, with the addition of a Jabiru 3300 six-cylinder engine built in Australia, created the Thorpedo. The little plane is a study in versatility that even John Thorp didn’t consider: a T-211 certified airplane, a Sport E certified LSA, a kit-built Experimental T-211, and the kit or LSA-certified Thorpedo.
TOUGH AND DURABLE
One of the most distinguishing characteristics of the airplane is the ribbed wing design, a feature also found on other aircraft in the World War II time frame. The ribbing is also found on the horizontal tail surface, which is an all-flying stabilator, quite advanced for its day. John Thorp’s name appears on the patent for the stabilator.
The advantage of the ribbed aluminum wing and horizontal tail is that this construction saves a lot of interior riveting as far fewer internal ribs are used. The wing forms a sort of external structural rib greatly easing the assembly process.
Sliding canopies aren’t common on general aviation aircraft. Even fewer can fly with the canopy slid back. T-211 can do so, and GA pilots might enjoy this configuration for local flights in pleasant weather.
As with the Cherokee or other low-winged GA airplanes, you step on the wing, walk forward a step or so and step down into the cockpit. As you do this, you can check the fuel filler cap security as it is located just aft of the canopy. You may stand on the wing for fueling.
Inside the cockpit, you are faced with a familiar general aviation layout, which includes a fully finished interior of leather seats, carpeted floors and side walls, plus various elastic-banded stash pockets for aircraft logs, sectional maps and other items you may want in flight.
Behind the occupants is a large area that can hold 40 pounds of luggage. A cargo net keeps the gear in place during flight.
A flap lever is forward of a centrally mounted hand brake lever. A detent button is used only to release the flaps. To the left of the flap lever is the fuel shutoff.
Two notches of flaps are available, deploying to approximately 15° and 30°. Originally the flaps had a 45° down setting, but that proved to be more than necessary and was modified later.
A trim wheel is just to the left of the center console. Both sides can reach it easily, but the right seat can’t see the setting easily. Each seat has a joystick positioned between the occupant’s legs.
An array of instruments faces the left seat occupant with power switches and key electric starting on the far left of the instrument panel. Near the center of the panel are engine throttle, choke and the carb heat control. Either seat can reach these without a stretch.
Our test T-211 had a nice dual nav/com radio stack with transponder, GPS and dual VORs. At the extreme right is the fuel panel. Both sides have headphone connections and fresh air controls. All in all, T-211 has a sensible and efficient cockpit layout.
Both seats have rudder pedals, but the center-mounted hand brake lever brakes both wheels simultaneously. Like most T-211 controls, it can easily be operated from either seat and affords good leverage with adequate stopping power.
As we taxied out for takeoff on a warm day in Florida, I was happy to leave the canopy open until we were number one for takeoff. Even in 85° and damp, humid conditions at near gross, the Continental O-200 lifted us at 400-500 fpm.
We flew around at 2,500 feet agl while I familiarized myself with the plane’s controls. In a word: easy. T-211 and Sport E will impress most pilots with well-harmonized controls that are very light to the touch. While not sensitive and without a particularly fast roll rate, it’s the linkages that make handling light and pleasant. Thorp designed his control pushrods and bell cranks with ball bearings throughout, and it shows when you move stick and pedals.
All my landings turned out well. The factory pilot with whom I flew advised approach at 70 knots, slowing to 60 knots over the runway. These figures seemed somewhat on the conservative side. A pilot familiar with the Thorp could bring it in somewhat slower.
Using one notch of flaps for landing didn’t accomplish much. In fact, British pilots who have embraced the T-211 don’t use any flaps. You definitely don’t use any flaps for takeoff, as you’ll only add drag.
According to IndUS Aviation, the Continental T-211 can take off in approximately 400 feet. The little bird can land in approximately the same distance, so it should feel right at home at shorter GA fields. With generous clearance afforded by its main gear and nosewheel, you needn’t worry about landing on turf runways.
The T-211’s Continental 0-200 engine puts out 100 horsepower and burns five-and-a-half to six gallons an hour. IndUS says this engine can produce a cruise of 120 miles per hour, although I didn’t see those speeds at the lower altitudes we used for this flight review.
Power on and power off stalls were extremely mild. In several trials, I found no stall showed any tendency to fall on a wing. Neither did they show the slightest tendency to break over. I performed power-on stalls at full power, power-off stalls entered gently and much more aggressively, plus accelerated stalls. In every case T-211 showed very mild characteristics. Power-on stall occurred at about 45 knots.
QUITE SPORT E
The company has installed an Australian six-cylinder Jabiru 3300 engine in the Sport E, bumping it to 120 horsepower. Since the Jabiru weighs between 60 and 70 pounds less than the Continental, the combination of 30 more horsepower and about 70 pounds less empty weight creates a lively performer that climbs at 1,200 fpm and cruises at 128 mph. The Jabiru model can be certified under the LSA rule and flown under Sport Pilot.
IndUS offers three versions of the Sport E. One is the FAA certified model, which costs $90,000. This is not the LSA certification, but conventional certification, like a Cessna or Piper.
If you’d like a lower cost model, you could choose the Amateur-Built (51%) version.
However, you’ll have to build the aircraft at the company using its builder-assistance program. All of IndUS’s aircraft are factory built or assembled with factory assistance.
The Sport E kit includes a Jabiru 3300 120-horsepower engine, basic paint in the “house” white or yellow paint scheme, and standard day VFR instruments. “Extras, bells, whistles, and fancy paint or graphics must be added separately,” say IndUS officials.
A Sport E Rapid-Fire program aircraft runs $59,999, including the engine, prop, instruments, paint and interior. IndUS’s Builder Assistance Academy tuition is bundled in the aircraft price. The Rapid Fire program is the lowest cost way to acquire the Sport E and the price is competitive with other airplanes in this class. Since it is not efficient to manufacture parts for certified and kit models separately, all Sport Es come with certified parts, though the kits will not receive the compliance certificate.
Finally comes the Sport E certified under the new LSA regulation.
“Now that the eagerly-awaited Light Sport Aircraft rule is in place, we can recertify our Sport E under the new category,” Pattisipu says. “Since this airplane is already type-certified under an FAA standard-category airworthiness certificate, we anticipate being able to comply with the requirements for the new category fairly quickly.”
Cost for the completed Sport E in the LSA category is projected at $70,000. For an all-metal airplane that has won a higher level of certification, equipped with the Jabiru 3300, this is competitive with other higher-end LSAs.
GA pilots have some lower-priced aircraft available, but most start well above $100,000 and go to the moon from that price point. Thanks to IndUS, you have choices well under the six-figure mark. If you’ve always bought used GA aircraft to fit your budget, now you have a new choice that can save you real cash.
WANT TO KNOW MORE? I-877-GO-IndUS (464-6387).
Seating, 2, side-by-side
Empty weight, 750 lbs
Gross weight, 1,270 lbs
Wingspan, 25 ft
Length, 18 ft
Height, 6 ft 3 in
Wing area , 105 sq ft
Wing loading, 12.1 lbs/sq ft
Standard Engine, Continental O-200 *
Power , 100 hp at 2,700 rpm *
Power Loading, 12.7 lbs/hp
Fuel Capacity, 21 gal
Cruise Speeds, 75-120 mph
Never Exceed Speed, 156 mph
Rate of climb at gross, 750 fpm **
Takeoff distance at gross, 450 ft
Landing distance at gross, 400 ft
*As tested; Light Sport Aircraft version will use Jabiru 3300 engine producing 120-horsepower; factory reports climb at 1,200 fpm solo and 800 fpm at gross on a hot, humid day
**In test flight, max climb 500 fpm on a hot, humid day